- Personal Finance
Four Easy Ways to "Occupy" the Holidays: Make Gifts at Home, Re-Gift, Buy Used, or Buy Local
Bringing the Spirit of the Occupy Movement to the Spirit of the Holidays
The "Occupy" movement that is taking place across the country, and to some extent, the world, seems to be born out of a general frustration with the growing gap between the rich and poor in our country, greed, recklessness and illegal behavior on Wall Street, huge tax breaks for the wealthy and huge bonuses for CEOs, and the dramatic disparity between pay for CEOs and pay for regular workers. And I think that is just scratching the surface of the many issues that are frustrating the so-called 99% of us who aren't incredibly wealthy. If you're interested in thinking about this more, I found this article to be the most interesting reflection I've read so far about what the movement is about.
As we go into the holiday season, I find myself thinking about how to reconcile the joy of gift giving with my urge to give as much as I can to those less fortunate, and to not be a part, however small, of padding the pocketbooks of CEOs of huge corporations. In thinking about this, I've landed on four rules for gift giving this season. My goal is to have every gift I give come from one of these four categories: homemade, re-gifted, bought used, or bought local. I thought I would share my ideas about how to approach each of these categories, on the off chance they are helpful to anyone else.
#1: Make Homemade Gifts
I won't go on in great detail about this one because there are so many great on-line resources about how to do homemade gifts. I think the best challenge with this one is to think about how to have as many of the components of the homemade gifts come from one of the other four categories.
To generate ideas, you can ask yourself: What do I have lying around the house that I could use to make a great gift? Examples might be lots of yarn that you've purchased from eBay over the years with the best intentions, but that is now taking up a gigantic box in your garage. Just a random example, of course, not coming from personal experience. Or you might have a huge bag of chocolate chips from Costco (side note - while they are a large corporation, they generally treat their workers well and are far better than Wal-Mart) that you could use to make fudge. Again, just a random example.
Types of gifts that are easy to make at home:
- Food, especially sweets. Homemade fudge is a particularly good one because it keeps well and is easy to send by mail. It takes a little more work, but homemade caramels and other homemade candies are also great for the holidays.
- Crafts with children. If you have kids, your friends and family will probably love simple homemade gifts from the kids. We used to get rubber stamps (from a local store!) and make notepads for our grandparents - stamping a different stamp on each page, and then doing a nice drawing on the cover. There are endless ideas on-line for holiday crafts to make with children.
- Photo projects. You can make and decorate your own picture frames or ornaments with pictures in them.
My wish this holiday season is that we could once and for all take the stigma away from re-gifting. I do think this is taking place, just judging from my experience at my son's birthday party. Two of his favorite gifts were toys re-gifted from older children who were no longer playing with them. They were in great condition and it made absolutely no difference to him that they didn't come out of a package. And it made me very happy not to have to throw away a bunch of plastic packaging!
As I'm preparing for a big move, I am realizing how many things I have that I just don't use anymore, or never really used, but that would be great to give as gifts. I know re-gifting has gotten a bad rap as being a way to pass off things that no one wants, and I will certainly be careful of falling into that trap, but I don't think it has to be that way.
Obviously, you have to be careful not to give a gift back to the person who gave it to you (for a hilarious cautionary tale, watch the clip from Old School below), and it has to actually be something you think the person would like, but I see no reason not to pass on great gifts that you simply don't need or aren't using. I'm trying to encourage my closest friends and family to re-gift if appropriate this year, and hopefully others will too, and little by little we will remove the stigma.
If you do re-gift, make sure you don't re-gift back to the original viewer (as Will Farrell did in this hilarious scene from Old School)
#3: Buy Used
This option can serve multiple values, because it's a way to keep your money in the community and support worthy causes, while also buying practical gifts, and reducing waste. Obviously, Goodwill and Salvation Army have stores in almost every town, but there are also often smaller used stores run by hospitals or other charities that you can support.
A particular bonus of buying used gifts is that you can often find something unique that the recipient is certainly not going to get from anyone else, and that has the extra meaningfulness of the effort and thought it took to find it. For example, I found an old Boston Celtics onesie at a local used gift store run by a local hospital. I couldn't find anything exactly like it on-line, and it will be a great present for a friend who is a huge Celtics fan and has a baby on the way.
There are also used local bookstores in almost every town. I almost always try to buy books used, unless I'm just dying to read a new book that has just come out (Jonathan Franzen's Freedom is the last example I can think of). A used book is just as good as a new one, and often even better - personally I like reading a book that has been broken in and already enjoyed by someone else. It can be especially fun to look in children's book sections because often I find books that I loved as a child that aren't even in print anymore. These can make great gifts for friends with kids, and have special meaning.
Even for people who aren't into thrift store shopping, there are lots of easy ways to buy used on-line. EBay is probably the most obvious, but there's also Craigslist, which is a little more of a gamble as far as finding exactly what you want, but has the added benefit of not being part of a huge corporation. I have some internal conflict about eBay, because they are obviously a huge corporation, but I still end up feeling that it can be a good option for buying used stuff.
Another way to get free used stuff is through sites like Freecycle. They basically help you connect with other people in the community who have good quality items they are getting rid of. I'm interested in exploring this option more.
Will you make it a priority to buy local this holiday season?
#4: Buy Local
There is a lot of emphasis on this right now, including with the "Small Business Saturday" page on Facebook, urging people to shop at small local businesses on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. I think it's great that this is getting increasing attention, and maybe the Occupy movement and the growing awareness of the economic inequities in our country are giving people the extra push they need to shop local, even though they've known for a long time that it's a good idea.
I definitely feel this effect on my choices this holiday season. I've always believed in buying local, but have also felt torn towards trying to get the absolute best deal possible, which often means taking advantage of big sales at big businesses. But now I have just made a resolution to follow these four principles for all my holiday gifts. If it means I spend an extra couple dollars at a local store, so be it.
Staying Focused on the Joy of Giving
I can get so easily sucked into the idea that the holiday season is about the fun of buying new things at big stores. But when I actually start doing that, I realize it doesn't feel particularly fun or meaningful. The Occupy movement has prompted me to re-visit my core values and come up with these four rules I'm using to guide my gift giving this holiday season. And it's helping me remember that the true joy is not the buying of gifts, but the giving of gifts.