Give Gifts That Matter

I used to use gift-giving as an excuse to shop.


I would feel the urge to buy something – anything really, just because it's "fun" to buy.  (Oh yes, I understand the idea of a shopping addiction, that little rush of pleasure when you acquire something new.)


So, to ease my guilt (because I knew I didn't really need anything), I'd buy something as a gift.  Maybe because one of my nieces or nephews really did have a birthday coming up, or because Mother's Day was just around the corner, or because I thought I'd save an item for Christmas.  (I often had a closet full of gifts by October that I didn't remember purchasing and that I no longer felt excited about giving.)


gift



A lot of debt is generated by gift-buying.  


Back in the day, I always had a few thousand dollars in credit card debt, largely due to spur-of-the-moment buying.  I always justified it because much of it was stuff I bought for others, but I was usually spending money I didn't have.  In my teens, I saved my allowance and babysitting earnings for Christmas shopping, but I certainly didn't continue that practice as an adult.


Our culture tells us we should have what we want even if we can't afford it.  We just buy now and pay later.  We have "good" credit if we make our payments on time, even if we're carrying a staggering amount of debt.  And the items end up costing a lot more when you take interest into account.


What are we buying, anyway?  We're spending money we don't have to buy things people often don't want or need.  And since we all feel some guilt about getting rid of gifts, they clutter our homes or fill our storage spaces, adding to our feelings of stress and overwhelm.




What do people want, if not presents?


I decided to have some conversations with friends and family members about their favorite memories of birthdays or holidays.  This is what they talked about:

  • a "treasure hunt" for gifts, with clues and riddles to solve 
  • annual trips to the same mountain Christmas tree farm, roaming through the crisp winter forest to choose a tree, and sitting by the campfire with mugs of hot apple cider
  • a holiday trip to a small coastal town, and the ice cream shop that opened on Christmas morning to give free ice cream cones to passersby
  • a birthday trip to San Francisco which included walking across the Golden Gate Bridge and going to the Exploratorium
  • a birthday party at a local tea shop at which all the girls wore fancy Victorian hats and feasted on tea, scones, and tiny sandwiches served on pretty china

  • a late-October birthday party when every guest carved, decorated, and took home their own jack-o-lantern

No one mentioned gifts.  No one remembered even one present, although I'm sure they got some.


Think about your own favorite memories.  Do they involve things you received, or occasions you experienced with friends and loved ones?





The most valuable gifts we can give are time and attention.


Even if your "love language" is "giving gifts," that doesn't mean you have to buy a knickknack or a piece of jewelry to show your love.


The best gifts demonstrate how well you know someone and how much attention you pay to their interests.  They also cost more than money – they take creativity, sensitivity, and effort.  A heartfelt thank you letter could be a wonderful gift.

  • Don't just give concert tickets to your parents – take them to the concert and enjoy talking about it afterwards.  
  • Don't just give your kid a pile of new toys – buy one toy you know he'll love, and then play with him.
  • Don't just give a restaurant gift card to your friend – take her to lunch, or invite her into your home for a meal, and spend time reconnecting.

Bake cookies, plant a rose bush, or refurbish that used bicycle together.  Go to a movie, break in new hiking boots, or get a massage together.  Go somewhere you've never been, but always wanted to go, together.  Turn your phone off, and focus on your shared activity.


When you give gifts that matter, you do more than avoid clutter and debt.  You do more than throw a Pinterest-worthy party or attempt to wow with quantity or expense.  You actually strengthen the relationship between yourself and your recipient, and create memories that last forever.






Updated February 2023

Comments

  1. I too used to have a couple of drawers filled of future gifts. I'm trying hard to live in the present and not buy for the future. Birthdays used to be so simple and used to mean gathering with family and extended family for me until the grandparents passed and then my own parents passed. Now as a woman with young single adult children, I wonder if we will ever live in the same state to continue to gather and celebrate.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for your comment. You bring up a good point about how difficult it is to celebrate when your family lives so far apart. My siblings and my husbands siblings all live in different states, so we never celebrate birthdays together, and rarely meet for holidays. Phone and Skype calls are usually the best we can do, though a few of us still send hand-written cards/notes. I don't think exchanging physical gifts would make our relationships closer, however.
      I am so fortunate that my two adult children (one married with two children of her own) each live within 50 miles (though in opposite directions). We are able to gather far more often. I know that may not always be the case.

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