November 29, 2012

10 Tips for Giving Gifts to People Who Avoid Consumerism

With Christmas around the corner, maybe you feel a familiar stress: the pressure to get people the 'right' gift. Some people on your list are probably easier to buy for than others, but there's a growing trend in our society: avoiding "consumerism."  (The majority of people on my Christmas list this year are anti-consumerism.)  It seems a bit oxymoronic to buy for them, doesn't it?  They shun big box retailers.  They slept in on Black Friday and may have quietly rolled their eyes at their friends' "Look at the deal I got at 5:00am!!" posts on Facebook.  And if they happen to be your grown children, you may have heard them threaten to donate all toys given to their children--your poor deprived grandchildren--to the Salvation Army.  They are generally good-hearted people, but because their shopping decisions take into account multiple ethical conundrums--and especially if they've come off as overzealous in previous discussions--it can be a bit intimidating to buy for them.  Sound like anyone you know?

If possible, consider the reason(s) that your loved one has gone anti-consumerism.  Be assured, their reason is NOT that it's the latest hipster trend or that they want to amp up the stress in your Christmas shopping experience.

  • Anti-clutterists are anti-consumerism because they've found that clutter in their homes leads to clutter in their emotional lives.  They've found that having less stuff means experiencing less stress.     

  • Going Green anti-consumerists have embraced a simple desire to significantly reduce waste generated in their home.  These are the people who compost religiously.  Remember: No non-recyclable packaging for these folks!

  • Local shoppers aren't necessarily "anti-stuff" at all, but they strongly value supporting local businesses over big corporations, because they believe by doing so they are doing their part to save the local and national economy.  They tend to buy American-made products to support American businesses who pay American workers a fair wage.  You may notice that these are the people willing to drive 50 miles to shop at the nearest independent bookseller.  They also might be the die-hard farmers market shoppers.

  • Creative Individualists are anti-consumerism because they value a sense of individualism and creativity.  They may believe that Americans' tendency to buy from big box retailers has attributed to some kind of cultural "dumbing down."  They feed society's need for intelligence and creativity by buying from local artists and artisans and/or by engaging in their own DIY projects.  These are the people most likely to appreciate handicrafts, home decor or clothing from that unique shop downtown or an Etsy shop online.  They also may or may not have at one time pursued a career in the arts.


Ten Tips for Giving Gifts to People Who Avoid Consumerism

1.  Ask.  Your loved one may seem standoffish about "stuff," but as we enter the holiday season, all but the most devoted anti-consumerists have recently caught themselves thinking "Oh, I'd like one of those!"  Maybe it's a new book by a favorite author, a seemingly minor kitchen gadget, an electronic device, a specific supply for a hobby, or maybe they are craving their very own tin of peppermint bark.  Ask their spouse, parent, child or a mutual friend, and if that fails, ask the person themselves.  If you fear that asking the person directly seems tacky, don't.  Wouldn't you rather be remembered as the thoughtful friend who gave them the sturdy red spatula that they use all the time than feared as the eccentric friend who gives clothes that no one wants to wear?

2.  Give an experience.  Going Green types and Anti-Clutterists are most likely to appreciate the gift of an experience.  I know you're drawn to that shiny plastic toy in the big box at the toy store, and yes, the kids would probably love to open it, but don't do it.  Instead, create a memory by giving an experience.  Make a certificate for your grandchildren/nieces/nephews promising a fishing trip or a day at a ballgame.  For a friend, how about a shared outing to see a movie? For the parents of young children and Local Shoppers how about a date night?  Include a gift certificate to a local restaurant and the promise that you'll babysit while they go out to dinner. 

3.  Give something intrinsically temporary: something edible or something to pamper themselves with.  If you've grown up thinking edible gifts and bath products were only appropriate for impersonal relations, such as business associates and your child's teacher, think again.  In this day and age, most people consider themselves--to some degree-- a foodie.  Most woman appreciate a good pampering.  When a good quality food item or pampering kit is nicely presented it can be a very heartfelt and appreciated gift.  For Anti-Clutterists especially, temporary gifts are a good choice, because they can be enjoyed and finished.  There's no pressure to show up wearing an edible gift to prove to the giver that you truly liked it.  You enjoy it and you're finished (and if you're old-school, you follow up with a handwritten thank you note).

A nice bottle of wine or liquor fits into this category, as does a specialty coffee or tea.  If you know that your loved one likes to imbibe occasionally, this is a wonderful choice that encourages celebration and enjoyment.  Try to choose something a notch above what they normally stock in their home bar or kitchen, and your gift is sure to be appreciated.

One caveat pertaining to edible gifts:  Many people have very real concerns and preferences about foods.  Do the best you can to be aware of concerns that you're loved one might have: there may be allergies in the household, or they may be avoiding sugar or gluten, processed foods or caffeine.  When in doubt, a gift basket featuring a variety of local food products would be most welcome.

Also see #6 below which discusses intrinsically temporary gifts for children. 

4.  Give a blanket or comfy throw.  When my kids were little I remember thinking that surely we had enough baby blankets and didn't need anymore.  But, ladies, when you're at work and it's cold and dreary out, don't you find yourself pining for a comfy blanket, a good book and a warm beverage?  And despite having "plenty" of blankets, my kids certainly seem to use the blankets they have.  In the colder months, my three year old routinely sleeps with four blankets at once: one happens to be her grandmother's own baby blanket, another is a small quilt made by another grandmother, the third is an inexpensive, super-soft fleece throw and the fourth is a quilt made by the mother of one of my bridesmaids.  Especially if you're giving to a Going Green who keeps the heater a few degrees lower than you would prefer, wouldn't it be nice to know they have plenty of blankets in case you come visit?

I know, a blanket doesn't seem like the 'fun' splash a grandparent or aunt wants to make on Christmas morning with a 5-year-old, so Ideas #5-7 are kid-specific.  The concept when buying toys for kids in anti-consumerism families is simple: buy toys that foster creativity, toys that are simple and made of environmentally-sustainable materials (wood, cardboard, etc), and--sorry--don't be offended if a toy you purchased ends up missing.  Chances are it went to a good home via Goodwill, not to a landfill.

5.  Stick to simple toys.  Anti-consumerist parents generally prefer toys made of wood to toys made of plastic, and they generally prefer toys that don't require batteries.  Blocks are a good choice, stacking cups are good for younger children, and stuffed animals (made of organic cotton or hemp, of course, for Going Green parents) are good choices, all of which are generally stocked in locally-owned kids' stores.  One almost universal exception to the "we prefer wood" rule is Legos (or Duplo blocks for kids under five years old).  Every family can use an ever-expanding collection of Legos.  Similarly, if the kids have a train set or doll house or other toy collection that they play with frequently, they may appreciate additional pieces, and since you are just expanding an existing collection, storage will be less of an issue for Anti-Clutterist parents than buying an entirely unique gift would be.

6.  For kids, how about arts and crafts supplies?  Most children I know tend to go through them very quickly, so new inventory is always appreciated.  And, being that arts and crafts supplies are intrinsically temporary, Anti-Clutterist parents will appreciate them.  A new set of paints, a large set of crayons or pens with a big pad of paper, (though avoid things like marking pens that produce a fair amount of plastic waste for Going Green types), Playdough or modeling clay, or--and this is something that Creative Individualists will especially appreciate--a unique craft kit such as a Flower & Leaf Press, a Make-Your-Own Terrarium Kit or a Build a Birdhouse Kit.

7.  Give the real thing.  If an older child shows a genuine interest in something, check with Mom & Dad first, then get them the real thing.  If a kid has been fiddling with auntie's old violin or asking for a toy guitar, don't buy the cheap one at the toy store, find a real musical instrument--and if you're so inclined, pay for six months of lessons.

Similarly, if a child shows a real interest in baking, skip the Easy Bake Oven and go for a set of their own mixing bowls and spoons or a kid-friendly cookbook.  They'll last far longer than a cheaply-made toy oven.  Has your grandkid/niece/nephew been eying a $40 snow-cone machine or other frozen dessert maker?  Ask Mom & Dad first, but then spend the extra $10 or $20 to get a real ice cream maker.  The Local Shopper on your list will appreciate that you bought from a small business; the Creative Individualist will appreciate that you've given their child an avenue for real creativity.  The appliance will function better with less frustration, last a lot longer and produce a variety of frozen desserts the whole family can enjoy.

8.  Buy used.  It's okay; it's even a high value of Going Green types.  They appreciate the notion of keeping things out of landfills.  So go ahead, shop at a vintage store, an antique store or a secondhand children's boutique.  Some of those stores may feel like a bit of a treasure hunt, but you may find a great deal on perfectly usable kitchen items, home decor, clothing, toys and books.

9.  Give something with family significance.  Have you cleaned out your attic lately and found grandpa's old hunting knife or some recipes written in grandma's own handwriting?  Adult grandchildren may appreciate those things.  And not just grandchildren, friends of the older relative.  Especially if someone has passed away in the last few years, giving a simple usable object or keepsake to a loved one who will appreciate it is a wonderful way to honor the memory of the deceased and the relationship they had with the recipient.

If you consider yourself crafty or if you have some extra time on your hands, make something personal for your extended family members.  (If you truly consider yourself crafty, check out that link.) You could create a simple keepsake book or video that celebrates moments your extended family has shared together, things your family values, or stories that have been told over and over. 

10.  Give something utterly practical.  Some people find themselves in the anti-consumerism camp because they've had trouble making ends meet.  They've innocently leafed through a catalogue from one of many high-end retailers at just the wrong time and it's painfully shocking to them that people in our society would pay THAT AMOUNT OF MONEY for a frivolous fill-in-the-blank, while they are having trouble scraping together a fraction of that amount of money for a medical bill or a necessary car repair.  Maybe you want to pamper your loved one with something special, but to a parent without the means to buy their young children a sufficient amount of clothing or someone who hasn't had a functional dishwasher in months, an expensive candle, a bottle of designer cologne, even a fancy holiday outfit for a child can seem like a slap in the face.  If your loved ones are in a tough spot financially, and you're in a position to help ungrudgingly, Christmas is a great time to do that.  Just do it sensitively and quietly before the actual holiday.


One final note:  If your Anti-Consumerist loved ones have expressed a genuine desire to forgo the traditional gift-giving experience, especially if they have proposed an alternative idea (giving to a charitable organization in lieu of gifts, celebrating the holiday with a shared experience such as packing Operation Christmas Child boxes together or sharing a holiday meal) at least consider honoring that request.  Maybe the Christmas gift they want more than anything is a restful and joyous celebration.


Do your loved ones consider you Anti-Consumerism?  What would you add or remove from this list?


Upstate California Kitchen Adventure's Previous Holiday Gift Lists 

November 20, 2012

Two Ideas for Thanksgiving Leftovers

Turkey-Mushroom Shepherd's Pie

Chop up a couple carrots and steam or microwave them to soften. Meanwhile in a medium skillet, melt 3 tablespoons of butter over medium heat.  Add one small onion, chopped.  Saute a few minutes, then stir in 6 ounces mushrooms, sliced. Sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper. Saute a few minutes.  Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons flour. Stir while cooking another minutes.  Then slowly pour in 2-3 cups warm water (or turkey or chicken stock).  Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until gravy comes to a gentle simmer and thickens a bit.  Remove from heat.  Stir in leftover shredded or cubed cooked turkey and steamed carrots.  Pour into casserole dish or 9" square pan.  Top with mashed potatoes. Cook at 400 for 20 minutes, until bubbly and hot. Let sit 10 minutes before garnishing with chopped chives and serving.

Turkey-Salad Sandwiches 

Butter and toast 8 slices of your favorite sandwich bread.  While the bread toasts, cut cooked turkey slices into less-than-bite-size pieces.  In a bowl whisk together 2 tablespoons mayo, 2 tablespoons plain yogurt and salt and pepper to taste.  Fold in 2 cups turkey meat, about 1/2 a cup sliced celery, and 3 tablespoons chopped, toasted pecans. Spread cranberry sauce generously on 4 slices of toast. Top with turkey salad and finish with the remaining slices of bread.