|Photo by Val Vesa on Unsplash|
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 assuage 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.)
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? Largely it's stuff that no one needs or wants. We all feel a certain amount of guilt when we get rid of gifts, so they sit in our homes cluttering them up, adding to our feelings of stress and overwhelm.
We are spending money we don't have to buy things people don't want, which winds up filling our homes with clutter.
Ask your friends or family members about their favorite memories of birthdays or holidays. When I did this, people mentioned:
- solving clues in a "treasure hunt" for gifts
- 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
- the holiday we stayed in the coastal town of Mendocino, and the ice cream shop on Main Street that opened up on Christmas morning to give free ice cream cones to passersby
- a birthday trip to San Francisco when we walked across the Golden Gate Bridge and visited the Exploratorium
- a birthday party held at a local tea shop, when 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 actual gifts. Not one present was even remembered.
Think about your own favorite memories. Do they involve things you received, or things you experienced with friends and loved ones?
The most valuable gifts we can give are time and attention.
I don't care 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 might 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.