The Seed and the Story: Shopping Small

A nice graphic showing distribution of local dollars. From Local First Michigan.

The Seed and the Story is published every other week in the Post Dispatch and syndicated in the Courier.  Please remember to support your local paper!

With only a few weeks before Christmas and other winter holidays fast approaching, nearly everywhere I go I am continually reminded of how many shopping days are left.  At the same time, there’s so much talk of how rampant consumerism is ruining what should be days of togetherness and peace.  Gift-giving is an age old tradition that transcends cultures, and nearly all of us recognize the merits of giving and receiving a thoughtful, useful gift. But regardless of which winter holidays you observe, and whether you celebrate them as secular or religious events, I think many of us would agree that frantic shopping and over-spending misses the point of the holiday season. Thankfully we have other options, many of which tap into traditions that go back generations.

Lots of publications these days talk about DIY (Do it Yourself) gifts.  It’s become a trendy buzzword, but the concept is nothing new.  You can’t get much more personal than a homemade gift, and what’s more, such gifts have, and always will be, the staple form of gift-giving for those of us on a budget. I love receiving cookies, doilies, jams, breads, pillows, jerky, framed photos, drawings, scarves, and a host of other wonderful homemade presents loved ones have given me over the years.  Embedded in these gifts are traditions passed down generations and across cultures, carried on by the hands of friends and family who care enough to pass them on to me.  In my own personal opinion, it’s the highest form of gift-giving.

Let’s be real though.  Not all of us have the time to make multiple batches of fudge or embroidered potholders.  The Buy Local movement is gaining in popularity and offers the opportunity to support local business and still keep the holidays small and personal.  Sure, chain retailers offer good deals and we all love to save money.  But look at it from this angle: For every one hundred dollars you spend at a chain store only fifty-seven dollars is filtered back into the local economy.  Compare that with one hundred dollars spent at a locally-owned establishment where approximately seventy-three dollars are channeled back into the community in the form of local taxes, wages, and social investments.  Every time you support a local business you’re making a decision to give back to your community, a long-term investment in the place you call home.  That’s a gift not only for your loved ones, but also for the generations to come.

Finally, you have the option of supporting independent artisans and farmers or giving to a cause that matters to you.  Craft markets, Art Walks, and even online craft networks offer personalized gifts while also supporting  artists, artisans, and craft co-operatives, many of which provide income for those in need.   You can also check out to buy directly from artists and artisans around the nation.  And if there are organizations, either locally or globally, that you feel are doing great work, consider a donation in your loved one’s honor.  You and your loved one will find joy in knowing your gift made a difference in someone’s life.

What are some of your favorite gifts to give?  What are some of the most meaningful gifts you have received?