My house is a wreck. The sink is full of dishes. I’m not entirely sure I have any clean underwear,* but I don’t plan on finding out today because I don’t have time for frivolous things like taking a shower and changing clothes.
In case you can’t tell, the holidays have hit us square in the face. Merry Christmas and Happy Holy Hell I Have How Many Days Left to Shop?!
Yeah, that would be one day, in case you are counting. From the high frenzy on twitter, I’d say lots of you are counting. Also? Panicking just a bit about last minute gifts as though you’ve been caught naked on your front porch while your better-prepared older brother looks on. Ahem.
With that in mind, I wanted to share what we did for gifts this year because with one Christmas down already, our choice has worked out well and saved us a lot of stress. It also resulted in a lot of “Us, too!” when I mentioned our plan on twitter.
In our family, we have four Christmases. One with my family , one with Maguire’s family, one with just us, and then Santa comes. That’s a lot of Christmas, particularly when you are short of funds, time, and energy.
This year, I decided that my most valuable gift to give is energy. That meant going light on price and heavy on thought. I aimed to maintain one goal:
Give with meaning.
Broken down, it was really simple: We don’t have a lot of money right now, but we wanted to thank those that helped us make it through 2009. We wanted to acknowledge the value of family, the only thing that matters in the long run.
So? We gave photos.
Yeah, yeah, I know it sounds corny and it elicits a “How vain of you!” snarky response from my younger brother every time I give him a framed photo as his present, but it just works.
Look, I can bargain shop with the best of them. I know how to spot a $50 home decor item at TJ Maxx for $7.99 from across a sea of frazzled last-minute-shopping heads. But at the end of the day, it’s still just a piece of something that could end up in a garage sale five years from now. Not that I don’t love gorgeous somethings that could end up in a garage sale, but this year’s needs felt different to me.
For whatever reason, stuff feels more like stuff this year.
I want to surround myself with reminders of how full my life is in ways that can’t be mortgaged or repossessed or laden with an interest rate.
Come to find out, so does everyone else in our family.
In lieu of the fancy and frivolous, I spent hours selecting and editing photos of our family taken throughout the year. I chose funny or emotional photos, nothing too staged or gorgeous. Definitely nothing that resembled:
To highlight the photo, the real gift, I bought incredibly simple choices, mostly black wooden frames with very subtle detail. This works out well on the “light of pocket” front. In fact, I found a ton of great choices at Michael’s arts and crafts store, which has desktop frames for 40% off right now and wall collages for 50% off. (found this on my own, by the way; Michael’s didn’t pay me to share this with you)
The key being a framed photo. We all say we’ll frame photos ourselves and never get around to it. In fact, I’ve noticed that for a lot of us, the only framed photos we have around the house are ones that have been given, already framed.
For approximately $10 total per gift, I was able to give thoughtful gifts my family will love all year.
We had Christmas with my family this Sunday. We did give everyone a little something that wasn’t emblazoned with our smug mugs, but one thing never failed: The most emotional responses were to the framed photos. By far.
My snarky little brother? When he opened his frame, he said, “How vain of you!” right on cue. But then?
“No seriously, the only pictures I have in my apartment are the ones you give me. My friends always ask about them.
I love ‘em way more than that crappy abalone obelisk you gave me 5 years ago that was supposed to bring me money and power.”
I expect to see that $50 obelisk on a garage sale any day. It should be powerful enough by now to bring him approximately 50 cents.
PS- Rereading this quickly written post, I realize that I:
1) failed to spell out that the point is not to be embarrassed by giving family photos as gifts and 2) said it was a good last minute gift AND that I spent hours editing photos. Okay, so don't be embarrassed, because family photos make particularly poignant gifts during a recession AND you don't have to spend hours editing photos. I'm just really picky and also bad at making choices so I printed out 99 times more photos than I used. The end. Happy last minute!
*The irony of the “no clean laundry” is not lost on me and I promise to tell you all about how our work with Tide Loads of Hope went once the holidays have released their vice-like grip of glitter and glow.
**Be sure to click on the old photo above for the source at Awkward Family Photos and see how not to stage your holiday photos this year.