My sister ordered me a great T-shirt for my birthday. It says, "Live simply so that others may simply live." She bought it on www.simpleliving.org, and shortly after I received it, I found some time to visit the web site.
I mentioned before that this will be the first Christmas since our attempt to start simplifying our lives. This will truly be the test. I considered the idea of not exchanging gifts at all, and instead giving to charity. But that is not what I want entirely either. Not to denigrate charity donations, but I have people in my life whom I love dearly and I want to give them something meaningful to celebrate Christmas. (Right now, I know one or both of our kids is thinking, "Money is always meaningful!" and at this stage in their lives, I totally understand!) Alas, we are into October and, since I am still working on the quilt for Rachel and Chris (its completion date was supposed to be June 2002), I don't really have enough time to make gifts for all my relatives (unless I get an early start for 2008). Nevertheless, I ventured forth on the simple living web site to read about ways to make Christmas gift-giving more meaningful. Here is what they say:
Consider how our consumer-oriented values have shaped our gift-giving practices:
- Conformity is prized over individuality. Despite society's rhetoric about individuality, the "if-you-don't-have-one-you-are-inadequate" message of mass culture relentlessly bombards the senses from the air waves and print media. Consumer society's emphasis is to create needs rather than to create products to meet needs we already have. This results in conformity in how needs are perceived and the ways we meet those needs. The more far-reaching result of our conformity, however, may be an absence of dissenting voices in today's mass culture.
- Whatever is bought and sold is better than whatever isn't. A broad assumption in the consumer society is that the only way to be happy is to accumulate things. Friendship, contentment, and security are significant only as they involve consumption. The way to express love and affection for another is by buying some "thing." By implication, gifts that are not "bought things" - including things made with one's own hands - are not worth much. The restrictive nature of this assumption rules out a whole host of wonderful ways to give, including the giving of time and skill. Not only does preoccupation with "buying to give" overlook other ways of giving, it also seems to make gift-giving less personal.
- More and bigger are better. Less and small are chintzy. In a society which produces consumer goods far beyond the needs of its members, consumption without restraint becomes an ideal. This society's extraordinary levels of consumption have resulted in unparalleled amounts of waste, thus earning the title, "the throw-away society." Unrealistic ideas that Earth has unlimited natural resources, cheap energy, and adequate means of waste disposal have undergirded our consumption and waste. Yet all three of these assumptions are known to be false. The issues raised by this knowledge are more than ecological. Recognition of our planet's limited resources forces us to address the question of a just distribution of goods and resources. New consumer values, ideals, and practices are urgently needed so that all people can share in what the world has to offer.
I thought about why I want ideally to make every gift I give. Here are some reasons from: uniqueprojects.com:
- You get involved in the gifts you give, or the things you live with. When you purchase, you are separated from the item; making items yourself yields a unique connection. As such, making things yourself is an antidote to the consumerism that seems to be plaguing our society.
So there you have it - all the considerations swirling around gift-giving. And if you are ever shocked to receive a handmade gift from me - well, be honored! I probably started it in 1997!
- You can ensure that the item will be of heirloom quality. When you make something yourself you are in control of the entire production process. When you purchase an item you are putting your trust in a brand name that usually represents a distant manufacturing facility. Of course, there are high-quality manufactured products but these are often the minority and usually very expensive.
- Gifts that you make for others almost always have more meaning than those that you merely purchase. It is often said that the spirit of gift giving is not in the object itself but rather in the associated thoughtfulness. What gift is more thoughtful than one that is custom-made by you for the intended recipient? Such gifts indicate that you devoted some time and thought on a project to express an emotion or idea - therein lies true meaning.
- The process of making something yourself is intrinsically enjoyable. Furthermore this joy is often extended beyond the initial phase. Many make-it-yourselfers enjoy their projects forever because they feel a sort of connection to them.
- You can make truly unique things that are not available for purchase.