Conscious Gift Giving: 5 Ways to Break Free Of Expectations & Embracing Minimalism
Conscious Gift Giving: 5 Ways to Break Free Of Expectations & Embracing Minimalism
For many, receiving presents can become stressful. Learn how to respond gratefully — while still communicating your limits.
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For those who embrace minimalism, receiving presents can often be stressful. You might find yourself overwhelmed by presents on a birthday or holiday that you don’t need or that feel incongruent with your lifestyle.
The pressures and uncertainty around holiday gift-giving often create stress. People get stressed out over exchanging gifts in part because of the relationship implications and unspoken rules like the need to reciprocate with a gift of equal thoughtfulness and value. These situations can spur internal conflict as you try to appear grateful while feeling genuinely conflicted.
Why Gift Exchanges Can Feel Stressful
There are many cultural norms and unwritten rules surrounding gift giving that become habitual traditions we may have never really explored or considered. There are also a bunch of social rules to navigate when it comes to giving and receiving gifts.
We are taught from a young age to say thank you and act with tact if the gift is something we already have or didn’t want. This can create more stress and insecurity as we become focused on suppressing negative emotions.
Further, many people get tense with the uncertainty of surprise around wrapped gifts or feel so many expectations to uphold traditions or reciprocate in a certain way. The process of opening gifts and feeling the pressure to react in a certain way can create anxieties and stress that overshadow the true meaning of showing each other how much we care.
Another pressure around gift exchanging is the emphasis on perfectionism within our culture, with a focus on always having to have the next bigger, better, faster or more advanced option. This can create an almost obsessive drive and preoccupation with finding the ideal or perfect gift, which can be truly difficult when the giver does not have an in-depth knowledge of the recipient and her values and needs. It can also lead to pressure to spend more than a giver actually has in order to create an illusion of abundance.
Especially for those who embrace a lifestyle of minimalism, clutter from collecting a lot of stuff that you don’t really need or use is also a form of stress. Messy, cluttered spaces can make you feel anxious, helpless and overwhelmed. Clutter bombards the mind with excessive stimuli that causes your senses to work overtime and distracts you from stimuli that are truly important and relevant.
This makes it more difficult to relax physically and mentally and to stay aware and mindful in the present moment. If you feel pressure to keep each gift you receive, it can lead to feelings of guilt, anger and stress every time you look at them.
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Choose a Conscious Gift Giving Strategy
The solutions for addressing these conundrums are all based on becoming more mindful of your values, relationships and gift-giving habits as part of those relationships. A few simple measures can transform awkward gift-giving situations into opportunities to exchange heartfelt sentiments.
There are many different types of relationships and situations, but often the best way to communicate your preferences and desires is to be upfront. Have an open conversation with your family and friends well before the holiday. Focus on keeping your tone warm and respectful and avoid blaming or pointing fingers. Instead, use “I” statements to highlight your appreciation and gratitude in a gracious manner and clearly communicate that the relationship is what you value the most and want to focus on, not the gifts.
One approach is to tell friends and family in advance that you are not giving physical gifts this year or that this year you would like to focus on spending time with them and enjoying their presence instead of giving objects or that you are making donations on their behalf in lieu of physical items. While you can’t forbid someone from giving to you, since that is really up to the giver to decide, you can communicate what you are choosing and why and often they will feel relief from the pressure to reciprocate.
Depending on your level of relationship and their openness, you may be able to share more deeply what and why you have chosen to not receive or give material gifts, even if it appears at first to be breaking some unwritten cultural rules.
Ask for Presence, Instead of Presents
Traditional physical gifts of objects, especially when they are given simply to have something to give out of obligation or a lack of really knowing what the person desires, can create more stress in several ways. Objects can break, fade or become less attractive over time unlike creating deeper connections and memories that will last longer.
An easy swap is to explain that this year you would love to focus on presence instead of presents. Tell the potential giver why you value her and that it would mean so much to be able to spend some time with her (going to lunch, taking a walk, baking cookies together, setting up a phone date, etc.) rather than opening a traditional gift.
Create New Traditions
Framing time as a gift can also help you create new, less materialistic rituals with your family or friends. Try emphasizing celebrations that focus on shared activities, like cooking a meal or taking a hike. This allows you to still have the sort of connection that your previous gift-giving ritual provided but in a more peaceful, mindful way.
Be Thankful for the Intention
If you do receive an undesired gift, remember the thought really is what counts, even with an unwelcome gift. If you feel stressed by a gift, you can still be thankful for the fact the person thought of you and cared enough to give you something. This is what you’re expressing when you say thank you.
All of these strategies are grounded in mindfulness. Practicing mindfulness will help you to stay attuned to the intentions behind gift giving and to reduce the anxiety.
Being mindful means paying attention to the present moment without judgment. This will allow you to connect more deeply with your true values. Practicing being less judgmental can also help you cope with the discomfort of feeling that your own gift was too small or lacking.
Here are some of my favorite tips and ideas for more mindful and conscious gift giving:
- Take a Mindful Approach to Gift Giving this year.
- My 2016 Simple Pure Whole Mindful Healthy Gift Guide.
- Some of my favorite wellness, health and self-care books and non-toxic eco-friendly gift ideas.
Have you changed your gift-giving practices?
How do you deal with unwanted gifts?
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