Minimalism – Letting Go of Gifts

Love people, not stuff.

Are you trying to minimize the amount stuff you own? Is dealing with gifts making you feel guilty and stressed out? I got over the guilt and you can, too.

The first time I placed a gift item someone had given me into my minimalism donation box I was surprised by the crushing guilt I felt. That gave me pause. I was putting a thing in the box, not a person. I remember thinking, “Wow, getting rid of stuff other people have given me is going to be way more complicated and emotional than I had anticipated.”

If you are serious about living happily with fewer material goods, you are probably going to have to address the gifts you own now and evaluate your philosophy about exchanging gifts in the future. This is not easy, but once you have done it you may be pleasantly surprised by feelings of relief and freedom.

Do not get me wrong, I do enjoy giving and receiving gifts, occasionally. What bothers me, a lot, is the rampant consumerism and the sense of obligation that surrounds exchanging gifts in our society (in my opinion). To me, a gift is something that one person gives to another freely and with no strings attached.

Why Do You Need To Let Go of Gifts?

A reasonable question to ask is “Why do I need to divest myself of gifts I already own?” This is a very personal question that only you can answer. I will share my reasons for letting go of gifts. Then you can ponder your own reasons and decide what you want to do.

Footprint on Earth Globe - Carbon FootprintMinimizing my possessions is a way for me to say no to consumerism and to live more lightly on Earth.

I believe that the constant push for economic growth in the United States and the ever-present message that we need to acquire more stuff to be happy is harming people and Earth.

I want my children, your children, and everyone else’s children to have a habitable planet to live on so I think we need to stop making and buying stuff at our current level. That includes gifts.

For me, an essential part of transforming my relationship with possessions and learning to live happily with less stuff was divesting myself of things that I already owned but that I did not need, use, or want anymore. Items I had received as gifts or inherited were belongings so I decided not to exclude them from evaluation.

Traipsing Down Memory Lane

A gift could be almost anything. A few possible gifts that immediately come to mind are clothes, jewelry, handmade goods, kitchenware, electronics, tools, decorative items, souvenirs, toys, heirlooms, furniture, and books.

A question for minimalists or for anyone for that matter is which gifts contribute the most to your happiness? It could be many things or a just a few. If you say all, then you probably need to revisit the reason you are trying to minimize your possessions.

Different gifts will elicit different feelings. Be prepared for emotional encounters with some or possibly all of your gift items. I tried to keep three thoughts foremost in my mind while I was traipsing down memory lane, “I want to live more lightly on Earth with fewer material belongings.” “These are my things so it is my decision whether to retain them or not.” and “I can keep whatever I want.”

Chances are that handmade gifts and heirlooms will be the most emotionally charged gifts. If you are a “tackle the hard job first” type of person, then start here and the process will get easier and easier. I am a momentum kind of gal, meaning that once I get started I am more apt to continue so I started with the easier stuff first.

How do you define easy? You will know by your willingness to put the item aside without spending a lot of time thinking about it. It could be an ugly coffee mug a coworker gave you for a secret Santa gift exchange, an extra second-hand skillet a friend gave you, or an unused crystal bowl you received as a wedding present. If you find yourself agonizing over a crocheted scarf that you never wore because you just do not like it but you kept it because it was made by your grandmother, then move on and come back to it later.

Take as long as you need to complete this portion of minimizing your possessions. I am fourteen months into my quest to live happily with less stuff and I still have a few gift items awaiting a “keep” or “no keep” decision.

Once you have set aside gift items that you will not be keeping, I suggest removing them from your home sooner rather than later by donating, selling, re-gifting, and in some cases putting them in the trash or recycle bin.

Dealing with Guilt

A person gives you a gift because they like or love you and think you will enjoy it, right? I think so.

Green Christmas Gift Box with Red Ribbon and BowDoes that obligate you to keep the gift even if you do not like it, do not need it, or will not use it? If it was just what you wanted at the time, do you have to keep it forever? If you choose to let go of a gift, regardless of whether you liked it or not, does that mean you do not care about the other person or their feelings?

These are just a few of the feelings I grappled with while evaluating gifts. I kept reminding myself of my reasons for living with less stuff and that a thing is not a person.

This helped me push back on feelings of guilt.

Also, it is likely that my gift givers are probably in the same boat as me having received gifts that they do not like or no longer want, perhaps including gifts I have given them. I believe they are free to do want they want with gifts they have received so that should apply to me, too.

My love and friendship for people in my life do not require exchanging gifts or keeping them.

Every once in a while I still feel a twinge guilt or find myself wanting to justify my actions, but then I remember why I am doing this and I feel at peace.

Future Gift Exchanging

Once you complete your initial divestment of stuff, or even during this time, you will embark on the life-long minimalism phase of living happily with fewer possessions. That means you will need to minimize acquiring stuff in the future. This may or may not mean you need to change your gift exchanging philosophy. It is up to you.

Fortunately, at least for me, I got a head start on minimizing gifts several years ago when my spouse and I decided to opt out of exchanging Christmas gifts and shared our feelings with our family and friends. Happily, I now receive very few material gifts. This feels right for me.

Featured Image at Top: Earth Globe in a Red Gift Box with Gold Ribbon – Photo Credit iStock/adventtr

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Being the Change – Book Review

What if burning less fossil fuel made you feel healthier and happier?

Reading Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution will show you that you can hugely reduce your fossil fuel use and have a good time doing it.

Being the Change by Peter Kalmus Book CoverLast November, I was browsing the Volumes of Pleasure book table at the Central Coast Bioneers conference in San Luis Obispo, CA when I spotted Being the Change by climate scientist Peter Kalmus. I read the back cover and flipped through the book.

Kalmus’ message seemed to be that you could substantially reduce your reliance on fossil fuels and still enjoy your life. I think many people are fearful of life without fossil fuels because they are worried that it will be all about struggle and deprivation. I liked the upbeat tone of the book so I bought it.

Book Review

In the first part of Being the Change, Kalmus talks about what motivated him to change his life and then provides an overview of global warming. In the second part, Kalmus describes specific changes he has made in his own life on the individual/family level and then wraps up with a review of large-scale actions that we need to take at the governmental and societal level to mitigate climate change.

Part I: Predicament

It comes as no surprise that Kalmus became interested in learning about global warming just after the birth of his first child, which made him look further into the future and beyond himself.

Like many of us, Kalmus’ life ran on burning fossil fuels and he lived enmeshed in the society that constantly urges us to buy more stuff. He decided to reduce his own fossil fuel use dramatically and in doing so perhaps encourage some other people to join him. I agree with Kalmus that small actions do matter and can lead to larger actions. I also concur that trying to make people feel fear or guilt is not a good motivator and that we cannot shop our way out of our predicament.

I think Kalmus did a good job of explaining the science and far-reaching consequences of global warming using mostly “regular people” language. However, I do understand if you find your eyes glazing over and want to skip ahead. This information is really, really important so if you can only absorb a little at a time, read ten or twenty pages and then go do something else or read ahead and then come back to this part later.

“The Earth system answers only to the laws of physics, not to the needs of humans.” —Peter Kalmus

Part II: A Mammal in the Biosphere

Over several chapters, Kalmus tells stories about starting a food garden, converting an old car to run on waste vegetable oil, biking everywhere, beekeeping, and a variety of other actions. He openly shares his successes and setbacks. I see these pages as being more about describing what is possible and encouraging you to think about what changes you can and want to make in your own life versus following his path.

Perhaps because he is a scientist, Kalmus calculated his pre-change and post-change carbon emissions or maybe he just did it for fun. He provides information for readers who want to do their own calculations.

The last few chapters describe actions requiring legislative support like putting a price on carbon, community actions such as participating in backyard produce exchanges, and love.

“When I feel unsure about whether or not I should speak out, I think of the billions of people with no voice on the matter. I think of those who are most vulnerable. I think of my children. And then the decision to speak out is easy.” —Peter Kalmus

The Bottom Line

By day, Peter Kalmus is a physicist and climate scientist working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. The rest of the time, he strives to reduce his reliance on fossil fuels and live happily with his family.

As a climate scientist Kalmus has the necessary chops and knowledge to write about what causes global warming, how it impacts Earth (and us), and what the future holds (of course, no one really knows what will happen in the future).

I am an avid reader and I have read many books about global warming, climate change, and activism. I think Being the Change provides readers with solid information and practical inspiration. One thing that sets it apart from many of the books I have read is that Kalmus focuses on the joyfulness possible in a world without fossil fuels.

I recommend reading Being the Change to anyone who is planning to continue residing on Earth or who is concerned about his or her children or future people’s ability to do so.

Featured Image at Top: Gingerbread Person with a Smile Peeking out from of a Line of Gingerbread People – Photo Credit iStock/AlasdairJames

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