Dialogue: We're going bananas, or we're out of our trees

Want to avoid buying the type of Christmas gift that no one will thank you for? A pre-purchase test can be applied, writes SHELLEY BRIDGEMAN.

Only 26 shopping days until Christmas. That quaint phrase must have been coined in the time of restricted retail trading hours when there was a difference between the number of shopping days and the net number of days to go.

The countdown is on to find that elusive gift for the relative or friend who has everything. And, no doubt, we'll also discover a few special treats for ourselves along the way. It would be rude not to, really.

We go willy-nilly into buying things that are talked up in the mail-order catalogues or that wink at us through the shop windows. And if you manage to avoid temptation yourself, you can be certain a kindhearted friend will ensure you are suitably stocked up on items of dubious value this festive season.

"It looked so nice" and "it seemed like a good idea at the time" are meek excuses we've all used for buying something that didn't live up to expectations.

The marketing textbooks call it post-purchase dissonance - and many retailers have made their fortunes from it.

While it is fashionable to pare down our possessions and simplify our lives, little thought is given to avoiding cluttering up our lives in the first place. There is a plethora of worthy advice on how to rid our homes of clutter - to give old clothes and unwanted household items to charity - but there is a distinct lack of direction as to how we can prevent the rampant accumulation of material goods.

But never fear. There is a way. It just requires a bit of thought and some rigorous pre-purchase testing.

There is a saying that roughly goes, "If it's not beautiful or functional, throw it out."

That is a good start, but it doesn't go far enough. You see, some items may be functional, but if they are too specialised in their application, they are not worth the cupboard space devoted to them.

An asparagus steamer is a classic example of this. Regardless of how succulent it makes those green spears, why would anyone want a utensil that deals with just one odd-shaped vegetable which happens to be in season only for a few weeks a year - especially when there are numerous other just as tasty cooking methods?

The trouble with succumbing to the sleek metallic lines of an asparagus steamer is that you have started on the slippery yet seductive slope to a whole raft of highly specialised equipment.

Next thing you know you will be knee-deep in apple slicers, avocado choppers, bean slicers, cheese cutters, cherry pitters, egg slicers, garlic presses, ginger graters, kiwifruit spoons, lemon squeezers, lettuce spinners, lime presses, oil pots, olive stoners, oyster forks, peach stoners, pineapple slicers, pizza cutters, strawberry hullers - and other single-purpose implements. Where will it all end?

Whatever happened to multi-tasking? Surely the average kitchen would be bulging at the seams after such wanton excesses. And half the time each particular gadget performs nothing that cannot be achieved with a general-purpose knife. You can imagine the scenarios.

"Can we have baked beans for tea tonight, mum?"

"No, son, I'm afraid my stainless steel individual bean dispenser is broken. It will have to be steamed asparagus again."

But the very worst objects are those that have the sheer gall to masquerade as labour-saving devices when in reality they create far more work than they ever save.

Anti-drip wine bottle fittings come under this heading. If wiping up occasional drops spilled when pouring wine bothers you so much that you invest in a special drip-free spout, how on earth are you going to cope with the arduous chores of first inserting the gadget and then cleaning and drying it?

And what about paper-towel dispensers? Why would you want to display your paper-towel rolls on the wall anyway? They are not exactly objects of beauty or status symbols to be shown off. Surely they belong in a drawer or on the bench.

And who needs another task to perform in the kitchen? "I can't talk right now, I'm installing my paper-towel roll in the dispenser."

There is also an invention called a spoon rest. Yes, seriously. These little implements have been designed to rest your dirty spoons on when cooking so your work surface stays clean. So instead of just wiping your bench down afterwards, you will also have to wash, dry and put these spoon rests away. How ridiculous.

Element covers and porcelain doll toilet-roll holders also fit into the dreaded create-more-clutter-for-little-reward category.

The world's worst gift on offer this year, though, would have to be the banana tree - a stand specially designed so you can hang your bananas from it, thus allowing the air to circulate around them.

This item fails both key tests because it is too specialised (deals with bananas only) and also makes more work (hanging up the fruit).

But wait, there's more. It also requires assembling. Oh dear.

* Shelley Bridgeman is an Auckland writer.

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