A Birthday without gifts! How sad! Well, maybe not!
When I embraced minimalism and downsized to a house half the size, I really got acquainted with just how much stuff I had. Once you empty every cabinet, once you open and sort through every box in your basement, once you start getting comments from the Goodwill donation guy, you understand that consumerism is a problem in your life.
I hesitate to call myself a minimalist. My home isn’t cluttered, but it isn’t sparse either. There are still plenty of decorative objects and I’ve decided to just let things wear out and break naturally at this point rather than get rid of anything more. After going through what I went through with the downsizing you lose a taste for acquiring more objects, but you also lose a taste for adding more items to the donation bin.
When I was sorting through all my stuff, I realized that most of the stuff that was cluttering up my home were gifts from other people. There are so many gift giving occasions in our culture: Birthdays, Christmases, and also “just because”. At my husband’s work there’s a tradition that if you go on vacation you bring back a small gift for everyone in the office. Our home was full of that stuff.
I was raised that if you don’t appreciate a gift that that makes you a very bad person. But it’s true, I don’t appreciate these gifts.
As you start to minimize or Marikondo your home, you naturally become more conscious of the things you buy and bring into your space. Since I was buying so little, I wanted to make sure that what I did buy was ethical, good quality, and preferably made in the USA. My family of origin has different values based on the way they were raised. They like to shower someone with gifts, which often means giving someone many cheap items. All these items just ended up going in the donation bin and I felt horrible the whole time I did it. What a waste of time and money for everyone.
People often recommend creating online wishlists to make sure you’re not getting stuff you don’t want. I tried this for years and it simply didn’t work. My mom would see an item on my wishlist, buy me the cheapest version of it, and then get me 5 of them. How do you explain to friends and family to only buy you the specific item on your wishlist without sounding like a jerk? In the end I found it easier to just tell people that I don’t want to do gift exchanges at all anymore.
Here’s the thing, once we grow up and get our own money; anything we want, we just buy it. Things we can’t buy immediately because they are too expensive, are not appropriate to ask for as gifts anyways. Anything you could possibly want in the $10 to $50 range, you’ve already bought for yourself. So friends and family just kinda buy us something that they guess we would like, but since we already have everything we could want in that price range, it’s just clutter. And we do the exact same thing to them when we gift them things. As an empath, I can read the look in their eyes and the cues on their face that they don’t really like my gift. They’re wondering where the heck they’re going to store it or how they can get rid of it without me noticing. All I’ve done is given them a chore.
And as I’m watching this exchange happen year after year, I’m left wondering why we keep doing this.
One of the best things we can do for the environment is to pare down our consumerism. I’m not opposed to shopping. I love shopping and own many pretty things. But imagine what would happen if everything you owned was ONLY things you loved. You wouldn’t feel deprived at all, but naturally you would own a lot less. No one knows what we’re going to love as well as we do. It just makes more sense to stop delegating your purchases to other people.
Me and my husband decided to put a stop to gift exchanges. Now on my birthday I just treat myself to buying a few things for myself if I want to. We go out to eat. We might even go on vacation. Without having to budget for other people’s gifts (that they don’t even want!), there’s money left over for those bigger wishlist items like a vacation or even a home renovation.
If you decide to do this, announce it for your own birthday first. I still buy gifts for the kids in the family, but I let the adults know this was something I was doing at the time of my own upcoming birthday. This way everyone already received their birthday gift that year and no one felt ripped off. Leading up to my announcement, I let everyone know about how I was minimizing and consuming a lot less. It was then not a shock to anyone when I asked to not do gift exchanges anymore. People took it much better than expected.
If you decide to do this, some people are going to disregard your wishes and give you a gift anyways. It doesn’t mean you have to then buy them a gift for their birthday. You already made your boundaries clear and don’t have to change anything because they ignored them.
Just to be clear, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with gift giving and understand why people like it! I’ve actually received some really nice gifts over the years and still have them. Mostly they are hand-made gifts from my mother and sister. So clearly those are gifts that took a lot of time, love, and effort to create. A lot of gifts though are just something that got quickly picked out at the store just to fulfill an obligation. Obviously people live busy lives and we can’t expect everyone to make every gift for everyone in their lives.
At this point in my life I have enough stuff. What I want is for people to spend time with me. Ever notice how the word presence sounds like presents? I don’t think that’s an accident! It would be great if we could change the culture around holidays to be less materially-driven. You can still make it special for someone by doing things other than gift-buying.