Giving: Reimagined

giving-reimaginedAfter he spent two weeks volunteering at a hostel for pilgrims along the Camino, a friend returned with a gift for me. I was surprised he bought me anything as he knows I’m a minimalist who is on a seemingly neverending quest to live with less “stuff”. He smiled as I opened the bag. It contained a bar of soap. He proudly declared, “I know you don’t want any more ‘stuff’ but this is something that you will use up and it will disappear.” Indeed he was right. A perfect gift for a minimalist. Even better? It wasn’t purchased. It was among the items left behind by pilgrims wanting to lighten their load. Recycling at its finest.

Accepting gifts has not been easy for me in recent years. Yes, I like the thought with which they are given. And I love surprises. But I’m at the stage in my life where I prefer “experiences” to “stuff.” Friends have adjusted to this:

  • Eating experiences were a popular gift for my birthday last week. Various friends took me out for dinner, ice cream, or coffee. Time catching up with friends — especially over good food — is certainly a gift.
  • Consumable gifts are excellent ideas for the minimalist: One friend gave me a candle. Burn it down, recycle the glass, and presto! It’s gone.
  • And then there was the friend who showed up with a homemade key lime pie (consumable) and a black case (a mystery!). He opened the case to reveal a flugalhorn (A what? Yes, that’s what I said, too) and entertained me and my guests by playing Happy Birthday on this instrument that few of us had ever heard or seen before.

Other friends give as they normally would, but with a caveat that I love: My friend Lois will send me books she thinks I might like, always with the stipulation that I can read them or not, keep them or give them away. I believe all gifts should be given in this way: the receiver can do whatever they want with them.

My mother, years ago, said that her preferred Christmas gift is a donation to a charity. Over the years we, her five children, have:

  • gifted pigs, rabbits, bees and chickens on her behalf to Heifer International.
  • gifted smiles to children born with cleft palates through SmileTrain.
  • showed her the wonders of Kiva: she chooses a person and project to which she wants to loan our donation money, and when that person pays the loan back, my mother gets to donate that money to a new person and project.

Despite all these alternatives, there are definitely occasions where some people feel they must bring a physical gift. Birthday parties are one such occasion. To accommodate the schedules of busy friends (and just because I could) I had not one, but two birthday celebrations last week. And for those that just felt they couldn’t come empty handed, I offered an alternative: open your pantry and bring me a couple non-perishables that I can give to the food bank. I sent out the “most-wanted” list our local food bank publishes. And last week I was gifted with tuna fish, beans, canned tomatoes, mac and cheese, cereal, and canned veggies — all of which I dropped off at the food bank today.

So in this season of gratitude and giving, I give thanks for givers of all kinds. But especially for those that give unconditionally, for those that give experiences and for those that give to those most in need.

What alternative giving ideas have you given or received? 

P.S. Don’t forget to enter Busted Halo’s Airing Your Attitude of Gratitude Thanksgiving writing contest! You can share with the writers and readers of Busted Halo your story of gratitude. Good Luck!