24 December 2012

On Presents


With Christmas coming up, gifting and receiving presents is on everyone's lips. I have read a lot of articles about Christmas presents and consumerism, especially around the US Black Friday (which is a quite bizarre phenomenon viewed from across the Atlantic).

Some minimalists have very extreme views about presents, deciding to tell their friends they don't need any and to not gift any either - see this article for example. Others emphasize how spending your money on gifts can make you happier than spending it on yourself.

I thought I might share my train of thoughts on the subject.

Presents and Materialism

Did you read Harry Potter, and how his cousin Dudley decides he needs a certain amount of presents for his birthday? This is, to me, the caricature of the materialistic aspect of presents. Wanting more objects just for the sake of owning stuff. It is just like buying things you don't need just because it's on sale. It is the consumerist aspect of Christmas, or other events like Valentine's day: retailer's marketing trying to use tradition to make us buy stuff. But, even if this exists in our society, we can decide to have a different approach at a personal level.

The Art of Giving

What I like most about presents is giving them: whereas it is for Christmas, birthdays... I like thinking about the person's taste and try to find something they will like, or gifting them something I liked and think might suit their taste too. Then wrapping it in nice paper, adding a small note... In that case, it is not the object that matters, but the thought I put in the gift, the reaction of the loved one when he discovers it. It is about human relationship more than materialism.

Receiving Gifts and Minimalism

In this season, many minimalist bloggers have given their opinion on receiving gifts and how to avoid the clutter of "unwanted gifts". I admit it is always tricky to know what to do with trinkets offered by a vague relative when you are trying to unclutter your home, or live in 25m² as I do. I don't have an extreme vision on receiving gifts. If the above on gifting makes me happy, maybe it makes my relatives and friends happy to gift me something too.

The course of action I have chosen is to let them know, along the year, about my views on objects, materialism and simplicity. Many of my relatives and friends read my blog and know all the questions I am asking myself on the subject, so they tend to avoid the "trinkets". Some decide to go for an experience such as tickets for a show or exhibit, or digital content. Others ask me for a list and I'll suggest either consumables like tea, incense, candles, chocolate or wine, or a specifc item from one of my wishlists, that I know I will use.

And sometimes, I do receive "unwanted gifts". But they are not "unwanted", because I am grateful for receiving this mark of affection from the person. And if, after a while, I can't find a use for it, then I think about giving it to someone who needs it more than I do. I don't think it is a cruel thing to do, because the important is to acknowledge the gesture, not the object itself...

What are your views on presents? Are there any specific traditions in your country?

PS: Happy Holidays, I hope you enjoy this season whatever your traditions are!


  1. While I find truly sad the extreme materialist part of Christmas, I still enjoy giving and receiving gifts. I never receive too many gifts or unwanted gifts since I'm now way too conscious of the environmental and social problems with buying too much so for the past 2 years I've made a short list of things I reaaally need. This year, for example, I asked a pair of brown loafers since I wore my previous pair to death, a good hand cream for my extremely dry hands and paper to paint in watercolor. In any case, I feel like gifts are just a little part of the whole Christmas night, I enjoy much more eating and having a good time with the ones I love, maybe I'm getting old haha.

    Have a merry Christmas!

  2. Great post! Love that you dropped a Harry Potter reference :)

  3. well said. =)
    this year all I wanted for christmas were Dyptique candles, cashmere socks and cognac fudge. Things I really enjoy and would probably end up buying for myself.
    I also like the idea of re-gifting a present to someone who appreciates it more. it makes more sense to make someone happy than keeping something out of false sense of obligation. I know I myself wouldn't mind.

    Happy Holidays!

  4. Chio - I agree with you, tome Christmas is about the experience: meeting family we rarely have the occasion to spend time with, eating together, playing games... I like the moment when everybody opens their gifts, but more for the moment than for the gifts themselves...

    Megan - I love Harry Potter! I couldn't talk about present without remembering this scenes when Dudley makes a scene because he has only 36 presents or something...

    Luxcore - Dyptique candles were on my list too :)It's true that a lot of people keep their "unwanted" gifts out of obligation. There is always this comical situation where people would display ugly gifted decoration only when they invite the person who gifted it to them! Never saw that in real life though.