General ramblings, My Make Do and Mend Year


What is it with Giving?

Why do we feel compelled to give, even when we know the person we are giving to, wants for nothing?

You may see this as a nice thing, and I agree, the sentiment is nice, but I’m am no longer sure that it is the right thing to do.

I have started thinking about this more and more as My Make Do and Mend Year has progressed. When you are having to make a present, or find ingenious ways to get people something secondhand that they might actually want, you inevitably start to think a it more about what you are giving. And whether or not the recipient might actually want or need what you are giving them.

I think I am fairly safe in saying that 99.99% of the gifts that we have given over the last 9 months or so, have not in anyway been needed. They may not even have been wanted. So what are we doing? Why, in our society is there this need to give ‘stuff’ to people who already have lots and lots of ‘stuff’ and really don’t need or possibly even want, anymore ‘stuff’?

Take Christmas as a prime example. A generation or two ago, kids would have got one present, often an item of clothing that they might actually have really needed, or a big thing like a bike that they had been wanting and wanting for AGES. And if they were very lucky, a small stocking, with a satsuma, and some nuts, and penknife or something else equally unsuitable (or am I being hopelessly nostalgic..?)
But now, Christmas starts with the Advent Calendar, and if you are not careful, that alone can cost £50 (a small gift every day for 24 days…). Then there are the enormous stockings that we all somehow feel compelled to stuff with MORE toys, before we even get to the main event. And that’s just the kids.
Why do we feel it necessary to buy other grown ups, who probably have disposable income and already buy themselves pretty much whatever they want, something, anything, that they might vaguely want. When actually, they probably don’t really want it, as they have already bought themselves everything they might possibly want, and we can’t think of anything they might want that they don’t already have, so we buy them some awful novelty Christmas gift in a panic, as we HAVE to buy them something.

I used to just do it. And not even really think about it. But now I have stopped to think about it, it just seems so wrong, on so many levels:

  • Most of us have enough stuff. If we suddenly decide we want some more stuff, we just go and buy it. Gone are the days of waiting for a special occasion, or even waiting until we have enough money-isn’t that what credit cards are for..?
  • Our houses and lives are cluttered with stuff. We get given even more stuff every birthday and Christmas. We somehow manage to shoehorn it in and find a space for it. And then at some point it gets thrown away. Hopefully it goes to the charity shop, or is car-booted and can live again, but it might just go in the bin. And go to landfill.
  • We are using our planet’s precious and rapidly dwindling resources to make all this stuff, while there are people on the other side of the world, who can’t get enough food to eat.
  • When we are bored with the stuff, we throw it away, and it goes to landfill, and landfill is nearly full.

What are we doing? When did it become expected that once or twice a year, we would go to the shops and buy something, anything, for someone we may only see once or twice a year, so we don’t really know them that well, and don’t really know what they want or like, but we know we should be spending about £x?
It’s crazy when you stop and think about it.
Even with our Smalls. They have ENOUGH STUFF. THEY DO NOT NEED ANYMORE STUFF. And yet, I still found myself unable to say to people when they asked what they should get them for Christmas, “NOTHING”. I would have felt mean. I would have felt like I was not only ‘depriving’ my children, but also that I was depriving the giver of the opportunity to give.

When did love, or even just  a family tie, come down to a £20 gift twice a year?

Wouldn’t it be so much nicer to stop and really think about not only what we are giving but WHY we are giving?

Shouldn’t it be enough to all get together for a family meal or a day out? Or to make a cake, or offer an evening’s babysitting?

Am I being mean? I don’t know. And I still feel the need to give as much as the next person, and that it would be rude not to. But I don’t really know why…

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  • Reply Father’s Day Pinspiration…. | My Make Do and Mend Year June 12, 2013 at 6:01 pm

    […] know Father’s Day falls into the giving for the sake of giving thing, but it is nice to show Dads that we love and appreciate them, and if you can make something […]

  • Reply liz May 31, 2013 at 10:31 pm

    I whole heartedly agree. Infact 3years ago I sent all the family a letter just before christmas saying I would not buy anyone over the age of 18 a christmas pressy….did not go down too well but it improved christmas for me my hubby n daughter 100% more time spent making christmas day special x I was brave to do it tho

    • Reply Jen June 1, 2013 at 3:12 pm

      Very brave! Well done. I bet they will all thankyou for it in the long run 🙂

  • Reply Tanith May 30, 2013 at 11:56 pm

    In general I agree but there are a few things holding me back. Societal expectations of course but another one is that I love the feeling of “giving” when it does actually make someone happy. Also although I have given and received many unwanted presents over the years, I have also received (and I like to imagine given) the occasional one that has been life-changing. For example, years ago my sister gave me my first book on hat making and it is now one of my favourite hobbies and something I’m in the process of pursuing as a business.

    So I do like to give. But I think that, as you have said, we certainly don’t have to give as much as we do, and I also try to given low-waste presents. I take my Dad out for a nice dinner for his birthday and father’s day, I’ve given my husband a weekend away (conveniently also a present for me), and edible presents are always a good choice.

    I don’t have kids, but I’m already terrified that when I do I will be given lots of plastic crap that I don’t want! Maybe I should worry about that later…

    • Reply Jen May 31, 2013 at 1:09 am

      I guess the main thing is to give it some thought. If you are giving a gift that you know the other person will love, and you have put time and thought into it, then that is what it is really all about it. It is the almost mechanical ‘giving just because we should’ that I object to! Sounds like you have some great ideas 🙂

      • Reply Tanith May 31, 2013 at 11:58 am

        Yes absolutely! It’s very frustrating, but a hard cycle to break.

  • Reply TheMadHouse May 30, 2013 at 7:43 pm

    We have giving rules at Christmas – 4 things for the boys from us. One thing they need, one they want, one to eat and one to read. We also don’t purchase for adults. We don’t have the money to buy what we want when we want so birthdays and christmas are for much longed for gifts.

    • Reply Jen May 30, 2013 at 9:57 pm

      That is the way it always used to be, and I think, the way it should be again. I love your 4 gifts idea 🙂

  • Reply Jo May 30, 2013 at 10:07 am

    For my last two birthdays I have asked my daughter to bake yummy slices and cakes for my birthday present, and have invited my friends around for birthday morning tea – no presents. They have been the most relaxing and pleasant birthday parties ever!
    I think that someone in a relationship has to set some boundaries, regarding presents. Often everyone else is really relieved. One year we suggested that our extended family not buy for adults for Christmas, and the cousins all pull a name out of a hat and buy for one other cousin, with a $10 limit. The whole family was relieved, and the kids have fun being creative with $10.
    We did the same with our good friends who spend Christmas with us.
    It just takes someone to be brave enough to broach the subject. No one wants to be thought to be the ‘cheap Scrooge’, but most people are relieved when someone else brings up the subject!

    • Reply Jen May 30, 2013 at 11:56 am

      Morning tea with homemade cakes sounds wonderful! And I love your ideas for broaching the subject-as you say, I’m sure everyone is relieved!

  • Reply Kimilena May 30, 2013 at 9:52 am

    Completely agree. My brother stopped giving presents many years ago saying it was just a way for the shops to make money. It seemed strange at the time but I understand it now.
    One person I know has all the family members contribute the money they would have spent on presents into a fund instead of buying presents. At the end of the year they use the money to go away for a short holiday.
    I sometimes make up a ‘cheque book’ where each cheque is redeemable whenever the recipient wants to use it. The cheques say things like ‘I’ll spend the afternoon with you’, or ‘I’ll take you out for a drive in the countryside’.

    • Reply Jen May 30, 2013 at 11:55 am

      They are some great ideas! I like the idea of saving up for a small holiday 🙂

  • Reply joelleharris May 30, 2013 at 6:36 am

    Well done! I agree with you. When my children were young, we didn’t buy them presents. As teenagers they got £30 for Birthday and £50 for Christmas spent on them & they knew that. My Brothers and SiL’s & the grown up children, now do a secret santa type thing for Christmas. Each of us only buy’s (& recieves) one present £20 (we do – or are suppposed to – provide a list of suggestions) even then, we get some ‘vouvher swapping’!!
    I could go on….

    • Reply Jen May 30, 2013 at 8:02 am

      It must get so much harder when the kids are bigger and much more aware of what things cost. At the moment the Smalls are just as happy with something that costs 50p as £50.

  • Reply Zoe @ecothrifty May 29, 2013 at 9:56 pm

    Around Christmas time last year, I couldn’t stop blogging about giving along the lines of what you have said above and I couldn’t agree more. I have tried to say no to presents, but it is really hard to stop people sometimes.

    I think the only way to change the way other people give you things is to change the way you give to them e.g. stop giving gifts or spend very little on obviously secondhand gifts wrapped in old magazines. People tend to reciprocate in kind!

    I am also getting my son into the habit of making space for new toys/ gifts by giving old ones away to friends/ family or charity.

    • Reply Jen May 30, 2013 at 8:00 am

      I agree Zoe, I almost want to instigate a ‘one-in, one-out’ rule for toys! And maybe for clothes, and not just for the Smalls, for the grown-ups too!! People seem to find it very hard NOT to give.

      • Reply Hilary May 30, 2013 at 12:09 pm

        My daughter loves handbags but she now operates the one new one in one old one out…and some of us in the family like her old ones more than ours so we all gain!

        • Reply Jen May 30, 2013 at 2:04 pm

          That sounds like a very good plan!

  • Reply Anona Mead May 29, 2013 at 8:36 pm

    brave girl for saying what most of us think and don’t say. I have said in my time ‘if you really want to give me something donate your time or money to a suitable charity’. I value time spent willingly with me far more than any ‘duty’ gift. As you say we mostly have or can buy anything we want and how many gifts find themselves re-gifted or donated to the local charity shop after birthday or Christmas?

    • Reply Jen May 29, 2013 at 8:41 pm

      A scary number I would think. I would genuinely rather get nothing now, or a homemade cake or some cookies-at least it shows some time and thought has gone into it, and it certainly wouldn’t end up at the charity shop..!!

  • Reply Anna May 29, 2013 at 7:46 pm

    Yes, yes, yes, I totally agree. We have a tiny house and just cannot fit more stuff in! For Christmas (when asked) I requested only presents we could use up or really needed – bubble bath for the children and pj’s. I also worry about the sea of plastic stuff we all constantly gift to each other. My favourite posts on your blog have been the party presents, any ideas for presents we can make for 8 year old boys to take to parties?I do wrap presents in old beanos comics that my son has finished reading.

    • Reply Jen May 29, 2013 at 8:39 pm

      Beano wrapping paper sounds fab! I will endeavour to do some more homemade present posts-thanks for the feedback 🙂

  • Reply Jill Moulton May 29, 2013 at 7:18 pm

    No, you’re not mean! Next birthday party for my 3 year old granddaughter is a ‘bring your own picnic’ party. Cake & jelly to be provided. Party games (of course!), but No presents or party bags.

    • Reply Jen May 29, 2013 at 8:38 pm

      That sounds great! How has it gone down with the other parents? Have you explicitly said “no presents”?

  • Reply Hilary May 29, 2013 at 7:03 pm

    At Xmas,stockings are just for decoration in this family, we don’t and never have gone for all the plastic stuff that is usually found for them! We give main presents only of things we genuinely know the person wants or needs. We try to give one another choices of things to choose from.AND we always give consideration to the givers financial status. I’ve also never succumbed to the party bag giving out. Piece of the birthday cake after a good party should be all that’s needed. Im sure everyone always agrees with you but daren’t be the first to do it,perhaps this could be a chat to be had between mums at the school/nursery gate! Please don’t think I’m a cheapskate or miser I’m generous at other times than Xmas/birthdays if I know something is needed I’m the one who is always there!

    • Reply Jen May 29, 2013 at 8:38 pm

      I don’t think you are a miser at all! This year has made me seriously re-think our attitude to presents and giving for the sake of giving, just because we feel we have to. Sounds like you are doing a great job.

  • Reply a field somewhere May 29, 2013 at 6:59 pm

    We bought our 3 year old a family festival ticket for her Birthday. Something we could all enjoy together. She doesn’t care at all about stuff, our house is full of tat already from her bit sister so I’m trying to get them used to receiving ‘experiences’ instead. I figure if you start gifting like this when they are young they will get used to it. In fact, I came across. Website called the other day. It’s for exactly that. I know you are still buying things but at least it is less stuff to fill the house up. At Easter we planted a tree together in the wild rather than buying Easter eggs.

    • Reply Jen May 29, 2013 at 7:01 pm

      That sounds fab! I totally agree with you. Having 2 boys means that there is literally NOTHING that the younger one needs or wants. A day out together is so much nicer, and I LOVE the sound of your Easter tree planting. Good work!

  • Reply Angie Burrows May 29, 2013 at 6:23 pm

    I’ve been thinking this for years and have never been brave enough to suggest to family that we stop buying and just enjoy the day together instead!

    • Reply Jen May 29, 2013 at 6:35 pm

      It’s soooooo hard isn’t it? I have tried to go more for ‘experiences’ this year-like hubby and the family gave me a day at River Cottage learning how to make bread, and we are all going to the Goodwood Revivial for hubby’s birthday 🙂 Time spent together has to worth more than any gift. And if you don’t want to spend time with someone, why are you even buying them a present…?!!

  • Reply mehubbyandthekids May 29, 2013 at 6:18 pm

    Wow you have read my mind. Little lady’s birthday is still a few months away but I am already trying to think of ways to say “No Presents” to the parents of the children she invites to her party, without sounding like the meanest parent in the world.

    And it doesn’t stop with the presents. We are trying to reduce our waste but people feel the need for wrapping paper, bows AND a gift bag! Okay I reuse the gift bag (and sometimes the wrapping paper) but that’s extra waste I didn’t ask for.

    At 5 a party is still a necessary birthday ritual and I am already stressing over how to handle this. Luckily I have until October.

    Even though I am happy not to receive gifts I still feel the need to buy other people! Not sure why? I turned 30 last year and I asked for donations to a local cancer hospital instead of presents but people still bought me presents as well as making a donation as many of them felt rude coming to the party without anything. It must be a society thing.

    • Reply Jen May 29, 2013 at 6:36 pm

      I think it is definitely a society thing. My mother in law gets given stuff to sell for Save the Children, and she was recently given a whole BOX of unwanted presents that someone was getting rid of. What a waste of money and resources. BigSmall will also be 5 this October-I am kind of hoping it will still be too early in the school year for him to have made ‘best friends’ who he wants to come to his party…. (very bad mummy)

      • Reply mehubbyandthekids May 29, 2013 at 6:44 pm

        In Wales the older ones of the year start the January before so little lady had friends before officially starting! Plus the “in” thing seems to be inviting the whole class! I just hire the church hall, a bouncy castle, fill a paddling pool with those plastic balls and put out a craft/colouring table. Food I make myself and the cake and plastic plates/cutlery to cut down on waste! Welcome to the world of children’s parties!! Lol!

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