Earlier this year I wrote a post about how I struggle with the excess of our society and how our decision to live a simple lifestyle has enabled us to be able to give to those who are in need, both locally and internationally. This is an ongoing struggle for me and probably will always be.
This week, Thanksgiving week, begins the largest shopping season in the US and I’m sure it’s the same in many other countries. We’ve been getting Black Friday ads in our mailbox and email inbox for weeks already. It’s overwhelming!
Before we all start making lists and checking them twice, I want to encourage us to take a breath and really think about what we’re purchasing and the impact of those purchases on others. Even though I struggle with living in a society that has such abundance, I still get caught up in the holiday craziness if I’m not careful.
These are some questions I like to ask myself before I get swept away in excitement over the “deals”.
Is this item in keeping with our family values or does it promote something we don’t believe in? For example, our family limits electronics use, so it would not be in keeping with our family values to buy our seven year old her own ipad. However, we do want to encourage our children in the activities they enjoy and our seven year old has recently taken up archery. So, it would be in keeping with our family values to get her a bow that is just for her. We try to make sure that the gifts we give promote the things we value as a family and not just purchase them because they are a good “deal”.
Is this item made with child labor or unfair labor practices? This is a tricky one because we don’t always know and can’t always find out. Also, there are things that you need and sometimes you don’t really have good choices. But if I do have a choice, say between purchasing fair trade coffee and coffee that’s not labeled fair trade, I’ll choose fair trade every time. I try not to obsess of this, or else my family would go around without any clothes, but I do try to be mindful. This year we’ve been getting monthly subscription boxes from Mercy House Global and many of the items have been put aside to give as gifts this Christmas. It’s been super fun!
Is this an item that is long lasting or will it end up in the trash? We try to give only consumable or long-lasting items. This means that for the most part, our children get “classic” toys and not whatever is on the hot toy list for that year. It also means that our children usually get tools and not so many toys as gifts. While I know that sounds boring, we’ve managed to raise 3 of our 6 children into adulthood and they haven’t complained about not getting more toys when they were little. And this can actually be quite fun, like the year we got our three older boys machetes, they were 8, 10 and 12, and wanted to use them to help to clear hiking trails on Boy Scout service projects. The grandparents raised their eyebrows at that!
Can this item be purchased second hand? Oh, another tricky question for gift giving! In some families, no second hand items should be given as gifts because they won’t be received well. In some families, second hand items are looked at the same way first hand items are. You need to evaluate your family’s attitude about second hand items and make the best decision for your family. I will say this about second hand items, they don’t trigger the manufacturer to produce more items and that is something that is important to our family. So, if my teenage daughter wants “dude” shirts (basically mens button down flannel and casual long-sleeve shirts) she’ll be getting those second hand (and so will my boys if they want shirts). Those kind of shirts are easily found in great condition at thrift stores for just a couple of dollars. And since the clothing industry is notorious for using child labor, I try to limit what clothing I buy new.
Can I make this or a similar item? There are many, many gifts that people purchase that can easily be made. Or instead of purchasing an item, a more unique item could be made. For the last several years I’ve shared handmade gifts that we’ve given and that we’ve received. Last year I compiled a list of gift that are meaningful and won’t end up in the landfill that cost less than a dollar to make. I know handmade gifts are not valued in some families and if that is your family, be gentle in trying to change that attitude. Family relationships are more valuable than whether or not we’re giving handmade gifts this year.
We have the opportunity this holiday season to not participate in the craziness that happens this time of year. It certainly doesn’t mean we need to be scrooges, we can be generous in our giving without being crazy. We can think more about the recipient and his needs instead of just thinking about scoring a great “deal” on something no one really needs.
If you are short on ideas for gifts that are frugal, bless the recipient and don’t use child or unfair labor practices, let me help you out. Listed below are a few posts that I’ve written (for my site and others) about having a simple Christmas, some are tutorials and some are not. Next week I’ll be sharing some of my favorite handmade shops that have some pretty amazing products. I understand that not everyone has time to make all their handmade gifts, I don’t either and I rely on these shops to help me fill in the gaps. I’ll also be sharing a few more tutorials for handmade gifts that will make even the nay sayers smile. All the goodness of the holiday season without the crazy.
Do you have tips for keeping a meaningful Christmas? Feel free to share them in the comments.