The Cambrian

‘Things’ are overrated, give gift of memory, experience

Tis the season to be.… NO-O-O-O-O! But it’s just that people do think about it well in advance: If you see something that Aunt Myrtle would just love to have, get it while you can, right? (I did have an Aunt Myrtle in real life, by the way, whom we used to give cartons of Marlboro cigarettes to for Christmas back in the ’60s — wow. Yes, it’s time for my annual nag about “stuff.”)

I’ve been reading more and more about how to find happiness, and — oh, surprise — it’s not dependent on how much stuff you’ve got. Even if it were given to you by someone near and dear, you may feel sentimental, but it would not necessarily provide long-term joy.

Seems that young people in their 20s or so are more about “experiences” than things. But, haven’t you already known that most of your life? What teachers stand out in your memory, which uncles’ behaviors stick in your mind, and how do you feel when you think back to hiking into that amazing waterfall? These events trigger more within your body by engaging more of your senses.

Now, there are certainly arguments that a book of photos or video or voice recording might evoke an incredible sense of emotion (sadness, sentimentality, grief) for some time — it is something you might hold on to for an hour, on and off all day or whatever. So, I may be directing this to more traditional “stuff,” made overseas by sweatshop labor, that kind of stuff.

What about those who live in small places or have or can get anything they need or want? Bingo. Direct your giving to someone else like a local food bank, charity or cause in their name. Find out what the person’s passion is and donate toward it. If he/she is an artist or a musician, or gardener or what-have-you, give a gift certificate to somewhere they can buy supplies. I know, a gift certificate sounds so impersonal, but, if you include a heartfelt note about understanding the person’s great hobbies or goals and you’d like to support them in this way, well, how could he or she not love it? Emotion — put it in there.

While in Mexico, my nephew-in-law said they fix everything until it can’t be fixed anymore, and then consider getting a new one. They don’t need or have room for loads of toys or tchotchkes. But if you were to take them out on a boat fishing, or to the water park, or anyplace they would not afford or normally go, that was something!

Experiences. Buy a National Parks pass for a family who travels. Museum passes, movie passes and again, it sounds like these might be more impersonal than a new crockpot with chickens on the side (which they will think about you every time they use it) but again, tell them why you are doing so. I know, I know, many of you have no idea what to say, but, do it anyway!

Make things. Make time. Take time to make things together (I just spent a couple of hours with my son’s girlfriend, making jewelry in my garage — we’ll remember that more than going out shopping!). Of course it is nice to give things that people actually need, but, wants? There is so much that is gotten and then quickly discarded or forgotten. Do we really need to proliferate that?

I know folks who live in small spaces who keep asking loved ones (in vain) to stop giving them things, but they’re far too emotionally attached to the givers to give the items away, or they’re afraid the giver will visit, expecting to see those gifts. Take photos of the things you can do without, put them into an album and pass them on. Write who it was from, for what occasion, something nice about it and let it go. See what you do to people whom you feel compelled to buy one more fluorescent blue metal peacock for?

Respect the Earth, respect human laborers, respect your gift recipient. Think before you buy. Experiences will go further than things, and time and love are the gifts that keep on giving. Merry Christmas.

Dianne Brooke’s column is special to The Cambrian. Email her at, or visit her website at