As I continue on my journey of decluttering in an attempt to live a more minimalist and meaningful life I wanted to share with you some of my thoughts on gift-giving.
Since Christmas I have been thinking about how a lot of the ‘stuff’ in my home, and probably yours too, has arrived here in the form of a gift. Many of the books, knick-knacks, toys and gadgets taking up space or gathering dust in my house have been received as presents. Gifts are great, everyone loves to be given a beautifully wrapped present, adorned with ribbon and a tag with a warm message. It makes you feel special, loved and cared for when someone has made an effort to give you something they believe you will enjoy.
As I survey my house now that I’m about halfway through my declutter, I see only things that make me smile. On my bookcase are only books I truly enjoyed; books that spoke to me and stirred me and stayed with me after I had turned the last page. Any knick-knacks that remain are items that have a special meaning – a holiday souvenir, a treasured photograph, small inexpensive things that have been given in love. Any toys belonging to the children that we have kept are things that they actually play with. When we sorted their belongings we realised how many puzzles and games they had grown out of and they happily donated them to charity for another boy or girl to play with. Kitchen gadgets and the likes have been pared right back to the bare essentials and anything that wasn’t used frequently was given away. It is truly amazing how much stuff we had accumulated as a family over the past 13 years. It was only once I took everything out of the cupboards and looked at it in the cold light of day that I could see that there was absolutely no way on earth we required all this stuff for living happily. In reality, spending my days picking the stuff up, washing it, drying it, sorting it, tidying it away for it all to spill out again was draining me of energy and joy. The ‘stuff’ wasn’t bringing happiness, it was wreaking havoc and controlling me!
Anyhow, as I said, looking at all the items we have acquired through our own purchases and through gifts got me thinking about the kind of gift-giver I am. I do love to give presents and I do like to put thought into the things I give people… but… what if all I am actually doing is cluttering up someone else’s house and life with things they don’t need? I don’t want to do that! Gifts should bring joy, not dread or thoughts of ‘oh no, where am I going to find space for that?’ or ‘great, something else to lift up before I can dust’.
The sentiment behind a present is really the thing that touches your heart. Just knowing someone has thought of you is the significant thing usually, not the actual item being given. The time taken to choose something, wrap it up prettily, write a card and deliver a gift is what really stands out. So how do we continue to show our love, give our time and express our care for someone without cluttering their homes?
It infuriates me to see adverts thrust in our faces every which way we turn today. Websites, television, social media, poster campaigns, leaflets, radio announcements to name a few are always SHOUTING at us to buy more stuff in order to secure happiness. We spend and spend, gather more stuff around us to trip over, and still we chase the happiness which is just out of reach. We are duped into believing that by having the ‘right’ clothes/make-up/car/phone/trainers/whatever we fill in the missing piece of the jigsaw – News-Flash: IT WON’T! As we all know… the best things in life are free! Stuff will never bring meaning.
So, I decided at the beginning of January that I didn’t want any presents for my birthday. I informed my nearest and dearest that I’d be happy with a card and a phone call and they respected my wishes and I ended up having a fantastic birthday climbing up a mountain with my husband and kids and paddling in a freezing cold stream.
Since then I decided that I wouldn’t be giving gifts the way I normally do. My nephew turned 5 this week and to celebrate his special day I wrote him a story based on a picture of a penguin wearing roller-skates that he had drawn last year. I drew some very amateur illustrations, typed up the story and posted it to him on time for his birthday. My sister read it to him and he loved it. She said his face lit up when he realised he featured in the tale of ‘Penelope and the Lightning Bolt Skates’ and my sister appreciated the time and love that had gone into creating the story.
My point is this… that we don’t need to buy things in order to show people we love them. We all have one gift that will truly make people smile and that gift is ourselves. It might be in the form of a story, if that’s your thing. Or maybe you can paint, or cook, or do something else to show someone you care for them. Even just taking the time to have a coffee and a chat with a friend can speak volumes. We can choose to give meaningfully without breaking the bank.
Stuck for ideas? Think about the person you want to give to… what would they enjoy?
For kids: How about a wander around a museum with a child that loves dinosaurs? A treasure hunt for the budding explorer? A bike ride with the adventurer, complete with a simple picnic lunch? My kids adore it when I make time for them individually, it makes them feel special to have my undivided attention.
For grownups: How about helping a green-fingered friend sow some seeds in their garden? Or cook a meal for the mum who is always feeding everyone else? Maybe you have a skill or talent you could teach (I would love someone to show me how to use a sewing machine..hint hint). I’m sure you can think of a million more things than I can that you could do to make someone else feel valued and special.
I have 10 nieces and nephews and my aim this year is to write them each a story for their birthdays. Writing is something that I love to do and I hope that through my words and the time set aside to write these stories that I can convey something of my love for them individually. A few sheets of paper with typed-up story may not seem like much, but it won’t take up too much space and it will be given with meaning and hopefully treasured. After all that’s the sentiment of gift-giving isn’t it? To show people just what they mean to us. What can say more than a little bit of our imagination, skills or time?