There’s no shortage of people to buy gifts for during the holidays. And in case you’re wondering who to give gifts to, there’s no shortage of advice.
Depending on who you ask you’re obligated to give something to:
- Your hair stylist
- The person who delivers your mail
- Your child’s teachers
- Your mechanic
- Every relative within two degrees of you (siblings, spouses, aunts, uncles, etc.)
- All of your friends
- Your boss(es)
- Your co-workers
It can get outright nuts.
But it gets worse. If you expand your gift giving routines according to the suggestions above, you’re setting a precedent for future years. Next year, you have to do it again. And if you’re really unlucky, they start giving you gifts in return. Which obligates you even more to continue the exchange.
Reciprocity is, in fact, the number one reason to not escalate your holiday gift-giving – if for no other reason than the fact that the relationships are more distant and means you’re less likely to actually know what each other wants. And that’s a direct path to holiday-related clutter.
We don’t like clutter, even if it looks festive and comes wrapped in pretty bows….right?
If you’re the sort of person who really enjoys giving holiday gifts, and you’d like to do something nice for your postal worker, coworkers, or extended family, I would suggest giving a gift that they don’t feel they need to reciprocate.
And the best option for that is usually a token food gift of some sort.
Because people don’t attach monetary value to non-life-sustaining food. If you give a bag of groceries to somebody that’s starving, they see dollar signs. But if you give cookies to somebody who’s doing okay, they see it as a favor – not as something you spent money on. Even if you did. Even if it was *a lot* of money.
And the exceptions to this are rare.
So if you’re the baking type, bake some cookies and bag them up. Put them in a nice clear bag, and attach a note expressing your appreciation for them.
Or if you’re not a baking person, you can buy some nice candies. Festive holiday versions of the basic candies can be found for a reasonable price this time of year, or you could go look for something a little more special. Bag the same as above.
Or you can come up with something a little less conventional. A few years ago my wife and I powdered some candy canes in the food processor, mixed it with cocoa mix, and packaged it in some apothecary jars.
You can be as creative as you want here, because the point isn’t to give a small, cheap gift. The point isn’t even to not spend money. The point is to give a gift that makes people either not feel obligated to return it (ideal!), want todo a favor for you (acceptable), or give you some cookies of their own next year (delicious!) – not to trigger a reciprocal gift-giving cycle that will weigh you down with both clutter and obligations in future years.
It all starts with the expectations you set – and you can start setting those expectations this year.
I’d love to hear any ideas along these lines that have worked for you in the past. Any great tips for food-related gifts or other handmade items that won’t awaken the gift-giving monster? Let me know in the comments!