Re: the Season of Giving

Gift Giving

My fiance holds the gift I gave him on the eighth night of Chanukah. Dec. 23, 2014.

With the Season of Giving going behind us, it seems fitting to take a moment to say thank you–both to the people who gave me gifts personally, but also to all the people whose generosity helped brighten the lives of others. It’s always seemed fitting to me that the gift-giving holidays are all clustered during winter, when we (in the northern hemisphere) most need the cheerfulness to keep us warm until the spring.

As any gift-giver may know, the easiest gifts to send are those that give themselves–like cash and gift cards. There’s something special about tearing off the wrapping paper and seeing precisely what you want to get, but for as long as I can remember there has been a different kind of excitement when I open a gift card–now I’m holding potential, opportunity, and I get to go on an adventure to decide precisely what I want.

This post is about one such adventure.

Long ago, when I obtained gift cards (or cash), I was eager to hit the video game stores–they’ve changed names over the years, but have always looked the same. I would stand in line to buy the latest Pokemon or Golden Sun game, and I would always wish I had more–because, like with books, there are always more good games than time to play them all. Such is the life. Such is why even the most benign choices remain meaningful.

Else I would buy new music, new books, new LEGOs, new DVDs, et cetera.

Things I would not buy: Clothing (because I’m just going to grow out of it) and food (because it’ll all end up flushed away one way or another).

Things have changed since I was a child. My luxury time has diminished as my responsibilities have grown, and where I place my money has also shifted. I no longer jump at “new only” items–instead I opt for used CDs and books (or digital even) to not only cut down on waste, but to save space in my room–I still have far too much stuff, I’ve decided, even after purging boxes and bags full of belongings last summer.

But when I received some gifts cards this year, I spent them on things my fifteen-year-old self would have despised: I bought new clothes and some frying pans (and then, yes, the new Pokemon game).

I’ve realized through my service trips to both Belize and Alaska, as well as my trips to visit my fiance in Mexico, that I don’t need many material possessions. They just become clutter at the end of the day, and no amount of material things can provide me happiness–that comes from elsewhere. And since these experiences, I’ve realized the majority of my physical possessions serve a secondary purpose: through books, movies, music, and video games, I glimpse the world (or many worlds) through new windows, and these experiences make me grow each in their own ways.

This change has also made me realize the bare necessities shouldn’t just meet the bare minimum requirements–if I can, I should choose the most comfortable clothes to wear, the best food to eat, and so on. I can’t remember the last time I bought a basic tee. Instead I’ve put my money toward jeans, button-down shirts, and a growing collection of hoodies–and today I buy quality clothing, clothes I’m sure to still be wearing in five, seven years because I’ve hit that age where it’s unlikely I’ll grow out of my investments.

And frying pans.

My eight-year-old self would be shaking his head in disappointment. But now I know there’s something special about being able to cook, and even more so when it’s quick to clean up afterwards. Being able to make some eggs and whatnot before class in the morning will no doubt help me to focus better in class and eat more wisely throughout the rest of the day. The food I ate didn’t bother me as a child; but now as an adult, I like to eat healthy, keep both my mind and my body strong enough to make it through the day.

Over the years I’ve shifted from valuing quantity to valuing quality: I have fewer things now than perhaps I have ever had, but their worth–whether measured in monetary sums or their usefulness to me–is at its greatest.

It’s easy to talk about quality over quantity in the season of giving–especially if you’re on the receiving end and have a little extra money to put to use. It’s not as easy during the rest of the year when you’re living paycheck to paycheck, trying to afford immigration fees and travel costs, and it feels like the only control you’ve got in life is if you’re going to buy the $0.98 or $0.96 can of corn. When your stomach’s empty after rushing between three classes and work without time for a break, quantity seems to trump quality.

My goal for 2015 is love.

It might seem like it’s a small goal, but it touches everything I do–from loving myself by keeping up my fitness and health goals, to loving my classes and excelling in each of them. But it doesn’t have to stop there: as I move forward through this new year, I want to do something different with my money–I want to spend it only on things I love. On the clothes I’ll love to wear because it’s comfortable, long-lasting, and looks good. On the food I want to eat because it’s healthy and tasty, even if it’s three dollars more than the competing brand. At times this will mean I buy less; at others times it’ll mean I’ll spend more. But every time I find myself at the check-out line, I’ll know what I’m buying is something that’s going to enrich my life and help me live every day overflowing with love.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had any good conversations here, so let me end with a couple questions I hope you’ll answer: How do you decide what to buy when you get cash or gift cards? What was the best gift you received this Season of Giving? As 2015 gets started, what goals are working toward?

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