Goodbye Gift Mountain

by - Sunday, November 15, 2015

I love a big honking pile of gifts. My love language is definitely gifting, and I put a lot of time, thought, and caring into every gift I give. I love to see people open things I bought or made them. I don't consider myself to be a materialistic person (I don't care much for fancy things, I am not looking for the bigger, better thing), but I do think I suffer from this very specific type of materialism, where things have a lot of emotional value to them.

On birthdays and anniversaries, I tend to overgift for the Boy. He lovingly calls it "gift mountain." But I love that pile, because the ridiculous heap represents the fact that I love that person so much. I try not to gush, and in general, I don't think I am all that demonstrative, but my excitement about holidays and gifts is just a channel to show how freaking much I love the people I share them with.

I don't think I am alone in this. On Christmas Eve and morning, you see people posting pictures of their Christmas trees with ginormous mountain ranges of gifts. I think this image, repeated again and again in different homes with different families, says a lot about us as people, and plenty of it is good.

How do a few gifts turn into these snow-capped Himalayas of presents!? I have a few theories:

First, we love the look of abundance. Having so many gifts under the tree speaks to abundance in our lives- we have tons of love in our family or all the money we need. It shows us we are doing ok (or even great).

Second, we want things to be fair. I know I try to spend about the same amount of money per person, so I end up buying a few little extra things here and there to make up differences.

Third, we have so many options. You can get any gift you can possibly imagine. And often, in multiple colors! With Prime shipping! With so many good ideas out there, it can be tricky to decide which ones would be the "best"

I don't think any of these things are necessarily bad, but I do feel they at least keep me from making better choices about what I am buying. The more I discover how wasteful and unethical most of the goods I have bought in past years are, the more miffed I feel, first of all with myself, for this continuing system. It really burns my toast. Buying more definitely doesn't mean buying better, and I worry that by buying easy or cost-effective things for people, I have actually done more harm than good in my adult Christmas seasons.

While celebrating the gift God gave the Earth- his son, pure goodness given to the Earth, I can no longer justify buying gifts that don't do good, that maybe even do evil. Why do we give gifts? To mirror the wise men, giving precious gifts to a child. To mirror God giving grace to the Earth. Huge gifts. Costly gifts. But gifts that did good.

I don't think you have to be a Christian to be a Green shopper, but I do think if you are a Christian, you should pray over your shopping.

Every year, I think I wanted to show how much I cared with my gifts, so my first priority is to give people things they wanted and that would show them how much I love them. That sounds nice, but now I have a new first question to ask.

The question I am going to ask myself this Christmas is if the gift I buy does good.

Does it send the message to companies that they should invest in safe and respectful treatment of its workers?

Does it use unnecessary fuel or create more plastic materials that cant be recycled?

Does it come from nearby and empower my neighbors?

Does it glorify God with respect for the planet and for His people?

No pressure, right? But I think the key here is to set up new habits, and anyone can do that.

First, I can let go of that visual signal that we are doing ok. So are you! Even if things are not great, they can still be good.

Second, I can let go of equating money spent with love given. If I make someone planter boxes, and it takes me 4 hours, is it really worth less than something that cost 4 hours of paid work. It doesn't have to be equal piles or equal money just because you love everyone in the room immeasurable amounts. I may get someone a huge gift and someone else something dinky. But I bet after a few years, things continue to even out. I'm going to have a budget, but I am not going to sweat it.

Third, I have limited my choices considerably, but in almost every case, I can still find what I am thinking of. It also reminds me of lots of great choices I never considered before, things that don't make a statement under a tree! I can buy someone handyman hours (I love this idea. I would happily accept a gift of someone to help us with our house), or a Netflix subscription, or 2 months worth of handmade laundry soap, or put money into something they are saving for.

 I can also take a bunch of fun trips to thrift shops, and turn all my loved ones into Macklemore. Or make more things myself! It shifts the paradigm, so I don't even have to miss all those runs to Target.

So I won't be grappling with as many huge piles this year, but so far I find these challenges fun and exciting, and I hope you can find that too! I love to see all of you amazing stewards getting out there and trying to buy more used, fair trade, recycled, and Made in the USA gifts! You don't have to change every gift to make a beautiful difference in the world. I have felt so inspired by your Christmas wishlists so far, and they have shown me many of us want to make a positive difference in the world, and I believe this is a small way we can do this!

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