The Art of Gift Giving

Children’s birthday gift wrapped in left over fabric and scrap yarn pom pom.

With Mother’s Day approaching I have been reflecting a lot about giving gifts. As we move more and more towards a life with less things its hard to justify giving “things” to others. However I do feel there is something special about giving something to someone you care about and experiencing the joy it brings them. There has to be a responsible way to do this. I find that living “zero waste” or adopting our principles isn’t necessarily limiting, though it takes more research in the beginning and certainly more creativity I don’t feel limited. My outlook towards gifts is not necessarily the same. It seems ridiculous when a person who is taking trunk fulls for donation pops in to buy something for someone just because a holiday. How can we keep the “art of gift giving” without depleting the earth of it precious resources?

For kids birthday parties I have reach for books. I strongly believe that seeking out knowledge is the key to a successful life; it was Albert Einstein who said “once you stop learning, you start dying.” A love of learning and the motivation to keep learning is something I really hope to instill in my children. This internal motivation starts early and is fostered mostly through reading at this stage. There is no better gift you can give a child than the opportunity to live a richer fuller life. But books aren’t sustainable, blah blah blah you say. I can see how you could say that, but books are accessible to everyone, unlike technological gismos and fancy tutors. Books can be purchased used for gifts, there are definitely friends of mine who do not snub their noses at used gifts, especially books. They can be passed around and shared, and usually are. For specific books I support our local bookstore, lets be honest bookstores are often the core of a community and I strongly believe that you can tell a lot about the community by visiting their book store. I seek out local book shops whenever I travel to really grasp the local feel. To wrap these books I have been using fabric scraps. I have a lot of these left over in my line of work and from persona craft projects. I make a pom out of scrap yarn and tie it one. If you write in the book there is no need for a card, but my daughter does enjoy making them from scratch paper too.

For this upcoming Mother’s day I felt a little out of sorts. First off my mother-in-law has a tendency to ask for very specific items, which do not always coincide with our life style outlook. Over the last couple of years we took it upon ourselves to buy her something she really needed but wouldn’t purchase herself, new knives. Every birthday and mother’s day we have surprised her with a new one. Yes she did have old ones that worked, but not very well. They were honestly wretched and we were fearful that she was going to hurt herself, dull knives are much more dangerous than sharp ones! They were plastic-y and were not able to be sharpened – can you believe they would make something like that? Of course you do right, anything to get you to throw them out and buy another cheap set to last a few years. We opted for a German brand, with light weight handles, and blades that can be sharpened. Little by little we have replaced her set of necessary knives and she uses them happily daily. They are not the most inexpensive of gifts so that is why we purchased them piecemeal. This year we have gotten her the last one. I searched online to see if I could find an opened, slightly used one, as that would definitely not bother her, but was unsuccessful. I did buy a plastic wrapped knife and when I asked the checker to take it out of the plastic she refused, saying it was too dangerous and they couldn’t take that liability, ugh. I wrapped the package in a kitchen towel that she can use and finished it with a burgundy bow that has been recycled through many gift giving opportunities.

My mom and daughter collecting on the beach.

For my mom I was torn. I do love the hunt of gift giving, finding the perfect item for someone honestly gives me joy, watching them open it, even more joy! This year I struggled with my mom. She doesn’t need anything, and really doesn’t have a want list. She got her wet suit booties for Christmas now she is set. We thought a dog stroller would be funny because she has one lazy dog that refuses to walk part way through their adventures and she ends up carrying him home. We couldn’t find a used one in our area and refused to buy a new one so that was out. As you know from my post about purging, I have been scrubbing everything we own in every room, and while doing this I came across my daughter and I’s jar of sea glass. We have been collecting it for as long as she has been around and have amassed quite a collection. Do I get as much joy out of this as she would? Do I want to dust this again in a week or two? No, but my mom adores sea glass. We have wrapped it up carefully in some tissue that came with our latest ThredUp purchase and a recycled paper gift bag. We also included a jar of Summer Sequoia’s Balm – which I am totally obsessed with myself. My mom has been complaining of dry skin so this is perfect. They take the jars back to use for candles, which is great too!

All of these are “things”, some recycled but none the less things that take maintenance of some kind. For Christmas last year we gave out movie tickets and a gift certificate to one of our favorite local restaurants for our family gift exchange. That was a very well received gift – who doesn’t love date night?! For Teacher Appreciation Day we brought Marilyn’s teacher bouquets of flowers from our garden in ball jars, they were also well received. Flowers are a compostable way to say “thank you”, we are fortunate to have a garden with lots of variety. We also have access to guided hikes, kayaking, mushroom foraging tours, cooking classes. There are lots of options, that I just need to be better about considering. I still need to change my way of thinking when it comes to gifts. Get my mind out of the box.

Flowers for the teachers.

Now on the receiving end I am the WORST refuser. The WORST, okay maybe my husband is worse, but I am bad. Its my strong germanic upbringing, that instills you must always be polite first and foremost. It still feels rude to refuse but I am working on changing my mindset there. So I can work on that but how does one handle the child’s birthday party? I wanted to put on the invitation NO GIFTS, but Robert disagreed. First some people have fun with gifts, I do, and secondly she knows how the party thing works she’s older now. He thought we should say if you want to get Marilyn a gift we ask for no plastic, but instead listed her favorites things to provide ideas…books, shoes, and rocks 🙂 I still think asking for a specific gift is rude, but some people really enjoy an idea so maybe that is what we are doing? How would you receive an invitation with gift specifics? The alternative is to let people do what they want and for us later to take a host of items to goodwill in the darkness of night, but that does not solve the long term problem of excess and wastefulness. All to satisfy someones ritual of gift giving, ugh, I need a stronger back bone.

Lastly did I ask for anything for mother’s day? Yes I did. I asked for a thing. I didn’t want Robert to pop into any old store on his way to work and buy the first thing that caught his eye, it helps him if I am specific. I don’t need more “stuff”, but I would love to have a vintage bird bath, so that is what I requested. As a kid I loved to watch the birds visit my grandparents’. My grandmother kept a bird guide handy so we could identify and date any rare birds that visited. I’d love to replicate that in my own home. What I didn’t realize was how hard that was going to be to find. We’ve been to what feels like every where and searched the crevices online and nothing has gotten close. I may be empty handed but thats okay for now. I’d rather wait for the right item then buy a new quick fix that will never make me happy. This type of gift giving/requesting clearly only works in this sort of situation. I certainly couldn’t put that on a birthday invitation.

So what do you think? Have you ever taken a second look at your gift giving style? Or considered an alternative?

One thought on “The Art of Gift Giving

  1. Great ideas, thanks for sharing! How would I receive a suggested gift list? With gratitude! I would love knowing I was getting something needed and useful. If there was something specific I wanted to give or had already gotten a gift, well, oh well that’s what I would give anyway.


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