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Giving of Ourselves
Now that the leaves have fallen and the holiday season approaches, I am again faced with the dilemma of gift giving, and I am sure that you are feeling the same. Already advertisements and the media are trying to infect us with the fever of the season to purchase bags of trinkets and whatnots much of which will find its way to storage, and eventually to the dump or, at best, a garage sale. If we do not succumb to this disease, we are reminded constantly of Scrooge or the Grinch and the needs of the economy for good sales during this period of the year, the need to do our part for the good of the GNP. ĎTis the season to test the mettle of any ecofrugalitarian.
Once the giving of gifts solely represented the expression of love, friendship and regard for the receiver. Only in the past century has this giving of gifts turned into a major commercial venture, the keystone of the consumer economy. We have been caught in the more is better syndrome which defines successful giving more by how long the receiver must take to open all the gifts rather than the satisfaction received from any single gift.
If you donít believe me, watch a young child at a birthday or Christmas when the gifts are received in the typical North American household. (The problem is to find a child who has not become addicted to the more, more, more paradigm.) The child becomes very excited with the first gift and will want to explore and play with it and the wrappings immediately. But too often the child is pulled from this moment of high pleasure to open more gifts. At each round, the degree of joy in the child diminishes further. Eventually the child is bored with all the gifts and may even cry when more are placed before him or her. The joy of even the first gift is lost in the flood.
I contracted the more, more, more disease in my early days and am not always certain if it has been completely cured. Like malaria, it seems to reoccur on occasion, leaving me reeling in its symptoms. I find I must reprogram myself to again reject the more, more, more mantra and replace it with Small is Beautiful or some similar cleansing phrase. To help combat the disease, I have formulated four basic rules for the true art of gift giving:
The first rule in the art of giving is to limit the number of gifts to any one person. Give one or two meaningful gifts rather than many trinkets and whatnots. Ask friends and relatives to do the same in return. You do not always have total control over the number of gifts received by an individual or given to you, so do not get caught in a competition as to whom can give more.
The second rule is to make each gift so unique or memorable that it negates any concerns over lack of quantity. This does not mean that it need be an expensive gift. A beautiful framed picture of yourself, or yourself and the receiver, or a scene from a memorable event can be worth more in the long run than a diamond necklace or an expensive watch. This rule requires a little more thought on the part of the giver than just running to the store and buying the first item that catches the eye. Rather, think about possible gifts all through the year and note the good and unique ideas in your journal or calendar.
When I speak of unique, I do not mean some tacky novelty item, but something that is truly unique such as a product of your creativity and talents. This leads to the third rule that unique and memorable gifts should include that magic touch of personal creativity. Anyone can buy Uncle Ed a sweater or tie, but if you personally made that sweater or tie, a piece of you is added to the gift. Thereafter, whenever he wears it, he will think of your personal touch. Use whatever talent you have. Such gifts contain double satisfaction: first to you in producing it, and then again to the receiver when they see that you have taken a personal hand in its production.
When we use our creativity in finding or producing a gift, we can also add the criterion that the gift be one whose production, use and ultimate disposal leave the minimal impact on our environment. This may not always be possible, but with that criterion in mind, the planet and all its inhabitants stand to benefit from the gift as well.
I have given you rules which I now try to follow when giving a gift. I would be remiss and this piece would be incomplete if I didnít offer some suggestions for gifts which fit into the last three rules. So here are some suggestions. They may not fit your situation exactly, but may serve as seeds for better ideas to flow from your creative mind.
Use your talent: If you are an artist, photographer, poet, writing, story-teller, musician, computer user, or accountant ≠ and I donít just mean that only in a professional sense ≠ you have an infinite source of gift ideas from your talents: a book of poetry, a tape of songs or stories, a picture, or even assistance on a tax return or setting up a personal financial record. All these can be unique and memorable gifts. A friend of mine sent my mother a framed photograph of me as a gift; she could not have chosen better.
Give special foods: If you prepare your own jams or jellies or wine or special cookies, they can make wonderful gifts. Add a little decoration to the jar or box for added spice.
Give a coupon: A coupon for a service is another great idea, even better when you perform the service yourself. It can be for baby-sitting for an evening, for a massage, for a home-cooked meal, for help in setting up a computer, or a trip to the art museum. The possibilities are endless, and unique if they link a special need or desire with a service you can provide.
Give of the Earth: Often when on a walk, you may spot a uniquely shaped piece of wood or an attractive rock or seashell. These can serve as components for a creative design or be given on their own. I once found the perfect piece of driftwood which made a unique base for a small carving. Scenic pictures can also serve as gifts, especially if the spot has personal significance such as the sunset over a favourite beach or lookout point. Flowers and produce when home-grown make wonderful thank-you gifts.
Enhance, reuse and recycle in making a gift: Objects that may have been destined for discard can be used as raw materials for new objects, thus enhancing their usage and value. For example, material from old clothing, bedding, etc. may form the base for a patchwork quilt or wallhanging. Another possibility is to search for unique picture frames or bottles in flea markets or garage sales which can be used with another materials to form a great gift. Old furniture when refinished can make a very special gift, especially when heirlooms are given to family members.
Give time: Today we too often get caught in being busy and do not spend as much time with loved ones. To many, especially the elderly and children, an afternoon of your time and sole attention may be the greatest gift of all.
These are just some of the possible ways that gift giving can fit into an ecofrugal lifestyle. Like many of the joys of life, the joy of gift giving and receiving can be rediscovered by going back to the basics and simplifying. So, put on those thinking caps, be creative and enjoy the holidays by giving that special gift.
The Living Gently Philosophy: A Playful Life by Keith C. Heidorn, PhD . ©1998, All Rights Reserved.
I have recently added many of my lifetime collection of photographs and art works to an on-line shop where you can purchase notecards, posters, and greeting cards, etc. of my best images.