Christmas is stressful. Hunting down the perfect gift, spending money on the perfect gift and taking on overtime work to pay for the perfect gift is hard enough, but then one has to start praying that the recipient of the perfect gift doesn’t put it on the “World’s Top Ten Worst Christmas Presents Ever" list on the internet. It is exhausting. Now, competing for buying gifts involves dodging pepper spray... I shudder to think of it.
One morning last week I had an epiphany. While watching a neighbor daintily carry in a new 50 inch flat screen and then haul out a hernia busting 20 inch tube TV, it came to me. It would be more cost effective to turn the system upside down. Instead of matching the perfect gift to the recipient, it would be better to match the recipient to the gift. I mean there must be someone in my circle who would be perfectly happy with a 20 inch tube TV. Why not do my Christmas shopping at all of the best dumpsters in town? Why not go dumpster diving for Christmas? That is when the art of the dive formed so beautifully in my mind. It is an art that will transform forever my perspective on Christmas shopping.
There is indeed an art to the dive. This form of shopping involves some sturdy gloves, occasional heavy lifting, and an empty trunk. If you have access to a truck, that is even better. Dumpster diving or alternative acquisition patrol or adaptive reuse projects or whatever you would like to call it, is really an observation in consumer culture. There is a psychology to the way that people throw away their possessions. Some people randomly toss perfectly good stuff right into the bin, but there are others who perhaps feel guilty about throwing out perfectly good stuff, so instead of tossing it in, they set it beside the dumpster perhaps in hopes that someone will rescue it and give it a home. Possibly, there is no psychology to this behavior at all. Perhaps the stuff beside the dumpster is just too heavy or to bulky to toss over the top.
There is, however, a psychology to the art of the dive. It is a process rather than a single action. It is a multi-phased system that meets the same psychological and emotional needs that conventional shopping fulfills. Phase one of this system employs the thrill of the hunt that is central to the act of traditional shopping. For this phase, you need nerves of steel and you need a map. A good tool for this phase is a GPS unit in your car. This will allow you to electronically mark all of your potential “kill” sites. An old fashioned paper map and highlighter pen work just as well if you want to be retro about the process.
When hunting, it is best to stick with the dumpsters on your normal travel routes. That way you will not encroach on the territories of other hunters and thus provoke a holiday riot. The one exception to this rule is dorm dumpsters. They are fair game for everyone especially if you have a child in college. Some college students plan for a bountiful Christmas and throw out all of their stuff after exams -- some students are very optimistic in the generosity of others at Christmas. You can find all kinds of potential gifts like computers, calculators, beer bongs, imported beer bottle collections, refrigerators, TVs (tube and flat screen), stereos, bikes, coffee makers, books, now that the new readers are coming out, you can find old book readers as well. I generally steer away from larger, more organic items like mattresses, chairs and couches. Those are a bit too “organic” if you get my meaning.
Once you acquire the target area, phase two of the system begins. Phase two is the “kill” phase. There is the element of surprise when you make a find, but the adrenaline starts pumping when you get ready to pounce. The kill phase requires action. Your blood is pumping, your heart is pounding, the “what ifs” start racing through your brain. Those are the nuggets of doubt and dignity that stand in the way of success.
“What if the person who threw this out changes his/her mind and wants it back?”
“What if the neighbor sees me digging through the trash?”
“What if the building manager calls the police and reports me for trespassing?”
These are all valid concerns, but do no let these concerns dissuade you. They add to the thrill of the kill. They are like a fine seasoning on a perfectly grilled steak. The adrenaline release during this phase is much like the euphoria one feels after completing a 5k or half marathon. It fulfills that impulse consumption tension that builds up during the holiday season. It also creates the feeling of exclusivity when you know that you got the only one of its kind and no one else will be able to give the same gift that you will give.
Once you muscle the projection screen TV on to the back of the truck, or fit that mini-fridge in the trunk there is this peeling out, squealing tires, Dukes of Hazard moment you experience when all you want to do is shout out “WHOO HOO” really, really loud and defiantly wave your fist in triumph out the window to those capitalist overlords who just installed the 83 inch plasma unit in their home theater or just put in the mini wine cooler with locking door right beside the dishwasher in their remodeled kitchen.
You conjure thoughts like, “yeah, bitches go on and pay that credit card interest! You got the latest thing, but this year my Christmas presents are FREE!” (This is actually Phase Two, Part A of the art of the dive. It is thus labeled because phase three was already established when this discovery occurred.)
There is a sort of denouement that you must fight once the elation of the kill wears off. You must fight this feeling of a completed task at all costs. This is not the end of the art of the dive but merely the crossing over point. Now things get pretty critical. Now begins the “know your recipient” phase. It could be argued that this is the most critical phase. It is phase three of the art of the dive where you must match the recipient to the gift. This phase may occur in seconds or it may take days or weeks, but it is essential to match the right person to the perfect gift.
This may seem to be a counter intuitive process. Unlike traditional shopping where you first think of the person, figure out what he/she would like as a gift and then set out to find and purchase it, the art of the dive actually turns this process upside down. Its the gift that matters not the recipient. The perfect gift is perfect because it appeared before you like a feast before the starving. It’s not the substance that matters but the sustenance. Now you must match the perfect gift to its proper recipient. Just as you would not feed a hamburger to a vegetarian you must not match the perfect book reader to a gamer or the perfect television to the avid reader. The perfect gift has its perfect recipient among your circle. You just need to think carefully in order to make the match.
Once you have made the match, phase four kicks into gear. You will need to steer your recipients into your way of thinking. You must convince them that what you got them is what they want, what they need and something they could not imagine life without. In this phase, you must practice a Jedi type of mind trick to manipulate the recipient into total acceptance of your way of thinking. For instance, making statements like the following help introduce the need for a particular item:
“You know what this room needs? A retro home theater.”
“I love what you have done with the kitchen. You know a mini wine cooler would be great in here. Not one of those pretentious locking glass faced units, but something with character. You know some thing like a dorm fridge.”
“I like the new 83 inch TV you got for the living room. You know, you should really think about getting a TV just for the kids’ gaming system so that those game images aren’t burned into the screen forever.”
“Those new e-readers are nice, but I really like that newsprint look of the old ones. They are a lot easier on the eyes.”
“Remember that import beer bottle collection we had back in college?”
Statements like these will plant the seed. Occasionally, you must feed and water the seed so that it grows. But you must not over feed it or it may turn out like the 500 pound freakishly huge pumpkin at the State Fair. Then it will be too unwieldy and too pithy on the inside and your “retro” present will not match their overblown desire. You must be judicious in phase four in order to keep the dream alive and nurture the Jedi mind trick.
“There’s something missing in this kitchen that I just can’t put my finger on... .” Little statements like this will help keep the idea planted in the sub-conscious and leave them aching for that perfect gift.
Finally, phase five of the system is delivery. After locating the item, acquiring it, targeting the recipient and planting the seed of desire for that object, giving the gift is the culmination of all this effort. Often times elaborate delivery plans help elevate the value of the gift. For example, a scavenger hunt complete with hidden maps and difficult clues to decipher builds value of the gift in the recipient’s mind. Leading statements are also essential in this final phase of the art of the dive. Statements like:
“Remember when you wanted something a little retro for the kitchen?”
“I knew this would bring back memories!”
“I couldn’t resist this when I saw it! It will add years of life to your new plasma screen and the kids can play video games uninterrupted while you are watching “America’s Funniest Home Videos” or “The Biggest Loser!”
These kinds of statements will make the recipient hearken back to phase four. This will ensure that the Jedi mind trick has firmly taken hold and completes phase five of the art of the dive.
The art of the dive is not fool proof, however. There is a small rate of failure that occurs somewhere during phases three through five for some who use this method of gift giving. As with any system, the human element cannot always be predicted, and thus the system cannot be pronounced one hundred percent successful. In the unlikely event that this system fails, there is a fail safe option. It is phase six.
If your gift manages to find its way on to the “World’s Top Ten Worst Christmas Presents Ever” list, simply employ phase six. Next Christmas go to the office supply store and purchase iron on transfer material that fits into your home office printer. Go into your word processing program and create this statement:
“My friend is one of the World’s Top Ten!” Make sure you use a whimsical font.
Print out this statement and iron onto T-shirts. Give these out in bulk. It will take the sting out of the previous Christmas’s humiliation if not the stench of stale beer and rancid pizza left behind from last year’s crappy present.
Happy dumpster diving everyone! Remember: There is an art to every gift or at least a decent story out of every gift giving experience.