Gift giving is an interesting and emotional topic. People have a strange compulsion-cum-arms race to give gifts, to the point where the gifts given often lose the importance they should have. Who hasn't been guilty of this - in the panicked moments before Christmas, buying some silly bauble because you can't think of anything better? I know I have, and as a quasi-minimalist, it bothers me.
What could we do instead? I've come up with a few things that can improve gift giving, things that I myself am going to try to implement.
1. Decouple gift giving from dates
A prime motivator for buying that unnecessary (and often unwanted!) gift is an impending event. With your partner's birthday in three days, what can you get her?! Better run to Walmart and buy something disposable, wasteful, and unneeded! I think this motivation to give a gift is artificial. Instead of getting them a gift, write them a letter. Open yourself up to them. Give them some of yourself.
Instead, give gifts as the gift presents itself. People are constantly telling us about things they secretly want or need, but won't get for themselves. These are exactly the perfect gifts for someone. When you hear a declaration like that, buy the person the gift! Don't wait!
2. Give intentionally
Closely related to the last point, stop giving people things just to give them something. Instead, only give people things they truly want or need. It's better to not give anything than to give something unwanted. In my opinion, the best gift is something the receiver deeply desires, but is too much of a luxury for them to get for themselves. As an example, I mentioned wanting a small fountain pen to carry with me. I had a Fisher Space Pen when I was younger, and loved it, but didn't love the ball-point. I did a little research and discovered the Kaewaco Liliput in copper. What a beautiful pen! And it's the same size as a Fisher! The price put me off though. What pen is worth $100?
My best friend got me one for christmas. And a Fisher. He was listening, and he found me a perfect gift. You too can give perfect gifts! It's simple - just start listening to your friends talking about things they want. Not everyday things, but things they desperately want but won't get for themselves. I've started keeping a list, for when I inevitably fail to follow rule #1.
3. Give best-in-class presents
Avoid giving throwaway gifts, which are wasteful and exploitive, by instead giving gifts of very high quality. Think about this: of the things you own, how many are the best in the world? Or even the best in their given class? When faced with an opportunity to give someone a gift, give them something they'll give to their children: something best in class. Things in this category tend to last forever, and tend to get used and enjoyed more than more disposable things. They also tend to be more expensive. The price of these gifts can actually serve as a strong reminder not to impulse-buy things, but instead to follow rule #2 and give mindfully.
4. Give consumables
If you find yourself in a situation where rules #1 and #2 can't apply, and you don't have time for finding a best-in-class present that fits, don't reach for disposable stuff like consumer tech, cheap clothes, plastic household items, or otherwise. Instead, grab some consumable luxuries - coffee, cheese, booze, chocolate, or the like. Consumables like these are almost universally appreciated, and don't end up in a thrift store (or worse, landfill). With a bit of thought, you can take this concept wider and give an amazing gift of nothing but consumables.
As an example, my mother built me a "wine party in a box" - 12 bottles of wine, hidden in paper bags, with pairing notes, tasting cards, and the like. It wasn't just 12 bottles of wine, it was an evening of fun with my friends. And the gifts don't need to be nearly as lavish - my sister got me a bottle of champagne, some fresh oranges, and a handmade citrus reamer.
5. Give giving
This doesn't always apply, but a good gift for some people is a donation in their name to a cause they are passionate about. In some ways, this is the anti-gift of the impulse buy Walmart gift: instead of exploiting resources and people, and instead of clogging the landfill with yet another unneeded or broken widget, it serves double purpose, as both meaningful gift and benefit to society.
In 2018, I'm trying to do all these things, for my sake, for the sake of the environment, but also for the sake of the recipients of the gifts themselves. By bringing intention to the gift-giving process, it becomes much more meaningful to everyone involved.