“Twenty-five years ago, Christmas was not the burden that it is now. There was less haggling and weighing, less quid pro quo, less fatigue of body, less wearing of soul; and, most of all, there was less loading up with trash.” —Meredith Deland in Harper’s Bazaar, 1904
Giving gifts is an expression of love, and it has been for thousands of years. Well before our consumer-driven society, people offered gifts as a sign of respect and admiration. Kings, peasants, and everyone in-between.
This is not an argument for no longer giving gifts to people we love. I think giving gifts is great. But I do think it would be wise for us to rethink how we give them.
And the sooner, the better:
28% of shoppers are entering the holiday season still paying off debt from last year’s gift shopping!
Over 50% of holiday shoppers either overspend their holiday budget or do not set one at all.
Consumers who went into debt over the holiday season racked up an average of $1,054 in new debt over the timeframe.
I suppose this might be okay if our gifts were legitimately enriching the lives of other people. But the statistics say otherwise:
53.1% of people report to receiving unwanted gifts during Christmas.
$16 billion is wasted on unwanted gifts every year.
Some reports indicate up to 18% of gifts are never used by the person who receives them. 4% are immediately thrown into the trash.
Whenever I speak on minimalism and take questions afterward, the two most common questions are 1) How do I implement minimalism in a family? And 2) How do I handle and/or tell loved ones to stop giving me so many gifts?
And none of this even begins to mention the amount of stress and worry piled on to the holiday season with our attitudes toward gift-giving.
As someone recently said to me, “Thanksgiving may be my favorite holiday season. It’s got family and food and tradition. It’s just like Christmas, but without the gift-giving expectations and stress.”
I think it’s time we rethought how we approached the act of gifting gifts during the holiday season. Our current approach is not benefiting the people we love, nor is it adding to the joy of the season.
Times have changed.
For one, material goods exist in far greater excess than ever before. Consider this, human beings own more “things” today than at any point in human history. In America, the average home has tripled in size in the last 50 years. And still 10% of Americans rent offsite storage to house their stuff… and an even higher percentage can’t park their car in the garage because it’s too full. We’ve reached peak-stuff. People don’t want more, they want less (the growth of this blog and the minimalist movement over the years since it began stand as proof).
Additionally, and probably more important, very few people wait for the holidays to receive what they want anymore. Because goods have become so accessible and inexpensive, a high percentage of people just go buy whatever they want, whenever they want. This leads to countless moments of saying, “I don’t know what to get __________, he already has everything.” I can remember that phrase being said 30 years ago. But nowadays, it’s true about far more people than ever before.
I honestly think it’s time for us as a society to start rethinking our holiday gift-giving attitudes.
This has happened before. Most historians trace our current attitude toward Christmas shopping back to the 1850’s. This may seem like a long time ago. But 150 years, compared to the timeline of human history, is not all that long.
Our thinking as a society toward gift giving has changed in the past, and it can do so again.
How do we bring about this change?
1. We keep the conversation alive. Share this article. Or share others that are similar. Start the conversation among your friends and family members.
2. Control what you can. Request a change in what you personally receive. Ask for no gifts this year or ask that the money be donated to a charity rather than spent on clutter.
3. Look for buy-in among like-minded people.
Before buying a whole bunch of stuff for your loved ones this holiday season, ask if your loved ones even want a whole bunch of stuff this holiday season. (tweet that)
Or look for new traditions in your family. Maybe you only buy gifts for people under the age of 18. Or decide to limit the amount of gift-giving stress by drawing names, rather than everyone buying gifts for everyone else.
Approach the conversation with your family. Many families have changed how they give gifts, and most people are thankful for the change. It usually just takes one person to approach the others with a new idea. But now is the time to have that conversation.
4. Find new ways to give gifts. Look to consumables, experiences, or pooling money for one significant gift rather than piles under the tree.
5. Find new ways to make the season memorable. Holidays are important. They establish tradition, stability, and shared experiences among family members. Look for new ways to promote memories (time together, meals together, religious experiences together) that do not center around stuffing used wrapping paper into a trash bag.
It will take effort to change societal expectations around our current gift-giving habits—especially with the amount of money being spent to encourage it. But we can start with our families, and allow them to enjoy the freedom of new expectations first.
Trudy Elder says
I’m an only child and when growing up my parents did give me lots of presents. They were not extravagant gifts as this was in the 60-70’s. Most of them were hand made.
When I got older they would give me cash and asked me not to buy them anything. My parents are very practical and extreme minimalists before it was even a thing. Lol
They have instilled this in me, which I do appreciate. Whenever a friend gives me a gift ( birthdays included) I thank them but suggest we do an activity or dinner together in the future.
My son has never received Birthday gifts from his friends. We have always asked for a monetary contribution that would go towards one gift or tickets for an event or movies. It was hard for me to ask for this as I felt it was tacky, but all the parents told me they appreciated not having to go find a present. We always do a really fun activity which is our present to him.
We do give my son more gifts since he’s an only but try to limit it to 8 presents, and follow our version of “Two you want; need, wear, read.”
He is into some expensive sports so the want, need & wear all go hand in hand. 90% of his gifts is stuff we would have bought him anyway.
My parents give me a generous amount of money to buy him one item or put towards a very expensive gift. Last year it was a mountain bike.
My husband and I exchanged gifts but it is something we need for ourselves or the house. I wait until Xmas to restock my shampoo, make up, body wash etc.
This year I asked for a new expresso machine as our coffee maker crapped out. I’ve been drinking instant for a month.
We enjoy the whole day opening gifts slowly, taking breaks to make breakfast, walk the dogs, play a game or put together a gift and try it out. I think this has taught my son patience and he views Xmas as more than just presents. For us it’s about taking they day to be together and be grateful for having each other and the friends in our lives.
I love the white envelope on a tree idea. The gift is a contribution to a worthy cause in your name. We all know many local non profits and missions as well as greater orgs working hard to help the most vulnerable, to protect the planet.. peace on earth, goodwill to all..
Here are some of the things we do around Christmas gifts in our family:
1) My husband and I don’t exchange big Christmas gifts, just do stockings for each other, mostly snacks and booze we know the other will like.
2) We give our under 18 son a few gifts he’s requested. Over 18 daughter gets cash.
3) We give our parents each one small sentimental gift, and make them an annual photo calendar they treasure.
4) With my sister and BIL, we give donations in each other’s names. I give one gift each to their small children.
5) I give a very small token gift to my 3 best friends which I shop for locally to support little local gift shops. Something like a cute dish towel or some lip balm I know they’ll like and use. And honestly if they don’t like it, I’m fine with them donating or regifting it!
6) My parents give us cash which I’m very grateful for! They do give gifts to the grandkids. I know it takes restraint for my mom not to give the grandkids a huge pile of gifts. But my sister and family fly here to visit us at Christmas and it’s a huge pain for them to get a bunch of gifts. I consider their annual Christmas visit and time with to be our best shared gift!
We are almost there. We have two young grandsons who still believe in Santa. Their other grandmother, who has four other grandchildren goes all out buying them all a lot of toys, Many of them will never even be played with. There is really not enough room in their home for everything. We will probably get them one or two things. My husband and I haven’t exchanged gifts for decades. We give our two children and their spouses generous monetary gifts. I wish that they would give us the gift of their talents and labor. There are things that they could do for us that would be greatly appreciated. At this point in our lives we need very little in the way of material goods.
Have you considered (not at holiday time) having that conversation with them. Maybe in the middle of winter or summer far removed from when it could sound reproachful but could be done in a casual off-hand manner…you know, I wouldn’t mind…
My MIL kept a list of small things that needed to be done
replace a lightbulb, clean the top of the refrigerator… usually didn’t take more than a few minutes but at their age they didn’t need to be climbing step stools or ladders. We all (children and grandkids) knew we should try to take care of at least one thing when we came to visit. We knew where the list was kept or would ask if it had been misplaced. It allowed her to write it down when she thought of it and didn’t have to try to remember during the joy of having a visitor
Diane S. says
I found something interesting. “There’s A New Christmas Tradition”. What this is:
There are 24 chapters in the book of Luke in the New Testament. The new tradition is to read a chapter in the book of Luke daily starting December 1st, and by the 24th day you have read the accounts of Christ’s life and therefore know Who and Why we celebrate Christmas. I think this should be the center of our Christmas celebration. And on Christmas Day, maybe we should sing Happy Birthday, Jesus!
The daily reading is our time spent with Jesus, what better gift can we give our Lord than that?
Whe I was younger we used to pray and sing for little Jesus. We didn’t get no gifts ? It was only for him. We used to love it.
Katrinka Tyrseck says
Fern Webber says
So so true. Jesus is the season for the season, but this is just the beginning- it’s all about the cross where our indescribable gift of His Son dying for our sins is the best gift of all.
How Beautiful! I will try this with my family
Donna Wilson says
We have for many years (late 1980’s) had what we call Jesus Birthday party on Christmas Eve. I decorate the house each year with streamers and banners of birthday (white, red or green) and balloons (2 doz). We have hamburgers and french fries for dinner and someone makes baby cakes (cupcakes). An adult reads the Christmas story of Christ’s birth and then we light the candle on our baby cake and sing “happy birthday” to baby Jesus. Our family wouldn’t have it any other way. When they can’t join us, then they have their own Jesus Birthday. The times that we couldn’t get together because of sickness or COVID, the kids were very disappointed (ages range from 5 to 21 for grandchildren). The rest of holiday is very minimal with stocking stuffers and name drawing for the adults with a spending limit.
What does the non-believer do?
I stopped giving physical gifts for the most part and instead give plane tickets.
Kristina Johnson says
These are all great ideas. But what do you do if you are an only child and only grandchild and have no family left. The holidays are very hard for me and lonely. Well every day of the year is lonely too. I wish I had the problem of too many gifts. You ppl that posted definitely need to step back and realize you should be grateful to even have this problem.
Kristina, it’s not other people’s responsibility to think about how every conversation they have about their own lives may affect every other person who may hear or read it. If people discussing their families makes you feel unhappy, it means you should look at that in your own life.
Many people have no biological family around them. That does not have to automatically equate to loneliness. Family is what you decide it is, and sharing the same DNA isn’t required.
Many of us have built our family from scratch by the friendships we have found, developed and nurtured. If you want close ties in your life, you build them. These relationships can be every bit as profound, fulfilling, meaningful and simply beautiful as any that were handed to us through biology. Oftentimes more so, because we chose them and had to work for them.
And when you have them, that still doesn’t mean you or they need to lavish each other with material gifts, however. ?
All the best to you.
Barbara T says
In a nutshell, “Happiness is Self Made”. It comes from withing and not others.
Francina G says
I understand completely. Don’t have this problem…ever..
Hope this year will be better for YOU.
This is what I say to those that complsin about to many people that come visit and want to spend time with them. What a great problem to have, and also to many giftgivers. That also mean you have a big group of people around you. Can you spend xmas with a friends family maybe? Or voluntare somewhere for xmas. Then you would not feel lonely. Put up an add on fb and ask if someone has an empty chair for you at xmas. Good luck!
Michele Moore says
Reach out to other people to adopt as family. You will all appreciate the season and each other even more. Search out people who are lonely and bless them. Their gratitude will bless you right back
This will be me when my parents are gone. I’m ok with less but buy yourself something or I love to give to Angel trees and have delivered gifts to those kids on the tree-heartwarming. Go volunteer somewhere on Christmas then you don’t think about it so much-the joy is in the giving…it truly is
Martha Wallen says
I completely understand the feeling. No matter how many friends you have and how wonderful they are, they don’t live in our homes, and they are spending Christmas with their own families. You don’t need a lot of gifts, but you do need to know that people care about you. I hope you have enough friends who understand that you like a bit of Christmas. It’s a drag to get gifts you don’t really want or need. When people live alone, maybe there are things they can’t find in stores, or maybe some people just need some money. What you give counts too, especially when people have genuine needs and can’t give you much in return, maybe just a card.
Bette Hayes says
There are so many service organizations and churches willing to help with gifts for those who can’t afford gifts. All you need to do is let them know or volunteer your time to help set up for free gifts and. be rewarded with gifts for your child. Having done both, there are no strings attached and no cost to you. Merry Christmas this year Kristina.
What part of the country do you live in?
I told people I don’t need anything. Knowing that it will get ignored, I said to take the favorite book that you read this year/ever/you think I’d like, put your name on a sticky note in the front cover, wrap it up, and let me borrow it. They can put some thought into it, I’ll have stuff to open so people won’t feel guilty about not getting me anything, I’ll get out of my reading rut, and I get to give all the books back when I’m done. I’m actually excited about Christmas and not dreading an influx of things I have to find a place for or dispose of. (PS – I cleared off a bookshelf for the books so they won’t get mixed up with mine.)
What a fantastic idea!!!
I love the book idea!
Victor and Patsy Joe says
I haven’t heard anyone write about the real meaning of Christmas. This is what I feel is missing. Giving gifts and or not giving gifts is not the point. Christmas begins and ends with Christ. The celebration of Christmas was given meaning through the story of the birth of Jesus Christ. The three wisemen from the East followed the star which led them to a manger where the Christchild was born. Without going into detail the story of Christmas began here with the wisemen offering gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These were presents that represented things of value. The message of Christmas was simply a way of telling the good news that God gave the world the greatest gift which is love. God’s love for all people. Jesus is the gift of God’s love. It is the gift that the world longs for and seeks at all costs. It is the gift that offers the answer to the question every individual asks about life: “If a person dies will he live again?” This is a question that haunts us even today! If our creator is real and offers us life after death isn’t this good news? This is the meaning of Christmas that has been missing as the years pass by. So my suggestion would be to get together around the Christmas tree and someone read the Christmas story (Matthew 1:18-2:12. Luke 2:1-20). Familiar Christmas carols and songs could be sung. Then the opening of gifts can take place symbolizing the joy that comes in the giving and sharing of gifts Some semblance of order needs to take place where the family can be together to see and enjoy each person as they open their gifts. That is the pattern our family experienced every Christmas rather than the melee that takes place where everyone dives in and rips open their present with avarice and greed in their eyes to see what they were “getting for Christmas!” The tradition of Christmas has lasted in different cultures for over 2000 years. `
Margo Evenson says
Amen…we have moved so far from the true meaning of Christmas. How many still go to Christmas Eve church service?
And yet Christ was born in April and Christmas was founded on pagan traditions.
Thank you for saying this! I am Unitarian and celebrate (and respect) all religions and practices, not just one.
pamella Loy says
I go to Christmas Eve Eve because so many in our church travel. We always have 2 services with candles, singing,preaching and communion. It’s wonderful!
Emer Kelly says
Actually, much of the traditions surrounding Christmas have never had anything to do with Christ. Winter celebrations were, and still are, common for many cultures around the world (in fact, the other word for Christmas, Yuletide, is an ancient Nordic term for the celebration). The birth of Christ was not celebrated at this time until the fourth century when church officials decided to institute the birth of Jesus as a holiday. It is commonly believed that the church chose December 25th in an effort to adopt and absorb the traditions of popular winter festivals. It increased the chances that Christmas would be popularly embraced.
Gifts, celebration, feasting, Christmas trees, community, Santa Clause – all these things and more were around long before we called it Christmas. I personally have no problem with non-Christians celebrating the holiday. Some celebrate its roots, while others celebrate the religious aspect. All who celebrate embrace its message of joy, love and kindness – and for me, that’s what matters most.
Nancy Vehrs says
I knew some used the history as an “argument “, but I love your approach. And your final analysis is perfect. Thank you!
Nancy N. says
Actually, “Christmas” starts as a pagan festival until it is appropriated by the Christian church as “the birth of Jesus” as part of their efforts to eradicate paganism. In fact, most of the major “Christian” holidays have pagan origins this same way – Easter, Epiphany, Christmas, St. Valentine’s Day, etc.
These days Christmas has once again become a “pagan” holiday in the sense that large numbers of people celebrate it as a non-religious holiday. It’s even widely celebrated as a secular holiday in countries like Japan where there are only tiny numbers of Christians.
Sounds wonderful and I agree with you, but what if we cannot change the habits of family even after suggestions? My extended family prefers the chaos of piles of gifts and flying gift wrap. I prefer less stress over the gift giving and would rather spend my weekends leading up to Christmas doing things I love with my family and not fighting for parking spaces at the mall or endless shopping hours on the internet – don’t know how to find balance.
Lisa Maraszek says
I’m with you. I love all the activities/concerts/hikes, etc that lead up to the holiday, and absolutely dislike the shopping experience (real or online). Wish the gift-giving part could be tempered, and all these suggestions shall be floated to the family, but it always seems to echo back with “but it’s all about the kids”, and we may be doing a disservice to them.
Not really. Xmas excisted long before christ!
I agee wholeheartedly…
I am so broken that many including my own have strayed from the truth and passing it on to my grandchildren and their generation,which will eventually become a thing of the past
Jean O says
It used to REALLY bother me that we celebrated Christmas – the Bible doesn’t tell us to celebrate the birth of Jesus, it’s at the wrong time of year for it anyway, and it was instituted for “Christians” to celebrate at the same time as all the Roman pagans during the winter celebrations.
But over the years I have changed my stance on that for a number of reasons.
The Bible tells us to “redeem the time” not to “reject the time.” “The earth is the Lord’s” and”every good thing comes from Him” so the good things about Christmas are godly, and Believers celebrating their Savior is ALWAYS acceptable and good.
Some people never have a positive situation to be exposed to the Good News except at Christmas. The Holidays have more generosity and good will toward mankind than any other time of year – making Christianity more about “God so loved the world” than any other time of the year.
If celebrating Christmas gives me an opportunity to introduce the love of God and His Good News to even one person, it was worth celebrating.
On gift-giving, it takes time and relationship to pick heart felt gifts for my loved ones. Spending time in conversations, hearing their ups and downs and day-to-day trivia. I try to pick something within my budget that they want but won’t buy for themselves. I do this throughout the year, not in December. For those I can’t spend that time with, I get a gift card from a favorite store.
For children, I really despise plastic “throw away” toys. I prefer to get quality creative toys – wood building blocks, Legos, art and craft sets, quality board or card games – things that will last, maybe till their own kids can use them. (My granddaughter will soon be playing with toys I gave my daughter when she was young.)
I like gifting family recipes, written out on personalized (5×8) cards.
Family stories written out. I’m the oldest of our line of family. I remember my parents and life in the 60s, 70s, and 80s that my siblings and their children may not remember – times they may not think to ask about till it is too late. These kinds of gifts are priceless.
Teaching your children to be generous and giving, to “adopt” someone who is alone to celebrate with the family, to volunteer to cheer up shut ins are great family Christmas traditions and a great way to “redeem the time.”
Emma Butler says
Truly enjoyed your comments❤️ My sentiments too.
Susan Atzemis says
What an awesome article!!!!!
Leann Collier says
Last year I got my brother’s family a gift card to The Escape Room, which is a fun interactive puzzle environment that the whole family can participate in. They loved it. Another year I bought movie passes for everyone to see the latest Star Wars. My brother has 4 kids and he’s been saying for years they have too much stuff. I used to find joy in seeking out the “perfect” present for each of them on their list, but it was also a lot of time, stress and money to get it done. I did enjoy seeing their faces when they opened their presents. But how long did they actually enjoy it? My personal fortunes changed and I can no longer afford to do presents for all. But I think they have enjoyed the group experiences I’ve provided. Another time we all went on a hike in the woods, and one year we went to an interactive park that was free and had a lot of fun jungle-gym things for the kids (and me) to play on.
Todd Hyslop says
That’s excellent! For years, I’ve given my parents a card with a donation receipt to an animal shelter — something near and dear to their hearts.
For myself, I’m much more about experiences: buy me a night-school cooking class; or a day of skydiving. My wife and daughter are going to spend a weekend at an ice castle retreat to be spoiled.
Much better than a new tie, ice scraper or video game.
Barbara Hope says
Give a donation to a favorite charity in that person’s name. The charity can certainly benefit and if the person doesn’t get it, they probably didn’t t deserve shift in the first place.
Cathy Cronce says
I read something on FaceBook that has changed my gift-giving this year. It suggested giving 4 gifts to children or grandchildren; 1) One you want, 2) One you need 3) One to wear, 4) one to read. I have really paid close attention to and listened to my grandchildren even more than I usually do so that I can find something meaningful for each category for them. It has made it much more fun and meaningful for me as the gifter and I think each gift will mean more to them. Oh, and I set a budget also.
Patti Wiggins says
I did this same thing this year with my 4 grandsons and it really made shopping fun! I look so forward to seeing their faces when they get their gifts-4 each!
I read that too, and though I agree with minimizing, and 4 gifts is great, and they do not need to be expensive or large, I disagree with “need” and “wear” as gifts. (Unless the wearable item is something they actually want). Otherwise “need” and “wear” should be freely offered already, without turning them into special “gifts”. Food, clothing, shelter, school/mefical supplies are things your child SHOULD be able to take for granted daily. Not hope they get for Christmas.
We think of it a bit differently. I enjoy finding everyday stuff, wrapping it creatively, then make a riddle of age appropriate type the person has to get. If you think of feeling gratitude for even the everyday things, but see this with humor, it becomes really fun.
Everything we have is a gift.
Wendy Plummer says
Food, shelter, needs and clothing are not readily available to every child. Those who do not have much are more than excited to get new clothing or school supplies or toiletries. It’s a nice guideline and can certainly be tweaked by each giver but we should be careful when assuming all homes are like the ones we may be fortunate to live in.
Have you ever parented teenagers? We do the “want, need, wear, read” and wear is something that I might not spring for otherwise, like that expensive pair of leggings they been wanting or that sweater they’ve had their eye on. Need is usually turned into fun. An item that is useful but isn’t a dire need. Like a new electric blanket, for example.
Deborah B Lefevre says
Amen, I agree. Expectations far exceed the joy of giving unless we all figure out a way to give back on Christmas by paying it forward. There are great ideas in this blog.
We only exchange gifts of time in my family, and I started that ten years ago-including birthdays and anniversaries. I will remember a trip or an excursion forever, but will often forget who gave me that 10th scarf I didn’t need.
One year my friend gave me a trip to an organic farm in Lancaster to see how one was run from A-Z. Last year our best friends gave us a cheese-making course at Valley Shepperd Farm in Long Valley, NJ – and at the end of the six-hour course, we all made a five-pound wheel of Edam-style cheese, which we picked up 4 months later when it had aged appropriately! It was absolutely delicious!!
Giving gifts of time requires much more creativity and thought than clicking and buying on the internet- and in the end, everyone loves those gifts of time so much more than another useless “thing”.
Emily B says
This may defeat the whole purpose of this article. My kids (aged 9-15) have too many clothes, too many books, too much stuff. What is it all for? Isn’t gift giving meant to demonstrate love and connection? If someone’s “love language” is gifts, then get them something they want. Otherwise, don’t. Give them something else that helps them feel loved. Experiences are a great way to build connection.
We do 3 gifts, cause that’s how many the baby Jesus received. It served our family well over the years. I am not a religious person. But I try to keep the Christian spirit in the celebration.
I like the idea of ONE perfect gift, because that’s the number of gifts God gave to man in the person of Jesus.
I have many children, mostly grown, with their significant others, 14 grandchildren, a couple of dear friends, my parents, and a sister that I have always lavished gifts upon to the what has amounted to a lot of debt for me. The siblings and grand kids draw names every year. This year I am TRYING to change. I am having my kids bring a pair of wool socks to the sibling Christmas party which we will donate to a shelter. I’m giving my grandkids cash or gift card in a card. Saving myself TIME and stopping myself from over spending, also saving on wrapping paper etc. For my kids I have asked that they do not buy me anything. For them I have made home crafted candles and soap. If I see something inexpensive that I think they would like I might toss that in a gift bag with the candles. It’s really really challenging for me but we all have more than we need to be happy already. My plan is to hand make them gifts each year. IF I can! My husband and I aren’t gifting each other and we will go for a trip instead.
This is what I’m striving for, too! Great ideas!!
Sounds like my family. I do much the same. Even downsizing home. “Stuff” is overrated! People, even family think you’re made of money because you know how to manage it and bargain shop. They laugh at my bargains, but i laugh all the way to the bank. Christmas was a struggle when they were little and now that they are grown the struggles are still there, but different! Glad we’re happy and healthy and can reminisce about most of the past!
Kerry Wilson says
How do I handle and/or tell loved ones to stop giving me so many gifts?
A: ask them to make a donation in your name to your favorite charity and offer them a few options
Cindy “Lou Who” Walker says
Our family has adopted some of these same new traditions. Only giving to Grandchildren, some years white elephant or one person gift exhange. I think donating to the needy we could do more of.
But my question is what is up with the euphoria I feel with the trees, lights, wrapping paper, ribbons and bows. Seriously, the picture in your blog of the beautiful red and silver wrapping paper just hits my pleasure Center like this choir singing. It’s like an addiction.
We did the white elephant gift exchange this year with my sisters and their families and my mom. It was SO nice to not have all the presents. Less anxiety for sure. It was fun and easy- less wasted money on things people didn’t want or need. Creates more time to spend together rather than shopping and opening so many gifts they probably won’t like anyways. Ha! Even the kids liked it. I got a waffle iron (which I still may not use), but I really don’t even care about the gifts. I just want to spend time with family and then go home to my dogs ?.
This can also be applied to weddings, they are so expensive, and for what? Half end in divorce. When all you need is a justice of the piece and a simple ceremony. In the end, it’s all the same. Your married with a piece of paper.
I totally agree! I have friends that have spent over 50k for ONE night or their life. That is crazy to me. I always think of it as “that could be 30 vacations with years of memories.” To each their own, but I wouldn’t be able to sleep if I spent that much for a one night wedding celebration. No way.
My brother in law had a very, very wealthy son who had young children of his own back in the ’80s. A six year old boy was given every imaginable toy and battery powered gizmo imaginable but his preferred gift by far was a worn out old electric drill given to him by his observant and very wise grandfather.
Carol Baker says
If someone had given my brother an electric drill when he was six years old, he would have drilled our house into non-existence.
Anne Stephenson says
But think of the fun he would have had! ??
For the last two years my daughter asked for no more toys for her now four year old twin girls. Last year she asked that gift money be given for year long passes to the zoo. This year the gift money will be used to purchase an outdoor gym set for the girls. I certainly don’ t mind because it lessens my shopping burdon.
My grandmother decided to give her children and seven grandkids an “experience” instead of gifts for the first time this year. So this Christmas, instead of nice things we do not necessarily need, we’re all heading off to a beautiful hotel at a famous estate with great gardens, a castle, fun activities and fancy food. She’s thrilled with herself because all of her grandkids can’t stop talking about it, and we are thrilled to get to do such a fun thing for the holiday instead of normal presents!
Jackie Overland says
My husband and I stopped giving each other gifts several years ago for all occasions; birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, etc. We save the money we would spend on gifts for each other and use it to travel. So far we have been to England, Scotland, Spain, Iceland, Wales and the Netherlands. The memories and friendships we have made last longer than any material item.
William W. Gouk says
Stopped buying Xmas gifts many years ago. For the grand kids we had Papa day instead. The weekend before Christmas I would take both grandkids for 2-4 days and do whatever they wanted .. a weekend in Niagara Falls, a weekend in Toronto including the Aquarium and CN Tower, indoor sky diving, go-kart racing whatever they wanted. Some of my very best memories.
We decided a while back to pick a charity. We have asked our family to donate to it instead of giving us gifts. This year we will support a women’s shelter in Victoria
Marcia Weber says
For the first time, this year I am donating to my favorite charity in my children’s names. I’m happy with this decision, and I think they are too.
Last year for Christmas we took my parents to dinner and also a dear friend, rather than buying them gifts. They’ve asked to do it again this year, which we will, reservations are already made! We give our grown children checks and fill stockings for them with small gifts (not always inexpensive, but things we know they will enjoy) and if they would like a gift rather than a check, we let them choose and order it for themselves. We still get gifts for a few family members, but they are tokens. Even our new granddaughter, our first grandchild will only get a few gifts, along with a check for her college account which we have set up for her. We also either buy one small gift that we’ll enjoy together or none at all…we just enjoy each other’s company and that of our family on Christmas. That is gift enough!
This year our neighborhood started a Buy Nothing Facebook group. You simply post things you do not want and people respond if they want it. Likewise you can post a request for items you’re searching for and if someone has it they can offer it up. Someone seeking a rice cooker made me realize I had one I wasn’t using and was happy to give away! There is no trading or exchanging, simply gifter or giftee.
It has been shocking to see how much STUFF people are giving away – me included – most of which has been sitting around our homes unused. It’s also made me recognize the importance of donating on a person-to-person basis. Several people in our neighborhood have fallen on hard times and through this holiday season collectively our neighborhood has been able to help by providing Thanksgiving and Christmas items – from holiday meals and decorations, to items they can use as gifts for their children, etc. It’s so rewarding, and it also makes it easier for me to part with ‘nice’ items knowing they are going to someone who will appreciate and use them, rather than an anonymous Goodwill. I generally hang on to stuff I don’t need or use anymore because I hate the idea of it just going to waste among the hoards of other items in thrift stores, and this way I know that these items are getting a second life.
Anyway I would highly suggest starting a group like this in your neighborhood if you don’t have one, or joining if you do! It’s helped me connect with neighbors, become more involved, and de-clutter! YAY.
At my workplace we have a giving column in our company’s newspaper where an employee can ask for or donate an item. Even if they don’t use the item they might know someone who could use it. You help someone and keep useful things out of the landfill. Thank you for sharing.
Gwen Hansen says
I just love this idea. I will suggest this to our neighborhood page. Thank you.
I love this idea. How did you start the group on Facebook? I imagine posting some items you wanted to give away for free and then inviting neighborhood fb friends?
My neighborhood is active on Nextdoor and there’s a lot for sale/sometimes give away too.
The challenging part is people are picky and can be flaky, so free stuff is usually left at the curb instead of a hand-off. I get the feeling your group does more of the hand-off. Any advice is helpful. Thanks!
Deb O. says
You can look up “Buy Nothing Project” online for all the info.
Trying to leave a comment since I’m not sure my last one went through?
Love this idea!
choose simple says
I realized that giving doesn’t always equate to helping. There are times when the thing we give adds burden to the person who received it. Personal experience: my mother-in-law is an amazing woman. She loves to give me things—bag, sandals, lipstick, among others. As much as I love the idea that she is generous towards me, I am burdened by most of the things she gives to me. I don’t want to seem ungrateful and hurt her feelings, so I don’t tell her to stop giving me anything. (When she visits another country, she always asks me what I want and I always tell her that I don’t want anything. She’ll end up giving me something nonetheless!) She is a lovely woman, that’s why I don’t have the heart to tell her that gifts aren’t welcome anymore. But this experience made me rethink every time I want to give something to someone. Will it help them or burden them? If it’s the former, I’ll push through. If it’s the latter, I’ll back off. Backing off, most of the time, is the best gift we can ever give to our loved ones. No, we don’t turn our backs from them, but we take a step back and savor the moment because we saved them from drowning in material things.
I like to make things for Christmas. One year I crocheted blankets for my sisters and children. I give my nieces and friends handmade jewelry in their favorite colors, one year necklaces and another year bracelets with a dangle that says “love you to the moon and back”. Last year I crocheted hand towels and face clothes out of the softest chenille yarn and scrubbies for the grandchildren I put each person’s gift in a basket I bought at goodwill and some soap or shower gel. This way the get to use it all year rather than something thrown out after they get bored with it.
I’m retired. I make all my gifts. Teaching my grandchildren to do the same.
It might be jam, homemade bread, bath soaps, a quilt, knitted mittens, or numerous other things. Gives me something to do all year and come Christmas I’m not in debt ??
J. Marie Weldon says
A big hit for us borrows from an article Amanda Soule wrote last Christmas. We have made my parents happy with home sewn flannel napkin sets with red and green flannels this year. :)
Loved reading all these comments and ideas for a less stressful and materialistic Christmas. This year it’s cash for everyone, from the adults down to the 5 year old. The parents of the younger ones can go buy what they know their child will like and it can be from Grandma and Grandpa. The adults can always use cash… the teens like saving for a large purchase. The checks are going in the mail, and I don’t have to shop, wrap, and then mail the gifts which ends up costing me twice as much. Christmas shopping is done in a matter of moments! Hooray! I get to watch everyone else running to and fro! Merry Christmas everyone!
Andrea Lilli says
I remember last Christmas morning the feeling of anxiety staring at the PILES of toys me and my wife bought to our children. Now I know : it’ll never happen again. I’m gonna buy just one thing with which we can play TOGETHER, this is the very gift to them.
Cynthia Brow says
My family always askes for their favorite cookies or candy from me. I am happy to send them a little piece of home.
When buying physical gifts for anyone, even myself I think about where that item will be in 1-5 years. Will the recipient still want it in their life? I also like to think about what that person actually wants, not what I want to give them.
My son has long been a minimalist. His present to me every year is a big box of persimmon from the tree in his yard ( can’t grow them where I live ) and my gift to him is home made biscotti. We’re both happy !
I agree wholeheartedly… we only really buy for our 3 kids. But. Since we live in a tiny house, and live a very simple life both liberally and financially, Christmas is the one time we embrace abundance of ‘things’ (relatively). It is the one time of year when the kids get ‘new’ toys and clothes… and we do spend at least a couple hundred bucks on each of them. It’s a time for us to be extravagant with our favourite people and we enjoy it. We are mindful… we buy what they really want and need, and that costs more than the throwaway plastic junk. But the kids make gifts for both us and their grandparents… and when I buy for my folks it is books I find second hand, or artwork/photos we frame. Balance is important, and for us, Christmas balances out our frugal lifestyle. :)
I try and give the adults on my list something that they can either eat or drink. Gifts like a bottle of wine, ground/whole bean coffee (depending on how they brew it), gourmet candies (great locally owned candy shop nearby that makes everything on site), baked goods, etc. That way the gift is enjoyed and won’t collect dust.
Anonymous Please says
That has backfired with me… people get too much sweets during the holiday season, and it goes to waste. Or they have allergies to (eggs, nuts, soy, dairy). Or their health requires a diet change of no (added sugar, saturated fat, alcohol).
Tom Clark says
Black Friday: a day when people don’t hesitate to trample others for stuff they don’t need mere hours after giving thanks for what they already have.
A few years ago my daughter shared how they wished they could afford to take the kids to Disney. They do okay, but Disney was out of their budget. We decided to start gifting them Disney gift cards for every gift-giving occasion & asked other family members to do the same. We also gave them one small Disney-themed gift to open with their cards. ie: ornaments, t-shirts, jewelry, cookies, etc. They are now on their week-long Disney trip, completely paid for in advance (no debt!) with the cards they have received from the whole family. Disney applied all of the gift cards to an account for them to choose a nice package. They even had enough to cover their hotel inside the park, food plans, and some extras. Every few hours they text me a picture of them having a blast. It’s the best gift EVER! (for me too!)
Anonymous Please says
Be careful with holding onto gift cards. I bought a $100 Kroger gift card at Kroger in late September. When the recipient tried to use it the other day, it only had $5.54 left on it. I still had the receipt. I called and after a long wait, found out the card was compromised on October 14. Someone copied the numbers and waited for it to be activated. They can do this with their phones. They didn’t need to have the actual card to drain it. I reported the problem to the store manager and am waiting for a refund.
Wow..good to know..We have many restaurant gift cards..must do some take-out or pickup orders soon!
This was a very excellent and truthful post. For Christmas I usually start my shopping four months in advance. I make sure it’s something that the person can use, and likes. Instead of buying a lot, I buy what’s useful. More thought, less gifts.
Also I’ve gotten rid of lots of stuff the last few years. I like living with led stuff because I only keep what I use. Now I have less stuff to worry about and more room, and I love it.
Thank you so much for sharing this.
Valerie R. says
It just goes to show the power of marketing and social conditioning. It’s hard to introduce new concepts to a material-entrenched society. Part of the problem is organized religions still promoting 25 Dec and those patent untruths. Sigh… I have these same conversations every year…
I recognize the season for what it is – winter solstice.
Anonymous Please says
I agree with you 100%. My inlaws give us guilt trips in the name of religion. We’re not religious, and they are fanatics.
Connie R. says
If everyone would realize what Christmas is truly about, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. We are celebrating Jesus’ birth. Have you heard the saying “Jesus if the Reason for the Season”? Too bad most people forget.
Connie R. says
Sorry for the typo. Jesus is the Reason for the Season.
He is for some people yes. But others have read the research that the church commandeered that particular date so that more pagens who were already celebrating winter solstice on that date could be more easily converted to Christianity and still have a celebration on their usual date. Haven’t you ever wondered where the tradition of bringing a tree indoors and decorating it, came from? Jesus was born most likely early spring, when the shepards stayed in the fields at night for lambing, and the census was taken ready for the good spring and summer weather better suited to go to war.
Barb Harnly says
When our children were very small we began a 12 Days of Christmas tradition. I wanted them to focus on others, so we would choose someone in our neighborhood who was alone, suffering illness or loss, a single mom, you get the idea, someone in need of blessing. We always chose to be anonymous and delivered one bag each day or night before. Count backwards from Christmas eve so you’re not delivering the last bag on Christmas day. We would use brown paper lunch bags and write with red or green marker- On the 1st Day of Christmas, On the 2nd day of…., etc., and tied them with bows or ribbons. Each bag held as many items as the numbered day.
Fill them backwards to save money, examples-
12- cookies or a calendar
11- gift tags
9- candycanes (from my banking trips)
5-gold bells strung on ribbon (this was our signature bag)
3- clemintines. (3 matchbox cars)
2- teabags or hot cocoa
1- Christmas mug
One year we decided to bless an elderly couple we knew only from waving as we walked past their home, we did a dry run to find they had a motion sensor light, so their bags were boxed with instructions to open one bag a day and we delivered all at once.
My children have countless stories of our ‘missions’ and the people who blessed us without even knowing.
Christmas is about the heart, I guess that’s why the Little Drummer Boy is my favorite carol.
What a wonderful tradition- thank you for the ideas!
wonderful idea; I’m already making plans to do similar this holiday season~thanks for a great new tradition!
Tammy U says
Several years ago, ou little tow never had a factory shut down. Many families were hurt, right at Christmas. We were also drowning in stuff. So, we talked with our children, told them that we were going to spend our Christmas money on others, secretly. We all loved it! We printed off a pretty paper, telling them how much they were cared for, by us and by God, and filled bigger stockings with useful presents. A few years later my husband’s lifelong neighbor, who helped raise him, was dying of cancer. She fell down, and I was called to help her. After we got her up, resting, she asked for a cup of coffee. On her refrigerator was that piece of paper we had made for her stocking. We had never told anyone it was us, but she asked me that day, and with tears in her eyes, said she read it daily. Best present ever. She was the most gracious and sweetest person I have met.
Amen! I wholeheartedly agree. I No longer allow anyone to give me gifts. If someone does I donate it!
Patricia From the UK says
I have asked my husband not to buy me anything for Christmas this year, but he says he feels guilty not buying anything. I replied, I already have everything: my health, a healthy family, a loving husband and a nice warm home. What else is there? I feel pretty blessed with those things without anything else! I hope he looses the guilt and follows my wishes. It’s the festive adverts that make us all feel guilty.
Absolutely! I am now in the “no gifts” stage of life. I turned 70 and told my kids (3 adults) that I didn’t want stuff just donate to the local human society or food pantry. I have a house full of stuff that I am in the process of, as my mom used to say, “weeding out.”
This year for Christmas, I decided to spurn the usual frantic gift buying ( I truly am not a shopper anyway) and am writing each family a check to do with as they please. My grandchildren who range in age from 21 to 5 are generally the recipients of the gifts so there was some guilt involved but I decided to do it anyway. Their needs and wants are more than met. Gifts for them is trending towards money these days as it is. The parents constantly complain about the amount of “stuff” that all of them have and, honestly, I no longer have a desire to contribute. Besides I have no idea if they even care about what I give. Sad.
The only side effect is that I feel a distance forming with me and my kids as there is no collaboration around choosing gifts. They are not even doing a gift exchange between the adults this year.
At times I feel this may be my doing as I lost my last sibling and only remaining family member this year and have withdrawn a bit myself.
They all know my decision to gift cash instead of stuff and had no problem with it. Perhaps they too are rethinking the greed the season brings.
I have long railed against the commercialism of Christmas. I know that one son’s wife’s family does not support my way of thinking but, they are not my problem. So, without the “noise” associated with the commercialism of the holidays, they will be quiet days indeed. I am single, though, so most days are quiet anyway.
Ann Irwin says
Cleo, instead of just writing a cheque, which seems to make you feel more disconnected from your children and grandchildren, why not give them an experience in lieu of “stuff”. Take them to a show, a day at the museum or zoo with lunch, a sporting event, or anywhere else that you think will appeal to them. You will get to spend more time with them, there is no need to shop or wrap, and nothing will end up in the landfill.
Last year, I gave a wine-tasting afternoon, an escape room adventure with dinner, and a trip to see a major league baseball game to various people. Everyone loved the gifts and it only took me a few minutes online to arrange all of them.
Cindy “Lou Who” Walker says
Ann, Love this idea!
This is such a refreshing perspective !
I am ( currently) in the process of declutterring our home of old , unused and unwanted stuff . It is emotionally painful to touch and toss / give away these treasured items . They represent a former time of joy . But now – as I de clutter – it represents clean and new beginnings !
I give a goat gift to families in need ? ?
Susan Bigelow says
Two years ago I decided to “shop at home” for 25 family members. Among the gifts I found at home were my husband’s grandfather and father’s tools and toolboxes, many dating from the 1880’s, an antique pocket watch, 1956 Notre Dame collegiate jacket (my husband’s), a set of dishes, camping equipment, and board games. In addition to the items we shared family stories. Shopping consisted of finding the right cleaning solutions and packing material. We had a great time finding each person the right gift and our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren each enjoyed their gift. I even found a book and some stationary for my mom. This year I am giving consumables: local foods and treats I will make myself.
Linda Mac Donald says
My husband and I did the same thing. We have so many antiques and family heirlooms and are planning on selling our house so we picked something for each of our 7 children that seemed appropriate for each and that was their gift. They loved It! AND family things stay within the family. We concentrated on spending as much time as possible together…that was the second gift.
Jennifer Mccartha-Pearce says
How WONDERFUL! The best part is you get to see your children enjoy these items……As opposed to them inheriting them after you’re gone! <3
I love this idea!
Love this idea!
This is so wonderful and inspiring! I’m going to ask my parents if they can do this. My mom and dad are preparing to downsize to a new home and are stressed about getting rid of things – many of them heirlooms inherited from their parents/family members. I think this is so special – and you’re right it keeps family items/memories in the family and passes along a new memory.
I’ve really been struggling with how to make Christmas less about stuff and more about meaning for my own children, who are 5 and 8. We’ve encouraged them to ask for things they need – new pajamas for instance – and experiences (going to the movies) as opposed to just additional toys. We have decided to limit the items we give to games, art supplies, and Legos, and other useful items. And I’ve also decided to let them help us clean out their items to donate before the Holiday.
Kim Oliver says
Once you realize you’re just choosing an alternate set of traditions, it becomes so much easier to go against someone else’s.
Love this perspective!!!
We got fed up with the excess of Christmas, and seriously scaled back. The toy mess from 4 kids was killing me. I either threw away or sent to a local thrift store (sorted usable vs broken) between 60%-75% of their toys, and we still have more toys than I would like. And I only kept things like Legos, a kitchen set with food, and dress up. The sad thing was we hardly did an extravagant Christmases, but wow, it still added up.
So a few years ago, we talked to our kids about how blessed they are, and how their needs really are met and they don’t actually want for any of the real things in life. We asked them if they would be willing to pool the cost of their Christmas presents to each other, and the cost of their presents from us and donate the corresponding funds to a child based charity to help children that are less fortunate than they are. They all enthusiastically agreed with it. Best decision we ever made! They still get something from grandparents, and a stocking with a few little consumable treats (oranges, nuts, chocolate, and usually a fun pen set and notebook type stuff) but the mass of mess is not overrunning our lives.
It has made them so much more aware of those around them, and helped them to be more compassionate for others. Hubby and I usually will get something needed for the house of family and pool the Christmas presents for each other that way. Then it’s something needed, will be used, and not a waste. I love doing that.
Back to Victorian times when the gap between rich and poor induced revolutions
The rich giving to the poor on one day? It harks back to Victorian times when the income gap gap between rich and poor induced revolutions.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday too for the same reasons, family and friends and no gifts required!
Instead of sending Christmas clients to 100 clients I give the equivalent spend Dollar amount to a local food bank. Last year the $250 donation paid for turkeys for a dozen families at Xmas. I received many emails from clients saying what a wonderful gesture it was. Never received any acknowledgement from them over the years for the Xmas cards. This year our local animal shelter is matching donations in December so that’s where the money is going this year. Another benefit is the lack of paper waste from all those cards.
Receiving a thank you for no card / donation tells so much! Keep sharing your experience and others might join you!
Melinda Schmuck says
Last year, mostly out of financial necessity, my husband and I sat out the holiday season. We bought our daughter a pink matchbox car because it was the only thing she consistently asked for, and somehow we knew none of the family was going to get her what she actually asked for. She still treasures it a year later. The experience made us see so much in a different light, both about ourselves and our family in terms of the holidays and gift giving. We have committed to being people who don’t exchange gifts at Christmas and I’m so excited to see what it teaches us this year! I wrote a blog about it, I put the link to it in the “website” option.
Your post is so true. It’s that feeling of guilt that lingers the most.
Michelle Brovitz says
“guilt is self-induced.” give YOURSELF a gift and stop feeling guilty. Let things be what they are.
Bigger/more expensive is not always better, Rachael. I don’t know your situation, of course, but it is possible to do less and not feel guilty.
My husband got me a package of card stock (paper) for a gift one year. Not expensive or unique, but it was *exactly* what I wanted and thus was perfect.
Go for it and do less! You may well be (I hope you are!) pleasantly surprised by the results.