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17 December 2007

Take care with gifts, and be confident

Lyn asked an important question yesterday: "This year I strived very much to simplify Christmas in what gifts I am giving & did fairly well, but I still didn't go as simple as I wanted to. There is still that "guilt" factor or is it compulsion that affects me when I should not let it (especially when I know a loved one is giving me generous gifts). Have you ever struggled with that?"

Lyn, thank you for your comment and for bringing up this subject, I think many people struggle with it. Australia is a very materialistic country. We are a small country of 21 million people and in the lead up to Christmas, Australians will spend $34 billion!

I did struggle with this in the past but I don’t feel any guilt now. As the years progressed and I became more confident with my lifestyle, that guilt faded away. I don’t ask that any of my friends or family live as I do, or even agree with how I live, but I require that they respect my choices. Everyone of my friends and all my family know how Hanno and I have chosen to live. This is nothing new, they’ve all had time to think about it and to accept it or not. If they don’t accept it, that’s their problem and they will deal with it as best they can. I accept the life choices of all my family and friends. I respect their wishes and admire any of them who step outside their comfort zone and do things their own way. I expect the same from them. If they don’t agree with our philosophy, that’s fine, but they need to respect our wishes not to be caught up in the commercialism of Christmas nor in the ongoing push to have more than everyone else.

Our choice is to give from the heart, we give to those we love, choosing our gifts carefully. We stopped giving because it’s the done thing or because it’s become part of an annual expensive ritual. We don’t expect anyone to give us anything. If they do, we want it to be a small gift that we can use, not the latest gadget or anything expensive. Now that everyone knows our thoughts on this, and they know how we live, I haven’t received any extravagant gifts. But if I did, and it was from someone who knew about my life choices, I would thank them for the gift but tell them I couldn’t accept it. When you make lifestyle choices that differ a lot from the mainstream you have to expect hiccoughs along the way. Some people will want to see how strong you are in your resolve, or you might have some friends or relatives who will test you, so be prepared to graciously refuse an expensive gift. Make sure you give gifts people will use or find beauty in. You’ll defeat your purpose if you make up 12 soap and luffa sets and expect everyone to like them. Be mindful when you give gifts and tailor each one to the person who will receive it.

When you make a commitment to this lifestyle, live it to the best of your ability and be content with your decision. Explain what you’re doing to your family and friends. Tell them that part of your philosophy now is to cut down on purchases and to be more environmentally aware (or whatever your particular interpretation of simple living is). Explain that at Christmas and on birthdays you’ll not be doing what you did in the past but will simplify your gift giving in line with how you live now. From now on your gifts will be more personal and less extravagant. Ask them to respect your wishes as this is important to you and you don’t want them to give you expensive gifts. You cannot give simple gifts but be okay receiving extravagant ones. Explain that well in advance and be prepare to live it. It might take them a couple of years to get used to it and they could ask you what you’d like, so have some good answers ready. You could say you would like some heirloom vegetable seeds, wax for making candles, a new broom or an invitation to their home for afternoon tea. A couple of years of these sorts of suggestions will get them on the right track.

Overall, if you know the way you’re living is right for you and your family, and you’ve explain it to your extended family and friends, then they should respect your wishes and you should remain steadfast in your convictions. I know some of this may seem a bit harsh, but you can't say one thing but do another. If you take time and care with the gifts you give and let others know you don't want to be part of the commercial excesses of Christmas and birthdays, then show them you mean what you say, you will be on the right track. Don't feel guilt for something you believe to be right. You never know, you just might set a simple example that others will follow.


  1. You are so right again Rhonda. It's the thought that goes into choosing the gift to suit the recipient that shows the love and care you feel not how much it costs.

    Even in a non-downshifting world I had problems when asking people for useful gifts. I was then collecting a dinner service (newly married, upwardly mobile etc). My mother in law asked what I would like. I said a couple of plates towards finishing the service but she refused saying that it would only be 2 plates.

    Instead she bought me something ornamental which I didn't want but couldn't give away because she expected to see it when she came round.

    Thankfully more people these days are coming round to the simpler life way of thinking.

    And in case I don't post again, Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  2. Beautifully said Rhonda. I think the hardest part about changing your lifestyle is accepting family and friends won't agree with your changes. I've already downsized Christmas this year. 2008 will see me make changes to all gift giving and receiving.

  3. Great post Rhonda. I've downsized my gift giving but hope to trim it even more next year. I'm not confident in explaining my reasons to people, and I don't think I should have to really. I never question them over choices they make, unless I'm trying to learn from them, but I feel that others seem to think it's ok to question my choices and to try to prove me wrong. Hopefully my confidence will grow and I'll get better at it. It's mainly with my inlaw family, not that they are materialistic as such, just that they are more mainstream than I am.

    cheers Lenny

  4. Hi Rhonda

    While in principal I agree with most of what you have said, it is very very difficult to apply those same sentiments to young children at Christmas time - while as adults we may choose to live in a certain way, my own young children will have to reconicle our new lifestyle while living in a world outside our walls that cherishes consumerism and encourages young people to do the same thing. It is so hard not to buy into that and follow through inside the home when everything outside is screaming the opposite to them. We have compromised as much as we can this year with a few 'brand' toys and the rest books, outside play things and creative gifts. I know they are going to be a little disappointed on Chrismtas Day not to get a lot of what is on Santa's list. I hope that every year we can educate them a little more to appreciate that 'stuff' is simply 'stuff'....but is a very big ask for little people who still believe in Santa!

    I know our efforts will pay off for them in the long run and allow them the confidence to live beyond the 'prescribed lifestyle' that the marketing world would enslave them in - but gee it's tough at this stage.

  5. anon, I agree with you wholeheartedly. I know it's much easier for me, me who has already raised her children with every material thing I could give them, to say to all of you "this is what I believe". I do know how tough it would be because I remember what my children where like. Life is much easier at my age. I wish I'd woken up much earlier than I did and I hope my words don't sound too hollow.

    I expect everyone to do what they can, to edge forward with small steps and to bend, shake and customise simple living to suit their own circumstances. You are doing a magnificent job in difficult times but please know that every thing you don't buy, gives your children something that only you know now but they might discover in later life. What you're giving them is a little taste of freedom.

    I hope you have a lovely Christmas and that your children's disappointment isn't too great on Christmas morning. Thanks for your comment.

  6. What a wonderful post Rhonda. This is an issue that I too struggle with. We exchange with one part of the family in particular where this issue arises. I'm printing this out and putting it in my Christmas binder to review next year and to give me courage to do it the way I feel is more in line with my philosophy.

  7. I really appreciate your thoughts on this. I think that thoughtful, handmadegifts are the best kind. Especially when they are suited to the recipient.

    However, I would really find it rude to refuse a gift from someone no matter what it was. Gifts are not to be given for reciprocation. I for one really enjoy making and planning special gifts for my friends and family and I would be really hurt if someone refused a gift for whatever reason.
    Yes, I have received gifts in the past that do not suit me or my lifestyle, but I still graciously accept them... and may return them or pass them on to charity later on.

  8. RJ, I think it takes LOTS of courage to be so forthright with members of your immediate family, particularly when gifts for children are involved. Mine have taken offence on behalf of my own children, believing I think that I am denying them pleasure in pursuit of some unreachable and lofty ideal. This has created a lot of stress this year, and I am brave enough to admit I did a backflip and ended up at the toy shop buying crap for their kids that they don't need and won't appreciate. Had I gone ahead with my idea of handmade aprons, some wooden spoons and a homemade cake mix, I would have been excommunicated......but strangely enough, writing this now, while they wouldn't have appreciated my simple gift...they're not going to give a damn about the toys I've bought them either. Might as well have stuck to my guns and done what I thought was right in the first place. Here's to next year! (and I promised myself I wouldn't get upset about it this year!!!)

  9. You write so beautifully Rhonda.

    I have given handmade gifts to teachers and family this year (apart from children), and the response so far has been very favourable but I find it hard to give handmade gifts to the neighbours for instance, as I'm not sure they'd understand where I was coming from.

    It is one of those awkward situations where you each give each other gifts you completely don't want and you both know this and yet there seems no polite way of getting around it.

    Maybe I will slip in something handmade along with the shop bought and test the waters for next year.

    I also, would always much prefer a practical gift over something frivolous. My husband bought me a wheelbarrow for our first wedding anniversary 12 years ago and he still gets paid out about it by family and friends to this day, but I thought it was wonderful.



  10. ricky nelson said it in a song, years ago, "you can't please everyone so you have to please yourself"

    a few years ago we started the law of 4 for the children:

    something you want
    something you need
    something to wear and
    something to read

    they've adjusted well and have come to enjoy the process--they have to think carefully instead of just wanting everything they see!

    for everyone else, i try to do themed baskets. this year is movie night. a dvd, hot cocoa mix i've made, popcorn and a box of movie theater popcorn.

    last year i did a family game night theme. everyone got a game, cookie mix in a jar, hot cocoa mix.

    there are a few naysayers in my extended family, but for the most part, it's well recieved.

    merry christmas everyone!

  11. I love your law of 4 jayedee! What a fab idea! I can see how the rhyme would appeal to children :)

  12. Brandy :: Where the Lilies BloomDecember 18, 2007 3:13 am

    Thanks for this great post! It reflects a lot of what I've been feeling this year. I've been feeling a little guilty about giving simple gifts when I know I'll receive some fancy ones (which I have not asked for--I just want yarn ;-)). It's great to have your reassuring words. I'm going to link my blog to this post and share your sentiments. :-)

  13. A very good post on an issue I struggle with myself. I think I am with Mama K on this one though. You say "I require that they respect my choices" but surely this goes both ways? Should you not respect their choices too? I don't know. Anything I receive that is not 'me' I pass on to charity.

    May I wish you a very Happy Christmas Rhonda.

  14. Rhonda,
    Thank you kindly for answering my question. We've been down with illness this week so I apologize for not thanking you earlier.

    I appreciate the sunshine that you bring through my little computer each day.

  15. Just found this site and I've spent 2 hours going through the archives--so much wonderful stuff!

    We stopped long-distance exchanging with family long ago--sometimes the shipping cost more than the presents. Now we do the extended family phone call on Thanksgiving and Christmas, and it's great (I still gift my parents, especially since I'M not buying for 4 siblings, 4 spouses, 8 nieces and nephews and 2 dogs!)

    Once my children reached middle school, and were able to be a bit more realistic, we started the 3 gifts rule. Since Baby Jesus only received 3 gifts, they each get 3 gifts. Talk about stress relief! They're able to really consider what they want, they understand our budget limits, and Christmas is much more rewarding for all.


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