“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.