I’m mid de-clutter and have become acutely aware that gifts make up a good proportion of the contents that I find difficult to manage. There’s the storage of gifts/cards/wrapping all waiting to be given, the obligatory usage or display of recently received gifts, and then the management of those unwanted items who are in ‘present purgatory’ between not being used or loved and their final destination, wherever that may be.

I have a massive box of ‘to give’ presents I’ve accumulated over the years, built up from buying toys on offer or seeing something that someone would like (but forgetting about it, their birthday passing and then they move on from that phase/style, etc), or on occasion, yes, I admit it, putting unwanted gifts in there to re-give! Obviously all items were bought from a place of love, or were they…

Why do people give gifts?

Let’s take a moment to think about why people give gifts.  Historically, apparently (as I wasn’t there to verify), even primitive cavemen gave gifts to show love and affection. Then tribes, as part of a status symbol, would show their appreciation via gift giving. The Romans presented gifts as gestures of good luck and many cultures traditionally give dowries. And then there’s the international presents given as a gesture of friendship, like France gave the US the Statue of Liberty!  As a conclusion from this shit history lesson, people have always given gifts. But surely this tradition would have been questioned and died off if it wasn’t somehow part of being human.  I mainly give gifts as a way of communicating my appreciation or affection to someone or to commemorate an occasion.

Now is probably a good time to interject my thoughts on the difference between gifts and presents.

To me, a present is something you feel you should give and a gift is something more considered and personal and is given from the heart as opposed to an expectation.  To put it another way, I enjoy or even get a great buzz out of giving a gift, but I dread giving presents. The same is true for receiving. Gifts are lovely because it shows that someone has taken the time to think about me and what I like or would appreciate (whether I like them or not), whereas a present is, quite frankly a burden.  Now I don’t want to seem ungrateful but we’ve all had one. A present that seemed like an afterthought or even mistake or very obviously a convenient purchase. And is not given with any anticipation to see your reaction upon opening.

badly wrapped iron gift

The giving of presents should be abolished! And there are so many reasons why…

  1. They are a waste of your time. You rack you brains, trawl the shops or internet, desperate to try and find something…anything, as god forbid you turn up without a present! 
  2. It’s a waste of your money.  You buy something, you wrap it (more money gone) and they probably won’t want it or use it anyway. And why? For the kudos of getting them something? But let’s not forget , if they are anything like me, they won’t enjoy receiving an un-thoughtful gift anyway.
  3. It makes them feel awkward. If they don’t like it and it’s something that would be obvious if not used, for example a front door mat or some artwork, then you’re filling them with that awkward decision of: to display or not to display, so they don’t offend you?!
  4. It’s a waste of their time. Now they have to spend their time maintaining it (cleaning, tidying etc) and if easily ‘moved on’ without you knowing, they have to spend their time selling it, giving it away or worse throwing it away.
  5. It’s a waste of materials/resources. Unless you’ve had your head stuck in bucket of sand for the past few months, you’ll have noticed the ever growing awareness of the environmental impacts of buying too much and throwing too much away! Presents are an unnecessary waste.

So why do we still feel the need to buy presents? It’s partly because of tradition but that then means we’ve created this atmosphere of expectation and fear of judgement and worry about what people think of us if we didn’t.

Tradition is just peer pressure from dead people.

What would actually happen if you turned up without a present?

I can tell you what would honestly happen in this house. Nothing.  You wouldn’t be judged, looked down on or thought badly of. You’ve shown up to celebrate the occasion and your presence is truly the best present. But I’m an adult, and have enough of what I need, and if there is something I want then I’ll probably just go and buy it.  The best gifts for me are those that people know I want (or secretly find out I want) but know that I wouldn’t buy for myself because it’s too non-essential. Kids on the other hand can like a present. But I think many people make the mistake of valuing gifts different from how children perceive them.  Kids often go on size! Which doesn’t always correlate with monetary value. Or they just want it, without even knowing how much it costs, like a pot of putty/slime that farts when you stick your finger in it, which is only a couple of pounds! Then there’s the classic baby/toddler reaction of loving the wrapping/box more than what’s inside!

So I implore you… save everyone the time, money and stress and STOP BUYING PEOPLE PRESENTS!

Photo by Álvaro Serrano

So what is the alternative? 

You could just show your appreciation with a sincere, verbal thank you or I love you, a hug, a handwritten note of meaningful words or by spending quality time with them. If you see an appropriate ‘they’ll love that’ kind of gift, then go with it but consider the consequence of them not liking it. Give it without pressure for them to keep it and don’t be offended if they don’t. It did it’s purpose – you had joy in buying it and giving it, they had some joy from being the recipient of that thoughtfulness, and the message of congratulations or thanks was conveyed.  If you do want to buy a gift, experiences or vouchers for an experience (like the cinema, wine tasting, craft workshops, theatre trips) are a great idea.

If you receive something you don’t like, by all means consider the feelings of the giver BUT consider the feelings of yourself foremost! Don’t shove it in a cupboard, taking up your subconscious and physical space. Pass it on with love, either for free, sell it, give it to charity or get over the shame in re-giving! But only re-give if it comes from a ‘gift’ perspective; remember giving ‘presents’ is forbidden!

I appreciate this topic may be controversial but it is not my intention to be a cold hearted bitch. If anything, this is coming from a place of love, for your wellbeing (as a giver and receiver) and for respect for our planet.

And don’t get me started on cards!!!

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