A woman visited her daughter one summer for a weeklong stay. The mother and daughter had a close, respectful, and loving relationship, and both of them got a kick out of doing things to delight and surprise one another.
On the third day of her visit, the mother was helping to prepare dinner and opened a drawer looking for a spatula. She realized she had opened her daughter’s “junk drawer.” The mother stood stunned as her eyes landed on several expensive kitchen gadgets still in their wrappers strewn across the drawer. These had been the mother’s Christmas gifts to her daughter the year before, and had strained the mom’s bank account in the process. But the mother was so certain they would be the “perfect” gifts.
Later that night, as the mother opened the bathroom cabinet to get a towel, she saw the nail polish, facial brush, and fancy perfume she had placed in her daughter’s Christmas stocking two years ago—still in their original packaging.
Shoppers trying to find that perfect gift for someone they love, wanting to surprise or delight them is understandable. It is joyful to make loved ones happy. Yet, the culture of extreme gift-giving has grown to a point that is causing many people to take a second look at what can be a wasteful, foolishly expensive, time-consuming process.
Sometimes gifts are given to elicit a response in the moment, but will probably never be used again. Unused items by the millions end up in trash cans (or junk drawers) and ultimately become waste that pollutes our beautiful earth and oceans.
Annie Leonard, while researching her film “The Story of Stuff,” uncovered facts showing that, of the materials flowing through the consumer economy, only 1% remains in use six months after. 1%.
After a heart-to-heart talk about the true nature of gift giving at holidays, a family in St. Paul decided to shake things up a little. Awakened after their talk, they chose to abandon the giving of material gifts all together. Instead, they came up with a new plan.
The family decided they would share a wonderful meal (some of it prepared together) during which each person would be asked what their heart desired in the coming year. The person was encouraged to share something they desire for themselves, something for someone they love, and something for the world. Everyone would listen fully and be very present to what was being shared—feeling it and seeing it as though it was already happening.
Everyone at the table would then take a piece of beautiful paper that had been chosen for this experience, and write their wishes for the one who had shared. After everyone had their turn expressing their wishes, others at the table would read the wishes they had written down for them. Each person left with a bounty of meaningful wishes from those they love.
Another family decided to change the meaning of gift giving by drastically cutting down on material gifts and instead choosing a shared experience, like going to a play or concert together, or eating at a restaurant they’d all wanted to try.
Perhaps humanity is being called to take a look at relationships in new ways—the relationship each person has with themselves, with each other, and with the planet that provides each one of us a home.
During this holiday season and beyond, whatever adjustments or tweaks in material gift giving that lessen the impact on one’s nerves (the stress of figuring out the “perfect” gift), wallets (overspending), and the planet (piles of garbage) are welcomed.
Choosing thoughtful, affordable, necessary gifts for loved ones is a beautiful way to be a gift giver. Farewell to the days of finding gifts given to be treasures in the bottom of a recipient’s junk drawer or in the forgotten corner of a cabinet.
Being present to one another, wishing each other well, and creating mutually super-fun experiences together, requires no wrapping paper at all and for many, are the most heart-felt and memorable gifts of all.