A Modest Proposal

Rethinking Gift Giving In the New Year
By Mary Stephens

Luke 12:15 And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.

Too Much Stuff

Do you have a lot of stuff?  I don’t mean the things you use on a regular basis, or that are there to make your home look pretty.  I mean the stuff that is lurking in the garage, under the bed, in closets, perhaps in the attic or basement – the things that fall out on your head, keep you from finding the back of the closet, and make it impossible to park the car out of the weather.  I mean the things that you don’t use any more, that are not family heirlooms, and maybe you don’t even remember that you own!  I mean the family heirlooms that are so ugly you can't bear to put them out where they can be seen.  That’s the stuff I mean.

We have that kind of stuff around here.  Some of it is perfectly good and useful, but not to us.  Some of it only needs a bit of "remodeling" to make it useful or interesting.

I remember a few years back hearing a pastor talk about how wealthy he was and how wealthy we all are in America.  He didn’t mean that we all have large bank accounts.  He meant that we all have more stuff than we can even store properly.  Some of us have barns full.  Some even rent storage space to keep the extra stuff.  We knew one family of modest size who lived in a modest sized house, yet when they moved they needed a semi truck (tractor trailer) to move all their stuff.  They had managed to so carefully cram it into that house and basement that the movers grossly underestimated how much it would be and how long it would take.  The truck driver was glad that the highway scales were not open that day since he was sure they were well over the limit for the size truck he had!  That’s too much stuff!

Time To Unload

Since the economy is so shaky in the U.S. now, it is a good idea to economize.  We are trying to pay down some of our debts (house, car) quicker, as well as saving for some things that would be really useful to us, and are trying to budget accordingly (without being scrougish about it).  So, in this spirit, I was thinking that it might be a  good idea this year to try a different gift giving program.  Since we have quite a few things around that might serve well as gifts, and since I have an abundance of fabric and other craft type stuff to “play” with, I’m thinking of trying to give more homemade and second hand gifts this year.  I also have a small collection of bargain items that I have "socked away" for gifts that really should be put to use.

Now, I’m not a fan of New Year’s Resolutions.  It is better not to vow at all, than to vow and not keep it, as Solomon said.   So, I am only purposing to try to do this.  I will undoubtedly find the need to buy a few gifts at least, and some things to be made or sewn will probably require the purchase of some item that I don’t have – batting, towels, matching thread or zippers, paint, etc.  I also will probably find a few books that I will want to get for some family members. :-)  (My family LOVES books.)

[By the way, not only is this a good way to get rid of decent stuff we don’t need or use, it will also get us moving on that organizing that needs to be done!  It’s always great to be able to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak.]

Second Hand Gifts?

This will sound tacky or strange to some folks.  Sorry.  If this method is not for you, it’s not for you.  But, I think some of us could save a lot of money and help ourselves unclutter our lives a bit by trying it out.  For one thing, it’s a better way to part with some of those nicer items that we just can’t bear to send to the second hand store.

I remember a story that a friend of mine told us years ago.  When she and her husband got married he and his family neglected to inform her about the giving methods of one somewhat odd, but dear adopted “aunt” that they claimed as part of the family.  At the wedding reception my friend, whom I’ll call “Lisa”, opened a gift and found a used plate inside.  She wondered,  “What is this?  Is it a promise of a full set to come?  Is it some family heirloom?”  She was quite puzzled.  As she found out later, it was simply a used plate.  The elderly lady who gave it made a point of reusing greeting cards and giving second hand gifts.  It was just her thing.  An early upcycler, you might say. ;-)

Ribbon BowBut, the end of this funny incident was that Lisa said she used that plate more than any other she had because it was second hand, so it didn’t matter to her as much.  It became useful by very virtue of the fact that it was not “important”. :-)

I have received some nice “used” gifts, a couple in particular which I hope to address later. I have also given second hand gifts myself at times.   Sometimes they were appreciated, sometimes I never knew.  Some things are in “like new condition” and need no explanation.  Some things are obviously used.  But, if you work at making them appropriate or even meaningful to the person, they are more likely to be received well.

A Few Pointers

1. Don’t Give Trash

Try to pick things that look nice, or have “vintage” wear on them – not just tacky stuff.  In other words, just for an example – one of your kid’s half worn out bears is not going to be acceptable where a bear freshly sewn from pretty-but-worn tea towels or a retired tablecloth might be considered very cute and “shabby chic”.  :-)

2. Fix It Up

You can “re-craft” items to make them more interesting.  An old metal beach bucket with a fresh coat of leftover spray paint and a bit of ribbon tied at the handle filled with a bag of homemade cookies will make a cute gift, where just the old bucket “as is” would be trashy even with cookies added.  (Got a fabric table cloth that is too pretty to discard but has a permanent stain?  Cut it up to make some craft projects avoiding the stain – place mats, stuffed animals, hot pads, etc.)

3. Tell Them Why

Note: I am not against  buying nice gifts for family members at appropriate times.  I am making this suggestion and proposal for "the present distress", as it were, and also because some people make such a big deal over gift giving in a general way.  Expectations can get so out of control.  For example, I have seen photos of children's birthday parties and observed kids getting way more things than they should be getting, and too pricey as well, from all their little friends.  When this happens every year at birthdays, they can come to expect this kind of treatment as a matter of course and think it necessary to make them "happy".  It is not a healthy way of thinking.  (Christmas expectations can be even worse!)  Added to that, when you're on the giving end of things, it can become quite expensive when you're kids are invited to a half dozen or more parties like this a year.  When I was young, we were not given a birthday party with a lot of friends invited every year.  Usually it was just family and maybe one or two particular friends.  We only got the bigger parties as a rare treat.

Make a point of letting others know what your intentions are.  If they think you are just pawning off your old stuff on them (which maybe you are), they might feel like you don’t think they are “worthy” of a new or expensive gift.  Let them know that you are trying to give everyone gifts from the collection of stuff you already have.  Mention the present economic situation and the need to be more frugal as explanation.

4. Disregard Bad Manners

If worse comes to worse, I’d remember the old saying, “The people who matter don’t mind, and the people who mind don’t matter.”  That may sound rude, but when someone is too proud to help you out by letting you give them a second hand or re-crafted gift, their opinion is really not worth much.  Too many Americans have put way too much emphasis on spending money as a status symbol and the fulfillment of “the American dream”, and they expect others to do likewise.  It’s time for a change!

(If you don’t have a useable pile, another place you can sometimes get some nice second hand items for cheaper gifts is at second hand stores, but don’t get carried away with that.  The point of my proposal here is to get rid of our own extra stuff that is still good enough to give away or can be repurposed.)


Frankly, I think some people will have a healthy curiosity to see what they might get as a gift this year!  Those people will probably either be pleased or laugh at what they receive, and either way is fine with me.  At least they will have enjoyed it. :-)

 [This is my brother, Dan, receiving a birthday gift some years ago.  It was obviously funny and awful at the same time.  I think it was a container of bungee ties from my dad - new, but still ridiculous to Dan. :-) ]


 PART 2 - Where To Start Looking In the Pile


Frugal Fridays – Save Money With Frugal Tips And Recipes! Frugal Living Tips And Recipes (This is a link party that I added this page to.  Livingonadime.com has a lot of useful information for saving money and changing our thinking in a lot of ways.)

background, graphics and some photos by mary stephens