For Christmas 2019, I bought my eldest child a ukelele.
Money was tight. It usually is at this time of year for most families, but there are few freelance jobs in December (in our line of work), and the car needs a service and MOT here too – and on this occasion, a new timing belt. So I bought the Aldi ukelele on a whim when I saw it in store – there it was, the exact gift I had been looking for and under budget. It was even in a physical, real-life shop, so no packaging from a postal order to dispose of either.
Feeling rather clever, i stashed it under my bed and went on with the Christmas preparations. It was only on the 22nd when I took the ukelele out to tune it that I realised it was largely unplayable.
Let me be clear – the ukelele as a gift isn’t a problem. Its an ideal first instrument. Tuned to a chord, even strumming open strings sounds great – instant musicality. Its compact and light-weight which makes it easy for small people. You don’t need to read music to play – ukelele ‘tab’ music is accessible and easy. All in all, its a rock-solid way to introduce children to the creativity inherent in music.
The issue with this particular ukelele, is that the g-string couldn’t really be tuned without making it so loose as to be baggy.
So, with two days until the gift was due to be given, I called my brother and had him source a second ukelele online. This one cost £15 more, but the build quality was vastly superior, it came with a strap, case and tuner, and a small yet concise book of chords and tab to get a beginner started.
My eldest was absolutely delighted with the second ukelele, but this left the problem of what to do with the first. Initially, I planned to return it, but then I read this article. In short – most returned gifts are sent to landfill, and I absolutely didn’t want to be responsible for consigning a brand new object to oblivion.
In short, my haste, lack of research, and desire for a low price had left me with an item I couldn’t use, an overspend, and the responsibility of disposing of a brand new object – one that probably wasn’t constructed using best-practice to begin with.
I wanted to write about this for many reasons – but primarily, I wanted to show that everyone can and does make environmental mistakes. I spend my free time writing about how we can be kinder to the earth, reading about waste reduction, and trying to use what I have creatively, yet I fell prey to a tiny price tag during a tricky time of year.
It takes planning to avoid this kind of error, and planning takes time. If you’re working, have children, have other people in your care, or any combination of the above, then time is something of a luxury that most of us don’t have around Christmas. It’s easy to talk about shopping earlier in the year, or about making sure we take the time to do our best, but sometimes that either isn’t possible or one or two items fall through the net.
When this happens, it’s natural to want to berate yourself – to be cross about the avoidable error – but treat yourself the way you would treat a friend. Remind yourself that you were busy, that these things happen and that you’ll try harder next time. Then move on. If we begin attaching guilt and shame to the things we do which are less than ideal then it’s easy to lose the motivation to keep going.
In short – be kind to yourself this holiday season. None of us are perfect.