Guest post: Giving with Art

While I’m on vacation until Aug. 9 (and quite possibly for the day or two after I get back), I’m featuring several guest bloggers. Today’s guest post comes from Carrie who blogs at Passage.

“Give what you have. To someone, it may be better than you dare to think.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

MintAt my last birthday, a friend gave me a pot of assorted mint plants. I keep the pot in a sunny window, and I catch the scent of mint over my breakfast in the morning. My husband and friends lavished me with attention and well-chosen gifts that birthday. Admit it, birthdays all kind of run together after age 21 or so, but they helped me remember what it feels like to be made much of on a birthday. I came away from my celebration wanting to lavish others, but quite frankly, I couldn’t afford much, and I didn’t want to promote any more consumerism or un-green living. I just wanted my friends and family to feel abundantly loved.

The most heartless gifts I’ve given have been those bought quickly and impulsively from a store. They have been gifts matched with a dollar amount: Okay, I have $30? Well, then it’s a pair of candlesticks. $50? I’ll get a sweater. Stores scream their seasonal promotions at me. They make gift giving as easy and thoughtless as possible. And while parting with the money may be painful, I’ve decided it requires no more sacrifice than paying the monthly electricity bill. Oh, yes, that’s often painful, but the sacrifice in gift-giving should be a pleasurable one. It may be a noble thing to sacrifice money for a gift, but in a consumer-driven culture of easily attainable credit, fast cars, and drive-thru restaurants, perhaps the most valuable gift is one that requires a sacrifice of time.

So, I started a list of gifts for all the wonderful people on my birthday calendar. They deserved more than a card. And, I pledged, they deserved more than mere money. For creation’s sake, they deserved a green gift. For being a blessing to my life, they deserved a gift that was well-thought-out. And in spite of my pride, they would get a frugal gift.

So, with no further ado, my new recipe for green, anti-consumer, thoughtful, frugal gift-giving:

Creating Gifts

NapkinsIf you sew, if you make crafts, learn to hone those skills for creating gifts. I sewed my first set of cloth napkins last week. They will be for my sister-in-law, and although I bought new fabric from a table of pre-cut scraps for a mere $1.99/yard, I could have made napkins from any scrap fabric around the house.

Even the most amateur knitter can create a scarf. When it’s complete, my first scarf will be beautiful enough to give away because I used a fuzzy yarn that covers my errors. A stack of denim from our old jeans is piling up on my piano. I’m excited for the day I start sewing together the patches into a quilt.

If you cook, cook for a gift. Make granola from organic ingredients, and bottle it in an old pasta sauce jar. If you make any of your own household cleaners, make samples for a wedding or graduation gift.

Giving What I Have
PhotobookCards A few years ago, I worked at a scrapbook store, and over the course of two years, I collected enough paper and embellishments to last a lifetime. Now, I make all my birthday cards, and create packets of cards for gifts. Grandparents are fully satisfied to receive a book of pictures of their grandchildren. If you paint, paint for someone. Draw pictures for someone. Find a quote that embodies your friend or relative, and present it in a frame. Recently, I found some plain, abandoned hair barrettes, and created colorful bows for my nieces from my scrapbooking ribbon collection.

If you have no crafty or culinary talent, give away something precious to you. A few months ago, I found my childhood rock collection, and instead of boxing it away again, I’m giving my treasures to my nephews for their birthdays. Have books on the shelf that you loved but will likely not read again? If you love the books, I propose that it is not stingy to use them as gifts instead of buying another copy to give away.

Beyond Things

Maybe the greenest gift possible is the gift of service. On Father’s Day, I treated my husband to the best massage I knew how to give. It took time and concentration and affection to make it worthwhile. Mood music, candles, lotion — these helped make my massage almost as good as any massage therapist’s. Well, anyway, I assume it was. He certainly responded well.

Other acts of service: Plan a picnic. Write a poem for your dad. Deliver breakfast in bed. Clean your mom’s house.

And If All Else Fails…

Okay, I am human, too. And sometimes birthdays sneak up on me, and I simply don’t have time to make a craft for my mother or plan a getaway for my beloved. Therefore, I submit to you… three easy ideas (that cost a little money):

1. Used books. A true book-lover will love a dog-eared copy as much as a pristine one.

2. Fairly traded recycled things. These recycled newspaper hot mats from Ten Thousand Villages are the premade gifts over which I drool the most.

3. A donation to a charity in someone’s name.

Some Final Thoughts
I love my mint plant. My sister hinted that she would love one, too, and this year I just happened to be paying attention. So when November gets closer, I will give her her own mint plant, grown from an offshoot of mine. I will search for a lonely, used planter from my local Freecycle group. I may paint it or scrub it clean, but to my sister, it will be new. The earth will be happier without more boxes to throw into its landfills; my sister will not be burdened with some store-bought trinket that she doesn’t really need. And my heart will be full from the preparation of a gift that I know will be appreciated.

When I began making a list of green gifts, I worried about being thought of as cheap. But as I put effort into my planning, I find so much more thought going into the gifts that I no longer worry. Hey, after a certain age, to be thought of at all on a special day is a great honor. So I make my little gifts, say little prayers over the recipient, and I find the blessing in the giving so much more fulfilling than handing my debit card over to a sales clerk.

c.l.beyer blogs at passage, a compilation of accounts on her journey to becoming a green, life-loving, and creative wife and momma. She includes her thoughts on loving God and the unlovable people of the world, sharing bits of poetry she’s written and the occasional book review.

9 thoughts on “Guest post: Giving with Art”

  1. There are lots of cool gifts to be found at the farmers market too – homemade crafts and soaps, local honey, nuts, jellies and jams, etc. You can make a nice gift basket of local and homemade items inexpensively and that’s very unique.

  2. I will keep this in mind during Christmas shopping this year! I am only about 15% crafty, so there’s a limit to what I can do, but these are some great ideas.

  3. Great ideas. I’ve been one to get pretty creative for the holidays, but the time it takes can sometimes be overwhelming. Thanks for getting me thinking about gifts early. I’ll start making my list now and get to work on some thoughtful, frugal, creative gifts. Much better than a gift card or unneeded trinket.

  4. This is a nice reminder that usually the smaller, homemade gifts are just as nice-if not more so- than they typical gifts that are pushed by the mass media.

    I made my mother in law a photo book of her grandchildren for Mother’s Day this year, off of Shutterfly. Yes, it took me more time to make, then giving her a gift card to a store, but she does so much for us, and I wanted to give her more than a gift card.

    It cost about the same amount I would have spent anyway, but she loves it. She takes it everywhere with her and shows all her friends. I am thrilled that she enjoys it so much, and it reminded me if I just put a little thought into a gift, it can be so much more personal and memorable.

  5. I love to give hand made gifts. I make jams and pickles, too many for us, so I give those to family and friends. I love to make scarves, neckwarmers, hats, and give those for Christmas. I haven’t yet conquered mittens… but maybe this year.
    I give afghans for baby showers, and have sewn garters for bridal showers. It’s amazing what $10 of yarn can turn into with a little bit of time.
    I’ve also recently gotten into making aprons for gifts.
    Hand made gifts are so much nicer than store bought, because they show the time and effort you put in, and that you care enough to use your valuable time to make a gift.

  6. This is a great post!

    Last year, I made homemade cookie and soup mixes for Christmas gifts. And then the people I gave them too went really overboard with the expensive gifts and I felt cheap. Hopefully this year I can get over that, because it was more satisfying (AND cheaper) to make my own.

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