What’s the best gift you’ve ever been given?
A real gift.
Something that came in a box with a bow. Or at least wrapped in the funnies.
You know, a present.
Of course, there’s health and happiness, family and friends. The gift of knowledge, which is something I have been giving my students all year.
Those are lousy answers to this question. How do I know? I tell my students that every year before winter break, and they moan and groan louder than they do for any of my teacher jokes.
In all sincerity, I hope your life is threaded together by priceless moments and invaluable people. But I want to talk about stuff. Actual stuff.
It’s so easy to criticize things. Sometimes, it is much deserved. Consumerism is rampant.
But I do think the opting out line is finer than we realize and pretty soon we are all going to end up like Thoreau. And I don’t mean that as a compliment.
RELATED POST: Thoreau, The Minimalists, and Opting Out
Sometimes we give actual gifts. Sometimes we get actual gifts. Not experiences, not our presence. But actual presents. And sometimes we enjoy them.
I think, as someone who is on a perpetual quest to learn to do more with less, it is essential to acknowledge the actual physical things that we keep and the things that we enjoy.
So I’ll go first.
Green Glitter Nail Polish
In a distant millenium, Bath & Body Works sold nail polish. How do I know? I have a bottle.
Despite purging over 30 bottles from my collection, I have decided to keep the most garish green nail polish Lisa Frank and her unicorn could possibly concoct. The evergreen backdrop is flecked with iridescent glitter specks that are so misshapen they almost look like confectioner’s sprinkles. Or mitochondria from a seventh grade biology project.
I keep it because I’m a sentimental sap who flunked just about every test there ever was for a fledgling minimalist. (I
hate strongly dislike hate Thoreau, so it’s not like I was going to ace the class ever anyway.)
I loved it as a gift because my grandpa bought it for me. It was actually a package deal. I got roller blades, a Lion King bath towel, and green glitter nail polish. If it sounds like the type of gift that someone with no gift-giving acumen would give, you’re spot on.
It was my Christmas present the year my grandma died. Which meant my grandfather drove himself to the mall, spent time in at least two stores, and did the absolute best that he could.
And in the most delightful way, that mismatched gift perfectly captured so many fragments of my elementary-school-age interests. I loved it then, and I love it now. By the grace of formaldehyde or some other chemical, it’s still useable. It looks just as tacky as it did back then, and it makes me smile just like it always has.
A Brand New Car
Just kidding. But it was new to me, and it was my absolute dream.
My parents got me a car for my 17th birthday. More specifically, my dad rebuilt the engine of a car that someone was junking. The car itself was only a few years younger than I was, but it was my dream car (A black Chevy Camaro if you must know. And you must. It was the best.).
I was so excited. I couldn’t wait to tell my friends and my boyfriend. But my parents and I shared a cell phone plan that had a maximum of 250 text messages and it was nearing the end of the month, so I had to wait until I got home to tell everyone the good news. I punched in my boyfriend’s number, listened to his voice, and then promptly burst into tears.
I was that happy. And also 17.
I drove it for almost a decade, until my forehead held up the headliner as I drove. It’s pained me to get rid of a lot of things, and I have gotten rid of A LOT of things. But I honestly think parting with that car was the hardest. (Also, when I sold it, I gave my dad the money because as much as it felt like my car, the money felt like his.)
A Too-Small Christmas Tree
Five years ago, my husband and I were celebrating our first Christmas as a married couple. It was the first Christmas in our new house. It was cause for celebration, and it was cause for shopping.
Or so I thought.
But my nana promised me her Christmas decorations. It sounds silly to give away a Christmas tree, but the truth is, she was rarely at her house over the holidays. She fluttered in and out of our house for weeks at a time every month of the year, and she spent even more time away at the holidays, staying with other grandkids and great-grandkids.
Those cookies wouldn’t bake themselves, you know.
When she realized that my husband and I were in the market for a tree, she promised us hers. She said that she would see it more this way, in fact. It seemed perfect.
It was. Until we tried to put it up. The tree is entirely too small, which makes perfect sense when you consider the fact that it once adorned the front room a cigar-box of a Chicago house (her words, not mine) and now lived in suburbia. Even raised on a storage bin, it’s far too small.
But that’s OK. I’m keeping it all the same. Not just for financial reasons, environmental reasons, or even sheer practicality.
I’m keeping it because my nana never got to see the tree in our house. She died two days after promising me her tree, and if it wasn’t for that undersized tree that is dwarfed by our overstuffed couch, I’m not entirely sure I could have made it through that Christmas or any other.
Final Thoughts on the Gifts I Love
Things fade. They break, they tarnish, they simply go out of style or fall apart. I don’t keep every gift I receive. In fact, learning how to pass along the things that I no longer need or use or want but loved at one time has been the hardest part of this decluttering process.
While I can absolutely say that people don’t reside in gifts and that memories live on regardless of things, I can also say something else. It’s OK to enjoy the things you’re given. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating a good gift.
So Tell Me…What gifts have you loved?