Lynne Cope Hummell

A funny thing happened on the way to the Christmas shopping days.

The catalogs – the hold-in-your-hand, glossy paper kind – had begun to arrive in the mail in the weeks before Thanksgiving. Typically, catalogs have provided inspiration for gift shopping in our house, just as they have been intended to do since Richard Sears figured it out in 1894.

Just after arriving home from work on a chilly evening and seeing the bounty on the dining table, I quickly grabbed my favorites and snuggled onto the sofa in my comfy pants and fuzzy socks.

Oh, the colors on those pages! Beautiful, bright, cheerful – even jolly – red, green and white items sparkled before me. I sipped my cranberry mocktail as I opened the little booklet.

This is where the funny thing first happened. I didn’t see anything I wanted or needed, and nothing that would be a suitable gift for anyone on my (short) gift list.

Next page, same thing. Oh, the Christmas decor was fun and cheery, but we have plenty of that. We don’t need another tablecloth, nor wreath, nor wine glasses.

The small appliances might be useful – for one purpose, so not worth the counter space.

(My mind wandered to not long ago when I tried to gift a hefty pizza cutter to my young neighbor after we had pizza at their house, where we had cut the pizza with a knife. She accepted reluctantly, which I found curious. “My mama said I should never have any utensil that was used for only one purpose,” she explained.)

I continued to peruse the catalog. Yes, we could use another set of bed linens, but that is not exactly what my husband wants to open on Christmas morning.

By the last page, I realized that I wouldn’t need the dollars-off coupon in the catalog, because there was nothing in its pages that I would buy. Not because the items weren’t useful, or clever, or cool, but because I don’t need them, and I know the people on my list don’t want them.

What a weird feeling.

Over the past several months, my husband and I have been slowly paring down our possessions. As I’ve written before, we have too much stuff, and we need to get rid of much of it.

So why reverse our efforts by acquiring new stuff for each other, even if it is gift-giving season?

When I shared my experience with my husband, he wasn’t surprised. “I was going through my closet again this morning,” he said, nodding. “There is so much in there that I haven’t worn in ages. I need to donate most of it.”

We both were inspired by our friends who spent many years traveling the country in an RV, and now travel and live aboard a tugboat with their Standard Poodle.

On our first tour of the new boat, they showed us their clothes closet. As I recall, it is about 16 inches wide – plenty of room to hang about six shirts each, one pair of long pants each, and one dress. T-shirts and other casual garments fit into a few built-in drawers.

The kitchen – sorry, galley – is a marvel of efficiency. Who knew a couple and a large dog could survive with such little storage? It’s because they have learned to live efficiently with fewer belongings.

That’s our goal as well. And it is affecting my view of gift-giving.

This year, I’m focusing on consumables, such as exotic fruit or dark chocolate. Maybe a cool experience. Perhaps a book. Or one pair of pants to replace six old pairs.

Gift giving should be an act of love, not pressure. I sure hope my children will understand that.