Giving the thought that counts

With Christmas just around the corner, many people are scrambling to finish their Christmas shopping.  I don’t know if it’s my new minimalist outlook on life (I somehow doubt it), but I am finding myself very much indifferent to Christmas this year.  I have no decorations up at home (definitely minimalist of me), and even when helping my friend decorate her tree or seeing my mother’s decorated home, I have no flutter of excitement about it this year.  Maybe it’s because I’ve seen roughly 0.0005 inches of snow so far, and it’s late December.  Maybe it’s because I’m not a little kid about to get a ton of presents.  I know several people who have also said they’re just not getting into it this year.  Maybe the world will end today, who knows?  (Mayan calendar joke, not really predicting the apocalypse). I’ve even tried a marathon of all the Doctor Who Christmas specials, to no avail.  Though I am now afraid of a lot of Christmas decorations.

I do have a feeling that taking my sister to see our dad tomorrow might instill some Christmas spirit into my soul, and I definitely foresee some more excitement on Monday when my family sits down to a family meal.

What I loved about my first Christmas out of college was that I had enough money to buy everyone a REALLY AWESOME GIFT.  I spent a ton of money.  Looking back, I am mildly ashamed. For instance, I bought a Rock Band set that was played once.  Once.  There’s a hundred bucks.  I also bought “us” (I was married at the time) a Wii Fit, which I did play a lot but had to leave behind when I left.  So there’s another hundred bucks.  I bought my friend some books, and I got my sister stuff I don’t even remember but at the time I thought she would like, I got gifts for aunts and uncles and cousins and looking back, I realize that I just liked shopping.  I liked the thrill, and maybe even the stress, of needing to find a gift for someone.

Most people tend to really get into the holiday stress.  It’s almost like a badge of honor to drive yourself clinically insane trying to find gifts.  Here’s a secret: No you don’t! That is a man-made stress.  You do not have to give in to the cultural frenzy of Christmas Shopping.

This year, I’m much more purposeful in my gift-giving.

My sister is getting some of my clothes and jewelry that I don’t wear (and she’s fine with this!).  She also was supposed to get a pair of leggings I bought her in Spain, but my mother put them in her room in a fit of cleaning, not realizing they were supposed to wait for Christmas, so whoops.

My mom is getting help cooking and cleaning, for one thing!  I am also currently researching area spas to get her a gift certificate for a massage.  She loves to be pampered.

My stepdad — and I can say this on the internet because he doesn’t read my blog — is getting a gift certificate to accompany a pilot on a thirty minute flight and get to fly the plane for part of the flight!  He drives a racecar as a HOBBY, so I had to find something thrilling for him.  This was perfect.  My backup gift was going to be a wine aerator because he’s super into wine and doesn’t have one.

My best friend and her family will be receiving a gift membership to their local zoo, because we go all the time and it will be great for them to be able to get in free whenever they want to visit.

In my opinion, the more experiences you can give to people in place of things, the better — all three of these things on my list are experiences.  Mom gets to go to a spa, Stepdad gets to fly a plane, and Best Friend & Kids get to go to the zoo.

The list goes on… some people do read my blog so I can’t go into other details.  But the important thing about this year, and how it should be for people every year, is that I’m going for quality over quantity.  If I put thought into a gift, and it’s really and truly something the recipient would appreciate, I’m golden.  If I put thought into something and it is a gift for a gift’s sake, I’m stopping myself.  I would rather schedule a lunch date with the person or get them a cup of coffee and catch up than give them something they won’t need or even want.

It’s just that simple.  When it’s the thought that counts, make sure it’s thought about the person and not the compulsion to give.  There’s plenty of thought about that already.

Happy Christmas!

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The reason for the season

Today is Black Friday.  You may or may not have gone shopping at 4:00 this morning.  I know that my sister was at a store before the sun was up because she literally started a retail job TODAY.  Poor girl.

Anyway, today I want to bring your attention to the reason for the season.  No, it’s not (necessarily) Jesus.  It’s love and peace and giving.  Here are some ways you can embrace love and peace and giving without going to the mall:

  • Donate time, money, or gently used items to a charity, soup kitchen, or family in need during the season.  Make it a family tradition.
  • Make gifts: Make a delicious food item, put it on a pie plate from a thrift store, and include a note that the dish is theirs to keep or regift to someone else.  This is a nearly zero-waste gift. If baking or cooking isn’t your thing, consider making bath scrubs (in repurposed glass jars!), or make creative art pieces.
  • Spend time together: Spend time with your family and friends during the holidays, just catching up or doing something you enjoy like seeing a movie or treating yourself to a favorite restaurant.
  • Offer your services: Offer to do the dishes after the holiday meal, or spend some time watching your relatives’ or friends’ kids so the parents can get some time alone.  Every minute you spend helping someone else is a minute they get to themselves, and that is a wonderful gift to give.

These are just a few ideas for keeping the focus on family and love around the holidays. Share more ideas in the comments!

What are your favorite things-that-aren’t-things to get in the holiday season?

Tis the season

It’s almost Thanksgiving.  Which, in today’s culture, means that it’s almost Black Friday Eve.  People will camp outside stores to make a mad dash for doorbuster sales and discounted prices to prepare for their holiday gift-giving traditions.

I posted a note on my Facebook and tagged my close family and friends, letting them know that they were exempt from giving me a gift this year.  Here’s what my note said:

Attention friends and family, with Black Friday approaching I wanted to let you know that you’re off the hook for me this year.  Consider yourself gift-exempt.  I would rather have a nice phone call with you to catch up (if you’re far away) or make plans to spend time together (if you’re close) than get a gift.

I know that the holiday season is a time of giving, and you may feel strongly about getting me a gift.  If you do feel compelled to give me something for the holidays, please remember that I’m vegan, I  buy organic as often as possible, and I don’t use commercial bath or beauty products with unpronounceable chemicals in them.  If you want to buy something for me, please buy something made in the USA or a Fair Trade Certified import that is not made of plastic. You could also make a charitable donation in my name to a worthy cause.

Or just ask me what I’m currently coveting, for example:

  • -A HankyBook: http://hankybook.com/ (I like the pink lotus pattern especially)
  • -White or sage green color cloth napkins (secondhand, seriously, shop at Goodwill, antique malls, and estate sales)
  • -Measuring spoons (again with the secondhand stuff from Goodwill, etc.)
  • -A nice (and smallish) bamboo cutting board, or bamboo cooking utensils
  • -Really, just ask and I will come up with something I would really appreciate as a gift! But you are not obligated.

Now that I have given you my high-maintenance hippie Christmas list, I’m sure you’ll be very relieved to go read the first part again and remember that I am giving you gift-exempt status!

I love you all, and I wish you happy holidays 🙂

I thought this was a pretty appropriate note letting people know that, as we approach the Time of Shopping, they could leave me off their lists.  This is my one-person passive protest against consumerism.  Because really, Christmastime has become more about the gifts and the sales and the stuff than the love for a lot of people.  I just want the love.  I’ve always loved Christmas, and I remember spending days going through catalogs and circling the things I wanted.  I don’t even remember what I asked for or received most years.  These are the gifts I remember the most:

  • A music box with Disney’s Aladdin and Jasmine on the flying carpet, some time around age 5 or 6.  My dad wrote a very long note about how I was not to shake the box because it was fragile, and I thought it was a joke so I shook it anyway.  It was fine, but I did lose it at some point through the years and I bought one on ebay a couple years ago because I missed it and it reminds me of my dad.  It’s on my filing cabinet at work.
  • A “Boxcar Children” book from my aunt, when I was around 5 or 6.  I remember saying “Ew, I don’t like these books,” and my mom told me to be appreciative and give it a chance.  I quickly consumed ALL THE BOXCAR CHILDREN BOOKS.  I even “left a mystery” in the house when we moved out of it.  It was not a good mystery, it was some pokemon cards stuffed into a hole in a closet wall. I am mildly ashamed of this.
  • A stuffed animal seal, around age 11.  It was donated by someone because we were part of an adopt-a-family program.  I have donated gifts to families in need since then, always remembering and being thankful for those who gave me that seal.
  • A glass chess set from my brother, age 11.  It was gorgeous and wonderful.
  • A laptop computer from both my parents when I started college (age 17).  I saved the gift tag for years because it was the first “Love, Mom and Dad” gift I had seen since they divorced when I was seven.
  • This year my mom is paying for my hotel stay in Spain as my Christmas gift, because she is awesome.

I remember how those gifts made me feel.  All of these gifts were in tune with the things I loved and appreciated, like my favorite movie (Aladdin, at the time), a favorite hobby (reading), a game I had recently learned to love (chess), and something I needed for school (the computer).  This year, mom’s picking up my hotel tab and I have no additional expectations for more gifts, because that gift of having a place to stay on my vacation is plenty, even without a tangible item.  I’m minimizing tangible items, remember?

But putting parameters on gifts like this is a little inappropriate because it’s the thought that counts, right?  My counter-argument to this is that all I want is the thought. I want my family and friends to think about me this season, to call me on the phone and catch up, to go out to lunch, or to just spend some time with me.  My “parameters” for the gifts I would like are the same parameters I set when I’m shopping for myself — I do my best to buy local, sustainable, Fair Trade, and made in America products.  I do not always succeed, but I make an effort and I am always thinking about what my dollars mean.

(My iPhone is staring at me like I’m a hypocrite right now.  Are there any ethically made cell phones?)

All I ask is that, if someone is going to get me a gift (which they are in no way obligated to do), they get me something that resonates with my personal values and beliefs.

Are you taking any particular stands on this matter for the holidays?