Tuesday, September 8, 2015


I popped into the drug store the other day to pick up a bus pass and noticed the Halloween decorations. That means Christmas is coming soon! The year goes by pretty quickly in Consumer HolidayLand. It's time to start planning the Family Holiday Celebration and already the question has been raised "What are we doing for gifts this year?"

The amount of consumer goods produced, purchased and wasted (take a look at store shelves on 26 Dec.) for a single holiday worldwide has a significant impact on the Earth's resources and on the global economy. We, in affluent countries, have an excess of material goods, consumer debt and issues with storage. It's worth examining this gift giving tradition we practice and making some changes.

Gift giving can be a difficult process, both on the giver's side and on the receiver's side. As a giver, I want to select a gift that express my love and intimate knowledge of what my loved one would like to receive. As a receiver, I want to be delighted and feel loved. It's a tough balance.

As someone who has given up owning items in many categories of traditional gifts (decorations/adornments/accessories, hardcopy media, house-related tools and general clutter), I've learned to deal with receiving gifts that I know I won't use. I simply express my gratitude, bring the item home and immediately donate, return or re-gift it. I have hurt some feelings when givers have asked about gifts later, but I've tried to explain that I appreciate the thought behind the gift, but I have no use for that particular physical object. It's the best I can do. I refuse to keep an item just because so-and-so gave it to me. I'm over that. We still love each other.                                                

My mother-in-law began many years ago to gift her children theatre tickets for Christmas. It's been wonderful!  Receiving theatre tickets is like getting two gifts - the social experience of unwrapping a gift of love on Christmas morning and the show itself, on a later date. Even better is attending the show with your loved one!!

Gifts of experiences have many advantages over durable goods. Tickets, museum memberships, restaurant certificates and pre-paid balloon rides can still be wrapped and opened on Christmas morning. Experiential gifts also shift dollars from converting natural resources to factory-made goods to direct income for actors, musicians, outdoor guides, yoga teachers, spa workers, chefs and others.

The best feature of experiential gifts is the potential of a shared activity with the family. My father gave us a family reunion in Portland OR last year. That was incredibly awesome. Memories of experiences, shared time with family - these "things" are more important, and more loving than any item purchased at the mall. It doesn't have to be huge. That coffeeshop card can come wrapped with an invitation to share a cup every week or every month. Time invested with family and friends is a gift that truly shows love.

Examine your family's gift giving traditions and practices. Talk to them all about making a shift from durable goods to non-durable goods, like tasty foods, or to experiences, both individual and shared. Make a new tradition. 

If your family doesn't want to change traditions and still expects a pile of fancy wrapped presents on Christmas morning, do what you can to make yourself comfortable, knowing that only by example, can you enlighten. And you can enlighten, only if the other person is open to enlightenment. Accept that and be true to yourself.

What is our family planning to do about gifts this year? I'm not sure yet, but I do know I won’t be going to the mall.

Here are some words of wisdom from my favorite Minimalist writers about how to bring your family around to the idea of gifts that can be loving, yet don't use unnecessary natural resources or become clutter in someone's home.