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.
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