December Tip: Managing ‘The Clutch’

I have been considering the word ‘cleave,’ with its opposite meanings of attaching to something and being separated from that same thing. Apart from being fascinated by words that are both/and as opposed to either/or (check out my No More Buts tip from earlier this year), the word’s meaning is determined by the context in which it is used.

Every holiday season I experience a tangle of feelings around the whole issue of gifting. While I hate the constant barrage of ‘must haves’ and ‘most wanted’ blasted at us, I am not immune to the pull. For the past five years, I have purchased amaryllis bulbs encased in colored wax and given them to people I care about around Thanksgiving, so their magic lasts through the season and beyond.

I think we’re all aware that most of us have too much ‘stuff’ and should be thinking of ways to reduce the accumulation. I offer this as gently and humorously as possible, knowing that how we relate to our possessions is complex and personal. Ranging from sentimental attachment to valuable acquisitions, fulfillment of dreams, markers of history, or any of the many reasons a particular object is in our lives, our identities can be tied to what we have and how we came to have it.

My radical idea for this year – one I have been juggling in my mind, a bit like a hot potato – is not to buy more stuff to gift others and, instead, to give away some of my own things as presents. This is not redirection from the Goodwill pile. Nor is it about what I no longer use or need, but what I still value and enjoy. This is not regifting – as in passing along what I’ve gotten from others and don’t like or want myself. This is actually about identifying something I have and like and giving it to someone who I know will enjoy it, display it or wear it, and associate it with me.

I am not a stranger to this idea. Over the decades, I have given away many things. Each move has required – okay, demanded – I let go of things I have loved and might still love. But have no place for. Haven’t really seen or appreciated for a long time.

Every time I do it, I experience what I call ‘the clutch.’ It is a whole-body assault. I regard the object in question and suddenly, having decided to give it away, perhaps with the recipient standing ready to take it from my hands – eager and touched if they know what it is – I think, No! I still love this! How can I let it go, after all these years? I’ll miss it every day! I might even hug it closer to me – it’s mine! – before releasing.

As I let it go, I enter the familiar territory of ambivalence – one of my signature emotions. I am happy and sad. I feel both generous and greedy. I use every spiritual practice I have to stay with the discomfort.

I remember helpful concepts acquired over the years. When I do something that challenges me to face my own selfish inclinations, I try to remember to ask myself – In the service of what? For the benefit of what? Friendship. Gratitude for the abundance in my life. Proof I know I can’t take it with me.

The answers are always there, should I stop long enough to hear them. It feels good to know that something of mine has become part of my friends’ lives. I get to experience the gift of my generosity.