Not so long ago, I wrote a post with a list of so-called “gift ideas.” Sparked by late night desperation (the realization that I largely hadn’t even started my holiday shopping) and fueled by procrastination, I came up with a list of gift suggestions. Things you could buy at a grocery or drug store, or find lying around the house. I was being silly. But here’s the secret. I wasn’t entirely joking. While I’m not suggesting that you give your aunt antacids or your uncle dishsoap, I do think it makes more sense to give gifts that are at least useful, even if not traditionally gifted. Here’s what I’ve been realizing more and more about our (US) culture:
- people have far too much stuff
- these days, most people I know will buy stuff that they want, unless it’s something too expensive (and then you won’t be able to give it to them either)
- so often people end up buying gifts for people just for the sake of giving them
Just walk into any store this time of year, and you’ll see aisles full of items that few people would buy for themselves: cheaply produced electronics, gaudy decorations, novelty items. All of them bulky and largely useless in all their bulky and wasteful packaging. Their primary purpose is to be gifted: bought, wrapped, given, unwrapped, perhaps played with or admired briefly. And then what? (Stored, stashed, trashed…) But people get desperate when they run out of time, or don’t know someone’s tastes too well. I know all too well. It’s so easy to fall into holiday shopping traps.
Don’t get me wrong. I do enjoy both giving and receiving (some) gifts. But all too often gift-giving and gift-receiving can become a burden. It becomes downright wasteful. So over the last few years, I’ve been trying to rethink the way I do my holiday shopping. A woman I work with has mentioned her niece to me a couple of times, a woman whose slogan as far as gifts go is “if I can’t eat it, wear it or put it in my pocket, I don’t want it.” Such wonderful and simple guidelines.
So here’s what I’ve been trying to do for my own holiday shopping dilemmas (that is, for those times when I haven’t found a gift that I know a particular person will want, or that I really want to give):
And while it’s traditionally been considered tacky to regift, I have this dream that this attitude will change. (I suppose the tackiness of regifting is to give someone a gift that you didn’t like, and want to get rid of. But that’s not the sort of regifting I have in mind.) There’s a company, wrapsacks, that makes cloth gift bags that are designed to be reused. They are not only beautiful and “planet-friendly,” but they have the added feature that their journey (from recipient to recipient) can be tracked online. (If I’d been more organized, I would have done more of my holiday shopping, or at least wrapping, from them…)
I’ve thought it would be wonderful to have other items that were more-or-less meant to be regifted: they could develop a history, be enjoyed year after year by different people. A book, a box, an ornament, perhaps. The giver could add a personal touch (a date, a name, a location, a drawing or a photo…), and then the recipient could either give it back to the original giver another year (adding their own bit), or pass it on to someone else.