Monday, November 8, 2010

Collect Memories not Clutter

AmazinAlison lives in a little white house,
With a little white cat and a little gray mouse,
And a big black dog and a little red wagon,
And a realio, trulio, little pet dragon loving husband.

We give gifts for many reasons. We strive to arouse the light and joy in the faces of our children when they receive a surprise. We wish to express genuine gratitude towards someone who makes a positive difference in our own lives. Or gifts may simply be given out of obligation. Whatever the reasons for giving a gift, we rarely give without putting a good amount of consideration into the likes and personality of the recipient.

Selecting a gift, especially a meaningful gift, can be anxiety inducing on its own. We may hope for divine intervention, shopping stores without anything in particular in mind, hoping that the perfect gift will make itself known. To date – I have yet to have a gift throw itself at my feet or say “I’m the one – pick me!” In fact, I usually leave shops either feeling depressed at all the useless tchotchkes for sale or bitter that a handmade eco-friendly soy candle costs $27, whilst a comparable paraffin based, lung cancer inducing candle (that looks just as pretty) could have been had for a mere $7. 

We have many standards and ideals about how much to spend and what sort of gifts are appropriate for different people, which often results in gifts that are nice, but underappreciated or easily forgotten.  Add in the challenge of selecting a gift that is both meaningful and sustainable, and you might have a #breakdown before you even get started!  

Another challenge in pursuing our goal of an eco-friendly gift is that it can easily miss the expectations of the recipient.  My son may be in love with a felted bowling-pin set sold at his preschool’s fall fundraiser, while my nephew may be insistent on an official Lego set.  Either way there is a good chance that the name and face of the gift giver will not stay long in the memory of the gift recipient. And, material gifts, except for ones that generate experiences, do not lend themselves to creating meaningful memories. For example, I remember in detail that I received a bike for my 7th birthday, because I was immediately able to take it out and learn to ride it in my grandmother's cul-de-sac.

Can you remember what you got or gave for Christmas last year? For the most part, I have ZERO recollection as to the gifts that I received for my birthday, let alone Christmas. Does this make me an ungrateful ninny? I certainly hope not, because I love to receive gifts, I send thank you notes, and I do feel gratitude upon the receipt of a gift. The problem is that over time beeswax candles, scarves and books all blend together and I simply cannot remember how or when they appeared in my life. So what is a surefire way to create a meaningful memory? Give an experience. 

My Sister-in-Law and her husband celebrate their birthdays two days apart. In the past we sent them a joint care-package that we’d put together at a store selling goods made in our lovely state of Colorado.  Each year we would get a polite thank you, but we could never really tell if the gift had been enjoyed. And after a few years of sending this sort of gift, we had no idea if we were sending the exact same thing year after year.

And then, in 2008 my SIL and her husband picked up and moved from Ann Arbor to Seattle. Both of them were busy setting up their business anew and working heavily on the 2008 election. Their birthdays happen to fall on November 2nd and 4th, which means that in 2008 they were a little busy to take time out and celebrate on their own. So, we researched nice local restaurants and we came across one just down the street from my SIL’s office with rave reviews. We bought a gift certificate that would ensure they could enjoy a full dinner for two and sent it off in the mail. 

Initially we did not receive a response, but a few weeks later we got a call and they were thrilled. We’d selected a restaurant that both had heard mentioned, but that their frugal selves would never have dared to try.  They had a wonderful evening and to this day are appreciative of the fact that they had the opportunity to try the restaurant and participate in their local neighborhood culture. Bingo! Meaningful Memory created and shared. 

An example that I did not initiate, but that is still a topic of discussion several years after the fact, is the hot air balloon ride that my Aunt received for her 70th Birthday. For several years my Aunt said that if she made it to 70 she was going to go for a ride. And so my cousins chipped in and bought a private ride for the family. My Aunt and her boyfriend, her kids and a couple grandkids all piled into the balloon and had a fabulous time. My cousin’s husband then took the photos and videos from the day and created a movie. Just ask and I am sure my Aunt will pull out the DVD and show it to you with pure joy. Sure, she could have bought herself the trip, but it was so much more fun to receive it as a gift from all her kids and experience the day as a family affair!

Another experience that we gave to create a meaningful memory includes tickets to a childrens' concert for the 2nd Birthday of our friends’ daughter. We bought two sets of tickets and made it a date with the concert followed by the picnic. Both kids remember the concert a year later!

And, last Christmas we gave my mom a combo material/experiential gift with subscription to Sundance Movie Festival films. For six months this year she received movies that were not always shown in local theaters, but that she ended up loving. Not only did this spread out the gift, but it gave my mom the opportunity to talk about and share her gift with friends and family. And, just a few weeks ago, completely unprompted, my mom said that in the future she’d love to receive only experiences as gifts! 

And so, as you begin the annual quest for the perfect green holiday gift(s), think about giving an experience. What types of activities do the people in your life love? Or what would they do given a certain amount of time or money, but that they rarely get a chance to do? Maybe grandmother would adore tickets to a musical or the philharmonic. Your sister and her husband might rock a couples cooking class. Your husband has been talking about learning to sea kayak, so sign him up for lessons! Or give your niece and nephew an opportunity to do some indoor skydiving!  If you come across an experience that breaks your budget, share your idea with a friend or family member and see if you can get in on a joint gift. Sometimes, it is even better (as in the case of my Aunt’s balloon ride) to receive a meaningful gift from a group of people that care about you!

Experiences can be given as certificates in home-made or eco-friendly cards. Or you could decorate a recycled box and attach the gift certificate to a rock placed inside. Get creative. Get the kids to help. And, get ready to create a meaningful memory!


Dea-chan said...

While I agree whole-heartedly, I sometimes feel that they can be more expensive. As someone on a limited budget, I am intending on making scarves, hats, mittens, and using my 50% discount at the soap store I work at to buy some gifts as well. I feel that items you can use are equally important.

Note, I'm still not advocating running out to Toys R Us and buying the shiniest, loudest, flashiest item.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

For the past two years, my parents have given my kids a membership to our local children's museum for Christmas, and they plan to do it again this year. I love that gift because it not only means they receive fewer material objects that I then have to find a place for, but they also get to enjoy the gift throughout the year and often when we go to the museum, my kids think about my parents, who they don't get to see often. I love experience gifts!

Condo Blues said...

I like giving experience gifts. I also like getting them, my favorite was concert tickets!

One caution though, you might want to make sure the family will actually use the gift. I like to give zoo memberships to my nieces and nephews. One family didn't use them - at all. They don't go a lot of places as a family, which is why we thought they could use the gift. Fortunately the other families that we have given the gift used it all the time. In fact, one niece after opening her gift didn't quite know what it meant until I told her it meant that they could go to the zoo anytime they wanted. She asked if we could go the next day - they did.

Alison said...

@Dea-chan -- I admit that my examples for the most part were expensive gifts; however, the concert I mentioned had $7 tickets and kids3 and under were free, which means that I spent less than $20 on the gift. And, $20 is my standard gift budget for kids. :) So, I'd say that it is key to find an experience that is memorable, affordable and appreciated by the recipient. For some of us -- like you -- it might be easier to knit! I on the other hand don't sit still long enough to finish a project. ;)

@Erin and @CondoBlues -- membership are great experience gifts. I keep meaning to take a picture of our son at the zoo holding a "thank you" sign and send it to his grandpa. We think of him and talk about him every time we go!

Green Bean said...

Lots of great ideas. I do love the example of your SIL and Seattle. I think the thing about experiential gifts, too, is that people are often so busy, we don't take time to make memories any more!

Robbie @ Going Green Mama said...

My daughter still talks about the ballet lessons she got for Christmas from her grandparents. It was a memory she wouldn't have had otherwise, and the family got to see her joy in the photos. I don't know that it would have been the same had they bought Barbie clothes. :)


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