Joy! The time of giving is upon us!
And when I think of the sounds of this season I think of festive music, playing children, family and friends laughing and the grumbling of this phrase:
“Crap…I have to buy [so-and-so] a gift.”
If you’re shopping for me and find yourself uttering those words, or if the idea of buying me a gift is causing you even the slightest stress at all — put the crummy adult gift down and find the nearest exit!
Isn’t both the giving and receiving of gifts supposed to be a merry thing? You know, where the giver experiences as much delight as the receiver?
If you want to give me something, I urge you to ask yourself two questions:
1) Am I giving this because I feel obligated? Odds are your gift will convey your answer.
If the answer is no, then you’re excited to give me that thing I have needed for awhile or that treat you know I’ve wanted for ages. As such, I will probably think, “Wow! They’re so thoughtful and know me so well!”
If the answer is yes, you’ll presumably be stressed and get something last minute and generic. What sort of message does a wrapped-likely-unsustainably-produced-probably-made-in-China-doodad communicate? Perhaps, “Wow, they felt obligated to give me this and didn’t know what to get.” And envision being the receiver of a gift from someone who actually uttered the words, “Crap, I have to…” regarding it. Would you want to receive that gift?
2) Is this gift going to be in the landfill for much longer than it will actually be enjoyed?
Imagine that I don’t like your gift (a probable scenario if you answered yes to the first question). Fast-forward two hours after receiving it: I’ve forgotten about it.
Fast-forward two weeks: I’m thinking of what to do with your gift. Do I donate it? Or [gasp] throw it away?
Maybe I donate it and it brings someone else a modicum of pleasure before going to the landfill, or to the landfill via the storage unit—or I send it straight to the landfill. Either way, I undergo the mental anguish of not wanting to trash it or give it away even though I won’t use it because I will feel like an ungrateful, bad friend.
So, between your mental anguish of choosing said gift and my mental anguish of deciding what to do with said gift, what are we really doing here?
Imagine, instead, that I like your gift. I keep it. I use it all googly-eyed for a time and move it with me from place to place for 50 years until I can’t move anymore.
Imagine thousands of square miles of landfill and storage space filled with people’s unwanted things and all of the plant and animal life and beauty that was destroyed for this “stuff”. Visualize what natural things were displaced just to store this synthetic something that maybe you didn’t really want to give and I didn’t really want to receive.
If you answered yes to either question but decide you really want to give me something without adding to all of the “stuff” that consumes our beautiful planet, I offer a list of suggestions. Most are cheap or free and can be made in your own home without standing in a line. Many have little environmental impact, and hopefully they are things that will bring more merriment than stress to us both:
Write me a funny choose your own adventure story—or any story, really.
Make us our own handshake.
Help me with that task you know I’m loathe to do. Don’t just offer, tell me the day and time you will arrive at my door and give me a day of work. Show up with my favorite beverage, any tools we might need, your enthusiasm and a smile.
Write a cheesy poem or rap or dance or song and perform it for me in costume. We were children once, we know how to play, make noise, be frolicsome.
Draw a coloring page on recycled paper for me to unwind with or that I can give my kids when I’m spread thin.
Challenge me to a leg-wrestling tournament where, win or lose, you buy me a cone of something special afterward.
Send me a message next time you think of me and tell me a terrible joke you know I’ll love.
Make me a notepad out of recycled paper where you draw a doodle or write a note on each sheet.
Make me something tasty, deliver it to me sometime then actually sit with me and eat it.
Attach a homemade card (made on recycled paper of course) to a fire log that we can take camping next time we go. Include a drawing of that thing you know has been my bane so we can laugh maniacally as we watch it go up in flames.
Smack me on the butt and tell me I still have the sweetest cheeks around.
Print or draw a picture of us that one time, write a funny anecdote about the experience on it and make a frame out of something lying around your house.
Buy me a lesson in that thing I keep saying I want to learn how to do.
Look me in the eyes and tell me you forgive me for that thing I did and mean it. Or that you’ll never forget me for how I [insert magical quality] and that time that [insert poignant memory].
Make a scavenger hunt for us around town with all those things we’ve talked about doing but have never done. Schedule the babysitter and otherwise make it happen.
Shovel my driveway, or prune my hedges, or take my dog for a walk, or my kids to the park someday when I’m just too busy.
Say, “Hey, let’s spend time together. Because life is short and I appreciate you so instead of giving you some common trinket I want to spend time enjoying each others company where we look each other in the face and stuff.”—then do it.
If you’re worried about what your gift might convey to me in a society where we’re supposed to buy each other things to show each other we care, I got you. After slapping me on the butt say, “Hey, I know maybe you wanted that crappy gift, but this came from the heart and has less of an environmental impact. Furthermore, you’re always talking about the negative global impacts of consumerism so I’m putting my money where your mouth is.
Additionally, we quickly grow used to our material things, they go out of style, or lose their value, while experiences are the actual moments of our lives. So let’s share some time and life instead.”
I’m your friend. I’ll get it.
Someone sent the Buddha a gift box tied with a ribbon. Buddha opened it to find it empty. “Aha!”, he said, “Just what I wanted. Nothing!”
This is literally the tip of my gift idea iceberg. Holler at me for a personalized suggestion.
Author: Monica Munguia
Editor: Erin Lawson