Gifts. Stuff. Things.
Every Christmas the high street and shopping centres fill with people trawling for that perfect 'thing' for their loved ones. Black Friday creates chaos and Cyber Monday sends the delivery drivers into hyperdrive as online sales for 'stuff' escalate at a rapid rate throughout November and December. It's a fact of this modern, fast paced world, that this thrilling wave of capitalism grips the country each winter in new and elaborate ways.
I am speaking as someone who was out there in the shopping centres myself, chasing the sales, buying anything I thought might fit the bill without much mind for if the person I was giving it to would even like it. Every year would fill a hand made advent calendar with an array of little 'bits' for my mum, finding 24 tiny lipsticks, hand creams, hair pins and more, whilst not even taking into consideration that she'd probably not yet used last years bits up - I was just adding to an ever growing pile.
It was something I did with love, and I did it because that's what people do to show love. Or at least it is when we are conditioned to believe that giving someone more stuff shows them how much you care?
But in reading this, if you think I don't also like stuff you're wrong, I bloody love it. I'm a self confessed recovering 'stuff addict' to be honest, and during my 'recovery' I've been learning and changing how I think and feel about owning and buying more and more things. The stuff I bring into my life now, mostly consists of well thought out, nice, beautiful things, both new and old.
Also, please don't think I'm a Scroogey old Grinch either, because I genuinely love Christmas, especially the giving and receiving of gifts. I love the gorgeous wrapping paper and ribbon, I love a pile of things under the tree and I relish the look on someones face when you get them just what they wanted, needed or didn't even realise they were missing in their lives - it's a magical feeling. But I've changed the way I do things over the last few years*, and I've morphed, from the happy, compliant shopper, to a thoughtful and intentional gift giver.
So, I want to try and explain to you what that means to me and how, if you wanted to, you might start doing it too...
Look at your own stuff and challenge some of your emotions
One of the best ways to start re-thinking how you buy for others is to actually have a look at your own stuff. I'm a huge advocate for only having stuff that you use, need or love in your life. When life seems stressful and noisy, and you can't seem to see the woods for the trees, it can so often be because you are surrounded by all those things you don't really use, need or love and they're drowning out the space, calm and all the other things you do use, need and love. This is part of a bigger picture in decluttering* but if we are thinking about gifts in particular, take a look at some of the things you've received in the past and ask yourself those questions in relation to those things... Do I use it? Do I need it? Do I love it? There will of course be loads of things that tick all those boxes, but I also guarantee that there will be a few things that are none of the above. Then, think about the emotions that come up when you consider those gifted items.
Usually, the most common emotion that comes up is guilt. You don't use, need or love that object, but someone you love has given it to you so it feels like an extension of your relationship with them and in turn, clouds how you feel about the object - so you keep it.
Now, I'm not here to tell you if that's right or wrong, some items have sentimental value, some bring up complicated dynamics in relationships, the list goes on and each situation is different. I'm definitely not telling you to throw away all your unused gifts!! But the point I am trying to bring home is that maybe when you give a random gift that hasn't been considered, are you actually just lumping someone with more stuff, stress and guilt? This idea really helped to change my mindset and I now, don't want anyone I love to feel obliged to keep things I buy them out of guilt. Obligation is pernicious and I would hate to make someones life feel more cluttered through my actions.
This brings me to the concept of intentional gift giving. The next few points are things that I have done or that I do to help me navigate the world of 'intentional gifting'.
Really think about the person you're buying for
Listen to people when they talk about stuff. I keep a running list on my phone with everyones names that I usually buy gifts for and if they mention a place, an event or an object or if I see something I think they might like when I'm surfing the net, I can just pop it on the list. It's been invaluable to me and resulted in some really great surprises.
If you're going to a local market or event with the person in question you could subtly stalk what they're most keen on perhaps. Just make sure to make a note of what it is and work out how you will get the item without them knowing (if that's important to you).
Think about the hobbies they enjoy, and if there is someone else or a business you know who do accessories or kit related to that hobby then definitely reach out to them. Most places, especially small businesses, are so keen to help you out with advice and suggestions.
If you really don't know what to get them I honestly don't think there is anything wrong with asking them. They might not come back to you with anything much of course, but even if you can find out their favourite gin or a type of cheese they love, you can certainly build from there. Also, try asking other family members, friends, partners etc for inspiration.
If they do genuinely really want a gift set from Boots, that's absolutely fine - as long as it's genuinely wanted/needed by the recipient and is going to be used then that's what we're aiming for!
Do some research
Once you have some ideas it's time to do the research bit. Make sure you look locally or try and find a small business who can supply what you need. Another great idea if you're stuck is to find places that offer gift cards or certificates for their goods and services. I once researched where a friend was going on holiday and bought them a voucher for an afternoon tea at a lovely seaside hotel for them and their partner. It was a really great way to make sure she got a treat but with enough flexibility that she could book it herself - that's part of the joy of a gift card, it's targeted but also flexible at the same time.
Also, as I said in the above bullet points, asking an expert is always the best way to get a really good tailor made gift. Many moons ago, I used to work in a country sports and fly fishing shop (I really am a woman of many talents!) and it was always a joy to help people put thoughtful gifts together for fly fishers. It's quite a niche hobby, and if you don't know anything about it it can be really hard to know what to buy. I loved listening to them describe the gift recipient and the sorts of fishing they did or the locations they travelled to, and knowing our product range I could help them select and curate their purchase easily. Business owners and sales staff are literally trained to help you with these things, they're the experts in their field and products/services/events/etc, so ask away and you should definitely get some good results.
Think about alternatives
My main reason for writing this blog was to sort of state why I think buying people experiences, workshops or days out over stuff is really where my heart is at, but as I've written it, I think the broader message has become the piece about thinking outside the box and doing it all with intention. To break the cycle of how we do things and really consider what we're buying and where we're spending our money.
I will however indulge in a little bit of waxing lyrical on why experiences make such great gifts.
Making memories - I can remember all the times I've gone somewhere for an activity or done an interesting craft at a workshop. Some of my favourite memories with certain friends are things like; the Harry Potter cocktail making pub experience (with wands, robes and dry ice!!), the terrazo coasters I made at a workshop in Leeds (currently balancing my tea on one as I type), the ring I'm wearing I made with my partner in a jewellery workshop - so yes, some of these things resulted in items, but the memories I have every time I look at those objects are priceless. Which leads into...
Learning new skills - this is such a powerful reason to go and just try something new, I can now make a ring, paint a banners, make lace, create a lino cut card, make a Harry Potter themed cocktail (I actually don't think I can remember the recipes, but hey!), the list goes on. I won't necessarily be doing these things in my spare room every weekend, but that's part of the joy of getting to try these things out. Someone else has collected and curated all of the materials/ingredients and I'm just there to create. Which then leads to...
Creative time - which is so precious!! And I say that coming from an incredibly creative business. You probably think all I do is create all day long, but the reality is that life, admin, client work and everything else in between gets in the way of a really self indulgent creative session. So many people who come to my workshops just relish in the fact that this is miles away from their normal 9-5 and enjoying a few hours where someone else can facilitate some beautiful creativity, fun or learning is a really precious thing.
To sum it up, I think this quote from one of my workshop participants this year says it all...
"It was the most relaxing and creative day away from 'real life'. Being given the chance to absorb the tranquil surroundings of Marianne's flower filled studio and learn from her directly was a complete joy, and I was super proud of what I made! "
And that's just how I feel when I go on creative workshops too! Proud of what I've made, peaceful at the experience and relaxed all over. Bliss.
So, you've decided on a more intentional gift giving vibe in your life, you've done your research, you've found great gifts and experiences for your loved ones, but there is one final bit that is quite important to consider...
Communicate your intentions with others
It's all good and well me saying 'don't buy your family more stuff, get them intentional gifts and experiences' but if others are not on the same wavelength they may feel real disappointment at the lack of the types of gift they're used to getting. That's why it's really important to remember to communicate what you're doing to those you love, and if they're willing to listen, explaining why you've changed the way you're doing it. This conversation goes both ways as well, firstly, you need to tell people you don't want to receive any more random stuff for yourself this year and maybe make some helpful suggestions of stuff you do want or need. Secondly, you should try to explain to them that you'd like to get them something that they really want and need as well, rather than burden them with more things you're not sure they'd like, which can be a great staring point to gather useful suggestions too. It's possible this all may go down like a lead balloon, but at least you've tried, and if all else fails and they don't seem receptive, well considered consumables are a good option. I think things like drinks that they love, foods and hampers from local suppliers or restaurant vouchers or soaps/cosmetics are usually universally acceptable - the key phrase here is well considered.
So, good luck with your gifting this year, please use this as a gentle guide as to how you could reframe your mindset around some of the mass gift giving we are conditioned for in society, but also know there's absolutely no need to beat yourself up or feel you're doing it 'wrong'. I really don't think there is any such thing as right and wrong when it comes to effecting change, there is just progress, and if you've got this far with reading this blog post then you've made more effort than a good 75% of the population!
Be kind to yourselves, be kind to others, and don't get caught up in anything that doesn't feel comfortable to you.
Oh, and shop small where you can.
*For a bit of context, this all properly started when I began to really look at my stuff. The stuff in my house and in my work studio. I am now a fully converted declutter-er, which is definitely what has brought about this incredibly powerful mindset change in regards to gift giving. (If you want to find out more about my decluttering journey I talk all about it on the Declutter Hub podcast and this will give you a really good background into how my mindset towards stuff has changed so much since my student years.)