it's not just people in shelters who are confronting hardship this year- it's your friends, neighbors and family. you probably think "i don't know anyone who's that bad off", but think again- if you know someone whose income has been affected by the economy, who has lost a job, who is overextended with credit card debt, then you very well might know someone in serious trouble, but who puts on a brave face, pretending everything is fine. after achieving success in life, admitting to losing it is pretty humiliating stuff, so lots of people just keep quiet, never letting on how bad things really are.
m21 has been acutely aware of this situation, as it seems like many of his friends and associates have had a really, really, rough year (economically speaking). m21 hasn't been immune to the rotten economy himself- the interior design trade is intimately inked to housing values, after all- but somehow we made it through, and things have already drastically improved from the beginning of 2009. maybe it's because m21 has no children to clothe, feed and pay tuition for, or elderly parents with exorbitant medical bills, so we've been relatively fortunate; for other people, their road in 2009 has been much tougher.
knowing this is happening all around us complicates gift giving: too luxurious a gift seems thoughtless and ostentatious; no gift at all seems callous; offering cash is no alternative- even if we had it to spread around, who would accept it? m21 initially thought of giving to charities like kiva.org or hiefer.org in others' names, but that almost seems the worst of all- who wants money donated to charity in their name when they might be in need of a little charity themselves? plus, it makes the gift all about you, the giver, not recipient, and that's no good.
fortunately, a series of unrelated events gave m21 an idea how to resolve his dilemma, and he'd like to share the resulting idea with y'all, just in case you might want to incorporate as well. first though, the events that brought us to our realization (you know how maison21 LOVES to go off an a tangent before getting to his point):
one event occurred during m21's very first holiday party of the season, where one of the guests shared about their pending foreclosure,and court order to vacate the week before xmas. in normal times, this would be a shocking admission, but quickly a larger group gathered around them, many admitting to similar hardships, and rapidly, tips, advice, encouragement, and email addresses were exchanged. people were actually joking about things like job loss, eviction and bankruptcy- not because these are happy things, but because through simple words exchanged with a stranger at a party, they felt less alone and more hopeful. it was both heartwarming and heartbreaking to witness, even just as an observer...
second event was a friend's post on facebook, stating this year they couldn't even afford to buy their friends and family a free glass of water. obviously, the post was meant to be funny, but many of the responses were of the "me too" variety, as people compared all the homemade gift giving ideas they couldn't afford to partake in: "bake cookies for neighbors? when i can barely afford to feed my kids?" again, it made m21 examine his holiday gifting plans- cookies are great, but only when preceded by a nutritious meal...
last, one afternoon while in a pissy, overworked and under-appreciated mood, m21 received a phone call from a client he hadn't spoke to in a while. expecting a complaint or some sort of decorating "emergency", m21 was pleasantly surprised to hear, "i'm just sitting here in my lovely living room, and wanted to let you know how much i enjoy it every single day". poof, pissy mood gone, replaced by happy mood- which not only lasted days, but could be enjoyed again and again whenever m21 recalled the conversation...
and that's when m21's gift giving dilemma was solved, and he knew what he was getting everyone on his list: the gift of a kind word. no matter how bad things are or how shitty life seems, truly heartfelt words of appreciation and support, can lift the spirits in a way no sweater or candle ever could. kind words are 100% free to give, yet make the recipient feel like a million bucks, so everyone can participate. it may seem cliché to some, or merely cheap to others, but in 2009, m21 is going to make it a point to gift the people in his life with sincere words of appreciation. oh, the younger ones might get a little something to unwrap, but this year, for m21, gift giving is going to be about friends, family, happiness, and love.
m21 has just enough hubris to think this is an idea worth sharing- imagine how nice it would be to get a card where the giver expresses the things they appreciate about you: "i appreciate our friendship because you show me unwavering support, even when you know i'm acting the fool", "your advice and encouragement are invaluable, thank you for caring", or " the laughter you provide me with everyday makes life a joy". the mushier the better, just as long as it's real. it also works for business associates and even for people you don't know that well: "thank you for your excellent service- you make doing business more like hanging out with a friend- a fantastically organized, and efficient friend, that is..." ;-) once you get started, you'll be amazed at all the people in your life who are truly fabulous, and by writing down your feelings, and presenting them as gift, you'll make the recipient feel special and valued throughout the year. if enough of us shared the qualities we love in our friends and families, imagine how happy this holiday season could be- even if material gifts are less abundant then usual.
so i hope you'll join with m21 this holiday season, and let the people in your life know exactly what you love them for, and give the gift of a kind word. it may be schmaltzy, it may be cliché- it may even be cheap to some, but really, who can object to a little kindness? of course, m21 wants to practice what he preaches, so we begin with you: