Our culture is a gift-giving culture, one that places great emphasis on giving physical items to other people as a measurement of caring. It seems silly to even write that, but it’s the cold truth. We often give gifts to show we care.
So, on your birthday and a handful of holidays, people show they care about you. But don’t they care about you those other 350+ days every year? Or do they feel different about you those days because they aren’t giving you a physical item (one that you probably don’t want anyway)?
We tend to not give gifts to people. Not physical gifts anyway. We would much rather give an experience to someone than another material item. We’d rather give a loved-one concert tickets than a necktie or an oven mitt. We don’t buy gifts; we give experiences, which leads to stronger relationships and a more meaningful life.
Minimalist Gift Ideas
Here are a few experiences we love to give as “gifts”:
- Concert tickets
- Movie tickets
- Tickets to a special event
- A great home-cooked meal
- A meal at a nice restaurant
- Walking somewhere without a plan
- Write something nice about someone publicly
- A massage (note from Ryan: better be a close relationship; Josh ain’t getting a massage from me)
- Our full attention
- Our time
These are things we can do with other people, experiences that show we care.
When to Give Gifts
The worst time to give a gift is on someone’s birthday or a holiday. There is an expectation to give gifts at these times, and it’s a hard expectation to live up to.
The best time to give a gift is today, right now, for absolutely no reason at at all.
The best real reason to give an experiential gift is to say, “I care about you” or “I love you” or “You are important to me” or “Thank you for being in my life.” Our actions need to be congruent with our feelings, and giving a gift today shows that every day is a special occasion, it shows that the people in your life are just as important to you today as they are on any holiday.
The two of us tend to not accept physical gifts from other people. Sometimes it’s hard to get other people to understand this cultural shift. The best way to approach the no-gift-getting concept is to be proactive. We set the expectation with our friends and family that we don’t need any more stuff, and if they want to give us gifts, they can get us experiences we will enjoy, they can celebrate our lives with us by spending time with us, not by giving us stuff.
What does a minimalist do about gifts they already own?
Most of us don’t want to piss people off. We don’t want to offend other people. We worry what they will think about us.
This month we received an interesting comment/question from a reader, Dena, on our popular essay, Letting Go of Sentimental Items:
I recently started my minimalist journey, and up until now everything I have let go of has been pretty easy. I just wanted to thank you for this post because you helped me see that we are not our stuff. I now realize I do not have to hold on to something in order to remember a loved one; their memories are inside me. However, I am having trouble getting rid of gifts. It’s not me who has a problem getting rid of them, it’s the people who gave them to me who might get a bit upset. I was wondering if you had any suggestions? I want to get rid of this stuff because I feel like it is holding me up from moving on with my new lifestyle but I do not want to offend anyone.
Most people won’t notice or won’t care.
But a few people might get offended. And that’s OK.
When I left my corporate job, some people got offended. When I stopped checking email every day, some people got offended. When I said “no” to certain past commitments, some people got offended. When I got rid of time, some people got offended. When I stopped buying stuff for a year, some people got offended. When I untethered from negative relationships, some people got offended.
And even now: When I don’t follow everyone on Twitter, some people get offended. When I don’t respond to every comment on our website, some people get offended. When I say no to certain requests, some people get offended.
I can’t let these things bother me though. My friend Julien Smith wrote a great essay about why you shouldn’t care (warning: strong language).
So get rid of the stuff if it’s not adding value to your life—donate it, sell it, or trash it. Let go of it so you can focus on what’s important in your life. Most people won’t even notice, especially the people who care about you.
Don’t buy gifts; give experiences. It will lead to stronger relationships and a more meaningful life.
If you found value in this essay, please regift it.