I just celebrated my birthday last week, and aside from the trauma of turning a year older, (wow, middle age, yippee) I found it still didn’t overshadow my enjoyment of the adoration one gets on their B’day, especially when one is an attention hog like I am. It was interesting however, to experience a gift receiving holiday in light of my new found enthusiasm for minimalism and simplifying my life. Aside from the fact that I have no interest in being extreme about this (yep, middle way) I am still very addicted to consumerism (working on it), so it is surprising how much I still find I need and want.
I do see a shift however, as opposed to having things to have things, I am looking more critically at my life and asking myself what it is I actually need and/or would make my life simpler and richer. I had a jacked up microwave, which had become fairly useless and a constant source of irritation. (Yes, I should work with my irritation, but by the same token, making my outer world more simple and peaceful is part of a goal of this change). I knew the cost of fixing it probably would not have been a whole lot less than simply getting a new one, and it was a wierd off-brand so the chances of future issues was good. So instead of lots of little gifts, most of which would become stuff cluttering up my home, I asked for a new mic. I did research and ended up with a lovely new one that’s one of the top rated for reliability by Consumer Reports. I also was replacing the old one, so I was not bringing anything additional into the house. There was also the wonderful gift of some of my good friends helping me install the damn thing! ❤
Sears Scratch and Dent Outlet Centers Rock by the way…
I know, as I work towards a goal of less work and working more from home, that having a house that is not only simplified and organized but also pleasing to me esthetically is a worthwhile part of this change. So I foresee a great answer to the “what do you get the girl who doesn’t want more stuff” to be things like gift cards towards Lowes and such, so I can put it towards certain home improvement goals. I read on one minimalist blog that many minimalists do like to have good quality things, what little they do have, as they are more pleasing and last longer. I see a lot of sense in this. If I end up working more at home down the road, I want to love the space. Changing the cracked kitchen tile for new flooring or replacing the stained white formica kitchen counters with nice solid surface is not adding new stuff, it’s adding longevity and durability (and hey, I’m an artist so yes, pleasing style) to the place I am living. Now I know some folks choose a minimalist life of extreme renunciation of goods and even home ownership. And I understand as a practicing Buddhist there is danger in getting caught up in placing to much expectation on the thing that is my home, no matter how minimalist, that could lead to suffering when things break, or if I were to lose what I do have. I’d rather, however, take a modest approach and create a pleasing space to live and practice in, and remind myself in my practice, that “the glass is already broken.”
Some of the folks in my life already “get” what I am doing, my parents were kind enough to get me the awesome microwave. When I found at my dinner with them they had another present for me, I thought, “darn, they don’t get this, don’t want more stuff thing.” It turned out to be however, something I did actually need, a trifle bowl, to replace my broken one (apparently the trifle bowl is also already broken, heh). I make trifle often for the family gatherings and friends parties so it will actually get a lot of use. A couple of my friends took me out to dinner and entertainment as my “gift” this is one of the best kinds, I do love good food and hanging with friends is exactly the kind of thing I am doing all of this so I have the time and mindset to focus more on. Time with people, yeah, that’s a GREAT gift!
My sister was (as she stated) having none of my “minimizing stuff” so she got me a cute hat and necklace. So aside from the fact I love these gifts, I can still work with this… I have a ton of hats, including some old ones I got years ago that are worn and shabby, as well as old broken or corroded jewelry. So the “1 thing in, 2 things out” method works well for this, I will get rid of 2 old hats and 2 old/broken pieces of jewelry in place of my gifts, and then enjoy those gifts and use them well (it’s a damn cute hat!). Another friend got me an awesome pug shirt, a couple old racing Tees can easily be replaced with that!
So my takeaway for birthdays, and gift giving holidays like Christmas is…
If you let people know you are making this change, many will try to be accommodating.
Even if you tell people you really don’t need anything, it often makes people feel bad not to “do something for you” so there are things you can suggest if they express frustration, such as…
The gift of their time is the best of gifts. They can get you dinner or a ticket to that movie you go see together etc. if they really feel the need to “get you something.”
Truly asses your needs, there may be something that needs fixing or replacing, gifts to help with that can be useful and won’t add to your “stuff”
Gifts for services, like in my case, a massage or facial, could be a very lovely treat, especially if you start trying to live on less not just with less and have less money for these kind of goodies!
Some people will still want to give you stuff. Deal with it. If you’re gonna be militant about this, no one’s gonna to want to hang out with you. Accept gifts with good grace, understand that person is showing how much they care about you. It may be something you love and want to keep, if so and you are not stripped down to bare minimum yet, use the “for every 1 thing brought into the house, get rid of 2” like I am doing with the hat and necklace my sis got me. Look at it as a pay it forward thing. You’re given a nice gift, you can take something of yours you don’t care about anymore and make it a gift by donating it to someone else!
So that was my first experience with people wanting to give me presents after I had made the decision to begin this lifestyle change. What about you?
How do you handle gift giving and receiving as someone who’s trying to simplify?