There is no harder time for the shopping-averse than the holidays. All year, we have no problem not shopping for ourselves. We get great satisfaction from used finds, from fixing stuff we already have, from finding creative ways of doing without. But as November turns into December, the nation becomes shopping obsessed. Everywhere we go, there’s a plea to buy stuff. If we don’t, it means we don’t care.
We might feel bound to give stuff because of social norms. We worry that not giving stuff for gifts indicates a lack of gratitude or points an accusatory finger at people who do give stuff.
Then there’s the matter of receiving stuff, which is pretty much out of our control. How does the non-shopper say, “No thank you. I have all the Brookstone milk frothers I need.” We wonder, is it right to say anything at all?
First off, it might serve us all to take a long, deep breath. The holidays are a time to celebrate, not stress. Whatever our convictions are, whatever our feelings are about consuming stuff, there exist creative solutions. I thought I’d provide a few strategies for the extreme, moderate and lightweight non-shopper.
For the extreme non-shopper there’s the “One Less Gift” certificate. This is an idea Francine Jay (aka Miss Minimalist) came up with. It’s a certificate that not only says you aren’t giving any stuff this holiday season, but it lets the recipient off the hook as well. It suggests we “find other ways to enjoy the wonderful season together” like volunteering, exchanging deeds, etc. Beside the piece of paper you print the certificate on (and you could definitely send a PDF) this option is 100% stuff-free. How will Aunt June Respond? Cross your fingers.
For the moderate non-shopper, consider giving experiences like a meal, class, massage, play etc. Studies have found that “prosocial” spending (for others) makes us happier than anti-social spending (for ourselves). And our prosocial dollars go the farthest when spent on experiences. When we get stuff, we are prone to wonder about unchosen options...“I wish I got the dayglow iPhone cover instead of the rhinestone-covered one....” When we get experiences, we tend to “satisfice” with our option; that is, be happy with what we got even though it might not be the “best” option.
Consider requesting experiences for your own gifts. They travel well and are virtually stuff-free. If you are not comfortable doing this, give your gifts to someone who needs it...that counts as prosocial behavior!
Lastly, for the lightweight non-shopper, there are many options. Of course, check out TreeHugger’s 2012 Gift Guides which present a bounty of useful, responsibly sourced gifts.
It’s pretty hard to go wrong with gifts like food and wine assuming you don’t get that artisanal cheese sampler for your vegan friend. Consumable gifts actually fall between the moderate and lightweight in terms of their non-shopper friendliness. While they require storage, it’s not indefinite storage. Food will get eaten (unless it’s a fruit cake). Wine will get drunk...or regifted.
Another thing to do is ask people what they want. It might lack some romance, but your friends and family have needs, and they’d prefer getting the stuff they do need more than stuff they don’t.
If those first two suggestions turn up nothing, think about what my friend Saul Griffith calls heirloom design--try to get things that are worthy of handing down to the next generation. Timelessly designed things need not be fancy or expensive. A cast iron skillet, a refillable pen, a proper pepper grinder--this stuff that can last ages when chosen well.
To repeat, the holidays are a time to celebrate. Giving is good. Experiences are generally a better bet than stuff. Some stuff is good. Breathe.