We’re about to enter the homestretch for the holidays where we will be barraged with platitudes telling us that it’s not about buying presents, but about the spirit of the holidays. Blah, blah, blah. Even though most of us will nod in agreement, we will still march down to the mall and fill up bags with video games, monogrammed golf balls, and plastic fish that tell jokes when you clap. How can we still buy gifts, but make them more meaningful – more about our family and our full experience of life than about stuff?
It reminds me of the scene from the movie American Beauty where Lester (played by Kevin Spacey) and Carolyn (played byAnnette Bening) appear to be making up. They start to kiss on the couch until Lester nearly spills his beer. The mood abruptly changes when Carolyn says, “Lester, you’re going to spill beer on the couch.” Lester: “So what? It’s just a couch.” Carolyn, incredulously replies “This is a four-thousand dollar sofa upholstered in Italian silk! This is NOT just a couch!” Becoming exasperated since he now sees the world through different lenses than his wife and the one opening back into their marriage is beginning to close, Lester jumps up and childishly beats the sofa repeatedly with a pillow and yells, “It’s…just…a…couch!” Gesturing at everything in the living room: “This isn’t life; it’s just stuff…!”
The truth is, stuff creates a burden. You have to find a place to put it, you have to worry about it getting stolen, lost, or broken. You may worry about the impression it creates (“am I a leather or silk sofa person?”) and you may even have to pay someone to maintain it. Since everything in this world is temporary, you have the burden of how to dispose of it when it is no longer of use to you. The more stuff you have, the more complexity you have in your life, bogging down your mind and muddying up your focus.
It would be too easy for me to quote a Zen master here; the connection is so obvious. Instead I offer something from an old, err very old, British guy:
“Every increased possession loads us with new weariness” – John Ruskin
Don’t get me wrong – some gadgets can be very valuable even though they may appear shallow. My Ipod makes the tedious job of washing the dishes 100 times more pleasant and has helped educate me on countless topics. This is value. So if you are going to buy stuff, make sure it does something for you – some job that’s important. On the other hand, it would be much better to buy more gifts that disappear. Yes, disappear – something that gets consumed by the recipient. There’s nothing to throw away or worry about getting stolen, lost or broken. The best gifts provide some experience for the user. Isn’t it better to experience life than to own something? Experience is what makes life rich and shared experience makes it even richer.
So, free your self from the burden of stuff and consider my list of:
The Top 10 Incredible Disappearing Holiday Gifts (of course there will be chocolate in here somewhere):
#10 – Vacation ($400 – $4000)
OK, let’s start out with the pricey one and then get more realistic. You can treat the family to a vacation and put aside all of the stresses and distractions of your everyday life to really focus on being together. Too expensive, you say? Then go local, but try to get away. And for all you young people, pull out the calculator – do you really need that 3000 square foot house or would 2200 Square feet be OK with a lot left over for a vacation every year. You won’t need the extra space if you buy less stuff and enjoy more experiences. Besides, the house really isn’t an investment, is it? You decide – showcase house or memories with the family.
There are soo many options. Trip Advisor is a great place to search on vacation spots and hotels and read reviews from real travelers that have stayed there.
Eco-tourism is another great option that doesn’t cost a cent more than a conventional vacation. Help preserve the world’s precious natural habitats by spending your travel dollars where they benefit the local community and help sustain the environment. We did a trip to Belize a few years back that included hiking in the rain forest and swimming in a river that flows through a cave. All services and meals were provided by local people and care was taken to not disturb the environment.
There are no widely accepted standards for what constitutes eco-tourism, but you start your research with these websites:
Eco-Tropical Resorts provides a directly of environmentally friendly hotels and resorts with reviews by customers.
Mayan Encounter specializes in a la carte tours for differently-abled people and seniors as well as everyone else.
#9 – Massage / Spa – Gift Card ($50 to $150)
It’s been a tough year. Treat someone to the gift of deep relaxation, the kind only brought about by a professional massage. For ideas, check out Spa Finder where you can buy gift certificates accepted at over 5,000 spas world wide.
One of our favorite spas in the country, Ten Thousand Waves, in Santa Fe is also a destination spa so that you can combine vacation with spa treatments and Japanese style hot tubs inspired by the onsen tradition. On our last visit, my wife and I had a phenomenal couples massage followed by a good steeping in the hot tub surrounded by cedars, into the sauna, cold plunge, hot tub, repeat…ahhh.
#8 – Dinner out with the family ($80 – $250)
It’s funny how people say “I would never blow 150 bucks on dinner out” but they would waste it on that pair of shoes they just had to have, but may not ever wear. For many people, dinner out is an infrequent treat and if you get them a gift card, it gives them permission of sorts to go spend the money. You could also decide to treat your whole family as a gift. If you do, be sure to eat the European way – drawn out and slow, with plenty of time for conversation mixed in. Here’s the trick: just order some appetizers and send the waiter away for a while. Give your self sometime to enjoy the appetizers, relax and settle in before you order the entrées. This will slow the pace for everyone and give more time for conversation and a more rich experience.
#7 – Movie gift cards ($15 and up)
You don’t have to talk to share experiences with someone. Just being there and enjoying the same experience together says something. A provocative movie gives you something to talk about, reflect or debate later.
#6 – Premium and Artisan Chocolate ($5 – $50)
Don’t just buy any chocolate from the drug store! There is a wonderful explosion of interest in organic and fair-trade premium chocolates now with many options to choose from. These include many small-batch chocolate bars where the chocolate maker has a hand in everything from selecting the bean variety to how the cacao is grown, fermented and processed. A truly accessible gourmet food, it’s the perfect affordable indulgence with bars and gift packs for under $10 and gift baskets or boxes often less than $50. Of course, you can spend more on hand-made truffles or large baskets, but it’s unnecessary. I don’t know about you, but this stuff disappears pretty quickly in our house.
#5 – A Yoga Class or Membership ($15 and up)
Giving someone a gym member ship seems a little risky since the hidden message is, “you need to work off some pounds,” but yoga has no such pitfalls and is a low-impact way to get out and move your body, reduce stress and focus your mind.
To find a studio near you try Yoga Finder.
#4– An e-book Reader ($200 to $300)
By now, you’ve probably heard about one of the hottest gifts this year – the Amazon Kindle – a wireless-enabled e-Book device that allows readers to download and almost instantly begin reading books in electronic form. No trees are harmed and there’s no old novels to lug out to the garage sale. There will still be a place in my heart for turning pages, but for the avid reader, they can put a whole bunch of books in a small place and read on a plane, on vacation or wherever.
#3 Membership to an outdoors organization ($25 to $75)
Know someone who likes to hike and appreciate all of nature’s splendor? You can gift memberships to organizations like the Appellation Mountain Club or the Sierra Club. The AMC is an east coast regional organization that promotes outdoor activity and environmental conservation. Membership includes discounts on lodging, books and maps plus access to trips and workshops. The Sierra Club is the oldest and largest environmental organization in the country. Membership gets you their magazine and access to the outings program.
#2 A Cooking Class ($50 to $400)
Not only will they experience the joy of learning some new skills, but it will spur more experience as they practice what they learn. Maybe you’ll get an invite to dinner after the class (this may or may not be a good thing). Most communities have an adult education program and many urban areas have culinary schools that also provide short “recreational” courses.
#1 A Gift of charity ($20 and up)
Most charities will let you gift a donation in someone’s name. The beauty is that the only thing that gets shipped around is a note card to tell the recipient about your gift. Our favorite that we’ve used for many years is Heifer International. We like them because the donation feels very tangible – a flock of chickens or a goat goes to someone in need in a third-world country and it results in something sustainable – milk for a village or eggs for a household to sell. The hope is that this will make a lasting impact and help people to provide for themselves.
Well, I better get this posted before all your shopping bags are full. Happy Holidays!