Tag Archives: giving

The Un-Gift Guide

I recently wrote about my distaste for the tradition of forced gifting for the holidays and the unnecessary stuff that comes along with it. But I know, too, that gifting brings immense joy, and a carefully curated present can be a heartfelt expression of love. I’m also aware that there are some societal pressures around gifting and, right or wrong, we will all probably still want a few things to wrap up for others. So I’d like to think outside the (Amazon) box when it comes to gifts and give some alternate ways to spread joy and cheer. Think of it less as a gift guide, and more as ideas to inspire your own unique and meaningful giving.

Ask for a wish list. Yes, you may want to show that you’re the mastermind of creativity and able to read minds to discern the perfect gift. But you’ll save a lot of hassle if you just ask someone what they want or need. If they say nothing, respect that too. Not everyone needs (or even wants) a gift.

Do a gift exchange. Rather than struggling to find a million small or meaningless gifts for everyone, see if your family or friend group would be open to an exchange. That way you can focus more effort and money towards something specific that your gift-ee might enjoy. My sister-in-law suggested a gift exchange for our family gifting this year and I could not respond “yes!” fast enough!

Give the gift of time. In today’s fast paced world, it seems like we never have enough time. Finding a way to help loved ones feel like they have a bit more time, especially in this season of busyness, can be such a blessing. Whether is offering to babysit so a couple can have a rare date, driving carpool so another momma can focus on herself or her other babies, or bringing over a meal so a neighbor doesn’t have to worry about cooking and cleaning. A few more minutes and a few less burdens are what we all need.

Share an experience. Living far from family, I can tell you there is no greater gift than time reconnecting with my favorite people. It could be sharing a cup of coffee and cozy conversation with a friend or enjoying a pedicure with your sister. Maybe it’s simply taking your grandchild to play at the park or taking your mom out to lunch and truly connecting. These are the gifts that will last. Memories made and relationships strengthened.

Give something consumable. Food is love. Coffee is life. (Or maybe it’s should be the other way around…) In any case, food, coffee, brownies, cookies, cake, etc. are perfectly acceptable and often preferred gifts in my book. If you give someone something they can enjoy in the moment, but doesn’t have to take up space in their home, it’s the best of both worlds.

Make something. Many of us have creative talents that are lying dormant just waiting for an opportunity to blossom. What better excuse than Christmas to brush off your crafting skills and make something with your whole heart. Bonus points if you can use what you already have on hand. You may feel like you don’t have time or talent, but even if you just bake a batch of store bought cookie dough, it’s something that you’ve had a hand in creating and is made with love.

Support local artisans. If getting your hands dirty for gift making doesn’t strike your fancy, it’s very likely there is someone else in your vicinity who has already done the dirty work of creating something beautiful. Maybe you have a talented friend you would love to support. Or scout out a local craft fair and connect with the person behind the wares. You’ll not only be giving your loved one a one of a kind gift, you’ll be giving hope to a budding business in your community.

Support a cause. What do you give to someone who already has everything? A gift for another who truly needs it. There are big organizations like Heifer International where you can donate an actual animal (or part of one) to help a family in need in another part of the world. Or if you prefer to keep it local, there are countless community charitable organizations that could use your aid. Our church hosts a really cool concept called Spirit Village, which allows you to stroll through a decorative Victorian marketplace, complete with caroling and live animals, and shop for unconventional gifts to support domestic and global outreach, ranging from donkeys of firewood to shoes and school uniforms for underprivileged children overseas. It’s a win-win-win in my opinion – family fun, supporting the missions of our local church, and gifting for those we love while giving to those in need.

Write a note. It can be words of encouragement, a note of thanks for being so incredible, or a love letter. As a writer I believe words are powerful and lasting and windows to our soul. So what greater gift could there be than something written from the heart?

Embrace the gift of nothing. I’ve said it before, but I think it bears repeating. Sometimes it’s ok to just not give a gift, regardless of what society may think. Maybe some people on our list also feel a sense of lightness and relief in not receiving a gift and feeling pressured to respond in kind. Maybe we can all agree that our love for one another does not have to be wrapped up and put under the tree. Maybe our giving and showing of love does not have to be limited to one day or season. Maybe I’ll find something I know you’ll adore next week or next month or next year and I’ll send you a happy little mid-year surprise. Or maybe not, because I’m forgetful and distracted and busy and don’t really love shopping, and I hope you know that it’s no reflection of how deeply I care.

A gift from the heart, no matter how small, bears infinitely more value than a million meaningless tokens masked in beautiful wrapping. Give with love and you will have always selected the best gift, even if it’s not something you’ll find under the tree.

What are some of your favorite alternative gifting traditions? I would love to hear more ideas and inspiration for spreading joy and cheer!


Enough with the Stuff

The holiday season is officially upon us and though the Thanksgiving turkey has yet to be cooked, everyone is in a frenzy to start checking gifts off Christmas lists. Black Friday is in t-minus 7 days, which means we have less than a week to figure out how to get the most for the cheapest. And if we can only just find the perfect gifts for everyone, then all will be well and our holiday season will be perfect too.

I say enough. Enough with the stuff. I, for one, have had enough of the notion of forced or arbitrary gifting for a holiday.

I’ve had enough of the stress, both emotional and financial, of having to show someone you care by getting them physical possessions. Some people are masters of finding the perfect gifts for others. Some people actually even enjoy the process – the hunt for something a loved one will adore. Gifting is their love language. But I am not this person. I am the person who overthinks what I should get someone for weeks, wait until the last minute when I still have no ideas or time, and buy something random that I know the person might not actually enjoy. Yet I feel like I need to get them something. So the dollars fly out of my wallet, and along with them my dreams of owning a house or enjoying a vacation. Because, let’s be honest, gifting is expensive. Even if you plan to keep it small or set budgets, when you multiply the small gifts by all the family, friends, neighbors, teachers, whomever that you need to buy for, it can quickly add up to hundreds or thousands of dollars. Of small stuff. Which brings me to my next point…

I’ve had enough of being on the receiving end of gifts that I don’t actually want or need, and that just take up space in my home and life. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but I don’t really need another mug / scarf / decorative candle holder. It’s not that I don’t appreciate them, I am blessed with many loved ones who have impeccable taste and give me lovely gifts. But the problem is me. I am woefully disorganized and a trail of clutter seems to follow my every move. This problem is increased exponentially with young children and all the stuff that’s required to keep them fed, clothed and entertained on a daily basis. I wish I was better at keeping things stowed away in their rightful place, but I’m not. So when gifts we may not need come into our house, one of two things usually happens: 1. They get thrown into our office and forgotten because I can’t deal with the task of finding a place for them or, 2. They create more clutter on our floor / counter / life that simply stresses me out. I’m realizing more and more that stuff, and the effort it takes to maintain and put away said stuff, is a huge drain on my energy and joy. Isn’t spreading joy what we’re all striving for, especially this time of year?

I’ve had enough of how consumerism steals the joy and overshadows the meaning of Christmas. Did you know that Christmas isn’t actually about physical presents? Are you aware that Santa and stocking stuffers are not really requirements of a happy holiday? If you come from a Christian tradition, as I do, it might be worthwhile to focus on the greatest gifts of Christmas – the gift of God with us, the gift of grace. Regardless of your belief system, though, it’s so much more meaningful to spend time with the people you love rather than stressing about shopping for them. It’s easy to forget in the fanfare of the holidays what this season is all about. So I’d personally like to quiet some of the noise and the demands to create space and time to focus on family and faith. Maybe it’s necessary to clear away the unnecessary in order to see what’s most important; what we already possess. Unlike Christmas clutter, these are the gifts that last.

I’ve had enough of the wastefulness of buying something for one day that will have an impact on our planet for years to come. This may be the biggest issue that is often overlooked when it comes to unnecessary gifting. The non-renewable resources that go into producing the kitsch items we often give as gifts deplete our land and pollute our environment. An abysmally large proportion of gifts are discarded within six months because they have broken, become obsolete, or were never needed / wanted in the first place. For a fleeting moment of joy, we are filling our landfills for the foreseeable future. I think the most awakening summation of this issue I’ve read comes from this article, which gives the touching advice: “Bake them a cake, write them a poem, give them a kiss, tell them a joke, but for God’s sake stop trashing the planet to tell someone you care. All it shows is that you don’t.” Our children don’t need another toy from Santa to know that we care, they need a future where they can continue to enjoy the beauty of the Earth we walk upon.

So maybe this year, instead of rushing off to stores before Thanksgiving leftovers have even be put away, we sit with those we’re lucky enough to be surrounded by just a bit longer. Maybe instead of running all over town, filling our heads with stress, we appreciate where we are and fill our hearts with memories. Maybe instead of adding more clutter this Christmas, we leave space for what matters most. Maybe we can all agree that we already have enough without the extra stuff.

At the risk of sounding like a complete Grinch, I feel compelled to offer some Christmas hope. Here’s the truth, as much as I don’t want to give or receive unnecessary stuff, I’ll still give some gifts, and so will you I’d guess, which is wonderful if done with mindfulness and love. So I’ll be following up with a list of ideas to make your gifting more impactful for those you love and less impactful on your level of stress, finances, and our Earth.

True Love



Valentines Day… It’s one of those holidays that I have always simultaneously anticipated and a little bit dreaded.

Throughout my many single years, it seemed to be sad reminder of my singleness. It felt as if the holiday was created to convince me that I needed to find that person who would make me feel loved and cherished. And since I hadn’t yet, I questioned my lovability.

When I met my husband and started celebrating Valentine’s Day with someone I loved, I thought I was set – all my girlhood dreams of a romantic rose-filled holiday would be fulfilled. And though my admittedly non-romantic husband has tried his hardest and created some beautiful Valentine’s memories; if I’m being completely honest, almost every Valentine’s Day has carried with it a bit of a letdown.

Then I came to realize something. The problem wasn’t that I was single, the problem isn’t that my husband is not romantic enough; the problem is me. I set unreachable expectations about this day and how and when love should be felt or displayed. I make it all about myself. And in doing so, I kick to the curb everything that this holiday is supposed to be about – giving love.

As I thought about and looked into it further, I discovered that Valentine’s Day was not originally about flowers and chocolate and hearts. Though there are mixed accounts of the multiple “Valentines” for whom the holiday is named, one thing resonates through all the legends of Saint Valentine – bold and selfless love. There was the Valentine who martyred himself to save fellow believers and the Valentine who healed his jailer’s daughter just before his execution. These stories speak not of romantic love, but of a greater love that serves others, even under the most difficult of circumstances, without asking for anything in return.

So maybe we’ve been viewing Valentine’s Day all wrong. I’ve come to believe that the greatest love is love given, not love received. Isn’t it better to measure our worth not by how many dozens of roses we get on one day, but by how much love we pour out into the world everyday?

van gogh

– Vincent Van Gogh {Via}

So my challenge for this Valentine’s Day is to give love to everyone in every way I can. Sure my husband deserves my love (and a few extra smooches), but so do my family, my friends, myself, and all the wonderful strangers I encounter.

Here’s wishing you a Valentine’s Day filled with love in all forms. Sending so much love to you dear friends on this and every day!