I love everything about birthdays. I just love the idea of celebrating someone for just being who they are. From the calls and wishes, to the company and the gifts, from the home-cooked meals to treats in fancy eateries, from the sparkling candles to the moist chocolate cakes- I adore all the fuss!
Birthdays in the Past
I always get excited as soon as my birthday month arrives. In the past, I use to guess who will be the first one to wish me, who will give me what presents and what dress my mother had in store for me. As far as my memory serves, I always got a new attire for my special day- Ammu made sure of that.
My excitement dampened a little when I discovered that my husband was not big on birthdays. Don’t get me wrong, he has tried to make every one of my birthdays special ever since we have been together. Its just that, inherently, he is not a fan of all the fuss I like about birthdays. It made me feel guilty because I was always sitting with a huge expectation of a grand celebration for my special day. It is very difficult to surprise me as well because I use to track everyone’s movement like a hawk when my birthday was just around the corner. Much to my husband’s credit, for the last-minute-kind of-person that he is, he has managed to even surprise me a few times on my birthdays.
To meet my husband half-way, I tried to adapt birthdays-are-not-a-big-deal attitude once. I failed terribly and that was the worst birthday ever. It seemed like when it came to birthdays, I didn’t have a middle ground.
So what happened to all the birthday fuss when I chose to adapt a minimalistic lifestyle?
Birthday Wishes :
The first step I took was to remove my birthday from social media accounts. No, I wasn’t trying to avoid treating my friends :P. I just realized, I did not want my birthday- a day that is so special to me- filled with perfunctory wishes from others. The ones who do matter will remember my birthday and wish me without having Facebook reminding them “Its Farhin’s Birthday. Send her some good thoughts”. This particular act took away any misplaced sense of importance or popularity I had of myself.
To be fair, there is nothing wrong in displaying your birthday on social media. Often, it is a chance to reconnect with friends you haven’t spoken to in a while; but as a budding minimalist, in order to keep interactions in my life intimate and meaningful, I just felt this was the right step for me. In the past, I also made sure to reply each and everyone personally and not give an overall “thank you for your lovely wishes” status as people most often do. So, not having my birthday “on display”, helped me to keep away from constantly checking my phone and replying to wall posts but rather be present in the day. This meant a lot less wishes and interactions which was surprisingly refreshing.
From the giving end, I have realized its makes for a much better wish if we call a person on their birthday. This is something I picked up from my inherent minimalist husband. I once saw him call up a co-worker to wish him. It wasn’t like they were very close friends but he still called and that struck me. The little extra effort that we take to talk to someone on their special day can mean a lot to the birthday girl or boy. I suffer from borderline telephobia (it is real! And international calls are worst!) but I am trying to make an effort and call people instead.
I have always believed in giving gifts that are useful. Its something well-practiced in my family. Although you would think it takes away the surprise element, it rarely use to be the case in the household I grew up in. You see, when you are paying attention to your loved ones, you know what that person would want or saving up to buy without having to ask. However as a budding minimalist, when it came to gifts, a re-evaluation had to be in order.
“I now give gifts of experiences, charitable donations, or, if I give material goods, I give consumables, such as a bottle of wine or a bag of coffee from a local roaster. It must be something someone can use, or, if it’s an experience, it’s a memory that can be shared, from concert tickets to an evening of watching the sunset together. It sounds cliche until you actually do it, and then you realize it’s great.“
– Joshua Fields Millburn, The Minimalists
I urge you to the give the essay a read to discover how fundamentally wrong our approach to giving gifts has become today.
For my birthday this year, I have received some materials gifts, but thankfully most of them are useful for me. I couldn’t stop my mother from giving-me-an-attire-on-my-birthday-ritual though. It hasn’t been that long since I started on this minimalism adventure and I am hopeful that my loved ones will know better in the following year.
To practice what I am preaching, for the last two years, I have been giving my husband the gift of home-cooked meal with all his favorite dishes. This year, I took it a notch up and planned a surprise party with his close friends. He is not big on “thank yous” but I could see how happy he was to be around his friends and share a home-cooked meal (by yours truly) within the comforts of his home. Last weekend I took a waffle-crazy cousin to treat her at this new waffles place for her birthday.
I understand we, here in Bangladesh, feel that it is difficult to give meaningful gifts like the ones The Minimalists talk about in their essay. While this was true once upon a time, it does not apply today. All we have to do is put a bit of effort instead of buying mindlessly whatever pops up in hallmark, archies, boutiques or make-up stores.
Here are some ideas:
Consumables: Good quality chocolate (make it dark for added health benefits); Coffee;
Flavored Tea or anything else you think the person might fancy!
Treats: Take them out for a treat at a restaurant. lunch dinner or a brunch in the weekend. We have plenty of reasonably priced restaurants in our city, so you won’t have to break a bank. If you love cooking, home cooked meal is also an option 🙂
Experiences: Exhibitions, Plays , Performance Arts, Stand-Up Comedy Shows, Book-Shop
Tours, Pottery Classes, Yoga/ Mediation Classes, Spa Vouchers, Escape Room to solve a mystery or to places in the outskirts of the city like Mawa Ghat, Jolo Jongoler Kabbo etc
Charitable Donations: If your friend advocates for a cause, you can also consider donating to his or her favorite charity in her name may it be for diseases, orphanages or animals.
Company & Celebration:
While a huge party sounds great and special, as a budding minimalist, I have began to see the value in small but intimate celebrations. I have realised, it makes the birthday more meaningful. I suppose this is easier for me than most, because I have never had a large circle of friends. I am all about a few very close friends and family.
This year, I spend the night before at my parent’s with my parents, brother, sister-in-law and my adorable nieces. Good food, great company, a great chocolate cake, sparkling candles- what more could I ask for! The following day, my husband came home early from work and took me out for a walk. Yes, you heard it right, not a fancy dinner, just a walk around our area. The weather was very pleasant for a rickshaw ride and snacking on momos and dough-nuts. It was perfect ❤ . I would have ideally liked to involve my friends but with a French exam the following day, I thought better of it.
Birthdays are still special to me. I will get excited about my birthday every year as I always have and treasure all the birthday wishes I receive. With my minimalist-in-the-making lifestyle, material gifts aren’t something I will forward to unless they are useful. As far as celebrations are concerned, I will be more inclined to intimate gatherings with people I am close to, than a room full of acquaintances. I have found value in spending quality time with friends and family, meaningful conversations and reflections. I have found value in dialing down rather than having an overwhelming day with no memories to look back to.
I have come to realize as a birthday present, the most special gift you can possibly give to your loved one is actually time.
Thank you for reading ❤