Sunday, June 20, 2010

16. Gift Wars

I love gifts. I really do. I love Christmas and my birthday and any other Hallmark holiday moment that might produce a gift.

My children have inherited my trait of loving gifts. If UPS knocks on our door, we are a happy bunch! We know we must reciprocate, and we do.

I buy things year 'round especially if I happen to see that "perfect" gift for a particular person. I have duplicated my grandmother's clever habit of maintaining a "gift closet". But I feel like it has gotten out of hand. Easter and Mother's Day and Valentine's and Groundhog Day and St. Patrick's Day and Mardi Gras (and we are not even past the month of May).

What is a sane woman to do to (hopefully) remain sane? That's right: pull the plug. Which is exactly what I did last year.

To bring you up to speed, last year, we were in the process of selling our old house, moving (fun times!), and renovating our new house. This was a tad bit of a financial strain, so we made the executive decision to eliminate ALL gifts for the 2009 calendar year. Most of our family and friends dismissed us as crazy, although they tried to be supportive. We stuck to our guns, and we bought (and received) NO GIFTS last year, with the exception of a few small gifts for our sons on their birthdays and Christmas. (A few kind friends and relatives ignored our "Year of Living Giftlessly", so we sheepishly accepted some token presents, while feeling quite uncomfortable about not reciprocating.)

How was the "No Gift Year" experiment? It was incredibly liberating.

Let me explain. All of a sudden, this huge weight was lifted of "being obligated to" or "wanting to" buy a gift for someone. It was merely the standard statement of "We are taking a break from gifts this year-- we just bought a house. I'm sure you understand."

Now that I've had a year to reevaluate and decide exactly how I feel about gifts (both giving and receiving), I'm much more careful of how I spend our money. I try to buy on sale if possible. As a mentioned in a previous blog, I work at a high-end kitchen store, which entitles me to a very attractive discount. So, many recipients on my gift list are now receiving beautiful items from the high-end kitchen store, purchased with the help of my discount.

Gifts are tricky. You only get married once (hopefully) so that requires a present. A new baby requires a present. Then there is graduation. Add Father's Day and assorted birthdays to the mix. There's so much social pressure to buy a gift! WHY? Why are we that way?

You know who is worse than us: Japan. The Japanese have turned gifts into an art form (literally). The way the gift is actually WRAPPED is of utmost importance. I have witnessed (at the kitchen store) Japanese customers who will adamantly refuse to buy a particular item they came in for if the box happens to be dented (even thought the item is perfectly fine inside). It's a cultural distinction that they want the box to be PRISTINE and anything less shows disrespect for the recipient.

I'm at a certain age (ummm, slightly over 20 or even 30) where I can buy most things I like. (Maybe not the Ferrari.) A gift is a gesture: it says, "I'm thinking about you," and "You matter to me." That is why we agonize. If no gift arrives on our special day, we feel slightly dejected. Or worse: forgotten. It's our special day! Shouldn't others remember and want to help us to commemorate the occasion? Then why have gifts become like the "Gift Wars"?

Why do I feel obligated to out-do you, to outshine you? What is underlying that sentiment? Why the competition? Maybe the best gift would be to just to go out to lunch. Which is what I think I'll do right now.


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