Gift-Giving for Minimalists & Downsizers

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Our Charlie Brown Christmas Tree (“All it needed was a little love…”)

Last month I wrote a post with gift-giving and other tips for the holiday season, which can present a challenge for those who want to celebrate the season and share joy with others, but who are also seeking to simplify their lives, minimize clutter, and “live with less.”

It is sad that for some, maybe even many people, the frenzy that surrounds gift-giving at the holiday season can actually destroy the joy that it is meant to inspire. In talking about this with a friend whose means are limited, another aspect of the problem was revealed. “I like to give gifts,” she said. “But I just can’t afford to give everyone the nice things I would like to. It makes me sad.” She added, “Also, sometimes you feel bad receiving gifts when you know that the person couldn’t really afford to give what they’re giving. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t feel good.”

I wondered what Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, aka “The Minimalists,” would have to say on this subject. “To stay focused, we must first focus on the right things: we must change our focus from consumption and obligation to love and support,” they wrote in one of the posts on their blog. Much of their advice is similar to advice we, and others, have given, and is fairly obvious: give gifts of time, consumables (wine, food, soaps, candles, etc.), give “experience” gifts (theatre tickets, trips, outings). But they also address the matter of how to deal with the expectations of others at holiday time, and they dig into the psychology of gift-giving in an interesting way.  “Gift-giving is, by definition, transactional,” they write. “But love is not a transaction. Love is transcendent: it transcends language and material possessions and can be demonstrated only through our thoughts, actions, and intentions.” It’s a thoughtful essay, well worth a read.

One of the challenges inherent in the alternative to  giving “stuff” for the holidays is following through on the alternative of “experience” gifts, the kind where you offer the gift of time spent in some special way with a loved one, or a favor you will do for them, or a promise you intend to keep. The easy part is making the promise: the harder part is making it really happen.

And since the holiday season conveniently includes the tradition of making New Year resolutions, maybe that’s a good resolution to make. Make sure that those promises you write down and present to a loved one during the holiday season really happen in–or even before–the New Year. Now, there’s a resolution well worth keeping!

Wishing you and yours warm, wonderful, meaningful holidays–with lots of joy, and not too much stuff!

Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor, writing coach, travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.

Holiday Preparations for Downsizers & Minimalists: Tips for Gift-Giving & More

 

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As the end-of-year holiday season draws near, now can be a good time to take stock of how to plan ahead, especially for people who are trying to acquire less “stuff,” or who are trying to get rid of all the things they’ve already acquired.

First, the matter of gift-giving: how does one reconcile the lessons learned in downsizing–one of the main ones being not to acquire so much to begin with–with the joy of giving gifts at the holiday season?

Of course there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. In past years we’ve discussed a few ways to think about this, including this post on five different kinds of gifts that won’t cause clutter.

Over the past couple of years I’ve also seen a number of blog posts that discuss the “four-gift” concept. The idea is to limit the number of gifts children are given down to a minimal four, which is partly to reel in gift-giving madness, and partly to teach children not to be quite so materialistic, and to enjoy a few nice things as much as a bunch of them. The idea is to give each child

1. Something they want

2. Something they need

3. Something to wear

4. Something to read.

I’ve also seen some bloggers suggest giving five gifts, with the fifth gift sometimes being “something they don’t know they want but you do,” and sometimes a gift given to a charitable organization in the child’s name, perhaps chosen by the child.

When my children were small and starting to walk around the house circling items in toy catalogues, I found myself often repeating the words, “Remember, Christmas is about giving too…” (One day my son Sammy caught me off guard by altering the script,  as he sailed through the room with this off-hand remark:  “Remember, Mommy, Christmas is about giving too…so you have to give ME something!!!”  )

I know to some people the four-gift idea may seem stingy and Scrooge-ish. Certainly there can be an awful lot of joy in the faces of children when they see an abundant pile of presents under the tree. And there’s certainly no need for everyone to follow this rule, or even to come close to it.

But for those to whom it appeals, or whose budgets it fits, it can be a helpful way of teaching children to appreciate a few nice gifts along with the other joys of the season–singing, being together, enjoying special meals, baking cookies, sharing with others (aka as “giving too”)–all ways of focusing on the true meaning of the season–while avoiding the perils of overconsumption as well.

One thing that happened in the home I was growing up in is that often very practical, inexpensive gifts would be wrapped and placed under the tree, or in our stockings, along with the more special gifts. Since part of the joy of all those beautifully wrapped presents is precisely that–the sight of all those presents–why not do this? There can be thoughtfulness in choosing simple, practical gifts as well as the special ones, and why can’t the presentation be part of the present? (And surely everyone has had the experience of watching a small child enjoy playing with the boxes and the wrapping paper as much as with the toys themselves?)

When the pressure of gift-giving (thinking of and then finding the gifts; affording the gifts; acquiring and wrapping the gifts in the pre-holiday rush) threatens to take away from the enjoyment of the season, it may be time to step back and think about other ways to celebrate. There are many ways to do this, from giving gifts to charitable organizations to visiting people who need visiting–the old, the lonely, the sick–and spending some of the time that might be spent shopping, or wrapping presents, with them. This too can offer children a very important example.

Of course it’s good to talk with your family, whether they are children, or adults, about how you all want to decide to approach the matter of gift-giving beforehand. And now is a perfect time to have these conversations.

Second, as you plan to entertain or celebrate with family and friends, you might want to take a look at posts we’ve written in past years about ways to enjoy the holidays (and cleaning up after them) in less-consumer-focused, more ecological ways here.

Finally, the holidays can be a good time to plan as a family for downsizing projects. if your family is at a decision point about dismantling the family home, or you think you should be, and don’t quite know how to get started, you may find some help here.

And so as the season approaches, here’s wishing you and your loved ones all good things during the holidays–starting with a peaceful and happy Thanksgiving.

Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor, writing coach, travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.

 

 

A Downsizing Generation Gap? What to Do When Your Kids Don’t Want Your Stuff

 

DadsDresser

The dresser I really didn’t want to sell. But I did, and it’s okay!

A spate of articles in recent years have discussed what seems to me could be described as a generation gap having to do with the  dilemma of having “too much stuff.” Millennials, we are told, don’t want the stuff that baby boomers are now ready to get rid of–or, more precisely, would like to pass on to their offspring as they move into smaller quarters and seek to downsize.

One consequence of this phenomenon is that certain categories of items that were once quite valuable–such as antique china and silverware (or, more often, silver-plated flatware)–are no longer so valuable, at least in terms of resale value.

Another phenomenon is parental dismay at what some parents perceive of as some kind of rejection, or at least slight, by their children.

Not surprisingly, some parents bear the disappointment with dignity and grace, suffering in silence: others harass their offspring and try to make them feel guilty for turning their backs on family heirlooms, and thus family history.

Having heard this problem mentioned frequently when I have been asked, as coauthor of our book, Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home, to speak at events, here are a few thoughts I’ve had about how to approach this problem with grace, intelligence, tact, and most of all success. My coauthor and I would love to hear your thoughts as well!

  1. Don’t guilt the kids.  If they say they don’t want something, believe them. At the very least, they mean it for now. If you think they “may want it someday” and you can’t bear to give it away to someone else or sell it–or to live with the thought that your kids may regret it down the line–then by all means, hold onto it somehow, but don’t make it their problem. Keep it yourself “for now,” or put it in storage. If you can’t do either of these things, or don’t want to, then go ahead and sell it or give it away. Might your kids regret their refusal someday? Sure, they might. When I was in my late teens and was invited to go to my grandparents’ moving sale, I blithely declined and ignored my mother’s (correct) predictions that I might want some of that furniture someday. But I was moving so much at that time in my life and honestly found it hard to look ahead far enough into the future to think that one day I might have an home in which I would have loved to have one of the brass beds that were sold that day. But so what? I was given the chance. I passed on it. Later I regretted it. But I got over it! And so will your kids. And if they don’t? Well, that’s not your fault, is it?
  2. Consider how long it is likely to be before the item or items in question will be welcomed by your children, if ever.  Last year, when circumstances brought about my relatively hasty decision to make an international move, I was forced to downsize very quickly. I remember waking up one morning and looking at the antique dresser that had belonged first to my grandparents, and then to my Dad. I loved that dresser, and I never imagined getting rid of it. As I watched the sunlight play on its beautiful wood surface, though, suddenly a thought came into my mind. “How did we ever get that thing here (from Minnesota to Washington D.C.) in the first place?” Right on the heels of that thought was this one: “And how am I going to get it back out of here?”  Then: “And how long is it going to stay in that storage locker, anyway?” I tried to imagine when either of my sons, both far from settling down, might be ready to take on such a lovely–but large, fragile, and unwieldy–piece of furniture. And I couldn’t imagine when. A long time! If I were still living in Minnesota, I would have offered the dresser to one of my cousins, or their children. But I was not living in Minnesota, I was more than a thousand miles away and in the middle of a hasty move that I was paying for myself. And so, reluctantly, I took the picture you see above, and posted it on our local list-serve. The result is that a neighbor who loved and appreciated this beautiful piece of furniture bought it from me. She paid a fair price, and took it away. I have the picture, and the memories, and the baby hospital bracelets my Dad had kept in that dresser, his souvenir of when each of us were born. That’s all I needed. And I doubt that my sons will ever regret what I did.
  3. Use it! A lot of that beautiful china and silverware that was brought out only “for special occasions” in the 1950s and 60s apparently isn’t worth very much these days.  Depending on what you have, there may be ways to turn some of those heirlooms into cash, but doing the research to find out if what you have is valuable; if so, how to sell the items, and to make sure you’re getting what they are worth, can be very time consuming and also–depending on your level of interest in the process–pretty tedious. If this  the case for you, why not use these items? Sure, when you use them you risk chipping, or fading, or whatever. But, if you can’t resell these things for a decent price, within a reasonable amount of time, and your kids don’t want them, why not eat off of the stuff, and enjoy it? What a thought!
  4. Don’t guilt your kids, but don’t let them guilt you either. Another common theme in articles these days is the notion that parents should not burden their children by leaving them with a lot of stuff to go through. My main problem with this notion is that there is often a kind of sanctimonious air of superiority about those people who are being so noble as to do all the downsizing themselves, leaving nothing, or very little, for the kids to have to deal with. Of course people have the right to do this if that is their choice. But–speaking as the daughter of parents who left me and my siblings, and also a brother who left me and my sister with an awful lot of things to go through–I have to say that while in both cases this process was something of a burden, it was also a blessing. It brought us together in a time when we were grieving the loss of people dear to us; it helped us remember all kinds of things we wouldn’t have remembered if we hadn’t been brought together in those circumstances; and it gave us the opportunity to bond over both the pleasurable and the less pleasurable parts of the experience, and find ways to laugh rather than cry at the latter. Honestly, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Plus. I was the one who got to decide which things meant enough to me to want to keep them, and which didn’t. How would anyone else have been able to know that?

We’d love to hear your stories and/or tips about how to deal with this generation gap. If you have any to share please consider posting them in a comment. 🙂

Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor, writing coach, travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.

 

10 Things to Do on Black Friday (Besides Shop)

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We’ve all just celebrated a beautiful day, a day set aside to give thanks and be grateful for all the blessings we have. For the past 25 or so years, using some logic that has always escaped me, the day AFTER Thanksgiving has become a day for a mad (and sometimes literally deadly) scramble to acquire more things, and to get up at the crack of dawn, leaving home and family behind in order to do so.

We’ve written about that phenomenon before here and here. This year I thought I would offer 10 alternative ideas for things you can do on Black Friday, if you are one of the increasing number of people who have decided to “just say no” to all that.

1. Take out some of the board games (or puzzles, or DVDs) that you gave or received as gifts last year and play them! 

2. Get out the photo albums (or the unsorted boxes of photos) and work on labeling, sorting, dividing, getting rid of the bad ones, etc. Tell each other the stories that go along with the pictures as you work together on this task. (Maybe even record some of those stories?)

3. Begin making homemade gifts. (Think broadly: baked goods, poems, songs, stories all make wonderful gifts.) Or make lists of gifts you may want to order on CyberMonday (December 1 this year).

4. Visit someone who is ill, or in need of company.

5. Make music! Sing!

6. Bake cookies.

7. Read aloud, by the fireplace if you have one. A few suggestions:  “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry.  Or “Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem” by Maya Angelou. Or “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” by Dr. Seuss.

8. Take a walk, or a hike together. Or ride bikes, or ski!

9. Clear some space in your home for the holiday decorations and gifts to come.

10. Make a bundle of clothing, toys, books or other items to donate to those in need. Or make and freeze a meal to deliver to a homeless shelter next month.

I think I can almost guarantee that doing any one of these things–and probably many more you can think of–will be a much better way to keep the beautiful glow of gratitude and thanksgiving alive a little bit longer. And a better way to enter the holiday season ahead.

Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor, writing coach, travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.