Stereotypically as the holidays approach and the decorations begin to appear on our doorsteps and rooftops, we begin to hear various messages. The most prominent is to “Buy! Buy! Buy!”, as much as possible for the cheapest price to show our loved ones we love them. Most of us know the downfalls of this consumerist and materialistic social norm, and most of us know when we are actively participating in it. We stretch our wallets to the extent that we sacrifice possibly other important needs so that presents can be opened. It is a difficult task to step outside the system of consumerism that pushes each of us to buy that new toy or that beautiful diamond necklace to live up to the expectations of the norm around us.
In many ways this teaches us to commodify love and measure it by the quantity or the expense of the presents we provide to those around us. Yet, it is difficult to find the time and even the ideas to give gifts that take more than the minutes necessary to scour a store’s shelves. Our society has moved away from crafts, handiwork, and hand-made gifts not because we have decreased our value of them although that may be an influence, but because we no longer have the time nor the attention necessary to complete them. Our lives are busy and disconnected. From emailing our co-workers on our phones to listening to a class lecture on our iPod on the bus ride, the time we spend is meant to be as productive and efficient as possible, accomplishing as much as possible in the shortest amount of time. After all, time is money. Why spend time carving and perfecting a hand-made nativity scene when it can be easily bought in 10 minutes?
Taking the time to occupy yourself with making or designing a gift for your loved ones is not only more meaningful gift for the one who receives it, but it will also provide, what the occupational therapy profession names meaningful occupation, a break from the consistent rush of life, reminding you to be present to the world, your community, and surprisingly yourself. This is the foundation on which occupational therapy is built and the concept that occupational therapists use to provide treatment for mental health and various other disabilities. Many times as we run from one productive task to the next, we forget the value and benefits of slowing that process down and finding meaningful occupations or activities to participate in to improve our own mental health. We forget that this season is not only about giving to others, but it also about being a valuable member of our community, which is difficult to do when you are so overwhelmed by the demands of life.
I knit. As a college student, it has not only been one of the most economical skills I have learned when it comes to the season’s purchases, but it has also provided me with an outlet for stress and mental strain. As I stitch the four to five dollar ball of yarn, I am able to become engulfed by the activity. Each stitch reminds me of the person I am knitting for as well as provides a small escape from the difficulties of life. In the past when I have given my, granted sometimes ugly, scarves and hats to my family members and friends they have been more focused on and thankful for the time and effort I spent making it rather than its expense and thankfully its aesthetic appeal. Although making knitted crafts can sometimes pose me as a grandmother-like figure in the midst of the college lifestyle, I can guarantee you after a good knitting session I am far less stressed than the average student and now I have a meaningful gift for someone this holiday season, a gift of a thousand stitches. These stitches will not only warm the neck or head of someone I love for sometime to come, but they also taught me to slow down and be present to myself. I may not be able to buy lots of things or very expensive things, but I don’t measure my love for others by those rulers, I measure it in stitches.
So I encourage you to find your stitches, find an activity and make some time to spend with yourself thinking about those you love and not thinking about everything else. Write a song, carve a figurine, or knit a scarf. Find something that whisks you away and lets you escape from the constant pressure to buy buy buy and produce produce produce. This season is not meant to be stressful and, in fact, presents and gifts can be a means to alleviate the stress we often feel. Take a risk; don’t buy things this year. Make them or at least attempt to, it’s more valuable to your loved ones and actually healthier for you.
Ryan Lavalley is a graduate student from West Virginia in the Masters of Occupational Therapy Program at Xavier University. He has been knitting for 3 years and has discovered many ways how not to make a scarf.