Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Finite Resources and Moral Choices Revisited

I've recently written about my struggle with giving gifts to individuals who really do not need the gift they're receiving.  A blogger friend, Shona at LA dex press, gave me another perspective on it with her comment about "$20-ing me to death."  This comment made me revisit this problem.

When I purchase a gift for a friend or family member, I am usually out at least $20.  This $20 is finite, as my income is limited; I can only use that particular $20 in one way.  When I buy a gift for someone, that item will usually be out of style, obsolete, and/or unused within 6 months.  (Studies have shown that 80-90% of what we purchase is not in use 6 months later.)  However, I can take that same $20 and invest it in a child, a child who would not otherwise go to school or even possibly have a meal that day.  For $20 a month, North Eastern Haiti Lutheran Mission can provide an education and a lunch to a child in Ouanaminthe, Haiti.  Of course, there are many other worthy organizations that can also stretch a $20 bill so that it can save a life.  I'm just using this organization as an illustration since it is one with which I am very familiar.  

Often I wonder if we are doing our friends and family a favor when we purchase gifts for them.  So many people are overwhelmed with their possessions and the constant need to care for them.  Many people talk about decluttering and simplifying.  I feel that when we give someone yet another item, we're really adding to their burden.  I've hear some individuals say it's "fun" to shop and "fun" to receive gifts.  However, that fun feeling is fleeting and then you're left with the purchase - sometimes with the problem of credit debt for the buyer and with the problem of storing and caring for the item on the part of the receiver.

There are so many instances throughout the year where am am asked to invest my $20.  It's a sad state of affairs when individuals get hurt feelings because they believe the only way one can show love is through purchasing trinkets.  And I don't like having to make the choice because what I consider the right choice might send the wrong impression to those whom I care about. Often, however, my choice is clear:  I can either use my $20 to negatively impact someone's life with yet one more unneeded item to care for or deal with (and I'm not even going into the negative impact on the environment), or I can make a positive difference by investing in someone's life - literally. 


Shona~ LALA dex press said...

Asking people to donate to charity instead of buying me a gift was the most controversial thing I could have done last Christmas. Food banks were struggling in my area and I proposed that people either donate non-perishable goods to a food bank in their area, or get on-line and donate $$, thus avoiding shopping during the holidays. I ended up buying $20.00 worth of canned goods and donating it to the food bank at my work for our homeless clients in leu of bringing yet another dish to the office pot-luck Christmas lunch.

And the “$20-ing me to death” statements gets credited to a sharp tongued co-worker who bucks the stereotype of a genteel southern woman and doesn't mince words.

Deb said...

I struggle with this as well. I'm going to one of five showers for my niece. What could possibly be left at Target (I'm instructed where and what to buy) on her registry?
I will tow the line and do what is required of me, but really..tis the season.

Cherie said...

Shona, there's a "movement" called the Advent Conspiracy that suggests buying just one less gift at Christmas and instead doing things like you did. The whole Christmas orgy has just become too much. I love the idea of giving to the food bank.

Cherie said...

Deb, five showers? Wow! I do think we've lost sight of what showers were originally for. Rather than helping people out with necessities, we're now buying things just to buy them. We need to rethink this tradition and find a way to show the love without all this overconsumption.

Deanna said...

I've been fine-tuning my gift-giving practices in recent years. My kids give me extensive lists of things they want or need so I can choose something that will be used. My parents have more *stuff* than any three families need so we now give a gift of our time to do projects they can no longer do (David is installing an air conditioner for my dad for Father's Day), take them out for a special meal, or in my mom's case, I purchase the fresh flowers used on the church alter and bring them to her (she loves flowers and these get a chance to do double duty).

Nieces and nephews are now mostly old enough to prefer gift cards. Most newlyweds receive a Home Depot gift card (if they have a house). I give two favorite children's books for baby showers.

And then at Christmas, we purchase a number of things from Alternative Gift Market and give the cards with an explanation of the donation to those we want to give a little something to but don't just want to give some useless gift.

We keep gift-giving to a reasonable level and don't feel obligated to give to everyone for every occasion. That frees up resources for the causes we believe in.