Ch 25: Helping Locally and Globally · free stuff

Tis The Season When People Ask…

…if I need a hamper (a pile of free gifts and food). It took me a few years of being asked to develop the responses I feel good with. The answer that doesn’t divulge more personal information than I want to share, yet gets across that we’re not the folks this particular gift is intended for.

Because so many people find it hard to believe, I usually have to use at least four of these over two instances, per agency:

  • Thank you very much, but nope, we’re all set.
  • We’re in great shape financially. [Repeat x4.]
  • We love gifts, but we have excellent income.
  • No.
  • Gosh, that sounds cozy, but we’ve got literally everything we need.

This is A Thing that comes up for people on the financial independence path. We drive bikes or compact cars. We often live in tiny homes. Many of us have very little Stuff. The more extreme among us may wear one of three pairs of trousers every day for eight years straight.

Any combination of these can make us look impoverished to folks making different choices. Throw in disabilities throughout the family, and being an only-parent, and people are fairly convinced we’re broke.

Sometimes I think of wearing a t-shirt that says: I’m not poor; I’m saving up.

When I respond that we’re not a family unable to purchase gifts or food for Christmas, and to please do provide the hamper supplies to one that is, I’m met with confusion. (I wonder where they think we got our groovy car, and how we buy the gas for it to go in and out of town?)

Desperate to give, they ultimately ask, “Can we give your child something?” Sure. I list a few small items they can find easily and that don’t cost much: a set of batteries; a Rubix cube; an issue of Popular Mechanics magazine. This way, everyone feels good. They get their need to give fulfilled; my kid (who really does love physical gifts) receives an extra present; I outsource one job (a gift of time which is, in fact, a HUGE present for many sole parents).

We did receive a hamper once. It was a rough year, before I’d made a bunch of big changes. The hamper was stunning! It was also about 12x the gifts I think are necessary, and conflicted with my intention of voluntary simplicity, the practice of appreciating what one has, my strong value of sharing resources more evenly throughout the world.

I recognized that while I would love for my kid and me to receive one surprise gift each (because that’s fun!), I would prefer the bulk of the resources be used to support people in Syria, in a reserve in Northern Alberta, in a shantytown in Haiti. Medicine. Nutrition. Transportation. Clean drinking water.

Am I too open about how standard housing prices here are beyond me? I propose that not taking a $400k financial gamble isn’t poverty; that’s an insane housing market. Two different things. Poor means I have literally no means to move to a cheaper region. Poor means we’re deciding between heat or food this month. We’re not there. Painfully, thousands of people in my “progressive” country are, as are millions around the world.

This year, all is well for us. I’m sure grateful for that. It’s been a long and wild journey, moving all the chess pieces over the course of sixteen years to land here. My gift, in turn, is to help folks in similar circumstances figure out how to move their chess pieces.

In the meantime, every time someone asks me if I need a hamper, I swear there is one long moment where BOTH of us are in sheer wonder and amazement that my answer is, “Thank you, but we’re all set financially.”


If a hamper would be a help to you this year, agencies that may be offering them include your local Salvation Army resource centre; any faith group; a women’s agency. A key move in the financial version of chess is to accept needed resources along the way!

4 thoughts on “Tis The Season When People Ask…

  1. Haha! There is no shame in being poor of course, and I don’t want to come across as elitist, but I find it humorous that people are constantly giving us stuff. Everything from clothing to food to books and toys. Yet we’re in better shape than most. We have no debt and easily save 25% of our income, and that’s without trying. We could live on half if we had to. But because we drive an older car and have a lot of kids, people assume we’re broke. I say, my car is carjack-proof – a huge advantage in Atlanta, GA, where every week someone is carjacked with a baby in the backseat. Stuff of nightmares, that.


    1. :))) Yep, Carrie, it’s a funny thing, the assumption of poverty where one is simply being frugal or careful! Love your carjack-proof quip, lol!


  2. Thanks for this post, Joon.

    I work up the street from one of the Sally Ann’s offices and these days when I walk by, I see people in there often with young children. Maybe they are signing up for hampers? I am grateful that these services are available for those who need them.

    Merry Christmas to you and your boy! I hope you enjoy the season.


    1. Thank you so much, Sandra! How lovely to see you here 🙂 (I edited out your secret code name, for your privacy, but I’m happy to know it’s YOU!)

      Much happiness to you and your DH this season!



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