In a time long ago, in a land far, far away (my childhood) at perhaps this very time of year, you might have found me in pigtails, hunched over a desk with a pencil in my hand, tongue poking out and concentration on my brow as I wrote a letter to a fat dude wearing red pants and a white beard.
“I want a dolly. I want a pony. I want a bicycle. I want a Jem and the Holograms Starlight Mansion.” Yeah, that was more my style.
Recently I cleaned out the utensil drawer in my kitchen. You know the drawer. Not the forks and knives drawer. The drawer for everything else. My drawer in particular had doubles, even triples of slotted spoons, can openers, electric mixer attachments (though no electric mixer), garlic presses, cheese graters, fondue forks and sushi rollers — a veritable rattling mess of whooz-its and whats-its galore. I even found a bottle opener with a handle that has a lighter attached to it. And it still works!
So I started thinking about stuff. ‘Tis the season of stuff. The season where stuff gets purchased, wrapped in pretty packaging, exchanged, tried on and then re-exchanged, re-gifted or simply buried in our basements. And with not a speck of snow on the ground in the middle of November and approximately one million letters en route to the North Pole in the next couple of weeks, I started thinking that perhaps it is truly time to rewire our brains, our expectations and our holiday wishes when it comes to stuff. (If you really want to be inspired, check out “The Story of Stuff Project.“)
My parents told me later in life that they would go into major credit card debt just so we had presents under the tree, so that we wouldn’t know that they were too broke to afford the holidays. My sister just sent me a birthday gift that cost $28.00 just for the shipping. And with over 12 million North Americans still paying off their credit card debt from last year, I can’t help but think: This is just ridiculous.
So for me this year, gift giving gets creative. NO MORE STUFF! Or if you if you must give stuff, follow these simple rules: Make, recycle, reuse, re-gift and donate.
At a loss for what to give? Here are some suggestions:
Give the gift of time. Remember those coupon books you used to make? Good for one foot-massage, one batch of Rice Krispie treats, one home-cooked meal? Why not reinstate the coupon book that gives your loved one some of their favorite activities to be shared with theirs truly — you. Goodness knows my dad could have me as an indentured servant for life should he decide to cash all of his in one day. That said, encourage your loved one to cash in his coupons. That’s the point of the thought after all.
Plan an activity together. Instead of spending your money on stuff, why not put it toward a nice night out? A dinner, a movie, a sleigh ride to the North Pole. Or instead of spending money to ship stuff, why not start a fund for travel? Take a trip somewhere. Traveler’s Joy is a registry service for honeymooners who want to travel instead of receive gifts, and I don’t see why you have to be honeymooning to take advantage.
For the culture-inclined, buy a membership to a museum, an aquarium or a science center. Or a gift certificate towards a dance class, a banjo lesson or a how-to seminar.
For the DIYers, get wicked crafty. Remember those afghans from the 1970s? I recently asked all of my friends and family to crochet me one granny square, which doesn’t require the materials, time and effort of say, a holiday scarf, but if every one of my friends and family complies, I will have enough granny squares to make myself a blanket. And THAT is a cool gift!
Purge so that others may profit. Give stuff away. I am moving soon, so this weekend I am hosting a purge party. And no, this is not a bulimic barf-o-rama. This is a party where the guests bring the food and the wine and they leave with anything they’d like to take from my apartment. Hopefully, we’ll be sitting on the floor by the end of the evening and hopefully, the guests will go home with some gifts of their own to keep or give away. Go to flea markets or bazaars and buy trinkets that have been used. Spruce them up with a ribbon or a touch of paint.
Donate. Or donate for someone as your gift. Find out their interests, places they’ve traveled to, causes they’re passionate about and give back on their behalf.World Gifts lets you choose what you’d like to buy to help support a family or village in a third-world country. “Honey, I bought you a beehive for Hanukkah. Do you love it?” Who could say no to that!
Trade or barter. My roommate, who’s a massage therapist, commissioned a knitter to make a scarf for her boyfriend out of hand-spun wool in exchange for massages. The knitter acquired the wool from the spinner for traded services. So three people in this equation got gifts, (and relaxed muscles) and no currency traded hands.
And don’t forget: save your newspapers or opt out of gift wrap. Over four million tons of gift wrap is used and thrown away each year.
So as the snow (hopefully) starts to drift in and the carolers start singing, know that you can sit back with a steaming mug of hot chocolate and a smug smile on your face, because while all those other people out there have the stress of shopping and waiting in long lines, you, my friend, are relaxed and stuff-free.