With the 14th February come and gone, it is safe to conclude that the gifting season is finally over, commerces worldwide will plunge into a brief period of stagnancy as we step into spring.
From Thanksgiving till Saint Valentine’s, how much did you spend on buying gifts? The holidays season is joyful, but also brutal for our wallets. There is nothing wrong with wanting to make our loved ones happy, if buying gifts for them can do it, then it is money well spent.
But frankly, how often do you receive a present that makes you say, “Bingo! That’s exactly what I’ve been wishing for” ?
For me, that only happens when I specifically asked for it. Most of the other gifts that I’ve received are very thoughtful gestures from friends and family, but often ends up gathering dust in the closet.
That is very sad, because I know that the people who bought me those gifts have spent time and effort into making a guess at my preference, went into a shop and struggled with choosing among 10,000 products, queued up at the cash register and spent time wrapping it up, before finally handing it to me.
I am usually very appreciative of the gesture already that I put less importance on the nature of the gift itself. I beam at them as I open it up, offering a big Thank You and a smile as wide as I can handle as a reassurance of my gratitude and approval.
That is me at the receiving end, but what about me at the offering end? I do the same as everybody else, go through all that trouble, only to realise that my friends and family might not appreciate my gift as much as I think they will.
Being a Responsible Consumer
So if everybody is making the same mistake, then why isn’t anybody correcting it?
The thoughtlessness of unconscious gifting is not only stressful to the people receiving it, but also has a negative impact on our environment. We create unnecessary waste and my heart really goes out to the unused bag or worn-once dress that goes into the landfill.
During Chinese New Year, my mother was in town to visit and she brought a whole luggage full of gifts and food and goodies for the occasion. While I really thank her for loving us so much, I can’t help but felt stressed over the amount of stuff that are being stocked into my cabinets. I told her that I wouldn’t use most of it, and I would probably have to throw them away in a few months. She was quite relaxed and said it doesn’t matter, it’s not a lot of money, if I have no use for them I can throw them away later on.
While I am really grateful for having a mother who will buy me the world for fear that I have insufficient, I couldn’t make her understand how sad that makes me feel. After my KonMari experience, I have learnt to choose each item I purchase carefully in order to be a conscious consumer. Throwing away stuff that I did not choose to purchase breaks my heart.
The Society for the Prevention of Useless Giving
I was starting to feel like an ungrateful ass for making such a big fuss over gifts when I stumbled upon the SPUG.
SPUG, short-form for “The Society for the Prevention of Useless Giving”, was formed in 1912 in New York City. It was initiated by Actress Eleanor Belmont and philanthropist Anne Morgan with a few dozens of working class women, all of whom were tired of giving gifts for the sake of giving during Christmas.
It was a pretty awesome idea. The name of the club particularly stood out and called for my attention. I do not know if they were truly efficient in its mission, but its intention was certainly noble and worthy.
Unfortunately, the club was scattered two years later because war has erupted.
I have noticed that recently, voices are rising to promote minimalism and to praise the benefits of scaling down your life. There are even some writers here and there who call for the revival of SPUG.
Perhaps it is time to bring back this long-lost club created by respectable, self-supporting women almost a century ago?
SPUG or no SPUG, the idea here is not to banish gifts — no, that will be too cruel for this world in need of more exchanged empathy.
What can be done here is to rather be smart about how to give gifts. There ought to be a lesson to learn somewhere in there, knowledge more important than the “return-the-favor” effect that gifts are expected to produce.
John Ruhlin, the founder of Ruhlin Group, is a gifting expert who helps you strengthen your relationship with your clients through thoughtful gift giving.
He recently wrote a book called “Giftology”, using a term that makes gift giving a scientific experience. You may find the idea of giving gifts to your clients a very mundane practice, but John explains that when you do it right, it can be very impactful for your business relationship, or any relationship for that matter. It can be a win-win for both the giver and receiver.
Frankly, I did not read the book yet, but Amazon customers seem to love it. There are some pretty good reviews, although I did see someone comment that this book has more ideas for entrepreneurs and companies than regular individuals who are trying to find gift ideas.
I am not used to the practice of exchanging gifts in the corporate world, I find it quite intimidating. Even though John specifies that the art of giving gifts is to not tie it together with expecting a favor in return, we are all adults here, and we all know that there will certainly be a tie somewhere.
However, he also said that gifting is about the receiver, not the giver, which I really give him credit for, because honestly, how many of us can proudly say that all the gifts you’ve offered in your life are purely for the sake of other’s? Without the slightest ounce of ego in there? Or the hope that others will treat you nicer in return?
(This podcast interview by Lewis Howes can tell you more if you are interested in what John has to say.)
Perhaps this is what we all need: a lesson in gifting. Even more so, a consciousness in gifting.
As Baltasar Gracián once said, ” The Great Art of Giving consists in this: The gift should cost very little and yet be greatly coveted, so that it may be the more highly appreciated.”
Maybe the best gift that exists is not something that can be bought with money. Maybe there are other ideas to explore in alternative to materialised gifting. Maybe, we have been using money as an easy way out in choosing gifts, and that gifts that cost very little are all the more harder to choose from?
This post is getting too long, but I will certainly save my other ideas on this subject for another post about immaterialised gifting.
à la vie aujourd’hui,