“This is going to change your life,” my friend said to me many years ago at then end of a long Passover holiday together – she with her 7 kids, me with my 9. I eagerly anticipated the gift. What special thanks awaited me after all that cleaning and cooking (if I ever had dreams of running a bed and breakfast, they were quickly put to rest). How could she possibly say an adequate thank you? I couldn’t wait to see what it was.
“Close your eyes; it’s bigger than a breadbox,” she warned. “Now open.”
There it stood. A new garbage can. A garbage can much larger than the one I was currently using. Who would (could!) have guessed? I’m not a good actress but I put on my best smile. “Great! It’s just what I needed.”
But do you know what the funny thing is? It really was. It did make a difference. It was easier making significantly fewer trips to the large can outside (or yelling at my husband significantly fewer times to do the same). And now, years later, I still have that garbage can. It didn’t go out of style or get lost or stained or no longer fit (ouch!). I won’t say that I look at it and get all sentimental, but it has lasted. It is useful. As is the pair of kitchen shears she gave me the next year.
And I learned an important lesson as well (besides how easy it is to cut chicken with a good pair of sharp scissors!). I learned that it really is the small things that count. It is the thoughtful gestures that matter. My girlfriend considered carefully what would be useful to me – and she got it. It wasn’t about extravagance (she gave me other gifts as well, just to be clear – yes, I still have the watch!); it was about thoughtfulness. How often do we forget this component, this individualized consideration?
It’s nice to give gifts and express appreciation and we should be grateful for all gifts, but somehow it means more when it’s personal, when it’s suited to you than when you know she bought 20 of the same items for a great price at the gift show.
This doesn’t just apply in the gift-giving arena. Maybe we shouldn’t sweat the small stuff but the small stuff counts. Maybe you can’t afford a luxury vacation but one night away can often be more appreciated because it is so precious. Maybe you made your husband’s favorite dinner. Maybe he brought home a bunch – or even a single bud – of your favorite flower.
One of the best presents I received over the years was a picture my daughter put in a frame of the two of us in Purim costumes. It so perfectly captured the joy of the moment.
Or when all the kids chipped in to give my husband and me dinner out for our anniversary…
How about that afternoon we took off to go biking at the beach? Or the day three of us strolled along the boardwalk? Or even after the ’94 earthquake when we all walked outside to see the stars?
A friend of mine calls Facebook "Bragbook." Her “friends” are always posting about their summer trips to Europe, their remodeled houses, their latest purchase from the hot new jeweler in town. I’m not putting down these activities. I would say no to any of those opportunities (I’ve been cutting out pictures of places I want to visit in Ireland if anyone wants to organize a kosher trip!), I’m just pointing out that it’s frequently the small, more accessible things that actually make the biggest difference – and leave the most lasting impact.
It’s a cup of coffee in the backyard in the early morning or an ice cream cone (excuse me, I mean frozen yogurt) on a summer evening. It’s walking in the park when the flowers are in bloom or discovering a new neighborhood to explore.
My husband says his new fax machine makes all the difference – no more standing around to un-jam the papers. And on a slightly bigger scale I have to put in a plug for an upright freezer that allows for cooking in advance for the holidays. Or how about that hand immersion blender…
We don’t need big purchases or exotic experiences. Small, thoughtful gifts, time with people we love – these are the things that really count. Thanks Shari for the garbage can – it really did change my life!