Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Feeding the Monster

Gross! Did you hear that? No? Well, I sure did. “Creak, groan, belch,” like a glutton after Thanksgiving dinner. That’s the sound that emanated from the dusty bowels of my house after it wriggled to find a comfortable position and eventually loosened its belt a few notches.

Like most of you, I’ve been doing some Christmas shopping. In accordance with our new Green Family Policies, I’ve been trying to find experiences to give as gifts, rather than stuff. (Don’t worry, no one is receiving a winter excursion to Mt. Rainier—see Great Expectations blog entry if you don’t know what I’m talking about). But I have to say, it is a lot trickier than you’d think.

Take Stocking Stuffers, for example. You can’t exactly fit an experience inside a stocking, unless you’re willing to spend a fortune getting theater tickets or gift certificates for a massage. Still, I tried to find stocking-stuffers that aren't just junky little toys that break within 5 minutes of being opened. I remember last year at our house: after opening the stockings, I mentally wished that all of the untouched presents under the tree would disappear like Donald Trump’s real hair, since what the stockings contained was already plenty. Prior to Christmas, we'd stuffed crayons, toothbrushes, stickers, candy, and dolls into a shoebox to be mailed to a child in the Third World through Operation Christmas Child. But the contents of our stockings made those gifts look like half-eaten, saliva-soaked crumbs from the table of Louis the V.

Given this history, and my new affinity for Al Gore, perhaps my grown-up family members will forgive me for the Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs they’ll receive in their stockings this year. And maybe the kids won’t notice that their stocking gifts are actually useful (band-aids, colored pens).

Another tricky part: finding experiences for kids that don’t take too long to redeem. For example, several of my nieces and nephews live in small towns far from me. Researching outings for kids in their areas, I only found lonesome, dusty tumbleweeds blowing across my computer screen, whistling the tune from “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” (http://www.audiosparx.com/sa/archive/Movies/Good-The-Bad-And-The-Ugly/The-Good-The-Bad-The-Ugly/42143). The activities I did find (like tickets to the Children’s Theater in the closest nearby city) may take place, say, next April. Not exactly the kind of thing that would endear me as their favorite aunt.

Then there’s the delicate issue of asking the grandparents of my children to forgo giving toys in favor of experiences, which resulted in the following hilarious email from my thoughtful, conflict-avoidant Dad:

Your Mom had bought some art supplies for the girls several months (nearly a year) ago (thinking ahead to Christmas 06). Would it be alright if she uses them with the girls for an art activity and then "gifts them" to the kids? We will abide by your decision on this...not wanting to cause a problem.....She also purchased the cutest Winnie the Pooh stuffed animals....Is there a way to "gift them" as well?

Having read “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman, I understand that people express love to each other in a myriad of ways, which Chapman boils down to the following handy categories: gift-giving, spending quality time together, acts of service, physical touch, and words of affirmation. The trick, according to Chapman, is to discover your spouse’s “love language”—the primary way that (s)he receives expressions of love—so that you can communicate love effectively and avoid misunderstandings (e.g., the classic “wife-interpreting-every-physical-touch-as-a-request-for-sex-when-husband-is-really-saying-I-love-you” or “wife-buying-gifts-for-husband-when-husband-is-a-tightwad-and-only-really-wants-quality-time-together”).

When Tobin and I took Chapman’s test, we both ranked gift-giving as the last on our list, which means that we are the least likely to express our love by giving gifts. But I would wager my favorite mouse-pad—the one from the now defunct HomeGrocer.com, which is decorated with a simple yet mouth-watering rendition of a peach (or is it an orange?), and conjures up images of being spoiled with groceries delivered to my home—that both of my parents’ primary love-language is gift-giving. Conclusion: to tell them that a Winnie the Pooh stuffed animal doesn’t really count as an experience, and is really just a cute toy (albeit with super-soft fur) would be tantamount to saying “no thanks, you just keep your love to yourself please!”

Thus, while hoping for the best, I’ve been resignedly preparing my house for the post-Christmas Avalanche of Stuff. Last week, while the kids were distracted, I loaded up four heaping bags full of toys to give away. But like a mother who is one month post-partum, the house is still chubby and flabby around the middle, and still has a lot more to lose.


KarenP said...

Hey, Ally,
Love your blog, as usual. Here's some links to some great clutter-free gift ideas for

Women: http://www.flylady.net/pages/ClutterFreeGiftsW.asp
Men: http://www.flylady.net/pages/ClutterFreeGiftsM.asp
Children: http://www.flylady.net/pages/ClutterFreeGiftsC.asp
Grandparents: http://www.flylady.net/pages/ClutterFreeGiftsG.asp
and those other special people in your life: http://www.flylady.net/pages/ClutterFreeGiftsO.asp

I can totally relate! Hope this helps with some ideas!


Ally said...

Thanks Karen! I'm always up for new ideas. I just wish I had more time to get my act together!

bgirl said...

love this entry. i relate to clutter and constantly re-thinking what i need vs what I perceive as a need, whether it be for me or ryder. living in our small space has been a good wake-up to living more thoughtfully.

karenp...i'm checking out those links!