Here is the truth: I love receiving and I love giving gifts.
I've spent the better part of a decade trying to ignore the anticipation and utter joy I feel when I have the perfect gift in mind for a loved one. Or the tingly happiness I feel when someone bestows upon me something that I absolutely adore. I’ve tried to chase these feelings away because I thought that they were in direct conflict with the life I wanted to live personally and, if we’re being really honest, with the life I espouse to live in public.
I’ve tried to chase these feelings away because I thought that they were in direct conflict with the life I wanted to live personally and, if we’re being really honest, with the life I espouse to live in public.
After the thousands of words I’ve personally written and read about how mindless consumerism is causing so many ills in our society… Well how could I look myself in the mirror as I wrapped up one more gift?
Then I tried on the same advice we offer up time and again to reader and client alike: there is no right way to be a New Minimalist.
It’s about living inside my unique combination of values and priorities. And for me, that means leaning into the love I have for giving and receiving gifts in a way that is slow, intentional, and as kind as possible to the environment.
Below are my personal guidelines for giving gifts.
If they work for you, please try them out. And if not, no worries. You keep doing you:)
1) Action and word before stuff.
The reason I feel so confident stepping into my gifting stockings this year is that I’ve taken the time to step back from and really consider the motivation behind my actions. When I was young, I gave as many gifts as my piggy bank would allow. I was so desperate to show how much I loved my family but unsure of how to express myself. So instead I decided that stuff equals love, as in: “the more stuff I give you, the more I love you and the more loved you will feel.”
My relationship to gift giving now is much more reflective, much more specific, more refined. What I hope is not to prove my love through stuff, but to echo in an object or experience what I try to embody in language and action throughout the year: “I see you. I love you. I’m paying attention.”
2) Scale matters.
Something I’ve been really careful with is not writing myself a gift-giving blank check simply because I’ve decided it’s important to me. Like what if I decided to gift Lark a gift every week because I love her and I love giving gifts? I could imagine that within the month that act of giving would feel exponentially less meaningful. And within two months I’d likely resent this unintended weekly chore I’d created for myself. Likewise, if my goal was to accurately represent how much I love Cam through stuff, I’d be overburdened (and very in debt) rushing around to acquire as many things as I could. My decade as a minimalist has taught me a beautiful lesson that often times it is the rarity of an occasion or object that makes it so special.
often times it is the rarity of an occasion or object that makes it so special.
3. Above all else, it is the thought that counts.
You know how people use the word “literally” to mean “figuratively” — it’s opposite?
Like, “There were no parking spots outside! I had to literally park a million miles away.”
To which I’d like to say, “Wow, you are a really fast walker to have circumnavigated the globe 40 times in the past 10 minutes!“ (Sorry. Done being snarky.)
But I bring this up because I think the same thing has happened over time to the expression, “It’s the thought that counts.” That phrase now means something like, “Even though I hate this object / have no use for it / have literally no idea why you got it for me because it in no way reflects my taste, needs or desires, at least you bought me something.”
I’d like to reclaim that phrase and use it as I believe it’s intended. Gift-giving is all about thought. Not about money. Not about quantity. Not at all about checking things off a list. It’s about taking the time to really consider a person’s sense of style or humor. It’s about paying attention to the little things they say over the course of a year about their crummy coffee grinder, noticing how they have to stand on their tip-toes to reach their favorite mug, remembering how they mentioned that smell of vetiver reminds them with deep pleasure of forest where they grew up. This level of thoughtfulness is what actually matters and what meaningfully connects the gift-giver and gift-received in a way that just buying stuff never could
4. Practice gratitude and grace.
My daughter is just entering a phase where nothing brings her more pleasure than to imitate my expressions or noises I make. I typically find this hilarious and precious. But on occasion I’ll look to see her grimacing at me and I panic. Is she sick? In pain? Have something caught in her throat? No, she’s showing me how poorly I’m masking my own anger at having to empty the dishwasher again.
What she’s shown me is that even words and deeds only matter so much; the spirit in which something is done is the most important of all. So sure, I could say, “Lark, be sure you savor your food and open your gifts thoughtfully!” But if I down my own dinner while standing over the sink or quickly start to clean up wrapping paper before really engaging in a gift? Well we can guess which example she’ll follow. So I want to be extra certain this year before exchanging gifts that I personally take the time to slow my mind, to be present, and to feel and express gratitude for not just the objects I receive but the abundance of health and love around me.
What about you? What are your plans for giving and receiving gifts this holiday season and in the future? What are your personal gift principles? What are gifting-strategies that you admire and would like to try out?