There was not a single present for anyone under our tree this year. In fact, there were only reverse presents. Instead of giving each other gifts this year, Mrs. CK and I rummaged through the house to find stuff to give away. We gathered our “gifts” and piled them under the tree. Then, instead of unpacking presents, we packed them all up into our trusty steed Lightning. And off to Goodwill they went.

Picture of donations.

In the weeks leading up to the holidays, we’re normally busy getting ready to host our annual holiday party. One of the best things about having guests over is that it forces us to clean the house. And for a big party, it’s not just about cleaning the toilet bowls. I’m talking bathrooms, living room, dining room, basement – everything gets cleaned.

The hidden costs of clutter

Last week, I was going through the basement theater room, wiping the dust off of a shallow built-in shelf that runs along the walls. I was obstructed by a dust troll – a giant candle holder with a glass globe – placed on the shelf between two windows. The glass had accrued a lot of dust, so I grabbed a rag and some window cleaner to wipe it down.

Then as I placed my hand on the globe, a feeling of doom passed through my body. I had a vision of my past and future – tethered to this candle holder, wiping it down year after year. It was a dark vision and there was never any light coming from the candle.

I needed to be set free, but the candle globe wasn’t mine, it was Mrs. CK’s. I asked her if we could be rid of this wicked thing, but she wanted to keep it around. “I kinda like it. It looks nice there.” I shared with her my troubling vision – the Eye of Mordor, hordes of Orcs, and the evil spell that bound me to an extra chore twice a year.

The queen of our lands granted me my freedom, “you can put it under the tree.” And with that, the dust troll was vanquished. I continued on and kept finding more of these trolls hiding in plain sight. There were rows of DVDs and CDs on the shelf that hadn’t been played in years. They got dusted and put under the tree.

The minimalist gift that keeps giving

While Mrs. CK was cleaning in the kitchen, she found another dust troll. I’d saved a piece of wood from notching a big tree that I cut down. It had been a difficult tree to put down – if it went down in the wrong direction, it could have taken out our house. I had some memories tied to this piece of tree, but now this memento was just another dust troll. “Cast it into the fire!” Mrs. CK pleaded. After taking a picture, straight into the fires of Mount Doom it went.

Picture of wood chunk.Cast it into the fire!

The hunt was on. We found some extra wine glasses that were untouched for so long, they had become cloudy. They had gathered dust inside of a cabinet – what kind of evil is this? Under the tree they went.

Emboldened by our new powers, we went through our closets as well. I already received the best gift ever earlier this year when I got to quit my job. And now I was left with half a closet full of khakis and polo shirts sitting idle. Under the tree they went. This opened up space in the closet for some luggage that was taking up floor space in the guest room.

This wasn’t the first time we gave things away this year, but we still managed to find enough “gifts” to make a pretty nice pile under the tree. With the shelves clear and the floors unobstructed, I got back to cleaning. The shelves got wiped down in one pass and the floors were swept up with ease. We had just given ourselves the gift of less chores and more free time.

A new holiday tradition

In many ways, reverse gifts are the best kind of gifts. The donation will go towards charity, and the items will get to see a second life. But we got more than just some good feelings and a tax deduction. The best part of the gift was getting more open space and less to maintain. We didn’t have to clean up wrapping paper, find space for new toys, or fight mall crowds to purchase/return stuff we don’t want or need. Instead, we can relax in our tidy home and be lazy while enjoying a Lord of the Rings marathon with the one set of Bluray discs that escaped the fires of Mount Doom… at least for now.