Don’t Buy Me Stuff

Back in my 20s when a good friend and I both lived in London, we used to take each other to the theatre for our respective birthdays. We both loved musicals and drama, and it was a wonderful and generous way for us to treat each other. It also helped that our birthdays were several months apart, so we got to see new shows every six months for a couple of years.

Fast-forward 20 odd years. Through good fortune and hard graft, I am lucky enough to have a beautiful home and a lot of stuff. More stuff, in fact, than I truly need. My family also has a lot of stuff, especially my kids. When stuff breaks or gets outdated or replaced by a newer better version of stuff, we get new stuff. Old stuff gets donated, recycled or thrown away.

So.Much.Stuff.

Too.Much.Stuff.

I’d being lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the stuff; that the fruits of our hard work enable us to acquire things. Some of these things we need, or at least we claim we need. Most of it we really don’t need, but we like to have, own, use, show off.

I feel guilty about all the stuff. Compared to others that are not as fortunate. I’d like to not only give away more stuff to those with more need but I’d also like to not acquire as much new stuff.

Charity starts at home, as they say. My kids need to learn that stuff doesn’t really matter. They don’t need to constantly buy or be bought new things. The need to understand the value of what they already have. And understand that being generous doesn’t always mean giving stuff away, though it’s a start. It’s our job to set this example, practice what we preach.

I’m thinking about this topic as my birthday is approaching in a few weeks. Birthdays, especially for kids, become the epicenter of getting more stuff. Often nice stuff. Maybe stuff we need but won’t buy for ourselves.

So here’s the thing. Please don’t buy me stuff. I have more than I deserve already. If I want, ‘need’ or desire something, I can go buy it myself.

Instead, treat me to experiences. Take me to the theatre. Let’s have a day trip. A picnic on the beach. Let’s do something unexpected and crazy and fun. It may cost money but maybe not.

You see, the more stuff you have, the more it collects dust. It becomes hard to find the one bit of stuff you value the most when there’s a whole big, dusty pile of stuff.

The opposite happens with experiences. Each experience can be treasured both in the moment, and after. Experiences can be shared. Experiences don’t degrade with time. Every time you unwrap them in your memory, they are lush with emotions, vivid with detail.

So, please don’t buy me stuff. I don’t intend to be ungrateful. I know there’s pleasure in selecting a gift for someone. I’m sorry if this request denies you that pleasure.

How’s this for a deal? I’ll treat you to an experience too. That’s way we’ll all have memories to cherish instead of piles of more stuff.

9 Ways to Be Generous That Don’t Involve $$

I was fortunate to meet and marry the world’s most generous man. Sure, at first, he lavished me with fine dinners, expensive wines and, eventually, the precious stones in my engagement and wedding rings. But what truly sealed the deal was his generous spirit, undefined by money but motivated purely by the desire to share and please others. Fast forward ten years and our focus these day is on nurturing the same selflessness and generosity in our kids. Kids, who by definition, are self-interested. In the process of this journey, I am also trying to be more generous every day. And so can you. And you know what, it feels really, really good.

Here are nine suggestions for sprinkling some extra generosity into your actions each day to make someone feel special, acknowledged, happier:

  • Say please, thank you, excuse me and you’re welcome: basic manners but quite often neglected.
  • Listen. Actively.
  • Smile.
  • Open doors for people; this does not just apply to men (though some wonder if chivalry is dead?); you should hold the door open for anyone.
  • Compliment someone on how they look, how they behaved, what they said.
  • Make a phone call, write a letter or card, send a tweet, post on someone’s Facebook page, drop by – a simple ‘hi, how’s it going?” shows that you were thinking of them.
  • Donate; clothes, toys, furniture. Face it, most of us own way more than we really need.
  • Send/give flowers. Yes, OK, this involves money but who doesn’t love receiving flowers? Don’t wait for a birthday, anniversary, do it “just because.”
  • Draw a picture for someone: this is my son’s favorite form of generosity. Here’s one he did for me recently that plastered a smile on my face for hours!

Please don’t take this post as “preachy” – I am just as bad as the next person. Our lives are all so incredibly busy and the urge to navel-gaze is natural. But being a parent forces you to examine your behavior and try to be the best role model you can possibly be – even in the midst of the mayhem of daily life. So choose generosity. If you are looking for further simple ideas about how to spread some kindness, check out this lovely list of 57 ways you can brighten someone’s day.

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