The City Space

Cultivating Urban Understanding

Giving a True Gift

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Hi everyone, I’m going to talk to you straight today. It’s the season of giving and before you rush out to the store and buy tons of cheap products produced by underpaid child laborers, read my post about ethical consumption, then consider another form of giving. There’s no sense in filling our houses and cities with more and more stuff. The weight of that is taking its toll on our environment and on our psyches, creating an endless cycle that demands we buy more in order to keep ourselves happy. It will never be enough. Share a true gift this year instead.

Here are some gift ideas to get you started. They are completely non-material (meaning they don’t involve buying an object for someone), and all are low-cost or free:

  1. Bake something. It’s so simple and, if you’re like me, you’re probably baking tons of delicious goodies right now anyway—far more than you or your family could ever consume alone. So wrap up a plate and walk over to the neighbor’s house. Bring one by for your child’s teacher or coach. Ship off a box to an old friend far away. This is guaranteed to make everyone happy.
  2. Do something helpful for someone else. This can be as simple as a daily task that would be useful, or a more specific task that utilizes your personal skills. Offer to babysit a friend’s kids so she can go out to dinner with her husband. Shovel an elderly neighbor’s driveway. Help a family do their taxes, if accounting is your forte. Play a free concert for a local nursing home, if you’re musically inclined. All of these options require little to no money and are often much more appreciated than a material gift.
  3. Give a gift certificate to a local restaurant. What better way to support your local businesses than by sending your friends to dine at them? Not only will you be sharing the food you love with the people you love, they might come back for more, and continue supporting the business long after you give the gift. This can be completely customized based on your budget. I bet a $10 gift card to your favorite coffee shop will mean just as much as a $30 gift card to your favorite burger joint.
  4. Make a charitable donation:
    1. If you want to donate domestically, please consider making a contribution to this amazing organization: Strong Towns. They are a grassroots, nation-wide organization working to help cities and towns flourish and develop financial resiliency. Strong Towns also taught me a good chunk of what I know about urban development and making cities better. If nothing else please check them out on their website. This is a good place to start, and there are loads of great, free ideas and resources shared on their blog weekly.
    2. The options for international generosity are nearly boundless. Pick your region or issue of interest and you could be combing the internet for days looking for the perfect charity. I want to suggest just one, which I have been a committed donor to for many years: Blood:Water Mission. As the name suggests, Blood:Water Mission targets two issues: HIV/AIDS and clean water. It is a US nonprofit that partners with East African organizations on the ground to improve water access/purity and support people affected by HIV/AIDS as well as prevent the spread of the disease. They have a super cool feature on their website which shows you how far your donation will go to support several different AIDS- and water-related solutions, no matter how much money you are able to give.  Check it out.

Thanks for letting me preach a little bit. I wish you the very best this season.


One thought on “Giving a True Gift

  1. My mom made a good point that homemade gifts like knitted scarves, beaded necklaces, and handmade wooden crafts are also a great option. Obviously those are material objects, but they are definitely a far cry from clothes made my underpaid workers in China. If you are so inclined, craft away!


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