Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Cycle of Gift Consumerism

Consumerism is multi-dimensional to say the least but for now I'm going to talk about the aspect of gift giving.  I was thinking about Christmas this morning.  It is just a few days shy of being six months away.  Every family celebrates in many different ways depending on their religious views, traditions, and culture.  For our family we celebrate this special holiday by giving gifts.  In the past few years we have drastically reduced the amount of gifts in our immediate family and the amount that we exchange with extended family during the holidays. This past year our whole extended family agreed to donate to organizations and charities that provide goods and services to those in need.  We have a pot luck dinner and bring the items we would like to donate. We felt that this was a wonderful way to help those in need in the true spirit of Christmas. When we celebrate birthdays with our extended family, we have a special gathering and honor the birthday guest with gifts.  In our immediate family here at home we exchange gifts for both Christmas and Birthdays.

As I began to think about gift ideas for my children for Christmas and Birthdays, I began to think about what we have as a family and have been blessed to receive.  I realized with extreme gratitude and thankfulness that we aren't in actual real need of anything.  I am very thankful for this, however I am struggling with how consumerism plays such a large role in our gift giving both in our own home and in our society as a whole.  There was a time not long ago when gifts were a surprise and not bought on a daily basis as I see often times when shopping at the store.  Sadly I see children throwing a tantrum for toys and the frustrated parent tossing the item in the cart for the child and storming off to finish their shopping.  When I was young in part due to the economy and in part the time era, in our home we didn't receive toys all through the year.  We had to wait for a birthday or Christmas with great anticipation to see if we received the gift we were hoping for.  In our own home I have tried to not purchase any big items unless it is for a special occasion.  However I am noticing that we have been purchasing several smaller things and I feel that this dribbling in of things almost every time we went to the store is not necessarily a good thing.  I felt in some way this is taking away from the excitement of opening gifts on Holidays and Birthdays.  I also felt that buying small things when my children want them is blurring the line between need and want.  They want something therefore they think they need it.  Clearly things are bit out of balance.   If they need the item I have no problems getting them this item.  If it is a want, we have decided to go back to the way things were when my husband and I were young and have the kids write down their gift wishes on a list for either Birthday or Christmas. They are able to distinguish more easily between need vs. want and I am able to see where they are coming from in their desire for objects.  I have discovered many times that it stems from seeing classmates with certain items or it is popular at school with their classmates.  I feel very strongly that being socially norm and fitting in among your peers is very important therefore I  do allow to a degree things that the kids need to stay in the norm.   Though we have resolved many of the issues of on demand purchasing I still feel unsettled, we are working on reduced the volume and frequency of the items coming into our home but I feel that there must be another way to show our love and affection for each other besides handing them a bag with items from their wish list inside for special occasions.  I am not saying receiving things they would like is all bad in any way.  I want them to have things that they desire within reason, I just feel that for our family I would like our gifts and lives to be filled with less from the store and more from the heart.  I want the thought process back in our gift giving and receiving.  Gifts made by hand have time and effort in them that say I care about you.  I have taken the time and effort to make this because I care.  They are special and one of a kind just like we are.  I feel a need to make gifts more personal, more meaningful, less store bought.

I have given our children hand made gifts on many occasions and they are treasured.  They are often found making beautiful creations and surprises as gifts in return.   Our children are not entirely materialistic,  yet they are not without outside influence of television commercials and aware of what is being advertised that tells them that they are not fully living the life of an American child unless they have a certain toy, clothing, movie or even breakfast cereal.  Of course they desire items just like I see things while at the market.  I also keep in mind the dangers of depriving them of a "normal" upbringing which I am fully aware is a whole different subject in which books have been written. 

For today, I ponder the cycle we as a society are in with gifts.  This process in some small way almost feels robotic to me.  For example, typically when we receive a birthday invitation we go to the market or specialty shop and pick out a gift that we think that person would like.  Then we pick out a gift bag, rarely unless the store offers it do we take gifts home to wrap in paper anymore.  Then we pick out a mass produced card with just the right saying and bring this with us to the party with a gift receipt just in case we didn't pick out the right thing or someone else also thought this was perfect for our friend or family member.  This is a very calculated way of looking at our gift giving and I'm not saying that picking out gifts is not sincere.  I find myself in this same robotic pattern time and time again and I have the  utmost sincere intentions of bestowing a gift on our family and friends that expresses our love and joy for them on this special occasion.  I'm just stating that it is mass produced, and mass packaged, and a very generic way of giving gifts.  However, if I receive a gift that is hand wrapped, even with recycled comic strips, brown paper or hand colored or stamped paper it immediately catches my attention.  Wrapping at all catches  my attention since we are so used to gift bags now.  I must say here that I think gift bags are excellent for re-using many times where wrapping paper isn't always able to be re-used.  Opening a hand made gift leaves a lasting impression on me every time I receive one as a gift.  It is not factory or assembly line produced and I instantly appreciate the effort and time that has gone into this gift.  I want my friends and family especially my children to know the feeling that goes with receiving a gift from one to another from the heart made especially for them. I want them to feel honored and cherished by the gifts they receive.  I know that if they are also making their own gifts that they will completely understand and appreciate what they receive because they realize the time and effort involved from their own experience.  They will respect the efforts of others and the appreciation for what they receive will be from the heart.  When you receive a gift by hand you do not need an entire bag full of odds and ends to feel like you are giving enough.  It is enough.  It is from your heart and hand to the person whom you made it for and that is all that matters.

As we are finishing our remodeling, we are taking the opportunity to donate items we no longer need or want and I am seeing a trend that  has bothered me for a long time.  Something that I would like to put behind us.  I pick through the donation box and see last year's must have birthday item, the hot seller from Christmas two years ago and the doll that brought on tears and pleading from four years ago that nobody but I can remember where it came from.  This is not true of all gifts the kids have received.  There are items that the kids will simply not part with and touching as it is I'm also perplexed at the emotional attachment we place on disposable items.  We have lost our perspective on what is truly important.  I feel overwhelmed with the volume of items that are purchased for gifts, opened,enjoyed played with, put aside, and donated or thrown into the land fill.  I feel that this is not only a  drain on our environment but our finances as well.  Something is wrong with the picture that I am seeing and I'm not quite sure how to stop this process in our society.  I feel in our own home that slowing it down drastically would be a good move. 

I will be fine tuning our gift giving in our home and we will be discussing our perspectives as a family more as the holiday approaches so that there is balance between less consumerism in our home, and giving gifts that truly representing to our children our joy and love and excitement for them at this important occasion. A balance that does not involve the land fill or donation box down the road.


Anonymous said...

This is a very good well thought out article. Thanks for writing gave me lots to think about. I am enjoying looking through your past posts. I came here from a recent comments you posted on Down to Earth. You have a beautiful blog. Sarah

prairieharmony said...

Sarah, thank you very much for your compliments and comments, I appreciate it very much and am very glad that you are enjoying the blog. Rhonda at Down To Earth is such an inspiration and I am continually blessed to have discovered her blog! Best wishes :)