Tuesday, June 1, 2010

It's the thought that counts....or what madness lies in the heart of the giver

I would love to have this as a timely Christmas post, but I can't possibly wait that long.  Plus, with kids, a gift-giving experience is always just a few sleeps away.

Gift-giving is crazy...in so many ways.  It's a fantastic mix of fun and guilt, guessing and missing, happy surprises and award-winning performances.  It's also about overspending, confusing needs and wants, and often sadly, CLUTTER!

I say again, crazy.  I consider myself a rational gift-giver, and I still succumb to it.  My mother suggested we all contribute some $$ for my sister to get herself some special jewelry for her, ummmm, recent birthday.  (The adults in our family exchange birthday gifts but only do Christmas pressies for the kids.  I love this system.)  Great suggestion, and Mom even did the birthday coupon herself.  We anted up the dosh, and Whew!  Duty done for this important recent birthday!

That's not crazy, I hear you say.  But when Sis mentioned later that she'd used the money to buy herself some proper exercise gear instead, I had an genuine moment of "Huh? That was supposed to be for jewelry!" Didn't say it out loud, thank goodness.  Crazy!  If Sis wanted new exercise gear more than new jewelry, then of course that's what she should get.  All of us close to her know that what she's doing with that exercise gear is more flattering than another little sparkly.  Hello, the jewelry wasn't even my idea in the first place.  Yet gift-givers ownership madness had taken over.

There's not enough "Got you this, hope you like it" and too much "Verily, I have given thee a gift and therefore thou shalt please me in its dispensation!"  Of course we want to feel our gift was a winner and not an "Oh..."  I once gave a gift that made the recipient cry from its poignancy.  In the words of Jack Nicholson, I overshot a little - I was just aiming for personal and memorable.  But although I haven't seen that person for quite a number of years, I still remember this unusual achievement. 

For my kids' birthday parties, I love inviting lots of people, but I hate having lots of cheap toys arrive as my kids' new and temporary best friends.  After one birthday party for my son where he was simply overwhelmed by wrapping paper and gifts, I had to do something different.  My invites now include an invitation to bring a gold coin contribution (that's NZ$1 or $2) to a special family gift and/or donate a small amount to a favourite charity in the child's name.  No further questions asked, because I'm just as happy whichever they choose.

I hope that I'm saving busy parents a chore, saving the earth just a little bit, and saving myself from the hassle of having my children fall in love with a flashy toy today, crush it tomorrow, and wonder where it went the day after that.  I'm sure I'm not doing the Warehouse any favours.
  •  My favourite disposable, cheap and cheerful toys are stickers, colouring books or art supplies.  I'm not 100% anti-plastic, but I'm certainly not a fan.  And shouldn't a toy that will never biodegrade at least provide some years of service?  Not hours?
Most of us get a real thrill that someone cared enough to get us a gift, and do feel obligated. Add it all up, and this is what keeps unwanted gifts moldering away in boxes in closets, tucked at the bottom of drawers never to see the light of day, or hurriedly brushed off and shown off when a visitor is due.

Regardless of needs, credit-card balances, and room on the shelves, gift-giving runs rampant.  It's not just the Hallmark holiday problem - it's just plain fun to give gifts.  So how can you do it thoughtfully as a minimalist or for a minimalist?

Everyday minimalist has some great tips - Unclutterer always has good advice too!   And for me?
  1. Keep their values in mind, not mine
  2. Choose something they will enjoy using over something they must enjoy keeping
  3. Don't spend what I will miss
  4. Enjoy giving with love

In some cases, I just need to look at what I have and use it.  In my kitchen post, one clutter box was a snazzy chocolate lovers mug set with shaker and frother from my Mom.  Dunno exactly why I wasn't using it - some idea that we already have enough mugs?  We do, but I'm really enjoying having my own special one.   The kids are thrilled with their fluffies with choccie sprinkles on top!   And how can I have so many cute bottles of moisturiser and also have cracked heels?  (Pause for brief foot care break - I've stored them by the computer because that's where I'm most likely to have a spare minute.)

So what do you do with a well-meant but unwanted gift?  And if (totally hypothetically of course) my most recent present is right inline with one of my hobbies, but it would immediately be seconded as toys and ruined by the kids, how do I break that gently to my favourite giver?

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