Do you have to spend a lot of money on a present to make it meaningful? I know the easy answer: of course not! So let me rephrase: Do you have to spend any money on a gift to make it meaningful? And what if you got the gift second hand? Does that fly?
Gareth asked for a rebounding soccer goal (a net that will bounce the ball back to you) this year. We were so happy to have some kind of fun and concrete suggestion for him that departed from the typical gift card teensanity that dominates gift giving for kids these days.
Until we discovered that a good rebounding goal comes at a hefty price tag - from $250-$450. Egad. Who's having "fun" now? Sure there are cheaper ones, but this is a 15 year old monster soccer player who could probably rocket a ball through the walls of our house if he set his mind to it. A cheap net wouldn't make it through the end of the year.
Just for grins, Steve looked it up on Craig's list...and found a high quality net that we couldn't have afforded new, for free. Needless to say, we jumped on it like black Friday shoppers at Wal-mart.
But once the deed was done, we got to thinking:
Free? Did spending $0 take away from the value of the gift?
It didn't help that we knew we couldn't pull it off as new in a million years. "Beautifully worn net, antiqued base with a patina of naturally aged rust, and a frame bent with the character childhood play" doesn't quite persuade.
Sure it'd be nice to have, but as a gift?
We didn't know.
It's regulation size, way sturdy and completely functional. Also, Steve paid in thought and time what he didn't pay in dollars. He found it, worked miracles to get the way-longer-than-a-car crossbar sort of into the van and sort of safe for the highway. Then he took it to a handy friend who rebuilt part of the broken frame so that Steve could easily assemble it in the cold one afternoon when Gareth wasn't home. When he finished, we hid it in the neighbor's yard for a week, then set it up in the wet and the dark at midnight on Christmas eve. Steve even made a big "Merry Christmas" sign that he covered in tape to protect it from the drizzle until morning.
Those are the things that count, right?
When we told Gareth to "please take out the compost" right in the middle of gift giving on Christmas morning, his shift from an outraged, "are you KIDDING me?!" to a dawning, "OH, you've hidden something in the back yard!" made the day.
Honestly, I didn't have much trouble with this choice between giving a used expensive thing for free and not giving it at all. But it got me to thinking about both our impulse to buy new when we give gifts and our tendency to measure the value of a gift in dollars.
Would we have given Gareth this recycled free gift if we could have afforded a new one? I doubt it. And here I was just lecturing to you about the story of stuff. How disappointing!
Now that we've done it, however, I'd say we're far more likely to do it again. Not only did we recycle something and save a lot of money, we added personality to the gift by avoiding the now-familiar digital shopping cart scenario. This gift comes with the story of the find: how Steve had to beat out another taker to make the claim. It also comes with a dramatic and heroic tale of repair: how our good friend first snapped the pole tragically in half before he magically created a new piece of pipe and saved our Christmas. Hooray!
I know Steve, who revels in recounting tales of adversity and triumph, will regale us with these dramas for at least the life of the soccer goal. While I'm sure we'll eventually roll our eyes in the telling, that's just part of the fun.
Oh - and did I mention that Gareth loves it? He just shrugged off it's somewhat tattered look and pounded a ball into the corner of the far post.
So as I'm fantasizing about thrift store shopping and regifting next year, I'm wondering, is a white elephant under the tree just another elephant in the room? or is it ok to give a recycled gift and a story instead of a shiny new gift and a receipt?
And if it's not OK, shouldn't we make it so?