This past erev Yom Kippur, as I was sending my daughter back to the store to buy more nosh and toys to keep the kids occupied, I said, “Yom Kippur is my children’s favorite holiday! When else can they ask and receive unlimited junk food and junk toys?”
In the midst of High Holiday overload, I had forgotten about Chanukah – that blissful time of year (a mere six weeks after Sukkos ends, I remind you) when we are afflicted by Western society’s biggest urge: to buy more stuff. Granted, we are buying more stuff for other people, ’tis true, but regardless, we are buying more stuff.
In the true desire to cut down on unnecessary purchases, for myself and for others, I have begun asking people directly what they want as a gift. After all, wasting money on unwanted gifts for others doesn’t make the money any less wasted. 90% of the time the person will respond with a vague, “I don’t need anything, please don’t buy me anything.” However, we all know what will happen when you don’t actually buy that person anything: he or she will remember it forever.
Therefore, I start off with a simple child-like strategy of offering three different options: I can afford it, it’s easily obtainable, or it has no monetary value. I purchase or create the desired gift, and when I present it to the person, I do so knowing that this is something he or she truly wants.
If the person insists he or she does not want a gift, I purchase something that is easily exchangeable, and include the gift receipt. This doesn’t make me feel as if my gift wasn’t wanted; rather, it feels as if my money and investment is going towards something truly desired, and not just gathering dust.
If you are not sure what to offer as part of the three-choice strategy or it is not a possibility for you, here are some other ideas:
- Contribute to an organization in the person’s merit.
- Buy a gift from a non-profit organization. Many organizations (Yachad comes to mind) have a gift shop where proceeds help support the work they do.
- Purchase something from Israel. This way, you are supporting the Israeli industry, as well as giving out presents.
- Create something with a dual purpose, such as a small bell jar with layered dried fruit and a ribbon wrapped around its neck (so pretty!) or a cute cookie jar filled with cookies and attach the recipe.
- Give an item with long-term use: a plant, a winter herb garden or a course in something the person has always wanted to learn.
- Gift certificates. I know, it’s the easy way out, but if you know someone loves to get her nails done, but is reluctant to treat herself, this is a surefire way to make her smile. Or conversely, if someone is being budget-conscious, help him meet his financial goals by giving him a gift certificate to a store that sells stuff he really enjoys.
- Finally, my all-time favorite: handmade goods. These can be food-related such as dinner or a favorite dessert; craft-related, such as a handmade scarf or photo album; or even service-related, such as babysitting or lawn work. Whatever it is, it costs you very little, and will be worth so much.
Whatever you do decide, remember a gift does not have meaning if it isn’t presented with a smile and love. So if you are feeling resentful or overwhelmed, by all means, take a break and skip it this year completely. People might notice, but only for a minute.