22. Clutter-Free Gifts

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Right now, we’re in the middle of the holiday gift giving season. Giving gifts can be a great way to express our love for each other, and I’m all for sharing and expressing love. But these days a lot of people have all the stuff they need. At family gatherings, I’ve seen huge piles of gifts, and I wonder how many of them are still in regular use at the end of one year.

I’ve always had a personal interest in this topic. I’m continually distressed by the rampant commercialism and materialism that I see at this time of year, and I avoid any kind of a retail establishment from November through the end of January.

When I was in high school, a friend got me a gift for my birthday that was just completely out of touch with who I am and what I like. I felt like anyone who knew me, even a little bit, they would know that this was not a good gift for me. When she gave it to me, she said “I didn’t know what to get you, so I just got you this.” I concluded that the only reason she got me this gift was that she felt obligated to because it was my birthday. After that, I didn’t want anyone to feel obligated to give me a gift ever again, so all through college, I wouldn’t tell anyone when my birthday was. It was actually kind of neurotic. My friends would try to steal my wallet so they could look at my drivers license to find out my birthday. I said, “I don’t want people to feel obligated to get me a gift, and if someone wants to give me a gift, they shouldn’t need an excuse like my birthday to do it. Why don’t we share our gifts with each other all the time?” Fortunately, I’ve become more relaxed in my old age. My friend Gary from college was astonished to find that I put my birthday in my Facebook profile.

Did you know that one out of five people already say they plan to return gifts they will receive this holiday season. They know that even before they’ve received them. Furthermore, when holiday shoppers are surveyed, many of them say they’re shopping for themselves rather than buying gifts for others. In fact, a survey of women in the UK indicated that 50% of them spend more on themselves than for everyone else on their list combined.

Have you ever received a gift that you don’t like but you feel obligated to keep it, store it, and bring it out when the gift giver visits, just because it was a gift? I’ve talked about this more in podcasts “9. Simplifying Gifts,” and “6. The Hidden Cost of Stuff,” but I have seen in my experience that there are times when stuff given as gifts can actually become an imposition to the receiver.

I asked my dad what he wanted for Christmas, and he said “if I don’t have it, you can’t afford it!” And I’m sure he’s right. So what do you get for the person who has everything? My suggestion is to not get them stuff, and in this podcast I’ll suggest other gifts you can give to show your love to others without cluttering up their lives.

Clutter free gifts fall into three major categories: time, experiences, and services. I’ll also talk about another category of gifts that, while not exactly clutter-free, is clutter limited, because it creates temporary clutter only.

Let’s start with time. Our time is the most valuable asset we have. I believe the most valuable the gift we can give to someone, as well is a very powerful way to share our love, is to share our time. That could be as simple as spending time with someone, sharing in activity, taking them out to dinner, going on a hike, or calling them on the phone. Sometimes visiting a loved one for the holidays can be the most appreciated gift you could give them.

The second category for clutter free gifts is experiences. Many, many studies over the past decade have shown that experiences lead to a greater increase in happiness than the same amount of money spent on stuff. The same would apply to gifts. Experiences can be as simple as a gift certificate to a movie, to dinner out at a restaurant, or a massage. Last year my sister and I joined together and got our parents I gift certificate that could be used at any of hundreds of different bed and breakfasts throughout the country. My beloved and I took her nieces horse back riding. Near where we live, there’s a place called iFly, which is actually a vertical wind tunnel where people can experience the sensation of skydiving in a safe, controlled environment. I’ve always thought this would be a great gift for the adventurer on the list. This would be an experience someone couldn’t get from a video game.

Another type of experience is to support someone’s personal development by gifting them a class or workshop. A class in cooking, photography, painting, history, or how to use computer software would be greatly appreciated by someone who has an interest in these areas. A friend of mine was overjoyed to receive a gift certificate for dance classes as a gift. Experience such as this can contribute to someone’s lives in a powerful way for years to come. It reminds me of the old saying, “If you give someone a fish, they eat for a day. If you teach someone to fish, they eat for a lifetime.”

And finally another experience to give someone is the experience of what they mean to you. I found a perfect example on flylady.net. “Rather than giving grandma another embroidered throw or crafty sweatshirt all the grandkids got together and wrote her a letter of what she meant to us—and of funny and touching things we remember from growing up. There were seventeen letters total. We put them in a book and gave them to her after dinner. We read each letter out loud and all got to enjoy them.”

Another idea is to make a donation to a charity in that person’s name. I’m including this in the experience category, because they get the experience doing good in the world and helping those less fortunate. There are many, many different charities that support a huge number of great causes. A type of charitable giving that I’ve become interested in lately is micro-finance. Tiny loans, some as low as $100 can give people, mostly women, in Third World countries the ability to start a business, to become economically self-sufficient, to provide for their families, and even to provide work for others. A great place to get more information is www.microfinancegateway.org.

The third category for clutter free gifts is services. The gift of services can be very meaningful and appreciated, especially when the service is something the receiver is not able to do themselves. The gift can be any service that you’re capable of. I used to be a tour guide, and last year we offered my sister and brother-in-law a customized, private tour of San Francisco. I have also offered the gift of organizing services, but the gift could also be trimming a hedge, offering a night of babysitting to allow the parents to have a special night out, private instruction in how to use a computer, shoveling snow, etc. If you’re not able to provide the service yourself, you can also get a gift certificate so that the service can be provided by someone else.

There is another category of gifts that, while not exactly clutter-free, create only temporary clutter, because the gift is actually used up in the process of enjoying it. For example, every fall my parents make homemade apple butter and apple cider and give that as gifts. Other examples would include homemade cookies, chocolate, wine, fruit baskets, flowers, gourmet cheese, anything that will give the recipient pleasure but not result in a permanent contribution to their clutter, having to be cleaned, moved, or disposed of at a later time.

So there you have three categories of clutter free gifts, time, experiences, and services, and a category of temporary clutter gifts, which you might also call consumables. Until next time, may you have a happy, joyous, connected, and clutter-free holiday season.

Note: if you listen to the podcast version of this post, you will be treated to the original song “Too Much Stuff,” sung and composed by Donnalou Stevens.

One Response to “22. Clutter-Free Gifts”

  1. slinky says:

    Love this one!!!
    What a great message.

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