Gift-giving. Seldom do we engage in an activity that invokes so many conflicting values.
On the one hand, we hope our gift will entertain, educate, and amuse.
We dream of seeing our special gift proudly displayed in the home of the recipient.
We hunt and search and shop, trying to find just the right gift to stand for the relationship we're celebrating.
On the other hand, gift-buying brings us up against our limitations. While our emotions urge extravagance, our wallets counsel frugality.
The desire to delight a child with the year's hot toy runs smack up against the knowledge that the toy is question is shoddy, lacking in play value, and composed of 374 tiny plastic parts (most of which will become food for the vacuum cleaner by January 15th).
We squander precious time to produce a hand-crafted decor item, yet suspect it will never see the light of day in the recipient's precisely decorated home. The sheer drudgery of slogging through a lengthy gift list--never enough time, never enough money--takes the emotional component of gift-giving and stands it on end.
There is a strategy that can cut through the gift-giving conflict. A strategy that will ensure each gift is appreciated and enjoyed. A strategy that serves the values of frugality, simplicity, and freedom from consumer mentality. And, not at all incidentally, a strategy that makes gift-buying much, much easier: think consumable!
A consumable gift is one that will be used. Used up, not stashed in a closet for the next yard sale. A consumable gift is something that can be eaten, sent, read, or enjoyed by the recipient. A consumable gift is the gift of an experience, not a thing, a "keepsake", or another piece of clutter.
How does it work? Start with the small fry. Forget the "Mrs. Fields Baking Oven", a pricey piece of kiddy work that purports to bake cookies using a single light bulb. Instead, bundle a few cookie cutters, a rolling pin and a box of sugar cookie mix together with a certificate for "cookie lessons". Child in question learns some baking skills and has a memorable afternoon with Grandma or Auntie. Consumable!
That teen-aged nephew? Sure, you could try to figure out which video games he has, which he doesn't, and which of the store's supply he might like to own (to the tune of $39.95). If you guess wrong? Too bad.
Think consumable. Delight the young man in question with a selection of three or four video gaming magazines, the flashier, the better. He'll pore over them for game cheats, information on new games, and tips for power players. You've simplified gift-buying, saved money, and given a gift you know will be used. Consumable!
Your parents? Forget more decorator junk to add to their overstuffed house. Give them tickets to a play or a certificate for dinner in a restaurant. Give Mom a big supply of note cards, greeting cards and stamps. Give Dad a basket full of car wax, windshield treatment and tire cleaner for his beloved classic Mustang. Consumable!
To think consumable, think "experience". You won't be buying things, so much as buying an activity.
Many consumable gifts are very direct: passes to a movie theater, fast food gift coupons, magazine subscriptions. Others take more imagination: give a group of women friends the same book, and invite them all for a Book Night party in early February. Give a teen-aged daughter a set of hair brushes, some styling aids and two or three hairdo magazines (and be prepared for a locked bathroom door).
The Christmas gift industry knows the appeal of consumable gifts. Where would Swiss Colony be without them? Try, if you can, to pass up the obvious "I'm in despair" choices. Have you ever truly enjoyed the stale and salty offerings of those "gift packs?"
A better, more frugal strategy: use commercial consumables as models for your own gifts. Send special children "cookies of the month" throughout the year. Model a gift basket for a gardening friend on the commercial variety--but spend far less by buying gloves, trowel, herb seeds and a garden bucket and packaging the gift yourself.
Think consumable as you buy your Christmas gifts. Think consumable to fight clutter, to save money, and to bring the holiday spirit back home. . . and get Organized!