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2015 Guide to Holiday Gifting: The “Tiny Trend” Year

  • Written by Ingrid Gabriel


Yes, it’s true. Back without any readership demand whatsoever, I paused my other life-affirming activities and taken on, once more, the heavy Mantle of Gifting Consultant. If you were reading the San Juan Islander a few years back, you may remember that I offered an annual guide to holiday gifting - an essential bible for the shopper. The series was like The Great Courses in its scope and erudition.

In retrospect, I like to think that my previous guides were instructive as well as inspiring. Readers were introduced to the multi-psycho-social elements of gifting. Together, we worked through complex gifting issues such as what to buy for your gynecologist. We identified the deli-style electric meat slicer as possibly the worst gift you can give your wife, and one that may put you in immediate physical danger.

And, of course, we reviewed the Cardinal Rule of gifting each and every year. Say it with me now, …Never Ever Take Your Other Significant Other when you’re shopping for your wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend or domestic arrangement. It will end very badly no matter how clever you think you are.

So, you may be wondering “Where did you go, Ingrid?”, and “Why are you here again?” Well, several things derailed the Guide for a few seasons. You will recall that the lights were dimmer in December of 2012, and there wasn’t enough mirth going around to compile a Guide.

Then the post office removed its recycling containers.

My primary research sources came from the mail-order catalogues that used to stack up there like Mt. Crumpet. Bin-diving for catalogues allowed me to analyze trends (who can ever forget the “Snuggie” Christmas when it and the competing “Slanket” were all the rage?), gently dissuade readers from making poor gift choices (remember the year when everything was made out of sustainable bamboo?) and offer some direction to finding really cool gifts. But once that steady stream of consumer information was shut down, nothing came along to take its place other than the pop-ups on my computer screen.

However, this year I was inspired by cataclysmic shifts in the gifting market. This is the year that saw The Art of Decluttering: a Japanese guide to getting rid of your stuff, on the best seller list. Interest in living with a smaller footprint in pods and itsy-bitsy minimalist spaces, is redefining the bedrock of consumerism. The trend is for tiny-sizing to a molecular level, or as close to it as possible.

The truly fashionable post-consumerism consumer is not into stuff. Hip Americans everywhere are crying out, “I don’t want more stuff!” “I’m trying to get rid of stuff!” “Costco makes me physically ill!” Which all makes shopping for this type of giftee wicked exhausting, and to which we will direct our shopping focus in this Tiny Year.

Let me get personal here…even I, expert though I am, have had my abilities challenged by the Tiny Trend. Last year I added Max to my gift list and Max is in the process of shedding his possessions. Max has some sort of rationale for doing so (I forget why - it’s not interesting anyway), and has told me, repeatedly, that he doesn’t want art or clothes or gadgets or music or decorative household objects or plants. He’s ok with books, but will recycle them immediately after reading them.

How do you unobtrusively gift someone who is determined to reject your gift on principle? How do you find a gift that’s so perfect that it breaches their non-materialistic defenses? How do you find a present that makes someone like Max say, “Well…ok…but after THIS fabulous present, don’t give me anything else!”?

Follow me, Grasshopper.

The current trend toward clutter-free lifestyles, smaller living environments and modest consumerism is first and foremost virtuous. You will find it difficult to argue with anyone against the wisdom of embracing simplicity because it is self-evident. Case in point, there are no reality shows where a team of experts go into a sparsely furnished home and start putting out snow globe collections, silk plants, beer signs and porcelain figurines. It is the virtuous person whose home shows a tidy restraint; bad people, on the other hand, can’t get their car into their garage.

And virtuous people are always eager to convert you to a better way of living. For example, during a visit, Max (being a bit of a zealot in the decluttering faith) took inventory of my possessions and said, “You know, you really need to start getting rid of stuff.” To which I replied, “Or, I could start getting more stuff. That’s also an option.” While I won points for a sharp response, I knew that I was on thin ice. His house actually has empty rooms and a garage with only a car in it…I can never compete with that level of virtue.

So, what do we do with a giftee whose wish is that you won’t give her anything? Is there a mail order catalogue full of non-gifts? Well, kinda…there are humanitarian, food and the club-of the-month options. In both cases, the gifts disappear and may be satisfying gifts for your recipient. But if you are already contributing to an organization that sends guinea pigs to a village (not as pets, by the way) or are a frequent big spender on Harry & David’s steroid-induced grapefruits, you are a functional gifter and don’t really need guidance. You give people what they can use and that’s that. Nothing wrong with it. Not much fun, but it’s efficient.

But here I’m not speaking of gifting as a necessary chore – something one has to do either by convention or expectation. I am reflecting on the heart and soul of gifting…the joy that a good gifter experiences when they find that perfect alchemy between gift and giftee. And I’m here to say that just because you have a Tiny Trender on your list, it doesn’t mean you are reduced to gifting grapefruits or a monthly delivery of socks. You just need to sharpen your gifting insight.

First off, shedding your stuff (and the identification you had with it) is psychologically useful when you want to make a change in your life. Or at least, give yourself the illusion that something is changing. With a less cluttered environment, the thinking goes that you liberate your creativity by giving it some space. You also cut the symbolic ties with whatever the objects in your life represent for you. If they have been weighing you down or keeping you trapped in a past you’d like to escape, going Tiny can give you a reboot.

Thus, the first question we must ask ourselves is, “What is my giftee’s motive for going Tiny?” Is it because life has disappointed him and he no longer cares about astronomy or beer making? Is she running with a new gaggle of friends from the co-op and feels she needs to be more sustainable? Is your giftee philosophical or just fashionable? Are they bored? Do they need more exercise and vitamin D?

Only you have the insight to your giftee’s internal motives, but it’s important to have an idea of the answer before you begin your gifting plan. For example: I think of Max as an artist (which he actually is) who is in a busy fortressing phase. Ideally, he wants to stock his castle with absolute essentials and then pull up the drawbridge. He wants to eradicate stress and inconvenience from his life, and maintaining stuff (buying, cleaning, repairing, insuring, using, replacing, preserving) gets in the way of this goal.

To get over Max’s objections, gifts need to be aesthetically fabulous and highly functional or brilliantly ironic. This will be true for almost all of your Tiny giftees. As the gift gets smaller, all of the above will need to increase inversely and your gift, however minimal or common, will need to reflect your nearly-psychic understanding of your giftee’s core values. Coffee, for example, can make an excellent gift for a Tiny giftee, but it better be the best damn coffee on the planet.

To further our discussion, it will be helpful for you to commit to memory the following four Tiny Gifting categories: Experience; Heart; Space; Poindexter.

Experience Gifting is the antithesis of Things Gifting and obviously harder to coordinate. And, to be perfectly honest, it has a high failure rate attached to it. I know this because I have given hot air balloon rides and lessons in yoga, a foreign language and ice skating. I have also received gifts of hot air balloon rides and lessons in yoga, a foreign language and ice skating. To the best of my knowledge, none of us showed up for the ride or any of the lessons.

My hunch is that everybody is about as busy as they want to be. Giving someone yet another thing to do, even pleasant things like theatre tickets or a spa visit, can feel like an obligation. I’m not going to warn you off this Tiny path (you know your giftee best and perhaps a dolphin swim is just perfect) but I caution you that it may not have the expected outcome. There’s a good chance that when you gift someone a festival pass to Burning Man 2016 (which sounds awesome!), they may choose to reseed their lawn that week instead.

In our second category, it is worth noting that Tinyists have sanded their lives down to the primer. Their uncluttered path allows them the time to fully experience Gifts of the Heart and giving in this category demonstrates your support for your giftee’s life-choices.

It’s also a crap-load of work.

There’s the jam-making and the hand-knitting and the clay-pot-throwing and the rum-sauce jarring and the soap-boiling. Please resist the urge to even begin.

Guy Clark has a line from a song that goes, “There’s only two things in life that money can’t buy and that’s true love and homegrown tomatoes.” I wouldn’t dream of arguing with Guy about true love, but I am confident you can buy someone else’s homegrown tomatoes. And their handmade jam and scarves and pots and soap. I recommend finding those people and engaging in a little commerce.

Although there’s a lot of heavy lifting when you’re buying for the Tiny Trender, it can be creatively rewarding because it encourages you to fully reflect on someone else’s space. For example, on his last birthday, I gave Max a black and white shower curtain for one of his bathrooms-without-anything-in-them. The curtain contributed much to the room in terms of both utility and aesthetics, without encroaching on any of its space.

Other items aligned with Space Gifting would include strings of lights, a music subscription, a Pendleton throw, a wall garden made up of epiphytes or succulents, a Theremin…enhancing space without hogging space.

Poindexter Gifting is the fourth and final star in our gifting constellation and many Tiny Giftees have a weakness for the same. This is a category of gifts that just by their sheer coolness (cast of a T-Rex claw), extreme design (titanium chopsticks) or smarty-pants aspirations (anything ordered from a laboratory supplies catalogue) makes the right sort of giftee just go weak. Their Tiny Values will crumble when you give them that dissecting microscope or the periodic table pillowcases.

Obviously, one article cannot do justice to such a complex sub-topic in gifting. Ideally, in conjunction with this Guide you would also have taken a short, on-line course in combating Post-Retail-Gifting-Disorder (PRGD) – a not uncommon condition that results when your Tiny Giftee simply refuses to accept your gift and you blame yourself for not giving something smaller.

However, be of good cheer…Tinyness, too, shall pass and another gifting trend will take its place. I predict that the resurgence of interest in Goats (presuming that it ever surged in the first place) will trend like wildfire and overtake Tiny by next December. Look for the Guide to Goat Gifting in 2016.

Happy holidays, happy gifting and keep cozy.

Copyright 2015, Ingrid R. Gabriel