What Christmas is (supposedly) about…

Seriously, making
Seriously, making beer is hard work…

For the past seven years of our marriage, Heather and I have given alternative gifts for Christmas. Usually we make donations to non-profit organizations in the name of friends and family. This year, we’re adding home crafted items to the mix. Heather is making tasty treats, we have quite a few bottles of homemade raspberry wine, and I have some home roasted coffee and homebrew that will be given out.

Ok, I may have purchased a few presents... but they're VERY functional.
Ok, I may have purchased a few presents… but they’re VERY functional.

It’s not that we’re anti-capitalist or don’t believe in the spirit of Christmas. Gift giving is an important human ritual that solidifies relationships and strengthens bonds. We also haven’t gone native and decided that a hipster Christmas is better. I just believe modern American gift giving is redundant in our instant gratification society. My friends pretty much have everything they really NEED, and within my modest budget, they already have everything they really WANT. I also don’t want to add to their “stuff.” (Which I am decidedly against)

That’s why donating money to deserving organizations was a no brainer. We take the money we would otherwise have spent on stupid stuff and allow that money to make the world a better place. It’s like paying Christmas forward. Our intent is to honor our loved ones with a gesture of charity. This year, we’ve chosen three organizations which we believe are making positive contributions to our home in Seattle, our home in Las Vegas, and to the overall world.

Man, I may have to be naughty this year...
At least it’s local?

The crafted items for this Christmas happen to be byproducts of where we live. Seattle inspires people to make local, and the more homemade the better. While we are far from knitting beanies sheared from our backyard herd of sheep, it’s pretty awesome to give a bottle of wine made from raspberries grown in our garden, fermented in our home, and bottled in our kitchen. (Hopefully the wine is good–it won’t be ready to open until August 2014!) I’ve also been making some pretty decent homebrew and I haven’t met a coffee drinker who doesn’t like fresh roasted coffee. The best part is, we made these things by hand: we’re not only giving a product, but our time and passion. Now THAT’S love.

It really is the gift that keeps giving...
It really is the gift that keeps giving…

My belief in gift giving works both ways, too.  There are only a few things I really want for Christmas. First, I want people to donate. It doesn’t have to be in my or Heather’s name. Just do it. Find a great organization you believe in and drop them a Benjamin or volunteer some time. I will enjoy that a lot more than any DVD or collector’s edition velvet Elvis. If you MUST get me a thing, then get me something I can eat or drink. Small batch craft spirits are a great choice, but so are rare beers, coffee, and chocolate. Heck, make me a tray of smoked chocolate coffee cardamom brownies.

Best gift ever.
Best gift ever.

Really, make me some of those brownies. Pretty please. With sprinkles.

In any case, just rethink your gift giving. Consider what you REALLY want/need. The world is already filled with too much stupid crap and there are too many people who need things like food, shelter, clothing and most importantly, love. Which is what this season is supposed to be about, right?

Too much stuff.

Oh internet, you’ll always be my first home…

I’ve been MIA the last two weeks. My wife and I found a house and have been doing what needs to be done to acquire said house. Mostly signing a forest sized quantity of paper with blood from a main artery.  Built in 1951, it’s a brick cape cod with 3 bedrooms, 1 bath, a detached 2 car garage, and room for a large garden. We love it! We move in (hopefully) today. The process has been relatively painless.

When moving to a new home there is the inevitable packing (and unpacking). I find this process to be excruciating; an experience somewhere between water boarding and that crazy torture droid in the original Star Wars. It’s not due to the heavy boxes or that we live on the third story of a condo building. It’s because while packing, I am reminded of the excessive amount of useless shit stuff I have.

This is NOT us… yet…

My wife and I differ in our philosophy of “stuff.” She attaches sentimental or practical future value to things. Bag of sticks=potential crafty project. Battered up non-functional ugly lamp from mom=keepsake. Tin of bottletops & plastic pill bottles=something weird. I do not hold any of this against her; I can intellectually understand her reasoning and feelings behind her acquisitions. They give her comfort in a cold and unpredictable world. For me it’s like fingernails on a chalk board.

While packing, I took note of MY stuff that will go in the “give away/sell/burn” pile. Some are clothes. Some are electronics. Some are pictures. But all have outlasted their usefulness and need to go. Immediately.

Similar to this.

About 3 years ago I traveled to Washington D.C. for a refugee resettlement conference. Heather and I have been active CouchSurfers since 2008 so I found an awesome RPCV willing to let me crash his pad while I was in town. When I arrived at his condo, this is what I saw: 2 beds, 1 table, 1 small bookshelf, 2 chairs, 2 paintings. That’s it.

It was monastic. Walking across his threshold was like walking into a sacred space. I could feel my being stretch out to embrace the unfilled space.

Get rid of all the stuff!

I later learned that his kitchen and closet were much the same way. Minimalistic. Functional. Open. There is a moment in Braveheart where Mel Gibson cries out “Freedom!” I want that feeling in my own home. I want to whittle down all my stuff to a minimum. 1 or 2 pieces of art. A small bookshelf for a couple of keepsakes and a rotating collection of books. Bed. Desk. Done. Same thing for the kitchen, garage, and garden. I want the used and functional. When something stops being functional or ceases being used, I’ll get rid of it.

Which is why packing is painful. It puts all the stupid/kitchy/tacky/useless stuff right up into my grill, makes me protect it, carry it, transport it, and them unpack it to sit on a shelf to gather dust. I know it’s not all cut and dry. The argument is, “You know, you may need X someday, so you might as well have it.”

Shut your word hole right there.

If he would just get rid of the rock, he’d be ok…

I refuse to be held captive by a potential future of potential needs. A disaster preparedness kit is one thing. That is some wise boy-scout voodoo that makes sense. But if I need a power saw for a project, I can either rent one or find one for free on Craigslist. When I’m done with it, away it will go to find a new and useful home. No need for it to take up space in my garage.

Keepsakes are another issue. Photo albums of “important” photos (not the pic of a blurry drunken Uncle Ralph) are needed for family record keeping. Great grandpa’s medal of honor from the civil war is a piece of history. The plastic cartoon moose aunt Mable gave as a Christmas present in 1983 is crap. I am constantly refining the difference.

Best. Gift. Ever.

Gifts are a main source of life sucking crap. We give people things because we (hopefully) like them. It’s well intended. However, I have come to the point where I don’t need any more stuff. If you like me, get me a nice bottle of scotch or bake me some cookies. If you really like me, make a donation in my name to a non-profit that helps people or protects the environment. Just don’t give me a motion activated singing fish. I will hit you with it.

I’ve experienced too many people who are homeless and have no access to food. I’ve lived in places with no toilets or running water. The amount of money I’ve wasted on stupid toys, comic books, dolls action figures, CDs, DVDs, electric potato peelers, glow in the dark foot cozies, and individual french fry crispers could probably have put me through grad school. I’m done being the ignorant, selfish, materialistic American. For a long time, I thought happiness came by having more stuff than the other guy. I was wrong. My happiness comes from my relationships, friendships and family.

I need to stop filling my life with stuff. I need to start filling life with me.