I am truly thankful for all of you, and sincerely wish you a Happy Thanksgiving . . . and a happy Black Friday . . . though I’ve never shopped one, so what do I know? Not much. True, I’ve been selling my books, cards, and calendars, and I loved the Green Gifts Fair, where all of us home-grown, small-scale vendors sold our eco-friendly gifts. But I’ve heard that Black Friday can be stressful, so I’d like to share a few thoughts on gifts, adapted from chapter 19 of my book, Enchanted.
Do you remember your favorite childhood gifts? My first ones were dolls and the cute clothes Mom made for them. While other kids had teddy bears and Barbie Dolls, my bed was adorned with a plush octopus. At Christmas, I loved my new pajamas. I couldn’t wait to curl up under the tree in them, the flannel as soft as the glow of the multicolored lights, its fresh scent wafting with that of balsam fir.
Most of my gifts were chosen or made by Mom. But later, when I was living in my log cabin and loving my stone fireplace, Dad bought me a great little bow saw. He sharpened an old ax blade, painted it red, and put a new wooden handle on it. Then he made a simple little sawhorse. I still use these to cut and split my firewood, and I get a warm feeling every time I do. It’s not just the body heat of hard work, but the heartwarming knowledge that Dad knew me better than I thought he did and admired my strength and independence. The trick of great gifting is to listen to the person you’re buying for more than the people you’re buying from.
Americans tend to have generous spirits, and I don’t want to criticize generosity. But I will expose a sad truth—I’ve found sooo many unused treasures at rummage sales, secondhand stores, and in the trash that I just know must have been gifts. It seems to me that gift-giving has become the vine, planted with good intentions, that overgrows the house and keeps out the light. It helps to remember that generosity and frugality are not mutually exclusive. Nor are affluence and prudence. Sometimes the best gift is no gift.
Do I ever give secondhand gifts or, heaven forbid, gifts from the Curbside Boutique? Yup, occasionally, and especially when I find things in the original box or with the tag still on. If they are appropriate, and if I believe the recipient will like it and would not be shocked to know its source. (Most of my friends wouldn’t.)
I’ve been surprised more than once when someone has said, “You give the best gifts!” Well, sometimes they are unique. Just recently I had no idea what to get a friend for her birthday, until a mutual friend told me she loved pigs. I had a beautiful wooden curio box full of tiny pigs, made of various stone, metals, and glass, sitting in my garage. I’d found it on the curb and planned to sell it at an antique shop. But Nicki’s squeals of delight as she unwrapped each adorable piglet made it clear that somehow it had been meant for me to find and give to her. I don’t always reveal my sources, but I know doing so might be an additional gift—permission for them to do the same. Most of my friends know that I usually prefer something used to something that uses more of the earth’s resources.
Most wrapping and ribbons are not recycled, so I’m glad that I see less of any kind of wrapping these days, more often receiving and giving gifts that don’t require any. The first such gift I got was from Katie and Brad—an acre of cloud forest in South America. Wow! Nothing to take up space in my little home, just the mental image of that misty land saved from deforestation. I was thrilled. Next came my brother’s card saying a dozen fluffy yellow chicks had been given to a needy village in my name. Nice! He started a tradition I was glad to continue—llamas, bunnies, bees. Then there was a tree planted in Israel from my friends the Lunds. There are dozens of ways to honor a friend or loved one while giving to those neighbors, local or global, who are truly in need. Ways that bring lasting benefits and awareness instead of momentary laughter and a lifetime in the landfill. For those who want to make a donation in someone’s name but still give something tangible, there are many such options. The stuffed toy that a child cuddles can remind her that an endangered animal is being helped. I love buying the handmade pottery of the Empty Bowl projects and filling them with treats. My family gets the bowls, while the profit goes to fight hunger.
Then there are the gifts that don’t require money. My family has long given coupons for things like housecleaning and back rubs. One year, I promised to make Dad’s bag lunches whenever I was at their house on a weeknight. That pleased him and Mom. My niece Kym gave us a handmade cookbook full of her scrumptious recipes. Yum. As we age, it becomes ever more clear that time and an open heart are our most precious gifts. I know it can be really hard to resist giving gifts, especially to kids. Consider giving experiences instead of things—gifts that will make them more inquisitive, rather than acquisitive. Outings to museums or farms or camping trips don’t have to cost a lot, but may give them memories that last a lifetime.
Whether buying for ourselves or others, we have plenty of reasons to consciously say “Whoa!” to the cult of accumulation and “Aah, yes!” to simplicity and sustainability. We have an opportunity to become more truly ourselves, rather than cogs in the wheels of consumption and waste. We can rest gratefully in the bosom of sufficiency. We can give and receive love without enriching corporate billionaires or adding to the plastic monster* that threatens our homes and planet. We can turn Black Friday a little, or a lot, more Green, while keeping a little. or a lot, more green in our pockets.
*Watch The Plastic Problem TONIGHT (Wed, 11/27/19) on PBS 9pm central time or find it online.