285 Days ’til 40: Gift Giving Insanity

12 May

Gift-giving is an issue that I have personally wrestled with since childhood… Even at an early age I had the tendency to look at gift giving with a highly critical eye. Perhaps it was something about the way in which my family participated in this pressured ritual, or perhaps my opinions were something developed without link to my own familial traditions.

I should probably start off by saying that it is wonderful to give gifts to people. When you can afford to do something special for an individual, it can brighten their day…. at times, a small gift that is given to an individual is something that they will hold on to for a lifetime, remembering the thoughtfulness and generosity of the person who gave them the gift. Gift giving can be a beautiful way to say “thank you” or “I love you” or “I am so appreciative of all that you do.” Gift giving is a great facilitator for discussion, collaboration, and interpersonal interchange.

Yet, like so many things I discuss on this blog, gift giving can (and often seems to) get out of hand. I personally believe that the consumer culture of the US has gone completely out of control and there has been an over-abundance of gift giving. I believe that if people (particularly children) receive too many gifts, too many things, they start to lose the understanding of value, of delayed gratification, of responsibly saving their money and not going into debt. I am appalled – and I mean APPALLED by the sheer numbers of people who will go into debt in order to make sure that their children’s rooms are fully stocked with the latest toys. My question is……. “do they really need all that cr@p???” My first daughter was the first grandchild in the family and she was definitely spoiled with an abundance of toys. She did play with a lot of them, but there was simply NO WAY she could play with them all. In fact, in the end we donated many to a local preschool and were pleased to know that the toys were finally being put to good use and played with on a regular basis. Kids have full rooms of toys they do not have enough time to play with. Is it worth it? How many people out there have kids with overflowing closets but no retirement funds?

I think the biggest problem fueling this unhealthiness is the reality that too many people today have equated money with love. If I love my child, I HAVE to buy her the latest toys. If I am loved, then the people who love me better buy me something to prove it, whether or not they can afford it. When I was 16 my parents had a rough financial year (they were prone to them off and on). When I suggested that, in lieu of exchanging holiday gifts we should write notes to each other about how much we appreciate each other and exchange hand-made items, it was as though I suggested we all head to the forest and drink cool-aid together…… My parents just could not fathom not having our family exchange gifts on Christmas morning…… honestly, they seemed to need the gift exchange much more than my siblings and I did. The message was a dangerous one, though. It seemed to say that the gifts HAD to come, even when the money was not really there (therefore you can spend money you do not have if it is for a gift, and you even should)………. and something hand written or made is not necessarily good enough to create a new healthy family gift giving tradition.

I wonder what would happen if we stopped feeling that we had to purchase gifts on birthdays, holidays, etc. How much debt would be eliminated in the USA if people no longer felt pressured to purchase gifts they cannot afford? What would happen if we valued gifts less and personal exchanges of words more?

I worry as well that the gift-giving craze has added to our children’s inability to delay gratification. When I was growing up, if I wanted something I had to work for it and save up. When I had enough money I would buy the item and cherish it, never letting it out of my sight. I learned the value of saving for something and of delaying gratification. Imagine if Americans (well, the ones in debt anyhow) learned to not purchase one thing unless they have the money to cover it……. imagine if they FIRST had to put money away for retirement and only after they did that, could they spend whatever they had left….. Imagine if Americans were not allowed to accumulate credit card debt. During the recent financial crisis we have weathered world-wide over the past few years, people who live in countries that refuse to allow large credit card debt have done better than consumers in the USA who are able and encouraged to open a credit card for each day of the week.

I do NOT believe in giving gifts one cannot afford, but I do believe in giving and generosity – a gift can be a card, a poem, a song, or a batch of cookies – it does not have to be something that causes you financial hardship, and, in fact, it shouldn’t. I would even go one step further and wonder if a person does have debt to pay if they should be giving anything other than a card until their own personal debt is paid off. How would you feel if you knew your best friend was giving you a book/ CD/ or DVD at the expense of not paying of outstanding debt? I imagine that, if you cared about your friend, you would feel terrible and would rather have your friend pay off their debt than buy you a present that will ultimately lay to rest on a shelf for the next fifteen years.

Love your friends and family, show them with your actions… you do not need to show them with your pocketbook if it creates a hardship for you.

Today, 285 days ’til 40, I will remind myself to constantly express my gratitude to those whose presence enrich my life. I realize that gratitude can be expressed in more ways than gift giving… I hope you do too.



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52 responses to “285 Days ’til 40: Gift Giving Insanity

  1. Rebecca Stibrany

    May 12, 2012 at 00:28

    Cookies are the best gift. I mean, actions and love are cool, too. But cookies are still totally awesome.

    • 400daystil40

      May 12, 2012 at 00:28

      I LOVE giving and receiving cookies!!!!! 🙂

  2. rabidmongoose

    May 12, 2012 at 00:47

    Good post! I resonate with many of the ideas you present here. Our daughter has a “God” jar (her tithing), a “Save” jar (a pseudo-piggy bank that gets another 10%) and a “Spend” jar (which is where she deducts funds from when she finds something she really wants to buy. She saved up last year to buy a Barbie doll, and loved it (of course). I think she gets the concepts you are talking about…she has been sucking her thumb since she was a baby (she’s 7 now) and she recently created her own incentive system to finally phase out the thumb-sucking, including taping or gluing paper to her thumbs every night to dissuade the habit. I love that kid!

    • 400daystil40

      May 12, 2012 at 23:51

      What a wonderful system you have with your daughter!!! I am doing similar with my girls (who are 8 and 10). I love that you are teaching to divide the money into categories for different purposes – she is learning at 7 what some adults still do not understand! 🙂

  3. delemares

    May 12, 2012 at 01:10

    I quite agree. Same here in the UK. People getting into huge debt buying Christmas gifts – and the message from the media is we must spend over Christmas to keep the economy going – sheer insanity!

    • 400daystil40

      May 12, 2012 at 23:49

      So sad, isn’t it? Imagine if the message were to save and take care of your family! 🙂

  4. buckwheatsrisk

    May 12, 2012 at 01:17

    i am so with you on this!! i’m so glad to know i am not the only one that feels this way!!

  5. jensine

    May 12, 2012 at 02:03

    I love giving gifts but I only give what I can afford and often make things myself (Jam, socks, gloves, calendars, photos, etc) and I do love receiving gifts but the ones that make me the happiest are when I can tell the person giving it had me in mind when buying or making it. It’s not about what something costs but what the person thought, And if someone can’t afford to give a gift I will always take a hug

    • 400daystil40

      May 12, 2012 at 23:49

      Yes, I agree… the really special gifts are the ones you can tell a lot of thought or effort went into… from someone who clearly knows you well.

  6. writerwannabe763

    May 12, 2012 at 02:35

    I love to give gifts, but I agree with you that for some to go into debt beyond their means, should not do so without thought. Telling others they shouldn’t buy gifts if that’s what they do will simply fall on deaf ears. I think many do not possess the skills to make gifts This past Christmas however my grandchildren while they did receive a small monetary gift…received a scrapbook that I had done for each of them. They did seem to appreciate them…..Diane

    • 400daystil40

      May 12, 2012 at 23:48

      Yes, you are so correct, and it is true that those who feel the need to buy gifts will still buy them even if you tell them not to…. because it is about them…….. Wow, what a wonderful gift to give your grandchildren!

  7. charlesmashburn

    May 12, 2012 at 03:33

    Okay, that settles it; we were separated at birth, or somebody cloned me. Almost everything you write seems to come right out of my head! This one is exactly how I feel on this subject. I really fight the whole system, and hate the way gift giving has been ritualized and commercialized! Don’t get me started!!
    Great post. I love your blog, and I’m really enjoying your insights into the world we live in. Keep up the great work!

    • 400daystil40

      May 12, 2012 at 23:47

      I always used to fantasize that I had a twin that I would one day reunite with…. maybe you will fulfill that childhood fantasy???? 😛

  8. sahbinahvioletflynn

    May 12, 2012 at 05:25

    Splendid post! The gift of an experience like a special hike or help with a needed task like hanging a picture for an elderly parent or the heavy lifting in their garden I think are the “things” people cherish and remember most. I don’t even buy cards anymore. I make them by hand with pretty this ‘n that’s from scraps and well-turned phrases and my mushy sentiments…always the most appreciated.

  9. narf77

    May 12, 2012 at 06:16

    I think the giving of expensive gifts says more about the giver than the receiver. I think that we now see the giving of something expensive as a trade off for one on one time together. “I buy you a ipad, you go to your room and watch some television and leave me alone”. Its a way to abrogate responsibility and its ruining our children. Times are getting tougher, not easier and its not an economic time of boom. We should be instilling qualities in our children that will allow them to save, to share and to cooperate with others. Home made gifts do not have to be sad gifts. If a bit of thought goes into who is receiving the gift, its not hard to tailor something home made or grown to the recipient. I think its just easier to give something expensive than it is to think about the alternative and put the effort in to make it.

    • 400daystil40

      May 12, 2012 at 23:46

      Yes, what a great point… it really is more about the giver than the receiver…. by far.

  10. Karmic Diva

    May 12, 2012 at 07:23

    You make a lot of sense. I love your thoughts

  11. thelastsongiheard

    May 12, 2012 at 07:45

    I think, honestly, I’d much rather receive an unexpected gift 🙂 And I like to give them too… financially, I can’t afford to right now and haven’t been able to for some time… but I, like most others, get a kick out of it 🙂

  12. Gilraen

    May 12, 2012 at 12:28

    I so totally agree with you on children being given too much stuff.
    I was appalled that my then 2-year old niece would come to me in a way that showed “I expect a gift”. Her grandparents (both sides) would give her something every time they visited (weekly). Thankfully after some nudging from our side this was stopped.

    I love the small thoughtful gifts. A personal note, an unexpected visit, a nice personal meal (yeah cookies too), a heartfelt thanks. Those things really matter to me.

    • 400daystil40

      May 12, 2012 at 23:44

      Wow, yea, no one wants sense of entitlement developed in a two year old! I agree with you, small thoughtful gifts are wonderful.

  13. Waldo "Wally" Tomosky

    May 12, 2012 at 15:38

    My internet provider must love me very much. He gives me cookies all the time. On a more serious note Jacques Derrida suggested that most gifts are nullified by their own circumstances. See his “Given Time.” Sorry about the following but I could not state it as well as another has:
    In his text, Given Time, Derrida suggests that the notion of the gift contains an implicit demand that the genuine gift must reside outside of the oppositional demands of giving and taking, and beyond any mere self-interest or calculative reasoning. According to him, however, a gift is also something that cannot appear as such, as it is destroyed by anything that proposes equivalence or recompense, as well as by anything that even proposes to know of, or acknowledge it. This may sound counter-intuitive, but even a simple ‘thank-you’ for instance, which both acknowledges the presence of a gift and also proposes some form of equivalence with that gift, can be seen to annul the gift. Knowing you are an educator I thought you may be interested. Sorry about the long comment.

    • 400daystil40

      May 12, 2012 at 23:43

      Hahaha! Thank you so much for making me laugh! Great Derrida quote, thank you so much for sharing it! Had I known about it I would have used it in this post!!! 🙂 Thanks for the link too!!! 🙂

  14. wholisticme

    May 12, 2012 at 18:48

    Gifts that are given without something attached to them are the best gifts.

  15. True STORIES.

    May 12, 2012 at 18:53

    My two favorite gifts of all time–the only two that have ever made me cry–were a hand-carved Civil War soldier from my stepdad, and handmade sign my husband put together that read, “The messenger makes the bent word straight” when I got my first communications job.

    • 400daystil40

      May 12, 2012 at 23:42

      Wow, what great gifts! It means so very much when people take the time to do something special for us.

  16. saymber

    May 12, 2012 at 19:03

    Brilliant article 400 and you touched on practically every point, thought I’ve ever had on this subject! So refreshing to read someones point of view that is so close to my own! I couldn’t have said these things any better. With my husband and my current financial situation, gift giving is nothing like when I was working and had a higher paycheck. Now I make most of the gifts I give or don’t spend a lot of money and certainly do not put myself in debt for gifts. Things do not equate to love and I so agree that in todays society a large portion of parents compensate for their absence in their childrens lives by buying them things. Ironically if they would stop spending so much they wouldn’t have to work more than one job, could spend more time with their children and they wouldn’t need to buy the stuff putting them into debt….viscious cycle. Things are getting better with so many families struggling in difficult economies. This past Christmas lay-away was a big player for families…the kids remember the time spent and those memories will last a lifetime. The toys will get broken and forgotten.

    • 400daystil40

      May 12, 2012 at 23:39

      Thank you! Yes, things definitely do NOT equate to love! I agree with you, I cannot believe toys are placed on layaway that, as you say, will be broken and forgotten anyhow…… children do need their parents TIME far more than any gift.

  17. viveka

    May 12, 2012 at 21:29

    Gifts … has to come from the heart – if we just buy to give … I’m a very generous person and because I don’t have children myself – I have tendency to spoil my friends kids – but it mostly clothing. Then people have a problem with what to give me that has absolutely everything.
    So now they have to come with home made gifts, as cakes, cookies and jams – love it. That is gifts – that they have put some heart into while making. Gives we can’t afford should never be given.
    That’s why I don’t like Christmas anymore.

    • 400daystil40

      May 12, 2012 at 23:38

      Me too, my favorite gifts are usually home made ones!!! 🙂

  18. writerwannabe763

    May 12, 2012 at 23:41

    For some reason I cannot access 284 days til 40 …just could not be located…Diane

    • 400daystil40

      May 12, 2012 at 23:51

      Yes, I am sorry, there was a posting mistake – I hope it will be accessible in about 10-15 minutes. Sorry for the confusion! 🙂

  19. Alicea Jones

    May 13, 2012 at 00:53

    Gift giving is wonderful when it comes without strings or ulterior motives. I’ve recently thought about the kind of gifts that don’t require that we go running to the store. I’ve thought about how I can be more resourceful, using what I have to bless others. Here is an excerpt I recently wrote in my Editor’s Note for Georgetown View Magazine related to this subject:

    My grandmother was one of the most resourceful people I know. She made do with what she had, and what she didn’t have, she created. And if she couldn’t create it, she’d change the rules so that what she needed was already at her disposal.
    I remember how she’d save up bread crusts in the breadbox. Even when they became as dry and brittle as Styrofoam, she’d just trim the edges, tear the bread into chunks, throw them into a bowl with some milk and eggs and whatever else she had on hand, and stick it in the oven. The aroma of vanilla and cinnamon would enfold me like a chenille blanket. Even when she didn’t have one of the ingredients on hand, her bread pudding tasted like everything was right with the world.
    Nana used what she had at her disposal. On Palm Sunday, she’d walk to church collecting palm fronds from the yards of generous neighbors. By the time we got to church, layers of fresh fronds piled up across our arms and tickled our chins. There would be enough for everyone without Nana having spent a nickel.
    I don’t remember Nana fretting around the kitchen in a panic or dashing out to the store when she didn’t have a particular thing. She didn’t even drive. What I did see was a woman who used what she had, with a spirit of confident expectancy, to bless those around her.
    I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my own practice of resourcefulness. Is giving only about material things? What do I already possess that I can use to bless others? A hug? Encouraging words? A lesson from my own life experiences?
    In times when life’s circumstances challenge our finances, our time, our sense of connectedness, perhaps resourcefulness whispers its most telling lesson: You already have what you need. Just look for it with a spirit of confident expectancy.

    • 400daystil40

      May 13, 2012 at 11:39

      Wow, what a wonderful story about your grandmother!

  20. craftythriftydecoratingwifemom

    May 13, 2012 at 03:47

    You are dead on. I so often agree with what you write, I could just copy your posts (If I could get Press this to work) and not need to write, lol. But you and I are also totally different people. I love to sew, knit, etc. and I’ve canned homemade spaghetti sauce, etc. as gifts, don’t remember you as crafty. Highly educated educator, but not a crafter 🙂

    • 400daystil40

      May 13, 2012 at 11:39

      Thanks so much! I actually am crafty too – I quilt and knit (wish I had more time to do those things!) 🙂

  21. damoris

    May 13, 2012 at 10:28

    Spot On!!!! I love reading this. One problem we have faced over the years is having only a few people turning up to the children’s birthday parties. Most people freak out when you say “no present please” on the invitation. Isn’t that strange? The great side of this is that the people who have come continually have also started to have similar birthday parties for their own children and that contributed to having built a fantastic community with like minded people. Children have had the best birthday play days with no materialism coming in the way. The children have become more creative in their games, more appreciative of people’s presence, their social skills have also developped beautifully. This one is a win win win situation, big time! I would not go back to gift buying. Human giving is so much more meaningful.
    Thanks for that post.

    • 400daystil40

      May 13, 2012 at 11:38

      Wow, that is so interesting… parents not able to send kids to a “free” birthday party….. very very interesting!

      • damoris

        May 13, 2012 at 12:32

        Yeah!! lol… I guess it unsettled people a bit. No present, no party bags… you know…. kind of weird really… We were home schooling and also quite new to the region … I can’t blame them! lol.
        A friend told me her daughter went to a birthday party where the guests got ipods in the party bags! Imagine what we were dealing with!! Not everybody is like this in our region though, but presents and party bags are what make the parties. It is cultural I guess. These people must have thought we were mean to our “poor” (lol) children…lol… who knows what freaked them out enough to not turn up. lol

        It was a bit tough the first time though. My daughter felt a sort of rejected (because of our differences… )

        But I am so glad we stuck to our instinct and made the change. Natural selection has allowed us to built our own “weird community”. lol. The outcast…lol
        We even had a musical family once who just made different songs up and a mini concert for us! Trumpet, violin… Straight from their heart into ours. Priceless.
        It’s great now, no more 100th Barbie dolls or other useless plastic toys, but loads of great memories and good times.
        As I said the best of all is how the children have learned to interact and appreciate each other more. They actually invite or visit people for people, not for the great presents or party bags some families give away. lol. Fantastic journey for us. I recommend all parents out there to go that way. Even our children recognise the benefits and the quality of the relationships they gained.

        We used to have the same bedrooms as your daughter, in every room of the house! So Spoiled!
        My husband wsn’t too happy when I decided to do things differently…lol . It was a long learning curve for us too. 4 years to see the metamorphosis…

        Our children thank us for it now! We would never have thought that could happen. lol

        We don’t need material expensive gifts, people need people, good people. Just like you said in the article, all that is coming from the heart sounds, smells, tastes, looks, and feels better. Always. No need to spend money. We all have more than everything we need anyway.

        Well done for this article. It might trigger something in some people out there. Well done.

        • 400daystil40

          May 13, 2012 at 19:31

          Thanks for your great comment! I think you need to consider taking your comment and making it into a post on your blog because what you share is so important. I wish more families had the courage to stand up to consumerism as you have!

  22. Marie-Adeline

    May 13, 2012 at 21:59

    thanks for the great post,
    I like to make handmade gifts, this need a lot of time, but a lot of love too

  23. rachturner

    May 14, 2012 at 22:40

    I love giving and receiving handmade, thoughtful gifts. To know that someone cared enough about me to spend time making something just for me means the world. Your post is spot on truth! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • 400daystil40

      May 14, 2012 at 22:55

      Thank you, I also love giving and receiving handmade gifts – I LOVE it when people wear the things I knit for them…. it is so fun to see!


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