Our family often touts homesteading as a way to experience an authentic life, one filled with real food and real work. We like to spend our time making and doing, not accumulating.
But this time of year, the winter holiday season, we struggle the most with balancing thriftiness with giftiness, like so many people. Even though we don’t subscribe to cable TV, newspapers, or magazines, we feel inundated with the advertising message to ‘buy, buy, buy’. Lil, who only knows TV shows on Netflix and PBS, can still somehow sing a dozen current advertising jingles at any moment.
Consumer Counter Culture
Alex and I see through the commercials that equate stuff to happiness and we help Lil investigate ads. We talk with her about how a house filled with stuff is not necessarily a house of fulfilled people. We evaluate our own desires carefully – do we want new clothes because everyone else has them or because there’s something ill-fitting or worn with our current clothes? Do we need a particular item or do we just want it because we heard about it somewhere?
Choosing to surround ourselves with good folks who share our anti-consumer ideals is the biggest threat to the Consume More Monster. We exchange, borrow, and barter with friends who do more with less. We frequently allow our kids to hear about what we’re saving for and our tirades about inappropriate and ineffective advertising.
Gift Giving Alternatives
We could opt out of gift giving entirely, but that’s not our family’s way. We cherish the opportunity to think about what a person would really love. So how do we build our gift giving list? We focus on what a gift recipient might use and appreciate in their day to day life. According to a recent survey by Kenmore, ’79% of Americans prefer a practical gift that they could use in their home over a trendy novelty gift’.
Most of our gifts this year are homemade and will be eaten, drunk, or otherwise used until they disappear in a few weeks or months. Does that mean the recipient will forget about our appreciation of them? We hope just the opposite – they will think of us every time they use spice rub or cocoa mix until the jar is empty. If all goes according to plan, we’ll reconnect over a meal to exchange the empty jar for a full one, a true ‘gift that keeps on giving’. Handmade gifts say “I thought about you while making this.”
Another focus of our gift giving is experiential gifts – paper promises, games, trips to a special place, and memberships. The Kenmore survey also found that ’85% of Americans have avoided making a certain food because of the cleanup associated with it’ – maybe a gift certificate for party cleanup would fit someone on your list? Experiential gifts communicate “I want to spend time with you, not spend money on you”.
Last Minute Gift Ideas
There are still ten days until Christmas during which you could can some apple butter or craft a handmade stainless steel straw or even make a quick liqueur. But holiday gatherings and work projects to wrap up can limit gift-making time. Instead of shopping for stuff, consider one of these experiential gifts, local to Columbus though your area may have similar options:
- Columbus Brew Adventures or Columbus Food Adventures tour – I still need to write about our Granville area beer tour in detail but in short it was crazy good times and I have fond memories of the several Columbus Food Adventures tours I’ve attended.
- Green BEAN delivery gift certificate - Weekly deliveries of organic produce are a true boon for people who have trouble getting out, a couple who car share, or anyone who appreciates cooking whole food. I wrote about our experience with Green BEAN a couple years ago.
- Cooking or Gardening Class – I love teaching friends or couples who come to my The Seasoned Farmhouse and City Folk’s Farm Shop classes. I hear them murmuring plans to practice together the skills I introduce, a true gift of partnership.
How do you handle gift giving in our highly commercialized consumer culture?