The sun is shining, the streets have a distinctive smattering of tinsel, carols of old blend with contemporary pop diva adaptations in a battle of Bing vs Beyonce…it must be the festive season. Yes indeed, the Australian summer brings with it decorations of snow covered scenes and elderly bearded gentleman in red suits that would see the fella collapse in a sweating puddle of heat stroke if he ventured into our Land Down Under at this time of year, all of which creates a vision of Christmas contrasts. Snow and chill-defying garments are definitely at odds with Christmas in this sun burnt country. Still…Christmas it is despite the sun, so that means we must do something to mark this season, as is the expectation.
Steve and I have somewhat changed our outlook and actions in the festive season though, when it comes to the consumer extravaganza that’s encouraged at this time of year. We’ve realised we have everything we need, we don’t need to buy things for the sake of it and we would rather spend money on experiences than mere “stuff” just because the calendar says we’re supposed to. Once upon a time we would do as so many others do, spend a lot and pile purchase upon purchase under the tree as a monument to both Christmas and consumerism. Well, that’s what Christmas is for, isn’t it, we would assure ourselves and spend and wrap and spend and wrap. Then came that thing…that thing that I keep banging on about and has so altered our beliefs and behaviours…”The Trip”. When we celebrated Christmas during our epic cycling adventure, we knew we couldn’t spend and buy because:
A) We were on a tight, “year without pay” travellers’ budget and…
B) We didn’t want to lug any extra weight around on the bikes to carry extra purchases and…
C) We didn’t want to add to the already expected excess baggage costs from the weight we would be flying home.
We were in England at the time, so we came up with our “Great Sainsbury’s Challenge”. We gave each other a £10 limit and set off into a Sainsbury’s supermarket superstore to find gifts for each other with the rules being:
- Don’t go over the £10 budget
- Any gifts purchased were allowed to be kept or discarded or donated before returning home if the recipient didn’t want to carry them and this could be done with no offence taken by the giver.
It was a fun little challenge and we ended up receiving and giving small things that we enjoyed and some things we kept and still have.
When we returned home, this experience had changed our outlook completely. We had lived simply and frugally for a year and felt we could continue in this vein and not continue being slaves to the spend. So Christmases on returning have been variations on that original challenge – we give each other a very small budget with the challenge of finding something we would like that fitted within that limit. The fun is the challenge of constraint! Our first challenge on returning was a $20 challenge that replicated the exchange rate on the original £10 limit. We changed the rules though, in that instead of buying for each other, we could buy for ourselves and then be presented with chosen gift by the other. We also gave ourselves a limit of location, in one particular store, just to add to the challenge. In that first year Steve found a small portable gas stove for $20 and we still use it all the time, to take outside, throw the wok on top and cook up an alfresco stir fry. A Christmas Challenge winner that has kept on giving. I found what I always do…I am the easiest of easies when it comes to gifts because if there’s a book involved, I’m a happy chappy, so that was my choice and it gave much pleasure and continues to, as I see it amongst the library of books on my shelves that I keep and share with others.
This year, the tradition continues, although Steve asked for the spend to be increased to $30, which was agreed and the location to be extended to a street, rather than one specific store and so today began the “Rooke Street Roam” to complete our Christmas Challenge. We could purchase something we would like, with a budget of $30 and a shopping geographical limit of somewhere along Rooke Street, the main shopping street in Devonport.
Devonport is the closest city to us, although when I say city, it’s really just a large town with delusions of grandeur that calls itself a city on a population technicality but it’s really just a largish regional town. So…off we went.
The sun shone and we decided to make an outing of it, since we rarely spend time in the “big town”, so we set off along the path by the water and stopped at the Harbourmaster’s Cafe right by the river for a cuppa and a treat, before setting off. On a day like today, the trees and river were looking lovely and it was a nice roam along the foreshore and a very nice spot to sit with a cup of tea.
In the cafe we were served by a fresh faced young girl who exuded all the joy of someone who enjoyed her job and no doubt had left the stress of school and exams behind her and was just loving the freedom of earning money with summer before her.
“Can I get you a drink to start?” she enquired as we perused the menu.
I asked for a green tea and Steve asked for his usual soy decaf mocha and our smiling waitress disappeared to fulfil our requests. As Steve looked at the menu he asked me, “The pesto will have cheese in it won’t it?”
“Yes,” I said, “it’s usually made with parmesan. Read the menu like a list of ingredients though, not a list of set meals. The steak sandwich has relish, so they obviously have that, ask to swap the pesto for relish instead.”
When our “full of the joys of life” server returned, I explained that I was vegan, so could I have the granola and fruit without the yoghurt, which she said would be no problem at all and even went back stage to check there would still be nothing left in it that might be non-vegan. What a gal! When Steve came to order, he said, “I’m going to be a bit different too.”
“It’s going to be another vegan special,” I explained to our nice grinning girl.
“Could I have the bruschetta with relish instead of pesto?” asked Steve.
“No problem at all,” replied the smile, “it’s interesting you say that because I’m trying to be vegan but the bruschetta is my favourite and I’d never thought to have it with relish instead of pesto. Thanks for that! I’m going to try it!”
So there we go, our inventive use of a menu had helped another would-be veggie!
Everything was delightful and when our still happy and smiling server returned to take our plates, she enquired, “How was it with the relish?”
“Beautiful,” Steve replied.
She beamed, “Well, I’m going to have that for lunch!” she told us. Winners all round I think.
Enough of this sitting though…time to begin the Rooke Street Roam and complete the “$30 Christmas Challenge”.
I was easy, I knew exactly where I wanted to go and exactly what I wanted to get. No thought needed. Devonport has a top little independent book shop so off I went, found the book I wanted with the price tag of exactly $30 and I was sorted in minutes. Win!
Next, we were off to find something that would put a festive smile on Steve’s dial on Christmas morning. He headed into an outdoor / travel store but before he began his frugal shop, I stopped to say hello to a couple of four legged pedestrians who were waiting patiently outside.
They were very friendly and I assured them that whoever they were waiting for wouldn’t be long and we had a bit of a chat and I offered some ear rubs to the friendly and smiling little chaps and then it was back to complete Steve’s mission. He looked…and looked…and looked. Nothing took his fancy, so we exited and continued roaming up Rooke Street into another store of the same variety. He looked… and looked… and looked. Nothing. We continued back the way we came and went into a music / entertainment store where he looked at movies and music and looked…and looked…and looked.
“That’s it,” he said with an air of disappointment, “I’m not getting a Christmas present, I can’t find anything.”
Well, I huffed the huffiest huff and rolled my eyes with the most rolliest of rolls. “Well that right there,” I said with the tone of a verbal finger-wag, “has to be the most enormous, gargantuan “First World Problem” I’ve ever heard! If you can’t find a treat you’d like for $30, that’s pretty darn sad, just sayin’!”
The Big Fella stopped and then all of a sudden a 60 watt globe of light pinged above his head.
“I know,” he said, disappointment replaced by an air of ‘by jove I’ve got it’, “I could get a book!”
A comment was begging to leave my lips at that moment, but I commented no further, even though there was so much to be said after we had just walked the length and breadth of the shopping strip to end up right back where we began. So it was though, that Steve found a new book by his favourite author and the challenge was officially complete with success all round.
We strolled back to the car, discovering parts of the city I hadn’t seen before. There was a sculpture I’ve driven past countless times but had never paid any attention to, but today I discovered was a tribute to the Tasmanian poppy industry, which I learned from the plaque supplies 50% of the world’s medical morphine, codeine and thebaine. Well there you go! We drive past the poppy fields all the time where we live and they’re gorgeous at this time of year but I hadn’t known just how much the world depends on those flowers from this little island state.
Then as we strolled on, Steve showed me a new development that is like Devonport’s answer to Melbourne’s Federation Square; an outside space for sitting and entertainment with nearby cafes. It even had the big screen and was complete with lush, green, fake “Brady Bunch grass”. I hadn’t seen that place before because I avoid the “Big Town” and just go in and out when I have to, but today I discovered little bits of it that were new to me. It showed me what can be discovered, even in our own neck of the woods, if we treat it like tourists instead of apathetic locals.
So today we roamed in our own local town. We discovered new things. We saw it through new eyes and we enjoyed the sunshine, our treats and came away with gifts that will be given and received joyfully on Christmas Day, without the need to put more “stuff” into our lives just because we think we’re supposed to. I had already been reminded of the simple pleasures we have when I began the day with a 5:30am walk and run around our small little hamlet and smiled at the “treats” that were delivered to me as I plodded around…a screeching black cocky that was no doubt screeching with laughter at the amusement I was providing and a cloud that I stopped and stared at because it was like nothing I’d seen before, like a swirl of smoke, but a cloud it was for sure. Things like that remind me all the time how lucky I am. I’m lucky and privileged to live here, lucky to have what I have and to see and do simple things I love. I have everything I need.
As we wandered through shops today I couldn’t help noticing the enormous amounts of boxes and bags being carried by people. I wondered…would you need that if it was April? Would you feel the need to buy all of those things if it was, say, coming up to March 25 rather than December 25? I thought not. We don’t go on frantic shopping sprees in May or August, but when Christmas comes around, off we go, melting the credit cards and filling our homes and lives with more and more things. Why, I now wonder? The people in our lives, that we love and care about, love and care about the time we spend together, not the cash we spend on things. We love and care about others no less for spending less, because it’s the time and the shared experiences and just “being” that we love and care about. Yes, we do buy and give gifts to others, but not to excess and it’s still the time and being together at this time of year, or any time, that is most cherished, beyond anything that can be bought or given in a box or bag. If others choose to use this time of year to buy and give lavishly, I am certainly not passing one iota of judgement on that, because we all choose to do whatever is important to us or whatever brings us joy and happiness in whatever form that is. For us though, we have reached this point and it took that year away, with a completely different way of living, to shape the way we think and act now. We cherish time. We cherish experiences. We cherish moments that bring memories that last forever, long beyond this festive season or the next. So this year Steve and I will give each other a small gift that has been chosen because it’s “just right” and it will be received with gratitude and a memory of the fun tradition in which it was chosen. Simple. Simple things. A simple life. Simple pleasures. But…an abundance. Not an abundance of “things” but an abundance of experiences. An abundance of thoughtful and shared moments. An abundance of life. Simple.