Being a Good Santa

I try to be a minimalist. Everything we own comes at a cost - the upfront price we pay for it (and the number of work hours that translates to), the clutter it adds to our space and mind, the complexity it adds to our life and the waste and impacts it has on the world. So I try only to buy few high-quality things that will "spark joy" and be regularly useful. That's not always fool-proof, so I also try to return, donate or trash stuff that I don't use. 

So I'm not a big fan of the season of gifting. It's very wasteful. People spend hard-earned money to give you stuff you likely don't need and you have to reciprocate by giving them things they don't need. It's also hard work and stressful - you have to think/shop/wrap and also hope the receiver likes it. Then you have to find use for your stuff or stow it away somehow. 

But I'm not a total grinch either. I recognize that there is joy, however short-lived, in exchanging gifts. The tradition isn't going to go away and is bound by strong network effects, so I anticipate participating reluctantly over many years to come. I want to do it in the most joyous and least wasteful way possible by giving out thoughtful gifts. 

A thoughtful gift falls under one of these categories: 

  1. Something they'd love to use or experience but didn't know about. It helps them with an interest or activity they already do or it'll set off a new passion. 
  2. Something they have been thinking about buying or doing for a while, but are stuck on the fence. 
  3. Something they want or need, but can't afford or access. 
Gifts needn't be things - it can be experiences, company, chores. Thoughtful gifts are also compatible with the receiver's situation and preferences (size, type, color, version etc.). They are ready to use - all-batteries-included. And just in case, they include a receipt and easy return options. It's always nice to also throw in a note about why you appreciate them. 

The gift I'm most proud of giving this year is finding and matching my father-in-law with a personal trainer and being there for the first few sessions. He had committed to becoming healthier and purchased some fitness equipment, so this fit well into category 1 or 2. 

Giving a thoughtful gift necessitates developing a meaningful relationship, which is a great side effect. You have to understand what they are into, what they are having trouble with, what their preferences are etc. Learning these requires keeping in touch, being curious and going beyond small talk to deeper conversations. 

On the receiving end, I don't have much control, but maybe I can signal my interests to people to help them get better ideas.