Gifting With Purpose: Green & Green's Guide to the Holiday Season.
Rabid consumers charging box stores en masse... my worst nightmare. Black Friday is the perfect storm of deeply discounted plastic crap met by suckers begging to empty their wallets. It's the epitome of a wasteful use of resources coupled with poor financial decisions; everything we are against here. To top it off, the very worst of humanity comes out on the day after we sit around a table giving thanks for all we have. Like many Green-minded folks, I replace that horror with Buy-Nothing-Day, Small Business Saturday, DIY gifts, and sharing experiences and adventures with loved ones. Here are some gift ideas that will help the world and your wallet.
We are very fortunate our small mountain town brims with artists and creatives. A repurposed auto shop is now home to a collective of studios ranging from sculptors, painters, potters, jewelers, and a floral designer. Here an illustrator designs alpenglow landscapes in the historical log cabin jailhouse. Blacksmiths are a dime a dozen (a statement which hasn't been made anywhere else for 200 years). My point is, there are plenty of artisan goods to be had, and the barter and trade economy is alive and well. Check out what your local (or online, ie Etsy) community has to offer!
I've taken Green one step further by not buying anything at all this Christmas. Making custom gifts for my family and friends is a practice I adopted when I started on my journey toward FI. People actually like getting handmade presents. I like to think I've come a long way since macaroni necklaces and play doh, but I've just replaced them with mala beads and clay. Through trial-and-error I taught myself the meditation of tying knots, then discovered time-saving techniques and design ideas from experts on YouTube.
This year my repertoire of knitted scarfs and simple woodworking projects is expanding thanks to a kickass friend who scored me a used sewing machine at a thrift store for $20. I learned how to make thread and bobbin cooperate, adjust stitches, and replace broken needles by watching more YouTube videos this summer, when my free time is plentiful. So far I've sewed window seat cushions, hemmed curtains, and patched old corduroys - nothing too tricky, but all very satisfying as a newbie.
I set a goal of trying (not mastering) one new skill a year; pottery, beading, kokedamas, and sewing are a few I've practiced to make gifts and fill our cabinet with coffee mugs. Getting started was the hardest part, and most of my initial efforts collapsed, snapped, or were worthy to post on #pinterestfails. This process forced me embraced the concept of Wabi Sabi: finding beauty in all things imperfect and impermanent.
These are crafts I had no previous experience with, and learned by jumping in with curiosity and patience. Startup for some crafts require only a small desk and lamp. Others take more planning and equipment. Find your local pottery collective - studio classes generally range from 5-10 weeks long and cost between $100-$300 depending on the number of sessions and, mostly, where you live. Some clay centers offer shelf space rentals and have 24-access to the studio for $50- $75/month.
Now, that's a lot of time and money to invest in a silly thing like shaping mud, but learning skills offers dividends beyond saving money in the future. Time is a scarce resource for most of us, especially those planning for FI. For better or worse, us teachers have a polar schedule. Ten months of the year I work 60-80 hour weeks (often stringing 4 weeks without a day off), but my summer months have wide-open creative potential.
When I throw my full self into a project I feel present and connected, a state I haven't been able to consistently achieve in my day-to-day life. It's an opportunity for me to slow down, check in, and breathe, like off-the-mat yoga. I can express myself without words. It's cheaper than therapy. I can spread joy through giving.
And, according to the New York Times, pottery is so hot right now. "While terrariums, Edison bulb light fixtures, and fixed-gear bicycles have all enjoyed moments of demarcating cool, handcrafted small-batch ceramics are suddenly the accessory of the moment."
The Gift of Learning and Adventure:
Another approach to showing people you care involves the gift of shared experiences. It's a great way to avoid spoiling your kids. Teach them what really matters to your family. Sign them up for pottery, guitar, or cooking classes. Wilderness First Aid is a fun course and an incredibly helpful skill set to have if you spend time outdoors.
Take them to a National Park, or a National Monument. Like many wild places, they're disappearing fast. You don't have to drop $10,000 on a vacation to visit Great Barrier reef or the Galapagos to see vanishing treasures. A week hiking in Glacier National Park, sea kayaking in Alaska, and snorkeling with whale sharks in Baja can all be done for under $800 for an individual, or $1,200 for a couple - including travel, recreation, food, and lodging. I've done it. Sure, it may put a small dent in the savings plan, but I'd rather have memories of humpback whales bubble feeding and mountain goats firmly standing their ground atop a peak than a new 84" TV.
Philanthropy: If you're considering donating to worthy causes this season, be sure to check out GiveWell. They evaluate high-impact charities to ensure your dollars go the furthest. The top-rated charities they recommend, based on quality and cost-effectiveness, provide mosquito nets to prevent Malaria and deworming medicines in Africa. Not sexy, but powerful. Someone you know may enjoy having Schistosomiasis treatments donated in their name. It's better than the gift of a llama or goat for a few reasons. A few years back I "donated these animals" in my brothers' names a few years back, but now realize there are more effective and impactful ways to make my dollar go further. So fight those worms this holiday season!
There are endless alternatives to Black Friday's culture of madness. Give a gift that matters to you and your loved ones, and know you're saving both green and green. Happy holidays!