An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.

~ G. K. Chesterton, On Running after One's Hat, 1908

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Gifts for the Sated

I don't need anything. Really. My little house is so crammed full of stuff that not a week goes by we don't happily eject an item or two.  I'm not a minimalist, but I'd like to be.

I'm also not religious. Neither is the new husband, but we were both raised in households that celebrate Christmas. There's no question that we'll continue to do so with our parents and siblings, but what's to be done in our own little house.  Should we exchange gifts?  It's our first married Christmas and we're talking traditions.

We want to live a more sustainable life, a simpler life. A life that where there is a place for everything and everything in its place: A life with less stuff.  A life that is less materialistic.

And, yet...

I like giving gifts and don't want to live in a world where gifts aren't given. I, personally, fight incurable narcissism and gift-giving is a way to break out of myself, to reflect on who others are, their likes and dislikes, their passions, their needs.

But, what if, after some reflection, you realize your loved ones are just as sated as you? What to get for the person who has everything?  In the last few years, I've been trying to shift to consumables and re-suables in gift-giving, to functional art and whimsical utility.

Gifts that are fleeting
Some of my fondest memories are of  traveling and trying new foods with my  long-time friend Julie. I have ideas on what to get her and her husband for Christmans, but when I really think about it, what I want most and what I hope she wants most is focused time and shared experience -- just like when we were teens. This year we plan to go out for a swank meal (sans the children) instead of exchanging presents.

My Dad, who isn't online and won't see this (Mom might -- don't tell!), thinks going to the movies is a luxury. He's getting gift certificates for his local movie theatre. Maybe I can talk him into going Christmas night with us.

The perfect gift is shared experience.  It doesn't always work out. Sometimes you might not want it to. I'm not here to judge. Other options: Coffee, fine wine or even local beer. Everyone has something that they love that is to be experienced or consumed -- leaving no trace.

Courtesy of Bag It Conscious

Gifts that are sustainable
Last year I discovered reusable cloth sandwich bags and life has never been the same. These colorful bags serve as reusable gift wrapping for small gifts or are gifts in themselves when filled with a cookies or nuts. I now have a pattern and will try my hand at to making them one day, but in the meantime, I get my fix on Etsy at Waste Not Saks and Bag It Conscious. Goodbye Ziploc bags.

Thanks to the economic downturn, the vintage, the repurposed and the upcycled are acceptable. One relation is getting a vintage pin from Sublime. Someone  (not saying who) is getting an upcycled handpainted mug from Bloomington artist Sally Harless.   And, while I don't have anyone in mind for these upcycled zombie figurines brought to my attention by my friend Rebecca, I really, really wish that I did.

Courtesy of McSweeney's.

Gifts that keep on giving

 Museum Memberships and season tickets could make someone's year. I heard about a cookie-of-the-month subscription today. The twist? The giver's doing the baking.  If time is short, there are plenty of quirky subscription services to please the quirkiest of friends. I gave a Wholphin subscription to friends getting married this year.  If you have friends even hipper than mine, consider a McSweeney's T-shirt subscription.

Gifts of useful beauty

I think it was my friend Danielle who once said she'd like everything she owned to be a work of art. Hear, hear.  Hand-crafted wooden salad tongs, screen printed tea towels, whimsical kitchen implements. I have a cloth napkin covered in screen-printed ants that makes me smile every time I spill my soup.

Courtesy of Sally Harless

You do have to be careful. I bought my rather serious brother a can-opener shaped like a shark one year. My idea was to brighten up his life with whimsy. I think I just convinced him I'm daft.

My brother, by the way, is very good at gift-giving. He bought me my first New Yorker subscription.  Another year it was a bottle of Absente, the closest thing Americans could get to real absinthe until 2007. It tasted terrible, but I enjoyed imagining life as a degenerate artiste.

Gifts that give
I'm tempted by the Heifer International charity gift catalog of  but  Ms. Manners frowns on donations on behalf of someone.  "It's very nice to give people presents and it's very nice to donate to charities, but let's separate these two things," she says. If you do get a charity gift, Ms Manners has advice on how to word the thank you note.

Gifts that are just too much
Give but give responsibly. Reasonably. IU researchers are finding that the generous of heart are thought to be anything but.

Don't give too much. Don't give too little. Don't give something that will take up space and depress someone's spirits, and cost  money to keep.  Ugh. Gift-giving is fraught. Gift shopping can be a joy, but it can also be disheartening when you realize you don't know someone well enough to know where to start. Maybe it's time to do something about that.

On the other side, the delight in receiving is not in the having, but the unwrapping and being the focus of attention for a moment. Sometimes there are well-intentioned misses. In these cases, gift-receiving allows for the practice of grace under disappointment.

The lessons of grace and delight are the reason that I want very much to maintain Christmas-time gift-giving if/when a kid enters the picture. Matt worries about religious traditions to which neither of us subscribe. It's a discussion for another day. This year Matt and I decided not to exchange, but we've still given a gift to ourselves: a stay at a bed and breakfast on our visit to the family.


  1. John and I have never exchanged gifts at Christmas. We choose quality over quantity for the kids because I'm a complete toy snob and I believe anything more than 4 presents is too overwhelming anyway. We've focused more on tradition making since it's the sights and smells that comprise our best Christmas memories. For some great handmade ideas check out
    Oh and I have some nb dipes I'd love to gift you:)

  2. I want to go the quality-over-quantity route. Do the kids complain? If you send me dipes, I'll treasure them.

  3. No, as a matter of fact, they seem to remember piles of presents, which boggles me because they never have more than 4. This year they have 2 joint gifts: art supplies and you'll love this, puppets and a doorway theater I'm constructing. So they end up with 2 gifts per kid which suits me fine. I watch closely to see what they play with and "how" they play, so we weed out quickly the "gifted" items that don't work. It's the gifts from relative that will give you the most grief. I lean towards a Waldorf perspective on toys and early childhood. If you have a wee one Miss Tracy, I'll shower you with some yummy handmade awesomeness! You know I had a online diaper biz...