Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Gift-Giving 101

People so often agonize over what to give friends and family, but it really shouldn't be such a struggle. If you take some time to pay attention to what a person finds interesting or useful, your gift ideas will be limited only by what you can afford and even the tiniest budget can be considered a challenge rather than a deterrent. Contrary to what regrettably seems to be public opinion, the holidays are not an excuse for contests to find out who spent the most money, who got the biggest gift, or who got the largest quantity of gifts. This is the time of year when that old expression "it's the thought that counts" really is supposed to count.

Not surprisingly, I'm an advocate of giving gifts that I know can be used and, preferably, completely used up by the recipient. I often like to give food, especially an unusual or homemade treat. When I had a larger gift-giving list, I used to bake a lot for the holidays, but I've also given store-bought items such as an assortment of hot sauces to a fan of very spicy foods, jugs of Vermont maple syrup to a confirmed pancake lover, and truly decadent chocolates to a friend who deeply appreciates the indulgence.

Of course, there are many other excellent fully-consumable gifts that don't involve food at all, such as spa massages, theater tickets, or memberships to museums. I'm also a huge supporter of making a donation to a charity in honor of someone on my gift list, particularly if I know that charity has a special place in the recipient's heart or is devoted to a cause that the recipient would be excited to support.

In my book I devote a chapter to gift-giving and offer a number of other suggestions, some costing nothing, that are thoughtful alternatives to give to friends and family who are already over-burdened by their possessions. It's helpful, too, for those of us who struggle with too much stuff of our own to begin thinking this way rather than always feeling that a "thing" is required to qualify as a gift.

But I know that there are people who are still attached to that more traditional idea of giving a "thing." If you've decided to give someone something that's going to be around for awhile and you can't be persuaded that there's probably an equally attractive if not better alternative, then I'd like to suggest that you at least consider the source of your gift as well as the gift itself. In fact, it's worth considering the source no matter what that gift may be, even if it's completely consumable or totally practical.

Fortunately, many stores and websites now offer a huge variety of "fair trade" items for sale. You can find fair trade clothing, jewelry, household decor, toys, musical instruments, spa-style gift baskets, and just about any other gift you can imagine. If you're not familiar with fair trade products, the Fair Trade Federation explains them as the products of "wholesalers, retailers, and producers whose members are committed to providing fair wages and good employment opportunities to economically disadvantaged artisans and farmers worldwide."

Global Exchange, a great resource for fair trade gifts, explains the participants' requirements further:

"Paying a fair wage in the local context,
Offering employees opportunities for advancement,
Engaging in environmentally sustainable practices,
Being open to public accountability,
Building long-term trade relationships,
Providing healthy and safe working conditions within the local context,
Providing financial and technical assistance to producers whenever possible,
Ensuring that there is no abuse of child labor."

Buying fair trade items offers us the opportunity to give twice: not only do we give a gift to its recipient, but we also give financial support and hope to the skilled but impoverished creators of these unique and often fabulously creative, colorful, hand-made products from all over the world. Many items are beautifully decorative, but just as many are quite useful, too. In fact, it is with some hesitation that I point out even a few of the possible sites for fair trade gifts because the temptation will be so great to buy more than you need for others, then buy even more things for yourself! If you do choose to look, please be strong!

Finally, before you proceed, please remember that the greatest gift requires nothing more than giving love, giving time, giving yourself. Everything else is just "stuff."

Two Hands Worldshop
World of Good
Ten Thousand Villages
Fair Trade Quilts and Crafts
A Greater Gift

(I have no vested interest of any kind in any of the sites mentioned. If you search for "fair trade gifts" on Google, Yahoo, or whatever search engine you prefer, you will find further information and many other websites. You can also find retail outlets throughout the USA and internationally that sell fair trade items by searching the list on the Fair Trade Federation site.)

© 2006 Cynthia Friedlob

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