Are you tired of seeing pictures of more food to be preserved? I think for the first year ever I am still quite enthusiastic about finding things to do with what is in my garden. The squirrel instinct has kicked in and I am clearly preparing for a long, hard winter.

But most of this isn't even from my garden. We had Easter Sunday lunch with friends, who are about to go on holiday, and after the traditional Easter egg hunt we were all sent into the vegie garden to pick everything that is left. I came home with more greengages, cherry tomatoes galore, and a bunch of feijoas, which are destined, you guessed it, for the dryer. Sour-sweet and delicious sliced in rounds and dried, they make an exotic addition to winter muesli. And that reminds me, there is a feijoa tree in a local park which I must go and investigate for foraging purposes..

This time of year is birthday season at our house and in the extended family. Now, I knew that when I started Not Buying New Stuff, that gifts would be the hardest. Mainly because forward planning is just not my thing. It takes some prior thought to find the right thing for that special person in an op-shop or antique store or craft market, and then there is, heaven help us, the option of making things myself, which takes massive forward planning, plus skills and imagination. Aaargh!

Judith Levine in her year of Not Buying It, also found gift-giving very tricky. In analysing the social politics of gifting she concluded that The Gift indicates a sacrifice of something that we value, to show that we value the person we are gifting to. In our society we value money more than anything, so expensive gifts indicate a) the amount that we value the receiver of the gift, but also b) the status of our own place in the wealth hierarchy.

Of course, time is also a valuable commodity in our society, so gifts that have had a lot of time put into them are also often valued, especially if skill and taste and expensive materials are added, such as all the beautiful things we saw at the local craft fair we went to last weekend..

So I have been thinking about all these things as the birthday season has been coming up. In our extended family we are not ostentatious gift-buyers, thankfully. The gift is definitely a symbol - I love you and care about you, and appreciate you, here is a little something which represents that fact - this is the subtext to our family giving. So I have never felt the need to go overboard with gifts. However, in my usual haphazard way I generally remember a week beforehand that I need to buy a birthday present, and race around the shops like a crazy person with a half-hour to spare hunting for the 'perfect' gift, then I get the children to wrap it and make a birthday card, and then it sits on the hall table for three weeks because posting it is apparently impossible. The same goes for children's birthday presents, except usually I manage to at least give them their presents on the actual day..

This last few weeks have been more than normally busy and a bunch of family birthdays took me by surprise. Luckily we did spend a Saturday morning at a local craft fair recently, which was fabulous, and we bought a few presents there, but Posy and I had to spend an afternoon in town last week, running around the shops as usual, buying last minute gifts, and also locally made Easter bunnies and bilbies. Actually, despite my shopping-phobia, we did have fun. We stuck to local businesses and the Oxfam Fair Trade Gift Shop, and what we bought was well-made and useful for the people we were buying for, and hardly anything was Made in China, BUT this still isn't the gift-giving experience I wanted in my new simple life of living with less. It also doesn't feel particularly respectful or meaningful to the people I love and who I am giving gifts to.

Here are some examples of the meaningful type of gifts I am aspiring to:

For Christmas my mum gave me a heap of granny squares she had crocheted for the afghan rug I am (slowly) making, and she added some balls of beautiful Australian alpaca wool, you know, just in case I make some more squares myself soon...

For her birthday my mum gave The Girl a dish which had belonged to my grandmother, along with a note explaining where it was from, and what Grandma had used it for.

A friend of mine gave his wife a cake every month for a year - he ordered the cakes from another friend of ours who is a fabulous baker.

Last year a friend knitted me a cowl from lovely soft angora wool left over from a another project she had knitted.

A couple of years ago, for Christmas, The Girl made an origami flower ball for me out of pages from an old book.

It's one of my favourite presents, ever.

Another one of my favourites is the little decorated box Posy gave me for Mother's Day last year. She filled it with plastic jewels, and I can exchange each jewel for a cup of tea, lovingly made by her and brought to me, generally in bed on a weekend morning. She may be regretting filling the box quite so full..

A couple of weeks ago I put out a call for help for good gifts that don't involve Buying New Stuff, and I had a lot of votes for giving experiences. I really like that idea, but most experience gifts are now outside my budget range. I am now the person who gives humble gifts.

Somewhere, recently on the internet, I was reading a blog written by a young man. He had written a post featuring his bucket list, and it included the intention - Give humble gifts. That thought has been going around and around in my head - although unfortunately I can't remember where I found it.

Humble gifts. It is a hard thing to do. Humble gifts reflect on the giver... but just think about the pressure lifted from our lives, wallets and the planet if we could happily give and receive humble gifts. One woman on a forum that I read recently said that she gave her home made jam as gifts. Just jam. That's it. To everyone. She hoped everyone liked jam...

I love gifts of jam. Another friend gave me home made chutney for my birthday last year. I loved that. I tried to have a gift-free birthday party last year, but everyone, everyone brought a gift anyway. This year I might get people to bring food for the party, so maybe they will feel better about not bringing a present then.

Because here is the thing. We can love each other and appreciate each other without exchanging Stuff. We all have enough already. I don't know about you, but I already have all the doodads I will ever need. But I can always use another jar of jam. Or chutney. So last time a friend had a birthday, I gave her jam. It felt awkward because usually I buy her a nice doodad from a lovely and tasteful doodad shop. This year, home made plum jam, and plum pancake syrup.  Maybe next year limoncello.

So this is me in the centre of my Swamp of Doubt about being a social outcast, having idealistic intentions to make gifts meaningful, but realistically falling back on jam. Which is meaningful in a small way. And at least not Made in China, and mercifully not ever requiring dusting..

And what was lovely about our Easter garden bonanza, is knowing that I have friends who share my values - that food is precious, especially food we have grown ourselves, and that gifts of cherry tomatoes, feijoas and greengages from a friend's garden are significant, meaningful and wonderfully useful all at once..


Anonymous said…
This is a lovely post, Jo. I love the origami ball and the jewel for tea swap. Your dried fruit, chutney, jam or alcohol would be a lovely gift for an adult. Teens can be harder to gift for, subscribing, as they do, to some strict, conformist rules. Though your lot seem to be able to resist those pressures.

I would appreciate a gift of homegrown fruit and veg or herbs or a bunch of flowers.

What about making your own soap? You could make a big batch for not much cost and that would produce a year of gift giving.

Judy said…
I am enjoying seeing your bounty, especially as I have never heard of Feijoa before. Have you seen the lovely Christmas baskets of jams and chutneys that Mrs Thrift of Notjustgreenfingers gives? See I would absolutely love to get homemade jam or chutney!

I have been loving all your mention of lemons, which don't grow in my climate. But I noticed that you can get small ones in pots to grow on a windowsill or in a conservatory. I would love one of those as a present. It made me think that plant gifts would be good too. I was very pleased to be given a redcurrant bush that someone started from a cutting and I am giving someone some strawberries that I started from runners.

My daughter knitted a flower brooch for my mum's birthday and I bought her a book with inspiration for more presents to make.

I am lucky that my kids are used to having secondhand gifts. Technology such as mobile phones, ipads etc. my husband buys used online. In fact our first playstation was second hand and it was strange that our young son didn't question whether Father Christmas was real, even though he knew it was 'pre-owned'. The games to go with them are all available pre-owned too. They also get secondhand bikes - much less risk of them being stolen too.

You are doing so well Jo, I am sure it will get easier as you go along.
Linda said…
What lovely garden gifts to come home with. I, too, like the idea of homemade and gifts of time ( babysitting, help with housework, etc). I am currently making a quilt for a sick friend. All the fabrics are what I had on hand but I did have to buy the wadding and backing fabric. So it sort of counts! It is made with love, which is the most important part of gift-giving, I think.
Anonymous said…
Jo, you are rapidly becoming my guru. Don't be surprised if one day, you head out to get the paper and I am huddled respectfully in your front garden ;). 2015 has been an eye opener of a year. I love the posts that you have been posting. I wanted to go to your get together at the end of the month and Stevie-boy even said "go for it, I want to do some night time photography and I could drop you off and pick you up" but I got a bit terrified of all of those "new people" and all of that enthusiasm centred in one place and chickened out. I don't know that I have much to offer but I would love to be a fly on the wall and sit in on one of your get togethers if you didn't mind?

This month is birthday month here on Serendipity Farm as well. I am the same as you are in the gift giving process and am furtively (with much sticking out of my tongue from the side of my mouth) learning new skills in reading crochet charts and crocheting with what is effectively spiders web to make my sister an awesome shawl for her 50th. It's not perfect but it is pretty and I just wanted to show her that she is worth the effort to learn something new, to go out on a limb and to spend my precious early morning and evening "rest time" on. I think gifts that we have made or that time and energy have gone into are the very best. I think the gift then becomes an extension of something precious. I am with you on jam. Winter is coming. Jam might be humble, but being able to stay in bed for an extra 5 minutes because you know that you have an excellent jar of jam in the cupboard that you can slather on a bit of toast as you race out the door, gifted to you by your wonderful friend is priceless :)
Unknown said…
I think gifts of ones time and also being humble are valued. I gave my friend a home pedicure and massage. We spent a whole afternoon chatting and drinking cups of tea and coffee. I've gifted a long head & shoulder massage. Cleaning someones oven might be the greatest gift of all. Sorting their pantry.
CJ said…
I love the idea of humble gifts, especially handmade ones. So much unnecessary stuff is bought and given, just for the sake of it, and it's not doing the planet any good at all. Well done you! CJ xx
Jo said…
What a lovely gift of thoughtful comments to find here this morning. Thank you:)

Lucinda, yes, teenage boys in particular are tricky! It's ok if they are into vintage anything, including 'old' video games, or cool 'ancient' technology (you know, retro 1970s. Yes, we are all retro now..) But harder for casual school friend birthday presents. Any ideas welcome, although we mostly have girl parties around here now..

Funny you should mention soap - that is the subject of our next Living Better Group. I expect to be an expert come May:)

Judy, I love your present ideas! And how fantastic that Santa is into recycling gifts at your place. He has done a bit of that over here as well:)

Linda, how wonderfully kind of you to make a quilt for a friend. That is such a comforting, loving gift for someone who is unwell. And you are right, it is all about the love that goes into it that makes a true gift.

Fran, you are totally coming to this month's group if I have to drive out to Serendipity Farm and strap you into the car myself. I promise I will hold your hand the whole time:)

Gifts that cost time and energy that become an extension of something precious? You are talking my language girl. We can be happy idealists together:)

Lynda, gifts of service, yes. If you choose the right person, that is perfect (and anyone wanting to clean my oven, come right on over..).

CJ, yes, that is what annoys me most about the gift giving merry-go-round. People who have all the stuff they need or want buying more stuff for each other - often stuff that neither of them needs or wants at all. Madness!
Bek said…
I too love a humble gift idea. The shops sell us the idea that we can buy the "perfect" gift, but in our (admittedly mostly adult and independent) family we can buy stuff if we really want it. I love getting something that is personalised by the giver, something handmade. Food is always nice too. But really it is the thought that counts. What thought is there in storebought made in china plastic crap, or (shock horror) the gift voucher. (Although I admit these are useful for some).
I am an absolute terrible gift giver, I have no creativity (like many of my friends) whatsoever. so I usually bake something. which (like jam) usually goes down very well, especially if prettily packaged (that I can manage).
for myself, being on a budget (always0 I love being spoiled by presents! there, I shall admit it. but a nice lunch out and a new magazine makes me very very happy too.
Jo said…
Yes, exactly Bek. If the gift is symbolic (I love you, I care about you), then the love and thought that goes into it makes it all the more meaningful.

e, you are a brilliant baker, so that is where your creativity and love is, which means you are a brilliant gift giver! I am sure everyone is thrilled to receive your baking gifts. I have a baking daughter who has a trademark gift - home-made fudge, which she personalises by adding our favourite indulgences (dark chocolate stem ginger fudge anyone?). We all look forward to our birthdays with anticipatory glee..

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