It’s close to Christmas, and as we finish up our shopping, it’s worth reflecting on the purpose of gifts in the first place.

I read an article this am about how millenial parents are frustrated that their Boomer parents are showering their kids with useless stuff that just ends up as clutter. As we are hitting the point in our lives when we’re much more interested in offloading stuff than adding stuff to our home, I’m starting to look at gift giving (and receiving) in a new light.

What’s The Point?

To me, giving a gift is something that is about expressing gratitude for having people in your life. It’s best if its something personal, or reflects that you have an interest in their lives, that you listen to them, and “see” the recipient- trying to find something that reflects that part of your relationship.

For example, one of the goofy things I give a select few people each year is a loofa sponge, grown in our garden. Growing loofas is a pain in the neck. They are finicky to germinate, and at the end of the process, it’s always a competition to see how many will be “ripe” and ready before the first frost when you can lose them all. As a result, the handful of loofas we produce every year represents a lot of time from me, from cultivation to getting them ready to use, free of seeds etc. I gave one of these to my personal trainer, and while I thought it could be read as an odd gift, he was really touched, and I was as happy as I could be as the giver, to give someone something that represented my most precious resource- time and effort.

For some other friends this year, I gave them simple socks- we walk together every Friday- but the socks had cute faces on the back that just made me laugh and reflect how much these women bring happiness to my life.

I’ve been giving more food gifts in recent years- sometimes ordered from places like Goldbelly, where you can give a gift of food that is from a particular place or region. This is not only something that doesn’t hang around and become a burden to the recipient, but you can choose something that can be about memories you have together, or even things you want to do or explore.

For younger people on our list, I try to get them things that are small luxuries that they can use, or that they might not be able to afford for themselves. I got a nice pair of alpaca gloves and a Mason Pearson hairbrush for my son’s girlfriend- both items I think she can use, will appreciate, but not buy for herself at this point in her life. It’s a gift of comfort and a bit of luxury without being a burden. My sons are at the age where some clothes and a few gifts that speak to their passions and then going somewhere as a family makes more meaningful memories than a load of boxes ever will.

It’s much harder, in some ways, to give a gift that has this sense of meaning to it, but I find it so much more satisfying than the days where I would just be looking for a thing to give someone, because the gift exchange was more about obligation than caring. I’m kinda done with that. I would rather spend the money on ordering something special- like tea and biscuits from the UK for my friend that is a serious anglophile- she will appreciate it so much more, and I feel like giving her that unexpected treat feels more like a true gift than anything else.

Spending Money- or Time

Gift giving from the heart- things you make, experiences- don’t have to be expensive. But I think when you try to match up your feelings with the gift and the recipient, it brings more purpose to the point of the gift in the first place.

With some relatives, we’ve gotten to the point where we often exchange gift certificates on amazon, but that depresses me, since it largely says “I don’t know you enough to try to find something that matters to you and me”- its gift giving for obligation rather than purpose.

I want to be done with the obligation of gifting, and bring back the real purpose- to share a moment of joy and understanding with someone else. A lunch with a friend. A cup of tea. A meaningful card- it doesn’t matter- as long as the heart is involved- I’ll remember it always, and that should be the point.

I love giving presents- and surprises-because it is just that- a little gift from my heart that says I was thinking about you and thought you would appreciate this. And I hope I keep that spirit alive all year long, because we don’t need more stuff, but we do need more kindness and caring in the world. We need to spend more time truly seeing each other and caring for each other, even when there isn’t a holiday in sight.