reconsidering my life as a gift giver

Monday, July 20, 2015

I have been an inveterate gift giver, a trait I inherited from my mother. For as long as I can remember, I have scoured my world, looking for that something someone else might want or cherish. As a child I made the gifts—bead rings, macrame necklaces, collections of polished stones, photographs from the pin-hole camera I built as a third-grade project. As I got older and began to work—at the family garage sale, at a Hilton Head gift shop, at a sweaty insurance company, through every semester at Penn, right up through the birth of my son and then, within twenty hours, right after—I thought of my paychecks in terms of two things: the bills I had to pay (if indeed I had any bills to pay; I didn't at the age of ten) and the gifts that I could buy for others.

It has given me great pleasure to give. But this summer, working with my father on sifting through the innumerable possessions of a long-loved family home, I have begun to think differently about things. I have begun to capitalize the word. And I have thought about all the Things I've bought for so many people throughout the years. Where are those Things now? Did they become, after the initial glimmer, trouble? Something to put away. Something to store. Something to work around. Something to consume—space.

Yesterday, celebrating our son's birthday in NYC, I do what I always do when I arrive (can't help myself)—I cleaned. Not because he doesn't do that himself—he does, of course. But because it is part of my mom genetics. As I worked my way through this studio basement apartment, I saw the too-many shirts I have bought him in the past, the too-many shorts he would now not ever wear, the too many.

I've loved and I've given, but—what of all this too much, too many?

We show our love in many ways. By being there, by listening. I want to find more ways, going forward, to show my love by giving only that which is absolutely needed, or to give something I have made, or to make it possible for someone to experience something they might not otherwise experience. A considered meal. A show. A day in a museum. A trip to see a friend. A trip simply to see. A clean space. An open window.

I'm sure I'll falter along the way. But I want to get better at this.

Less stuff. More experience. For their sake.


Becca said...

Having recently "sifted through" the things we gathered for almost 40 years in our home, I came to this very same conclusion. I now pause and consider before purchasing objects for myself or for others. It is the experiences in life that count and are most memorable and meaningful in the end. A friend who recently celebrated her 80th birthday informed her friends and family of her new attitude toward gifts she wanted to receive: "If I can't eat it, read it, or go to it, I don't want it!"

Cleo from Jersey said...

I wonder how many of us have traveled this road, and now, older, wiser, would like to take a different path. I have, and I'm enjoying the view.

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