December 2005
The “Please Don’t Buy Me Any Stuff” Gift Guide

by Annie Fox, M.Ed

Not that she didn’t love us or wasn’t grateful for the gifts she’d received in the past. She did and she was. But she’d also had it with holiday commercialism.
Silk - see below for full-size photo

I love a bargain as much as anyone. As Mom’s only daughter, I was raised on her mantra “Never pay full price.” And I never do. Bragging to my husband about how much I saved on a sale item is almost as much fun as owning something new. So I understand the intense motivation of the folks who braved the pre-dawn Black Friday chill in hopes of scoring major bargains. But when I saw news coverage of a woman trampled at the entrance to a Florida store, and then read how a fistfight broke out somewhere else over laptops, I was stunned. Bargain hunting definitely requires a certain focus and determination, but it was never meant to be a contact sport.

If you’re like most people, you enjoy giving gifts to those you love. But you probably don’t relish the idea of being part of a shopping melee. So how can you avoid the crazies who’d knock you over if you took that last iPod, and still give meaningful gifts?

Goldfish Tea, by Fayette FoxIf you think this is a pitch for Internet shopping, guess again. Actually, I’ve got a low-tech antidote to the holiday shopping crunch. In all honesty, I can’t take credit for this idea because our daughter thought of it first.

When Fayette was 15 she announced that she didn’t want us to buy her any “stuff” for Hanukkah. Not that she didn’t love us or wasn’t grateful for the gifts she’d received in the past. She did and she was. But she’d also had it with holiday commercialism.This led to a lively family discussion about needs vs. desires. If we banned giving “stuff”, what other gifts could we give each other that would be appreciated? (NOTE1: Even our 9-year old son, Ezra, who dearly loved “stuff”, agreed that the idea merited philosophical consideration. NOTE2: Ezra is now a college student majoring in philosophy.)

That was our first year to abandon traditional gift-giving. Instead, gift-giving and receiving became more… experiential, like: live performances, factory tours, specially cooked desserts, multi-media presentations, and hand-made gifts (like the lovely silk painting called “Goldfish Tea” that Fayette made for me—see photo at left).

Coupon BookWe also began exchanging coupons—hand-made booklets offering a variety of customized “goods and services.” The key to success was knowing your recipient. Fayette, who sometimes got busted for staying up late talking on the phone, was thrilled to get this coupon: “This entitles you to use the phone between 11-11:30 on a school night. Homework and all getting ready for bed preparations must first be completed.”

Ezra, who always loved sweets, was given this one: “This entitles you to 2 dozen of your choice of home-made cookies that you don’t have to share with anyone (unless you want to). 24 hour notice required.”

I remember happily receiving: “I will water all the plants in the house for you.” And David, who spends lots of time hunched over his computer, was delighted to get: “I will give you a 10 minute shoulder massage.”

Freeing ourselves from buying “stuff” has opened the door to a new tradition and kept us out of the malls.

So, if you’re looking for more meaning during this holiday season (and a little less shopping madness), you might have a Family Meeting and talk to your kids about alternatives to traditional gift-giving. It may not be coupons, but your family will likely come up with all kinds of great ideas. When we explore more creative ways to show our love for each other, we celebrate the uniqueness of each of family member. Now there’s a gift!

Happy holidays from our family to yours.

In friendship,
Annie

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