Friday, December 26, 2008

Avoiding Materialism When Giving Presents

Every now and then I have conversations with people about their struggles to keep the holidays from being materialistic.

I suppose I am fortunate to not have this problem. My family members actually demonstrate a wide variety of gift-giving philosophies that avoid materialism.

1. Thinking of You Throughout the Year

My aunt has a huge kitchen at her ranch. For many years we have had a silly tradition of mailing her mysterious kitchen gadgets. I wrap them after taking them out of their packaging, and include the packaging in a separate envelope. She tries to guess what the gadgets are before looking at the solutions.

The point of the gift is not that she needs more kitchen gadgets. Keeping an eye out for obscure gadgets whenever I am in a kitchen store simply demonstrates that I think of her throughout the year.

Most often this philosophy takes the form of a "theme" associated with people. My grandmother and uncle send each other silly moose-themed items. My mother-in-law gets presents with teddy bears or lighthouses. When my mother was alive she got penguin items.

2. Making the Day Special

A second way to avoid materialism is to give gifts whose primary merit is that are associated with the holiday. Each December I enjoy receiving a box of See's molasses chips from my grandmother, my aunt's home-made beef jerky, and some scented bath salts from my wife. Without these things the holidays would seem slightly lacking, even though I do not miss them during the rest of the year.

3. Remember Me

Some gifts help the recipient remember the gift-giver in an appropriate way. This year we created Zazzle mugs with photos of Smiley as gifts for several relatives. My father likes buying my wife attachments for our electric mixer. My mother-in-law annually gives us another setting of our flatware.

(Tangent: Years ago, when registering for our wedding, we decided we would want plain china and fancy flatware to make something fancy for every day that was easy to wash. We were told that our Wedgewood White was microwave safe, but it turns out that food heating unevenly can cause the plate to crack.)

It certain can be tacky to give someone a present with the intention that they think about you when using it. But it can also be done well, to help family feel connected and grateful for each other's supportiveness.

4. Spoil Me

Finally, some gifts help the recipient feel loved and appreciated by being something the recipient is known to enjoy but would never get for himself or herself.

This year's example was boots for my wife: she is now enjoying having three new pairs of boots, but would not have splurged with that expense for her own sake. Last year I bought my brother many flavors of Dagoba chocolate bars since he had never heard of that Oregon company.

So, what other gift-giving philosophies avoid materialism?

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