Using Gifts to Talk About Mindful Consumption with Younger Generations

When was the first time you were introduced to the concept of gifts? If it’s like most people, it was likely at an age when you were not yet capable of comprehending what a gift was! Growing up, we all were taught to expect gifts and to ask for things, even when we were too young to expect anything at all. From our very first birthday, we were taught that gifts come hand-in-hand with any celebration. Aunts and uncles would ask for wish lists, and parents would prompt you to write a letter to Santa. In this sense, gifts were one of the first factors in propelling our lifestyles towards one of consumption. This Christmas, I implore you to change the way we talk about gifts with children.

ON TALK OF GIFTS:

Instead of asking children what they want to receive for Christmas, ask them want they want to do. Avoid the talk of gifts all-together. I ask kid patients who come into the dental office what they have done thus far to prepare for the holidays rather than ask them for their wish list. If a child says, “bake cookies”, I ask them if they plan to give some to their next-door neighbor or friends at school. If they say “write a letter to Santa”, I ask them if they are also going to write a letter to their sibling, telling them how important they are. If a child brings up gifts, I ask them to tell me the one thing they have in their life right now that makes them feel most gifted, whether that’s their family, their warm bed, a hobby, or a special moment.

ON WRITING WISH LISTS:

If you are writing a letter to Santa as a family, perhaps challenge a child to write only ONE material item that they “want”. I am not saying deprive a kid of STUFF. I am simply saying to limit how much of it surrounds them. Your child likely does not need a dozen more toys. A statistic states that the average child in the developed world owns more than 200 toys, but plays with only 12 of them on average a day. Additionally, the US children make up 3% of the children in the world, but owns over 40% of the toys in the world. So as a non-mother, I do dare say that your child should only ask for one material item. My suggestion? Ask them to request experiences instead. Perhaps your child will ask for their favorite meal, or a venture to the movie theatres. Mayhaps they ask to adopt a pet, or to spend an afternoon helping others at a soup kitchen. Maybe they’ll ask to see far-away grandparents this year, or for world peace. Children are so brilliant when it comes to ideas. They may surprise you, let alone Santa.

ON CONVERSATIONS ABOUT CONSUMERISM:

If you ARE gifting kids something, start a conversation with them about where their gift comes from. Let them know that their item affects the environment, and the people on it. Tell them how. Spend some time with them researching who made the gift, and what purchasing the gift means. It’s important to have them understand that things do not just magically appear from the sky, even if Santa does. In knowing this one simple fact, they will become more mindful about the source of everything that enters their lives, rather than dismissively assume that our consumption has no effect. In doing this, we can raise children with enough awareness to question.

ON MINDFUL GIFTS:

There are many ways to start the conversation with mindful gift-giving.

  • Fair + Simple launched their Fair + Little line this year. The collection consists of curated goods hand-sewn by women in the Philippines. Each gift is meant to change the way children views stuff. There is a card for every purchase, telling the child a little bit about the maker, and how the gift helps others. There is also a call to action that prompts each child to get out in nature, and become treasure hunters. Inside the pockets are hidden treasures from the founder, Molly. To learn more about Fair + Simple, check out my interview with the founder.
  • KrochetKids has a collection of children’s knitted goods, ranging from beanies to stuffed animals. Each product is hand-signed by its maker, thereby opening the doors for you to tell them that their items are made by hand by a human being, not a machine. You can also have them write a Thank You letter to their maker, and send it to them online!
  • Farmer’s Market and Artist Fairs are great ways to have a child actually meet the hands behind their gift. They can even speak with the maker and ask them questions, such as how they got started making these things and what was the hardest part about its production.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All consumption is not bad consumption.

As we near the holidays, and our ever increasing list of presents to buy continue to surmount to a mountainous thread of bullet points and check boxes that far surpass Santa’s naughty or nice list, I want to go ahead and say it. All consumption is not bad consumption.

But aren’t I a minimalist? Don’t I hate the idea of buying things? Doesn’t that make me pro-consumerism? Sometimes, labels are a bad thing. As much as I want this world to be black and white, good or bad, easy or difficult, it just isn’t. My husband will repeatedly remind me that there are areas of gray that we cannot escape. The majority of our lives is in grayscale, not in color.

I know that I always ding typical American consumerism as bad, but it does not mean all products you ever buy is a terrible purchase. It doesn’t mean I live under a rock and refuse to buy stuff completely. It DOES mean that there has to be an awareness to the fact that we were all raised to believe that continually reaching for more stuff will make us more worthy of people’s love and acceptance. The ding is against excess consumption, wasteful spending, gluttonous hoarding tendencies for things that do not matter. The ding is against devaluing goods (and the people who make them) in exchange for a few rungs to climb yet higher up the social ladder. Against tying yourself to decades of job enslavement for a few likes and thumbs up from your neighbors and friends. The ding is there for the destruction of the equating of more stuff to more success. This is where I funnel my displeased passion towards, not the stuff itself.

It all revolves around my own past shortcomings in my relationship with stuff. And I never want to go back. There is the saying that it doesn’t matter what you subtract, what matters is what you add in. So we must always be mindful of what we add in. It is the mindlessness of the entire thing that bothers me. I could blame the marketing, but the marketing fooled ME, so I am as much to blame as them. I am still slowly crawling out of the trap.

The point is to ascertain that I do not judge people for their consumption habits or their decision on what to include and not include in their lives. I am a minimalist, in the sense that I only surround myself with things I love. If I fall in love with something I don’t own yet, then that will be added to my wish list or to my list of things to save up for. I do not live without things.

I like certain goods.

I can appreciate good design.

I am drawn to a certain esthetic.

I appreciate good companies that help the environment or support good social causes.

I feel good when I support a local market or artist.

I like when my lifestyle is improved or made more convenient.

I show my appreciation for others by buying gifts.

But there is thoughtfulness behind the goods I choose to buy. it’s having the ethics at the heart of all of our purchased goods. This is originally why I felt it was right for me to add “Good goods” as a section to my blog. Because we can still buy what we need or want, in moderation, within good reason, and with good reasons. And I wanted to highlight those goods.

A minimalist may read this and roll their eyes. An already financially independent person may start to think that this slows down my progress towards my own personal independence, thus making me unsuccessful. Just like a regular person may read “anti-consumerism” and be turned off by the pros of being more cognizant of our day to day decisions and the reasoning behind them.  But the world is not in absolutes. We cannot label ourselves assuming that we will never choose to be something else. I am a million parts of one person, with multiple personalities, multiple objectives, multiple thoughts. By assuming that we are a believer of only one idea, we put a pressure on others to conform to one thing, to be less of themselves. The judging begins, and it doesn’t end, until the one being judged walks away. Which is a shame, because the door closes towards discussion about things such as mindful purchasing power before it has even opened. The most important conversations never reach the table, because we’ve pushed too hard. .  And wouldn’t that be a waste? What we need more of is forgiveness in the labels we place on ourselves. We need flexibility. When we don’t fit a cookbook recipe of what the whole world expects from a single word description, that’s when we start to define our uniqueness.

So let it be that you buy a gift for yourself, or someone else. All consumption is not bad consumption. I’d love a world that keeps it that way.

See also how we can be more than ourselves.