This year I've learned a lot, like who are my really good friends, who I can count on and how to be accountable in return, and how to survive a layoff and find a new job. I've always known that I had enough stuff, but as I cleaned out my basement in September and assessed my surroundings I realized I had more than enough. I've been rethinking stuff in general over the last few years and with the holiday season now in full swing, this is a good time to focus on gift giving and what makes sense for family and friends.
When my two oldest nephews were young they were gifted with a lot of family who gave them a lot of presents on Christmas and Birthdays. One Christmas I remember thinking that they had so much stuff they couldn't see straight and they had no idea who gave them what. I didn't want a present I'd put a lot of thought in to just be thrown on a pile and forgotten about. I didn't want to be known as the Aunt who just handed out presents. At that moment I decided that I wouldn't spend money on toys for them anymore, instead I'd spend time.
Time is a limited resource. It will never be replenished and its the most precious gift that we can give. My oldest nephew was turning four and he and his Mom and Dad would be in town for Christmas. His gift was a sleepover at my house with a movie and popcorn and the next day we drove to Liberty Mountain, took a ski lesson and spent the day outside skiing and having a great time. Since then our adventures have included a day in DC visiting the Spy Museum and China Town, movie nights and adventure parks and when he was twelve, a road trip in California. I've done the same for his younger brother. It's meant lasting memories that we fondly talk about when we're together. They're older now and more interested in spending time with their friends than hanging out with their Aunt, but we have those moments together that I hold close in my heart and I know they do too.
My Mom and Dad are challenging to buy gifts for and have been for a while. They're in their early 80s and they don't need anything. Which I think is true for most people who are lucky enough to have a good job and food on the table no matter what your age. I also stopped buying them regular gifts and started purchasing tickets instead. Tickets to a Christmas concert to hear the Canadian Brass, a subscription to Toby's Dinner Theater and dinner at a favorite restaurant are at the top of the list of gifts that I've given them. We're lucky to have such high quality, entertaining productions coming out of Toby's and it's so family friendly - for both young kids and seniors - that we go at least once every year. My first theater experience as a young child was seeing Guys and Dolls at Toby's for my birthday and it's something I remember to this day.
Spending time as a gift doesn't have to be expensive and there are so many ways to do it. From sitting down to read to a small child, cooking holiday recipes in the kitchen together to driving around to see Christmas lights, there are so many ways to give the gift of time. A hike in a nearby park with friends and pets, an afternoon at the movies or hosting a holiday party - these are the things people will remember for years with a smile on their face.
Volunteering is one of the best ways to make a difference for those who might not be as lucky as you and it's another thing you can do with friends and family. Remember that at this time of year there are plenty of volunteers, but once the holidays are over is when a lot of non-profits can really use the help. If you check out Volunteer Match they can help you find a good opportunity that aligns with your interests.
No matter what you decide to give as presents though, don't forget yourself. Give yourself the gift of your time to do something you've been thinking about for a long time. Even if it's just getting a good night's sleep, you're important too and no less deserving of your time than anyone else.