Thursday, December 9, 2010

"How We Give Gifts: A Tribute to Love and Stuff" — Lindsey Piper

(sung to the tune of the Beatles "Help")

Stuff! You know I need it honey
Stuff! Keep spending lots of money
Stuff! To fill up all my shelves

When I was younger, not much younger than today
I really "needed" stuff (ps hey, mom & dad, I'm gay)
But now I see the light, my house is small for sure
Not to mention plastic crap, and over-flowed drawers

Help me change the way we give out stuuufff
Cause I think I am ok and have enouuuuggh
Don't get me wrong, great gifts are hiiip

Won't you please, please help me
gift-y, stuff freeeee.... oooooooooo.

To our dear friends and family,

There are two reasons for this letter: First, as many of you know, we have signed on a home in Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage in Belfast, Maine, that we plan on moving into after Allison graduates from dental school in 2011. Many of you don’t know, however, that the home we’ll be moving to is small - very small by American standards (under 500 sq ft.) with very little storage. Second, we’ve been meaning for a long time to make a list of things that we really want and need for gifts so that people don’t have to guess (and it would be great to have that available for people we want to get gifts for, too!).

Moving into a place as small as our new home will be is going to be a big adjustment. Together we have amassed quite a lot of “stuff” over our combined 65 years. Starting this spring, we are going to need to start liquidating large volumes of our belongings: big things like furniture and appliances as well as a plethora of tchotchke and excess supplies of all sorts that have built up. The reality of this is a little stressful but it’s also pretty liberating. Right now we live in a generously-sized apartment with a very large attic and basement - lots and lots of storage. Our default, as it is for many people, is to simply put things that are not immediately useful or regularly used somewhere upstairs or downstairs, or to put it in a closet, cabinet or drawer in our apartment. When we get a gift or replace an item, like clothes, housewares or electronics, we frequently don’t dispose of or donate the original. Usually we just put the old one somewhere else “in case we ever need it” and use the new item. The end result of this is that we have a whole lot of work to do to bring this accumulation down to a size that will be comfortable in our new home. Virtually every drawer, shelf, closet, nook and cranny in our current home is full. So thinking about what we are going to have to do to adjust our lives to a very small space is daunting. But if we’re successful, imagine how much easier it’s going to be to move!

So... why are we telling everyone this? Well, it turns out we actually need your help to achieve this goal, and we’re going to need it for years to come. Because we have such an amazing, loving and generous circle of family and friends, each year we receive a lot of gifts… a whole lot of gifts. Just think about all the gifts! There are Christmas gifts and Valentine’s Day gifts and Easter gifts and birthday gifts and just plain old I-saw-something-and-thought-of-you gifts. All of these gifts, given to us with so much love, merriment, joy and sometimes, if we are all truly honest with ourselves, a certain sense of obligation, add up. In conjunction with the many things that we buy ourselves each year, they’ve added up in our lives to a critical mass that begs to be changed.

What we somewhat uncomfortably are asking you to do, and are asking ourselves to do, is to consider changing the way you buy us gifts or whether you buy us gifts at all. In our culture, as in many cultures, gift giving is an expression of love, gratitude and respect. And receiving gifts is also an expression of love, gratitude and respect. So what are we saying? Do we want you to stop expressing love, gratitude and respect for us? Are we saying that we don’t love or respect you or are not grateful for all of the gifts that have been given to us already and/or the sentiments behind them? No, not at all.

We are actually hoping that we can start to change the way we give and receive gifts, perhaps even shift our expressions of love, gratitude and respect for each other, while simultaneously reducing the number of garage sales, re-gifts, donations and square footage we’ll need over the course of our lives!

We are so incredibly fortunate. While we may want a few things, we honestly truly need nothing. If we never received a gift again, and only replaced things that wore out, we would be just fine. We have more love and great people in our lives than we ever hoped for.

But as far as gifts go, let’s face it - we all have had the experience of receiving a gift from someone, saying thank you and having thoughts like this: “Oh dear, where am I going to put that? ” or “I really wish I had gotten __ instead ” or “I really could have used __” or “Nice, but not my style. ” It also kind of stinks when you buy or make someone a gift and you never see them use it - even if you paid a lot of money for it, put in a lot of time and tried really hard to think of something they wanted or could use. None of those are great experiences - but the good news is we can do something about it!

If you see something out in the world that lovingly or humorously reminds you of us, please consider picking up the phone to tell us about it instead of bringing it to the register, especially if it’s not something you’re positive we want and need. Come Christmastime, holidays or our birthdays, ignore that nagging notion that you need to get us a gift to show us you love us. Call us to tell us about it and the thoughts it brought up. Write us a card or letter or just think of us fondly! Don’t get us wrong - there will always be things that we can’t afford or would really like as gifts. You can always feel free to ask us if we want that perfect gift that you see but is not on any wish list! You can always volunteer or donate to a cause in our name! Our obligation in this whole endeavor is to be honest with you about whether we want that gift you’re thinking of getting us or to tell you if we really need something. This is kind of radical and sometimes uncomfortable, don’t you think?

To make this work, we also need to put in the effort to make wish lists available to you. Or if we don’t have a list available, we need to not be upset with what comes to us (or doesn't)! Alternatively, we can actually make a date of it and go shopping for gifts together! All of this is going to be especially important when we have kids in the next couple of years. We will need help to get that fancy running stroller that we covet but can’t really afford and our kids will grow like weeds and need new or new-to-them-clothes. If we don’t have the space for all of the adult things we have, we really, really are not going to have the space for all of the adorable toys, clothes and games that are out there! And we also deeply want to keep reducing the impact that we have on the earth. That in and of itself is a very valuable gift that we are asking of our loved ones. Ultimately, it’s a new adventure for all of us and could end up being a lot of fun!

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