There are several blogs and websites that have devoted space to gifts that aren't "stuff" (The Unclutterer's comprehensive list of suggestions is a good place to start looking). There's also plenty of information available about keeping perspective and simplifying your life during the often stressful holiday season (you might want to take a look at my posts tagged "Holidays").
And what are the positive results of these efforts? Well, having a calm and joyful holiday season is a big benefit, as is not contributing more useless stuff to someone else's life by calling it a "gift."
But what if we thought bigger? What if we thought of realigning our patterns of consumption not just for the holidays, but for a goal that probably seems unattainable to most readers?
Frugal living is obviously required to achieve this goal, unless you're one of the lucky few whose income is so substantial that cost-cutting means ditching the private jet and suffering through flying first class on a commercial airline. Ironically, frugality used to be considered a virtue, not a curse. However, now when someone talks about frugality, it usually presumes suffering because we lack what we need.
If we redefine what we need, there's quite a bit of flexibility in how much we can accomplish with just a small amount of frugal effort. But the most interesting example of the benefits of frugality that I've come across lately is in an article provided to Yahoo Finance by Bankrate.com about extreme early retirement -- in your thirties!
Before you dismiss the notion because you think it could not possibly apply to you, and even if you're well beyond your thirties, consider this quote from the article:
"Aside from an unwavering focus on their goal and an indifferent attitude toward amassing all the latest stuff, extreme early retirees can't be lumped into the same category. They run the gamut from young parents, singles and dual-income couples without children. Weston [MSN personal finance columnist and author Liz Pulliam Weston] has talked to couples with as many as four children who are living in expensive areas of the country, as well as those who have no family ties and a cabin in the woods.
"They share an excitement about their lives, a desire to spend time in pursuits that are meaningful to them, and often, an environmental conscience."
So, let's take a moment to play the "what if" game. What if you decided to buy fewer gifts this year? What if you decided to spend nothing and, instead, make your gifts from things you already have around the house? What if after the holidays you didn't have a gigantic credit card bill? What if you didn't have a credit card bill at all?
Now let's go a step further. What if you decided not to buy into the whole consumer insanity that demands a new wardrobe every year? Or a new car? Or a bigger house with a bigger yard?
What if you decided to save more money with a goal of retiring early? Or what if you moved to a less expensive home or a part of the country where you were able to live on much less money right now?
What if you decided to start living your dreams instead of trying to buy them? How would that change your holiday plans, and your plans for the future?
If you're rethinking the way you're going to celebrate your holidays (or your future) and would like to share your thoughts, I'd like to hear them!
© 2007 Cynthia Friedlob