Monday, December 13, 2010

When giving gets personal

Most Americans think it disgusting to give a gift from a thrift store or something used, unless it’s something huge like a car, a boat or a second home. I’ve given reused and re-purposed gifts for years and been met with gratitude, not a slap on the face. I have never been re-gifted a gift I gave - quite the tongue twister but, I’ll bet there are plenty of people who have experienced just that. Nor have I seen my gifts sitting on the thrift store shelves. Though I have put plenty there myself.

Why the common American associates thrift with old socks is a head-scratcher. Why the common person associates a gift from Wal Mart as classy, a double head-scratcher. I’ll take that vintage Nieman Marcus plaid mohair wrap for $3 over a $99 mass-produced bicycle with a planned obsolescence of approximately two years any day. Better to darn a slight moth-eaten hole than to have new bicycle breaks fail in city traffic.


This year, I’m taking gift giving a step cheaper. This recession landed on my family like Dorothy’s house landed on the Wicked Witch of the East, and we’re still pinned under it. I was not able to routinely visit the thrift store to find treasures throughout the year as I have in the past. Yup, even that $10 purchase scoring me six items was too much to spend.

Like many American families, mine is geographically scattered. I am no Cyber Monday shopper. Perhaps I’m old fashioned but I like to hold and examine the sweater before purchase because brands no longer guarantee quality, only a name. This phenomenon is something that probably really grates on the few brands that still take pride in their quality. I suspect those manufacturers still exist. I hope.

Quality has become to be something akin to fairies. Something we want desperately to believe in, but reality doesn’t offer much proof. Perhaps, if enough of us clapped our hands and pleaded, “I do believe in quality. I do!” We could revive it, like when the Darling children save Barrie’s Tinkerbell.

There’s so much stuff in the American market, I’m not certain the average American knows what quality is; they’re just thrilled to buy three t-shirts for $15. Never mind the fabric is cheap, the stitching poor it and the cut out of line or that it will likely fall apart in the third wash that is if the clothes washer can make it through the third wash.

This last week, my dinning room table disappeared under boxes and re-used bubble wrap as I pulled out and wrapped gifts for those living out of state. Shopping was sparse this year. Running both hands through my hair and releasing a sigh, I realized there was so little in the gift queue. Not only am I short on time but dollars as well. Another sigh.

That’s when I decided to shop my own home. I have various rare curios, vintage cookware, hard to find books; not massed marketed stuff. If I enjoy having them, wouldn’t some one else? Is it not a symbolic gesture to give something you love that you know will be accepted with gratitude? Isn’t it the thought, not the cost that matters? We say that, but how many of us practice that?

What am I giving? A copper double boiler and strainer that I do not use nearly as much as the person I’m giving it to will. My sterling baby cup given to me by the wife of the Colonel of my father’s unit; he was at war overseas when I was born. His unit is engraved on that cup. I’m giving a hefty rock of amethyst quartz crystals I found ten years ago on a hike in the Rockies to a person who I know values unexpected treasures and the thrill of finding them. I’m giving my daughter my recorder from childhood so she need not borrow one from her school.

It disturbs me how so many Americans are in extreme economic hardship but the media doesn’t really reflect this. The holiday commercials still run on an irritating loop.

For those of you hit by these hard economic times. Please fall out of the retail hypnosis of the season and give of yourself. Think about what others might enjoy that you have and let it go. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do with love?

No doubt, the market wants us to think giving used items is an insult and not considerate. A monetary transaction – one mostly on a credit card that is accruing debt – must transpire to legitimize a gift. Least, that’s what we’ve been led to believe.

The practice of giving handmade items, used or treasured has been done for hundreds of years, if not thousands. I think a new three foot tall chocolate fountain or S’more’s maker is more an insult than an old photo album or high school letter jacket; both treasures.

I’m not talking about giving stuff you have no use for. That’s no different than buying gifts people have no use for. Both are tacky, waste energy and end up in landfills or in third world countries in huts with no electricity. Who knows what these harebrained inventions are thought of there. No doubt it’s not good for foreign relations or how Americans are perceived.

I’m talking about the items your friends and family constantly note. I have an ancient Emile Henry baking dish that with crazing so intricate, it looks like it could be a map of Paris. I wrote of it in the post Haunted Cookware. I also have a friend that adores it. It cost me 99 cents. Luckily for me, she is one of the few people I was fortunate to score a gift. Lucky for her, her gift is old and French and will be welcomed, perhaps not as much as the ceramic baker would be. I’ll make a deal with myself, if 2011 is anything like 2010, 2009, and 2008, she will have it in 2011 and I will be happy to give it to her.

Call me tacky. Call me cheap. But, you can’t call me stupid for spending money I don’t have because the American retail system makes me feel obligated to buy gifts that my friends and family don’t need.

35 comments:

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful and heart-inspired post. So sorry about the troubles you and your family are experiencing...know that you are not alone. It seems, though, that this experience is taking you all to the next level of holiday giving from the heart and soul. BRAVA! I would be honored to receive a gift from you.

I do know what you mean about how a LOT of people just skeeve re: receiving a thrifted gift. So sad. I'd prefer to receive something genuine and real with a real history and real meaning, lovingly thrifted, rather than some cheap, Made in China crap. I feel so sorry for this younger generation raised on planned obsolesence warped up to mere days.

Best wishes to you and yours this holiday season. May you always keep the Christmas spirt alive!

Thrifty Sassy Mommy said...

I am giving my children yard sale and thrift store finds again this year. They are perfectly fine, and my kids are young and know no difference. I know too well how you must feel. Shopping at the thrift store with $10 sounds like nothing to most people, but to me that is a big deal. Money is extremely tight. I think it is great what you are doing. No shame in gifting of your heart to those special people around you.

the thrifty ba said...

thank you for this post. im sharing it with my fb friends/family.

Staci said...

I'm visiting because of Thrifty BA's link. I'm in the same boat as you for the same number of years. This year has been a strictly handmade Christmas, and if it' isn't something handmade then its spending time listening to a free Handel's Messiah sing-a-long together, learning how to make home made candy, or writing a very nice letter. Honestly? I think this is going to be my favorite Christmas ever...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post! We've been fortunate this year, and we could afford to indulge a little. But we don't WANT to, because the things that have been classified as indulgences are so very empty.

Your gifts strike me as thoughtful in a way that is almost never true in our age. Merry Christmas!

Anonymous said...

Whenever I get to read one of your postings, I feel so lucky. You give me hope that I am not crazy in not wanting to participate in the consumerism of America. I feel lost in stores. I just got home from being in stores with a friend helping her purchase "stuff". I hate going in the stores. I have gotten that I don't want to buy anything - except for material and yarn stores!

Anonymous said...

All in all, I've had a good year. Sure there were surprise car repairs and dental work as well as on-going fixes to this old house, but on the whole, for the time being anyway, I'm gainfully employed. Still, I'm not spending as much this year as I did last year or even the year before. I am, however, continuing to sprinkle thrifted surprises among my gifts to family and friends. One daugher will receive a matching pair of intricately incised Chinese brass trivets. My other daughter will receive two on-the-money books she'll devour (purchased for $1 each) and a cd or two. A friend will receive a wonderful copy of that old standby, the Bush Brown America's Garden Book, which she'll keep in her garden room and come to rely on as I do. No one will worry that the item isn't new. In fact, each gift was selected with more thought and care than most store purchases. Thrifting ensures that some of my gifts at least, will be very, very special...even if they don't come with an easy-to-return gift receipt.

stephanie said...

I usually enjoy your posts but this one sounds so judgmental to me.

I get what you're saying...I love thrifting and giving others truly beautiful and quality gifts that I am saving from the landfill. I don't, however, look down my nose with disdain at those who don't do the same. Could a lot be changed about our societies spending habits? Definitely. The old saying holds true, though...you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

Alan said...

You are tacky, cheap and smart. Hey, you said it was ok to call you that!

I hear you about the declining quality of contemporary merchandise. Give me vintage anyday! I don't blame the manufacturers but the consumers.

Catherine @ The Vegan Good Life said...

Thank you for this post and for your voice for the thrift community. When browsing in a nice consignment shop with my mother, my mom asked the owner how was business, and she remarked, "Terrible, people don't buy used clothes for Christmas." We need to put an end to the stigma of second-hand clothes. I co-organize clothing swaps at work, and many women don't even want to look at our items. What woman wouldn't want free clothes, many designer, several with the original tags?

I hope 2011 brings sunnier economic skies for your family.

OneMama said...

Thank you for your post. I think it was rather brave of you to say out loud what lots of people think. The gfc hasn't hit Australia as much as Americans, but we certainly are not living in the land of luxury.

We bought one present for each of our 2 kids (one a scooter and the other a wooden train set) as we know they will be used for a good number of years to come, but I also plan to wrap up a ton of their toys they don't see everyday so they have lots of unwrapping and excitement but not outlay. We're moving house too so hopefully hiding toys won't be too much of a problem!!

Anonymous said...

Advocates, thought leaders, and change makers are, by definition, judgemental. It goes with the territory. I didn't find the message or tone strident -- especially for this time of year when so many people need an extra nudge to embrace financial discipline and be confident about their commitment to getting off the consumer train. Thrift strategies are one really interesting way to do that -- as this blog shows again and again.

Marilyn said...

Several years ago our minister handed out the best cards to everyone in church. They said "SIMPLIFY", that's all. One word, but it truly has made a difference in my life. Many should try it. Maybe they should go to church, too, and find the true meaning of Christmas. ♥♫

Janedo said...

So well said, and so, so true. I'm doing a lot of hand made things this year, but I'm quickly running out of time! Your posts has remotivated me to do some late night sewing and baking. Merry Christmas to you and your family.

Anonymous said...

Standing up and applauding!

Anonymous said...

This is a very moving and timely post.

If I may, you are truly a lovely and inspirational lady whose presence and thought-provoking writing is a gift everyday.

Thank you.

Wishing you and your family a very Happy Holiday.

geogrrl said...

I'm sorry to hear that your family is still struggling.I've been in tiht straits like that and know how difficult and frustrating it is.

I will give gifts like you have described to people who will appreciate them. Others I don't bother.

BTW, I've collected several vintage made in Scotland/England wool travel rugs and mohair travel rugs and throws. I came into a lovely pastel mohair throw--made in Scotland--good size, and perfect conditon. I just can't figure out who to give it to.

Parsimonia said...

Love this post. We're on a tight budget too this year, and I've been wrapping up some amazing thrift finds for friends and family. It might be "cheap" monetarily, but so much more unique and what I think is smart spending. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

suzieQ said...

One of the things I have enjoyed about the blogging community is that I have found like minded people. My ex used to joke that I was as happy with something that I had spent a dollar on as I was with something that had cost a lot more.
I have dropped out of the holiday consumer baloney and it feels right for me but I keep that information to myself...too many people wouldn't understand. Shopping is recreation for so many people and we have all gotten into the habit of buying what we need when we need it. What is the point of my parents telling me they need pajamas or a shirt? I am more excited to find something that is just right for them as a gift and given their ages, I give it to them when I find whatever it is. The media starts with the holiday rush before Halloween and I have become so disgusted with the commercialization of the holiday. So few of us "need" things, what we need are items that have meaning and substance.
Too much has been made of having things. I have decided that what matters to me is the quality of what I have, not the quantity.
Besides, as I age, I realize that health and contentment are of value and comfort with self are what matter. I wish all of you a happy holiday and joy in your lives.

Christine said...

Loved, loved, loved your post...I find it so worthwhile to scour the thrift stores for amazing treasures. Both of my girls are getting cashmere sweaters that look as if they have never been worn -- $5.00 each at our local Goodwill. We are creating memory boards for our kids rooms from IKEA frames that we found at another thrift store. They were still in their original wrapping! My son is getting one of those basket contraptions that pick up multitudes of tennis balls. Again -- at the Salvation Army for less than $10 and it looks like it is brand spanking new. I am not sure if it ever was used. How have we become such a throwaway society?

My kids were a bit skittish at first about thrifty clothes, but when I pointed out to them that those clothes at the "it" store...have been tried on multiple times -- or worse yet, purchased, worn and returned. A quick load of laundry and those secondhand name brand jeans are good as new. We are all converted to living a thrifty lifestyle.

Thanks so much for saying exactly what so many of us are thinking. I hope you and your family have a lovely and safe holiday.

urbanadaptation said...

I find myself torn - while I can't necessarily fault people for buying new when they can afford it, I also wish that "only new will do" wasn't always so assumed. I know plenty of people who are fine with used gifts but just never really thought of it because of expectations that gifts should be new. For some, this is the first year that they've been in positions that have necessitated thinking in this way, sadly.

We don't give a lot of gifts in my family but, for us, used is great. Dad gets books he wants to read. Mom only ever wants particular dishes, which are most commonly found in thrift stores now. One of my favourite gifts was a lovely 1940s thermos and a 50s cookbook from the thrift store. There gifts have been some of the most heartfelt and personal we've ever given or received, and for that I'm grateful.

Laurie said...

I've got a mix of thrifted, handmade & storebought gifts for my loved ones. I too have been struggling, and have not been able to scout out thrift stores as much as I would have liked this year. Thanks for an excellent post. Wishing you the merriest of holiday seasons!

Anonymous said...

A lot of responses to this post! Your advice and wonderful gift posts have served as reminders this year and last to make quick but thorough scans of my local thrift shops and rummage sales for special items that can be saved for gift-giving. Often, I combine them with "new" items -- candles for the holders, tea or candy for the antique dish, etc. Some of these unique items have ended up as stocking stuffers...Really there's no retail comparison for the rush I feel when I come upon a thrift store treasure for someone I love.

Willo said...

I think this is brilliant and I would be happy to be on your gift list. Gorgeous photo by the way!

Anonymous said...

SNAKE EYES!
Just wanted to let you know we needed a fireplace screen (did not have one) for the holidays. I walked in to Goody's (Goodwill) and used "snake eyes"--lo and behold! A fireplace screen, in the perfect size for $3.99 !
Thank you for your continuing inspiration and best wishes for all good things to you and yours.

Shopping Golightly said...

Snake eyes? Hot coffee!

Good to know that the meditation has entered your thrift life. It shall be a light when all other lights go out.

Perhaps I need to do more deep thinking on snake eyes. It is a process that is never at rest.

http://thethriftychicks.blogspot.com/2009/01/thrift-sense-and-snake-eyes.html

Shabby Vintage Junk said...

As ALWAYS I LOVE your posts as often times your words mirror my thoughts ONLY....You say it so much more eloquently than I would....!!

Mr SVJ & I refuse POINT BLANK to particpate in ANY kind of gift giving these days....Our preference is to give a gift of our time & we have sought assurances from family members that they will NOT buy us 'stuff'....We prefer to receive a gift of time ourselves or a grocery item that we buy on a regular basis....I can't tell you how much I ENJOY openning my bathroom cupboard to find FOUR tubes of toothpaste or the laundry cupboard where MULTIPLE boxes of my FAVE laundry detergent wait patiently for use.... :o) !!

I hope you & your Family enjoy a FABULOUS Christmas filled with LOVE & good times....I'm hoping the NEw Year brings some relief from the trials of the year past....!

Warmest wishes from Oz,
Tamarah :o)

Breathing New Life into Thrift Finds said...

I came across your blog today and love it! I am really enjoying reading back through your posts. While reading this one, I was thinking the same. Gifts should be personal and it shouldn't matter if I paid $3 for this gift that I know you will LOVE! I recently bought my mother-in-law, this beautiful bamboo tray with matching coasters and an old scarf(both in excellent condition) with Chinese writing and pictures on it. I know she will love it and probably get teary, does it matter that I bought it at the thrift store and paid $6 total. No!

My sister is terrible about that too! She will give me a gift that I absolutely adore, and then say "i'm sorry its not much I couldn't afford a real gift" LOL I love her but she feels gifts has to be expensive.

Wedding Thrift said...

This is my first time here and I love this post. Very well written and heart felt. Consumerism has gotten completely out of control. I almost stood up and clapped when I read your comment about Walmart--the stuff in those stores and dollar stores are total garbage! Seems like people buy items from there just to buy something. I'd rather have nothing than something meaningless. I literally just finished a post on how to wrap gifts with items you have around the house, and then stumbled here somehow. I'm adding you to my blog list! Thanks for writing about this. -Maggie

Darth Mama said...

You have probably seen this already -- but even the NY Times is catching on. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/23/science/earth/23swap.html?hp "In a Tight Holiday Season, Some Turn to Barter"

Darth Mama said...

Oops, forgot to add that my children's stockings are filled with yard sale finds (Lego minifigures!) and ebay treasures (Dora & Diego bath toys!). Why spend $$$ on one dinky lego set, when all my son really wants are the people inside the set, and when I found a treasure trove of the little guys at a yard sale this summer (and made friends with the seller to boot)? Very much looking forward to my children finding that treasure trove in their stockings. (Only problem is my 6 year old knows my shopping secret, and now demands to be taken along on yard sale runs. How will I hide gifts from him???)

Shopping Golightly said...

It's funny about children. The media teaches them thrift is yucky. Then they go and discover their money can actually BUY something cool.

So the grandparents hand the grandchild $5 and the child goes to a discount retailer. What can they buy? Some pointless object from the dollar section and maybe a candy bar?

My youngest daughter loves yard sales and is a ruthless bargainer.

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CherishedHearts Vintage said...

Absolutely wonderful! I enjoyed your post. Our family did tons of handmade this year, but I do have a few vintage items that were acquired at an auction that will be tucked away for Christmas. It's amazing the things you can get in piles for a dollar or two at an auction. Two pieces of Hull Pottery were in the same dollar pile! Who'd have thunk?