As I wrote in a previous post, secretly, I love to give gifts. Ironically, the holiday pressure to buy kind of turns off this urge, but the rest of the year, for birthdays, Mother's Day, or no occasion at all, searching for—and finding—the gift that says, "This is exactly to your taste," can be fun.
The way I've found to indulge my gift-giving urges while still being a conscious consumer is to support local artists and craftspeople, or buy handmade items online from a place like Etsy.com, which is kind of like the eBay for handmade goods. Buying a hand-braided wreath or stunning collage at an arts and crafts fair is like giving twice: once to the recipient and once to the person who made it. Buying handmade doesn't always mean spending more, and you know that you're getting a unique item whose proceeds aren't going straight into the coffers of a multinational corporation.
We tend to think that there will always be artists—people driven by a need to create that sustains itself without any need for outside support. "I believe there is a perception that when it comes to buying or selling art, in a bad economy people have less disposable income for ‘extras’ like buying original art,” says Tom Wolfe, an artist interviewed in the Twin Cities Daily Planet article, "Northeast artists resolute in face of recession." The fact is, especially during a recession, artists need to be sustained by the community.
The trailer above for the documentary "Handmade Nation" tracks artist and filmmaker Faythe Levine in her trek to find the "new wave of craft in America." Most of us probably have been exposed the "old wave" of handicraft traditions within our own family, whether its handmade or handwritten. My grandmother always used to include little poems hinting at a wrapped gift's contents. When I've continued this fun tradition I've realized that the personal touch--and the wind-up of gift-giving--is a good portion of what makes it special.