Tag Archives: gifts

Twelve Posts of Christmas–The gift of Experience

Ahhhh. Another gift post. In my defense…it’s kind of an important part of the season.

When it comes to gift giving, my priorites have definitely shifted over the last few years. Even as recently as three or four years ago, all the family members would be pressured to make a list about three to four months before christmas and then we would all race to find things on the list. Of course, the things that went on the list were often thoughlessly placed on there under threat and panic. And the gifts purchased were usually not exactly what someone had in mind. Inevitably, you exchanged the gift for store credit and just bought yourself the shoes or sweater or phone case you really wanted in the first place, but couldn’t buy for yourself because you put it on your list three months before Christmas. I really appreciate the way that my family has changed the gift giving dynamic because it allows us to be more considerate in our gift giving. Instead of rushed emails that are copies and forwarded to everyone, we now have more personal conversations about what we’re involved in, what we would enjoy, where we like to go, what we would like to do. More and more I find myself wanting to give the gift of experiences. Imagine my gratification when I came across this article in MSN Money.

Indeed, the article talks about how in order to “choose such a gift, you need to know the recipient’s taste in music, theater, magazines or museums, ” and that “the right experience gift rates high on the happiness scale.” Getting someone something they will never use it a waste of money, so it really is imporant to really have meaningful conversations with the giftee so that you can both enjoy the experience.

The article gives ten suggestions for experience gifts, and for the most part they are great ideas. I would like to add to that list movie theater passes (I highly recommend the iPic), gift cards to favorite restaurants, tickets to interesting private industry tours (i.e., breweries and distillaries) and specialty store gift cards, including fancy tea and coffee shops. I think that some people think of gift cards or tickets or whatever you want to call these gifts are “cop out” gifts and indicate thoughtlessness. But only thoughtless gifts are thoughtless. For example, a Barnes and Noble gift card for someone that has a Kindle or a Magazine subscription for someone that hates getting mail is not only inconsiderate… it is a waste of your time and energy, even if minimal, and your money! However, a Barnes and Noble gift card to a Nook reader is potentially hours and hours of entertainment. The article mentioned above points out that experience gifts may “put a burden on the recipient, so it’s important to make sure you’ve made a good choice. A spa day may sound like a wonderful gift for a new mother, for example, but it isn’t a great gift if she has to pay for a babysitter or pay for extra services and a tip once she arrives.” The bottom line is that you need to know your recipient and do your research.

These types of gifts are great for those wanting to explore their communities and enjoy new experiences. They are also a great way to allow someone to spoil themselves a little bit by buying something they would normally no indulge in. They often take just as much thought and research as gifts you can wrap in big, pretty boxes.

If you have a great idea for an experience gift, please share. Or, if you’re received an awesome experience gift, or a miserable fail, I’d love to hear about it.

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Twelve Posts of Christmas–Ethical Gifting

I was recently listening to WBEZ, Chicago land’s Public Radio and heard someone throwing around the term “ethical gifting.” And it wasn’t in a story about ethical gifting, it was just casual conversation thrown about during an end of year donor drive. The speaker tossed this phrase around as if everyone should know what it was. Sheepishly, I admit it was the first time I had come across it. I thought, however, that I immediately understood the term.

When I went to research the term later, I realized that there really is no cohesive application or understanding of the term. Many seem to apply it to green-giving. Then there are those that apply it to practical or useful gifts, and those that use it for creative gifts, anything bought from small shops, particularly if those shops contain goods made by people in under-developed nations. I also saw it applied to gifting with a charitable aim, which sometimes meant buying something that gives some or all of proceeds to charity and sometimes it just meant giving to charity in someone’s name. However, the other thing that popped up quite frequently was ethical gifting in a business environment. At first, I brushed this off as the wrong kind of ethical gifting, but then I realized that this no-strings-attached type of gift giving corporations advocated should be a part of ethical giving, at least, my ethical giving.

So what is ethical gifting? I have concluded that it is different for everyone and that it essentially giving that reflects your values, which we often forget at this time of year in our panic to just buy things for people.  For me, ethical gifting is giving gifts that are immediately useful with a focus on recycling that will produce little to no waste. Yes, sometimes that means I make things, and sometimes they are actually really nice and sometimes my family is just really nice.  I like to support small shops, too–though that can be in direct conflict with getting the best deal on something.  But that is okay.  It is less important to me to be frugal in gift giving than it is to buy a gift that will be useful–and used.  This is a lot easier to justify when you are not buying a gift for every single relative.

For kids, my husband and I look for gifts that are educational,which to me takes precedent over Eco-friendly–though more and more, the two are compatible.  Still, we try not to add mindlessly with piles of toys pulled off box-store shelves. This is sometimes tricky because you want to buy them the fun, hot toy of the year.  The immediate satisfaction they will experience will probably be much greater than opening something useful and will catapult you to the top of the “best aunt and uncle in the world” list.   But then I remember the ethics of corporate gift giving.  My gifts are not to buy someone’s affections or to influence someone’s actions.  They are given being thoughful of both the gift-giver and gift-receiver.

Twelve Posts of Christmas–Lightening Santa’s Load

I recently came across this article titled: How 6 families went gift-free for Christmas in MSN Money. As the title suggests, the article highlights how, and why, these families decided to depart from what most of us understand to be Christmas. It struck a chord with me.

When I was a kid growing up with a single mom, Christmas was a much leaner time. Then my mother got remarried and things slowly got better. Better included a more bountiful Christmas. Soon, the family got bigger with the addition of a little brother. We kids (four of us) got older and our buying power improved, presents became more plentiful and substantial. And we added boyfriends and later husbands. And the little brother was eventually old enough to like girls and so there would be a new girlfriend every other year…and the occasional relative or foreign exchange student. And marriage, of course, normally brings in-laws of the parental and sibling variety, and the occasional niece or nephew. Somewhere along the way, Christmas became excessive. We lost focus on the importance of doing things together and became obsessed with getting everyone the right gift and spending the right amount of money.

It’s not surprising that people reach a breaking point. Whether because of the expense, or the emptiness of randomly grabbed gifts, or the stress of needing to buy so many things for so many people, my family realized that the excitement of getting together as a family for Christmas was overshadowed by the expectations of Christmas. Even when we managed to get together we would often be divided with last minute shopping and wrapping. As a family, we turned Christmas into a stressful retail face-off.

A couple of years back, my family almost unanimously agreed that we needed to change the way we did Christmas. We weren’t ready to go gift free, but we needed a change. We reached a fair and festive compromise that would revive the holiday spirit and limit the holiday frustration. Like the families and the commenters in the article mentioned above, there was some push-back and we are still tweaking to make Christmas work for the reality of my family today.

First… admit you have a problem.

My dear, beautiful sister was always so proud of herself for getting such fabulous deals on after-holiday items, decorations and wrappings.  Perhaps the best example was Christmas.  Every year, she would buy her wrapping papers, tissues, foils, boxes, bags, decorations on super sale after the season and put them away for the next year.  She got such fabulous savings!

When she moved from Illinois to Arizona three years ago she brought out from under the house FIVE bins of Christmas stuff, much of it never opened. Together, with hands held, and tears in our eyes, we acknowledged she had a sickness.  If you buy things and never use them, it’s no deal at all, no matter how cheap it was.

Now, I will admit, I took a lot of it…she couldn’t take it with her and we weren’t going to throw it away…it was all free for me.  But, I have to be honest,  it will be years before I actually go through it all.  Especially since I have made a vow to never buy wrapping paper and gift bags again.  Once you make a conscientious effort to save tissue, gift bags, cellophane, bows, ribbon, fillers, foils, and boxes, it adds up very fast.  People may look at you strangely at a baby shower when you are folding all the tissue into manageable folds, but you’ll be glad you did. (Baby showers are gold mines for tissue paper, by the way).  There are so many uses for tissue paper.  You can shred it and use it for easter baskets, shipping delicate products, and gift baskets. You can even wrap presents with it. You can use if for decor on gifts of plain bags, such as making tissue flowers, bows, or taking some watered down glue and decoupage-ing.

At Christmas time, I collect the ribbon and tissue and bags that people otherwise throw away. And they throw so much away! Everyone so far has rolled their eyes at the idea of shredding and composting the wrapping paper, but I hope to put that into effect soon.  I also collect small boxes and ribbons like the ones that come with all those yummy office gifts. Even if it’s too small to actually use to wrap, ribbons are great for crafting.

Occasionally my husband also has a good idea. Sometime ago he collected a handful of flight maps that the local flight school was getting rid of.  They have now become his signature wrapping and everyone remarks on how clever it is.  Repurposing things like maps, comics, your kid’s coloring book pages, instructions, newspaper, magazine pages, and tissue as wrapping paper is a great and FREE idea. Don’t forget to shred and compost after wards (I know…I haven’t gotten around to that yet, but I WILL.)