It all started one year when Mrs. M decided to tackle a certain back corner of the yard to make a private oasis. It was Mother’s Day, and as my gift to her I built some raised planter boxes and a curved brick path that winds through the garden. She shaped the land and planted an artistic array of desert-friendly plants which have since grown into a beautiful work of living art.
These are all things that we would have done anyway, since we like gardening, but by making it a Mother’s Day tradition, we bring fun and a feeling of tradition to the event – without necessarily actually buying anything.
This strange purchase-free celebration of holidays comes naturally to me, because I was raised in what I later learned is an odd family that very rarely exchanges gifts on any occasion. It’s a big family with four grown kids and both parents still out there, old and healthy, and we all love each other and get along wonderfully with no politics whatsoever. And yet somehow with all this love and respect, we are hard-pressed to even guess each other’s exact birthdays and we would have no idea what to buy each other if there were some requirement imposed on us to buy “gifts”.
Since nobody told me this was unusual, it became my idea of normal. And it wasn’t until I grew up, went through a few bachelor years, and eventually moved to the United States that I started learning about this interesting consumption/gift pattern that has sprung up around special occasions.
When you’re an alien, you can see the strangeness of a society better than its natives. And what I saw was people driving to a store, purchasing one or more plastic or polished mineral items that each represent destroying a small slice of our shared planet, and handing it to their loved ones at these pre-determined dates. Surprise! I love you! Here’s a part of the planet I wrecked for you, Hooray!!
The giving of these manufactured gifts also represents a sacrifice. The buyer typically puts herself deeper into a hole of debt, ensuring a longer and more precarious lifetime of trying to escape it. And the recipient sacrifices a bit of space in their house to store the usually-unnecessary item until it is eventually discarded.
It all sounds so sad, Mr. Money Mustache! Where has all the love gone? How can we get it back?
The answer lies in your smile and in your hands. From now on, you are officially freed from having to buy people gifts! You can start caring for people you love by making them artistic things from natural materials you find outside (carving, sanding, gathering, arranging). You can DO things for them, like surprising them with a big fancy dinner at home or a day together doing something outside. On your bikes or your feet. You can call them or write a really thoughtful email with lots of pictures, if you’re into writing.
But the bottom line is, you really, really do not have to buy things for people most of the time.
Hosting a birthday party for your little child should not be about having each guest’s parents purchase plastic things wrapped in additional layers of plastic from Target. It should be about giving them some time to run rampant with their friends, sharing some sugary cake, and letting the adults drink plenty of wine and have a good chuckle at their youngsters. Institute a No Gifts policy for your own kids’ birthday parties and encourage your friends to do the same!
At the big gift holidays like Christmas*, make a Gift Ceasefire agreement between all willing adults, and concentrate your efforts only on getting fun (but still thoughtful) presents for the kids, who still benefit a bit from Santa-type magic.
If you’re a wealthy grandparent or a fully grown Mustachian without debts, YOU can afford to buy people gifts, so use your power wisely to get them things that last a lifetime and actually enhance their lives. Like starting a university savings fund for their children or getting them a set of good bikes and a trailer so they can start building a happy bicycle lifestyle.
Don’t be shy. Don’t be afraid to break the consumer tradition. You know it’s the right thing to do, and your family will see the sincerity behind your new traditions and respect you even more for it. You’ll be getting closer to living a true and honest life where time is the greatest gift.
Which brings us back to Mother’s Day. Happy Mother’s Day Mum – we all love you!
* Christmas – I still call it that because I’m old-fashioned, even though I don’t know much about the actual religious figures behind the event and I believe in separation of Church and ‘Stash. But you can substitute your own name for the holiday season.