Lots of people talk about the wish to dial back Christmas giving, and of course the MiserMom household is no exception. I love the descriptions in the Little House series of Laura's treasured, and yet frugal, presents: an orange, a penny, and a tin cup. My kids are accustomed to hearing me promise/threaten/wax nostalgic about a Christmas like that.
And yet, among my "upper family" (sisters and father), the gift-giving exchange is about so much more than the gifts. It's one of two times each year we gather back together, and we spend a leisurely half-a-day going through the ritual of opening gifts one-by-one, watching each other, sharing stories about how a particular gift was chosen or what it was given for, laughing and reconnecting. The ritual is a larger kind of treasure, worth far more than the material aspects of the event.
So I've been building a compromise. In my "lower family" (among myself and my kids), I've tried to shift the emphasis onto shared experience. The past few years, Christmas has been focused on building gingerbread houses (or gingerbread shacks, or earthquake-shattered wrecks -- even the disasters have been fun to create). But we've also exchanged gifts, in a much smaller ceremony.
Some of my favorite gifts that I received last year had minimal material impact. My step-daughters offered me all their cast-off clothes, and since they're fairly fashion conscious, that means my wardrobe got a styling update. My birth daughter knitted me a pair of wool socks. My sister got me a set of bamboo straws, so we can have our "no hands dinner" with no plastic straws. My husband offered to clean out the basement, and made huge headway on getting rid of boxes and boxes of old paperwork he no longer needed. We worked on that together (him deciding, me carrying). That was a lot of fun.
And what did I get my own children? My friend Carmen was sort of horrified. She'd told me about her gifts to her teenaged daughters--a new phone, a jacket from Abercrombie, a pair of new shoes, a something else, another thing or two, and also a bottle of each child's favorite coffee drink. So when she asked what I got my kids, and I said, "well, I sewed them cloth bags for vegetables out of old sheets . . . ", Carmen just about called the authorities to report me for child abuse.
To be fair, I didn't stop at the bags-made-of-old-sheets; I also made mesh bags out of old lace curtains, too. So there's that, although that didn't much reassure Carmen. (She finally eased up when I told her that I also gave the kids money as well).
But in fact, I was pretty happy with my gifts to my kids, not because everyone wants cloth vegetable bags, but because my kids all know how much I've been working to eliminate trash from my life, and these little cloth bags are part of my scheme for avoiding plastic. I wasn't just giving them stuff, I was giving them a little bit of something that matters a lot to me.
So, at the risk of driving Carmen into another tizzy, here is the "Table of Contents" that came in each of the gift boxes I gave my daughters last Christmas. I figure people can use this list the way that I use Laura Ingall's gifts ("Do you want an orange, a penny, and a tin cup for Christmas? Or do you want Miser Mom's box of bags? Hmm???"). Or, if you happen to know someone who's so frugal you have no idea what to get them for Christmas, maybe this list would spark ideas.
Guide to the Goodies
(with a food/shopping motif)
Peach ginger jam
- from the peaches on our tree, picked by N-son and canned by his mother.
- picked, (imperfectly) pitted, and canned by J-son. Our host-daughter Y helped with the picking.
- Stick in the microwave to make yourself a heating pad. (I love tossing mine in bed right where my feet go, so I can go to sleep with toasty toes).
- [These were cherry pits we'd washed and dried as a by-product of making cherry jelly. I then put the clean, dry pits into cloth bags I'd made out of old denim jeans -- so these are a lot like bean bags, but with cherry pits.]
- made from 100% post-consumer products.
- Great for purchasing vegetables and bulk M&M’s,
- and also for washing delicates (like bras or stockings or boxing hand wraps, y’know) so they don’t tangle with other things in the machine
Cloth produce bags
- Again, made from 100% post-consumer products.
- Great for purchasing bulk grains or coffee beans. Use the washable crayons to mark the product code on the bag for check out purposes; then launder and reuse.
- Store salad greens in this bag (keep the bag damp); the salad greens stay crisp for a week or more.
Something to read while you’re standing in line at the grocery store.
- [a used book that I'd liked reading that I thought my daughters might like, mostly Peanuts Comics]
Something to give to the ca$hier.
- [this was money, but in unusual denominations -- a collection of $2 bills or dollar coins.]