Stuffing Stockings Without Stuff

Tiffany’s needed a slogan that would entice shoppers to buy its luxury goods as gifts. One of their first gift suggestions “For The Man Who Has Everything” was a sterling silver telephone. They didn’t sell many of those telephones in 1956, but the phrase caught on.

Soon mink beer-can openers were being sold at corner bottle shops. A scrap of mink was glued to an ordinary bottle opener and voila, your church key gained you entry into the upper class. It proclaimed to your drinking buddies that meeting basic needs was no longer a concern.

What started as a novel argument for buying stuff that nobody needs has slowly become our way of life and the favored strategy for gift-buying. The Man Who Has Everything is now most of us most of the time. Come January, ads will be promoting storage containers and closet organizers.

The Tiffany’s slogan has been necessarily updated by deadpan comedian Steven Wright, who observed, “You can’t have everything. Where would you put it?”

Who among us needs one more sweater? Besides, which size would we hope to receive? The size we are on Christmas morning, or the size we dream of being before spring leaves? No, buying things is no longer the best strategy. We all have silvery phones in our pockets now.

So here are a few ideas that won’t add more stuff to somebody’s life, but also are things that may not have thought to buy themselves.

Sharpen their kitchen knives. My son does this and it’s a brilliant strategy. He invested less than $100 on his equipment, taught himself the technique, and now he makes his rounds on holidays. Even better, he works his magic a few days before the manic cooking hits high gear. If that skill doesn’t interest you, there are services that will sharpen your blades, sometimes while you wait. If you’d rather avoid sharp objects, organize the drawer or cupboard where they store tea for guests. I guarantee it’s overflowing.

Join them to a civic organization. Many local organizations benefit from modest membership fees that sustain their services. Eugene and Springfield have City Clubs. The League of United Latin American Citizens, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the League of Women Voters welcome members beyond the gender, race or ethnicity in their names. A gift membership might prompt them to attend some meetings, or it may simply give them a sense of connectedness to a cause that concerns them.

Support the arts on their behalf. Many of our arts organizations similarly have members or “friends.” Some get priority seating perks or special invitations to opening night festivities. Whether their interest is galleries, music, theatre, or ballet, local choices abound.

Don’t overlook what Portland or Ashland may have to offer. An out-of-town affiliation to a museum or an arts organization may entice a little travel. That little nudge might go a long way, especially if you also buy a membership for yourself so you can plan to attend events together.

Sometimes getting out of town is what matters most to people. AirBNB and many hotel chains offer gift certificates. If overnights are not so easy, an annual parking pass for all Oregon state parks is available at REI and other locations. Who wouldn’t welcome a gentle reminder that there’s a world outside, waiting to be explored?

Food is always front and center at every holiday, but not all food gifts contain actual calories. Instead of a fruitcake, there are a few local cooking classes, or wild mushroom hunting guides. There’s also a local chapter for the Slow Food Movement.

Forget the twelve days of Christmas, and think about twelve monthly gifts. Hop on the Internet and you can find a local purveyor offering a new wine every month. I found local “month club” options for beer, coffee, cheese, meat, plants and soap. Other sites that will do the same with socks, bacon, bagels, barbecue sauce and more.

None of the options I’ve listed above will add to anyone’s closet, unless they hoard socks.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com. Kahle finished this column by candlelight, because the ice storm gave him exactly what he asked for last week.