No Loafing

All I Want For Christmas Is An Enlarged Cortex

To my surprise, and my daylight
I saw sunrise, I saw sunlight
I am nothing, in the dark
And the clouds burst to show daylight

Some of you may know that I kinda mess with Christmas almost every year. One year a few years ago, I only bought items from independent stores. Some years I have given artwork or crafty things, some years I have tried and failed to request that only time be given me as a gift. But most every year when the leaves start to turn and the tinsel shows up alongside the smiling ghosts at Dollarama, I find myself wondering what to say when people ask what I want for my birthday or for Christmas. This year I believe I've stumbled on a really fabulous way to make people feel like they are actually giving me a gift while avoiding physical items almost entirely.

I want everyone who is thinking about giving me a gift to instead teach me a skill that I want to learn - something that lands somewhere on the spectrum of usefulness from daily to once yearly, something that can be taught without seriously enormous time investment on the part of the giver, but will also stand the test of time.

You see, I'm on a mission to downsize the stuff I have. I'm already at the point where many of the drawers and boxes in the house are empty, and every few weeks I designate items for the final countdown. My goal is that one day I will be able to fulfill the goal of all the things I own meeting the requirements I read about somewhere in the last couple of months. There are three categories that something must be measured by. Is it Useful? Is it Beautiful or Aesthetically Pleasing? Is it Meaningful? In order for an item to stand the test of time, to be something to keep, it must fall into one or more categories and usually at least two - and to stand the test of time it most often should be all three - and that might not mean that it is valuable. For example - I purchased a very large teapot at Value Village for $15 once. The teapot is one of the biggest I've ever found - very useful for our tea parties, and it barely drips when you pour properly, which is a bonus. It is shaped like a little country cottage and I think it may even have been hand painted - it pleases me whenever I look at it. Whenever friends see it, it typically brings a smile to their faces, and it comes out whenever we have a lot of company - or make a huge pot of Earl Grey for the tea-loving crowd. In other words, as far as I'm concerned it meets all three categories in spades. What are the chances that I will get rid of it? Extremely low. In fact, if anything happened to it I am so attached to it I might even cry! On the other hand, there's an android tablet I bought at auction. I never use it, and my reasons for buying it have waned over the past few months, plus it's just too slow. It's not special looking and I have no attachment to it. Is there any reason to keep it? Not a one. Not even the amount I paid for it, which was low for the item but substantial for something I don't use. I'll be trying to sell it soon. I've been applying this metric to all the things that come to mind, and somehow it never fails to come to a very definite conclusion. I don't find, as I used to with other methods of narrowing things down, that I often come to a point where I want to rescue things because I might use them or for pure sentiment. If I don't remember it after many months, it can go, really.

The only things that have really stumped me are wedding presents or gifts in general, or things connected to University or art. The vast majority of our wedding presents - and I mean, I can think of maybe 3-4 things out of all 50 or so that I'm talking about now - have been wonderful, useful, beautiful, and meaningful. Fixtures in our kitchen include the knife block my parents gave me and steak knives from another family member, the glass fruit bowl from a friend, bowls from a friend at our shower, and more - just to talk about the kitchen - these things truly stand the test. There's just a couple of items that I can't justify for utility, and I struggle with the meaningfulness. If they're using space we need, surely the people who gave them to us would understand if we were to downsize a little. Doesn't really stop me feeling guilty about it, unfortunately.

I have spent the last year getting things we need - a sectional for the living room, end tables from Ikea, an elliptical machine and a weight set so we can operate a home gym, a scanner so I can get rid of our paper problem, and all sorts of life improvement items - to the point where most days I am hard pressed to think of a single item we're in want of. What a thing to be able to say, with a world full of want. I am blessed beyond measure - and it's time to let go of all the excess and live simply, in our means, and find the simplicity I find myself longing for - to spend my time not in shopping or contstant assessment of my perceived lack, but in living out each day to the full, enjoying the things that matter most - Paul and Murphy, friends and family, joy and knowledge and the best things in life that just happen to be free - and make me feel free.

So I don't really need anything. Except a better me, and a better world.

Here's a few random things that I want to learn over the next few years - some of them I will probably learn on my own, some of them maybe someone will offer for a present!

  • Hairstyles for medium length straight hair - easy updos especially

  • How to braid your own hair

  • How to make jam/jelly

  • Shuffling like a dealer, card tricks

  • Cleaning tips to make cleaning the house faster or fun

  • Advanced 0ff-camera strobe techniques

  • Meal planning to save money and time

  • Play acoustic guitar, pseudo-beginner

  • How to teach respect to very young children

  • How to set up a home server that can be accessed from anywhere - on a Mac

  • Basic tourist conversation for common languages like French, Spanish, Italian, etc.

  • Conversational Sign Language

  • Basic car diagnostics, fixes, and beyond the average DIY maintenance - like belts, fuses, changing air filters, etc.

  • Solo and tandem canoe strokes

  • How to choose a pair of snowshoes for myself

  • More beginner skeet shooting (it was fun the one time I did it!)

  • Continuing to learn how to drive standard


Those are just some small samples of things I'm considering learning how to do. Some are more complex than others, but they are a pretty good cross-section of things I want to learn.

Now, normally, when I wanted to learn things, I'd go to books or the internet - the vast sources that could teach one almost everything seemed like the best source for some time. I used to feel that I could learn equally well from books, videos, or people… But as I got older I have felt more and more that learning directly from others is really the only lasting way to learn for me. Learning about how to drive the bus really drove that home - something so complicated at face value, and then it took less than two weeks to gain confidence doing it because I had good teachers who started with the right building blocks.

So this is the plan - I guess I'll have to see if it works for the people I'm asking to participate!

The other big plan, of course, is the big Carnival I have planned for my birthday this year. I'm super pumped, and I'm actually getting ready to design a physical invitation for some of the people I know. =)