(Reuters) - As I write this, I look up at a foot-high stack of holiday catalogs – clothing, travel gear, hiking gear, home accessories, pet accessories, art acquisition, cosmetics, natural foods, wine... They make me sad for all those trees.
Then I look at my inbox and see more holiday sales pitches. It makes me sad for my tired eyes and fingers as I hit the delete button, over and over.
Their message is uniformly clear: Buy (our) stuff.
Don't people realize the only true gifts are time and attention?
When I think about the most important gifts I’ve received, they seldom translate into purchased objects. They always translate into generous thoughts about what makes me happy. Everybody is different, so I put it out there on social media to get more ideas of the best gifts that did not require cash.
A friend shared how much it meant when someone went out of her way to make a disabled child feel special. Another told me how much trapeze lessons can mean.
One of my students, a new mom, told me how precious it is when her own mom volunteers to come over a week every month and help out with the housework.
Another took a photo of her daughter and son-in-law’s sneaker-shod feet in the sand, each flanking a pair of empty baby shoes representing the baby that was on his way. Charming.
Cooking can bring much joy. Cranberry-ginger chutney has become my signature holiday item, and I always anticipate my friend’s annual Christmas Eve cookie delivery. So does my family!
What about writing out favorite recipes for friends and family? Ever thought about volunteering to care for someone’s pets while they’re away, or even for an afternoon or evening? What about framing some photos, especially if they bring happy memories?
Imagine how tickled I was when a friend gave me a handcrafted carved box filled with homemade smoked salt. A joint made from homegrown marijuana sat on top of the salt (marijuana is legal where I live). Delighted, I consumed one gift and regifted the other.
Many of us would be immensely grateful for tech help with new apps and lessons on how to use them. What about putting together playlists of favorite music? Some of my fitness students do this, and I use their tunes in class.
I flunked arts and crafts in school. So I cannot overstate how wonderful it was to have someone help me with holiday decorations. Or the time my pal helped me hang a set of Japanese prints. Or the time my sister, a noted art critic, took me to a museum and taught me how to look at paintings.
The art of gift-giving doesn’t come as naturally as most of us would like to think. Thoughtfulness and generosity of spirit are the watchwords. For gifts that warm the heart and touch the soul, we need to be observant, creative, and somewhat organized.
Perhaps some of these ideas will get you thinking. Happy Holidays, whatever you celebrate!
(Mary M. Mitchell has written several books on the subject of etiquette, now in 11 languages, most recently "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Modern Manners Fast Track" and "Woofs to the Wise". She is the founder of executive training consultancy The Mitchell Organization (www.themitchellorganization.com). The opinions expressed are her own.)
Editing by Michael Roddy