Meaningful Gift Giving and Saying No to All the 'Extra'

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Ah, we’re here. Halloween has officially ended and we can now jump straight into the holidays. For many this is a happy season but there’s also a great mixture of chaos + stress that we all feel surrounding this time of year. While we’re excited about the cozy and family time (..some of us..ha) that is to come, we’re also mentally, physically, and financially pushed to our limits. When living in a first world country, we feel like we’re running a rat race to give and give until we’ve completely exhausted ourselves in every way. We feel pressured to give beyond our means because it’s expected. We are literally brainwashed by the media, commercials, and stores, being told everyday for almost 2 months that we NEED to buy this for so and so. We NEED to keep spending or we aren’t doing enough. The entire cycle is depressing and we continue to do it year after year. What if I told you you could skip all that? You could actually have a meaningful holiday without all the pressure that’s been put on you from outside factors?

Two years ago I had a great realization. I realized that this entire system wasn’t fun in the least. I was SO stressed about money and having to find enough to make sure everyone got a gift. I grew up with parents that did that, so I assumed I had to do the same when I became an adult. If I didn’t give so and so a gift, I was guilt tripped by family members for not participating. When I did give gifts they were not of good quality. Usually just some random thing I picked off a shelf because it looked like something so and so would like. It usually cost me about $20, was made in China, and was probably completely forgotten within minutes of opening it. But that’s okay! Because I was giving something, right? No, not right. I’m not sure why we feel like everyone needs to have 20+ gifts to open every holiday season. Why we insist on collecting all the random thingymabobs (aka plastic) that gets tossed in some drawer where you say, “where the heck did that come from?”, 1 year later. I think it’s the, “more, more, more” mentality. The more we have, the happier we’ll be, which leads to even more depression because we realize that thing didn’t make us very happy. We all make Christmas lists dreaming of how we’ll feel when we finally have that “thing”. We either get the thing and are a little let down that we don’t feel any different or we don’t get the thing and we feel like we’ve really missed out on how that thing could’ve made us feel. Catch my drift here? It’s a cycle and an awful cycle at that. It’s set up to make us feel pushed to give until we can’t pay our own bills (or possibly go into debt) and in turn we have to deal with the let down of having all these materials once Christmas day is over.

I know, I know, I’m rambling, but I know I’m not alone in feeling this. I think a lot of people are starting (or do) hate this time of year simply because of the commercialization and expectations. What used to be about thoughtful gifts (minimally giving) and family time has grown into a huge monster who demands you give all the things and leave yourself empty. We CAN get back to what the holidays are really about but we have to be willing to make others uncomfortable in order to do so. It is OKAY to say no, I swear it is.

I’ve thrown together a little list of what I’ve done/changed to avoid all that pressure. All of it. I now enjoy the holidays by giving just a few handmade gifts to family/friends that are truly present in my life and have completely let go of all exceptions of gift getting. Every year I practice this, my holidays get a little happier.

1.) Giving + Receiving should not be stressful.

The first thing I did when I decided we were going to strive for a “slow” Christmas was to let our family/friends know we would no longer be participating in the rat race. We didn’t want gifts that were given on a whim. We didn’t want to give gifts that had no meaning. In fact, we didn’t really even WANT gifts. We don’t do Christmas lists, we don’t do family exchanges, we just don’t. I made a rule that if it makes me stressed in anyway, I’m not doing it. I think that should be a rule in everything. If you instantly feel stressed by something, don’t do it, don’t allow it into your life. The entire point of the holidays is to be happy, and stress does not equal happiness. How did people react to this? I got a few snarky comments, some thinking I was only joking. I made sure they understood I wasn’t joking, please don’t send us anything, we don’t have space in our home for the random baubles. I also had people that were very curious about this way of taking on Christmas. They wish they could do that but their family would never “allow” it..which is mind blowing. Who cares what others think? Do what you need to be happy during this season. That’s what it’s about, after all.

2.) If you want to give, give gifts with thought and meaning.

I want to be clear: I am not against gifts but I am against gifts that are wasteful. Last year we sent everyone in our family a jar of honey from our bee hive we’d worked with all summer long. I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited/proud of a gift we’d given. A lot of work went into that hive and honey seems to be a universal love, you can’t go wrong. When choosing gifts I think we have to go beyond, “will they like this?”. Think, “will they use/display this?”, or will it become forgotten in a pile somewhere? Can they really relate to this in anyway? How long will/can they use this?

3.) Consider your environmental + economical impact.

The waste that occurs during Christmas shopping is absolutely astronomical. Most think we can only get our gifts from generic department stores, in turn we end up buying plastic “things” from a cooperation that bought it from overseas. The plastic thing was probably made in a sweat shop where workers are making pennies to make sure the first world countries can have all the things. EVERYTHING we purchase has an environmental + economical impact, whether you like it or not. Your dollar is how you vote. So, how will you vote? Do you vote for small/handmade/local? Or do you buy from a cooperation that is ran by a billionaire CEO? I think most prefer to keep their head in the sand in this situation but enough is enough, we have to make better choices. I know, you’re going to say that local/handmade costs too much to purchase for everyone, and you’re right! Those people are asking for living wages and it’s not always possible to purchase that route for everyone..but then with that comes this, you do NOT have to buy for everyone. Mind blowing, yes? You don’t. If it really breaks your bank account to buy meaningful gifts for everyone, then you simply can’t. The end.

4.) You can give without gifts.

You can give without giving a tangible gift. If you don’t have the funds to give gifts and/or you aren’t artistically inclined to make it yourself, there are other ways to show someone you love/care about them in this season. Simply inviting someone over for coffee and chatting with them is absolutely enough. Push the materials aside and focus on connection. A laugh with your friends means so much more than that thing. If you know someone is struggling right now think of something you could do to take that load off them. Maybe offer to babysit their children for a few hours so they can get a moment to breathe? Make them a cheap + easy dinner to let them have an evening “off”. You can also go do free things like ice skate, hike, bike, walk the streets of downtown and grab a cheap coffee. I can assure you this small gesture means so much more than that $20 thingymabob sitting on Walmart’s shelf.

5.) You can say no to all the extra.

I’m talking about the family gift exchanges, white elephants, secret santas, etc, etc. There’s nothing more wasteful than these gift exchanges. Usually cheap gifts are bought because there’s a small price limit or because you really don’t know the person you’re buying for. I know you may feel like you’re the work/family scrooge, but it’s okay. Who cares?! If someone has an issue with it, explain that you’re practicing a slow and meaningful holiday season, and this game doesn’t align with your values.

Hopefully through all my ramblings you got something from this. By slowing down and truly thinking about the gifts we’re giving, we can make such a huge impact in every way. Environmentally, economically, and just through our personal relationships. Do something, make something, or buy something with a small footprint, whatever you choose, do it with meaning.