I successfully cancelled my family holiday gift exchange this year – and I couldn’t be happier about it.
Why I’m Giving Up Gifts
Every year around the holidays I spend lots of time and energy on gift-giving and gift-receiving. Whether it’s figuring out what other people want me to buy them, or whether it’s me figuring out what I need to tell other people I want – it’s cumbersome and expensive. Gift-giving has turned into a gesture that’s stressful (financial and time-consuming).
So, I’m putting a stop to it – at least in part. I’ve got my extended family on board. Instead of doing a gift exchange, we are going to have our normal get together, where we enjoy each other’s company, eat, and celebrate the season. Basically, we’ll do everything the same except open presents. I haven’t quite got my immediate family on board yet for our gift exchange, but I’m working on it. At the very most it’s going to be one gift instead of many – we’re starting by going lean before we give it up completely.
You may be thinking I’m a big scrooge when you read this, but that’s not true. In fact, it’s the opposite.
It’s not that I don’t want to give gifts, it’s that I think the true meaning of the holidays is about celebrating with loved ones – sharing quality time with one another and creating memorable experiences. The holiday season is not about presents. It’s not about things. We all have enough stuff. We don’t need anymore.
The worst part about gifts during the holidays is that it requires you to put your energy toward “stuff” instead of toward people and experiences.
And I am talking about “stuff” here. The kind of stuff that you give and receive as part of gifts you exchange because you are part of a large family that exchanges holiday gifts every year (or gives a lot of birthday gifts). I’m not talking about 1) the thoughtful random gifts that you want to give from the bottom of your heart (like a small handmade gift), or 2) the big gifts you can afford to give to people who can’t afford them (e.g.: flying your family to see you). I’m talking about the list-making and overspending that happens during the holidays (or for birthdays) that takes away from the spirit of the day, making it hard financially and time consuming without adding value.
One of my main goals in life is to live intentionally, making good choices with few regrets. I can assure you that when I’m on my death bed, I will not be wishing I had more time with my shoes or my handbags, nor will I be wishing I had had more stuff or worked more. Any regrets I have will relate to people. Why? Because it’s people who matter. It’s the experiences we have with the people we have relationships with that matter most.
My Proposal to You
This holiday season, I am proposing prioritizing having more meaningful experiences with the ones you love and putting gift exchanges lower on your priority list. This means talking with your family about limiting the gifts exchanged between everyone and making plans to have meaningful experiences together.
There are lots of ways for you to propose “limiting gifts” and encourage meaningful experiences.
Here are a few examples for limiting gifts:
- Secret Santa
- White elephant gift exchange
- All gifts must be under $20
Here are a few examples of activities you can do in conjunction with limiting gifts:
- Go see holiday lights in your area
- Dress up in ugly holiday sweaters
- Go Caroling
- Make holiday dinner or baked goods together
These are just a few ideas off the top of my head. I’m sure there are plenty more with a little googling. Prioritizing meaningful experiences during the holidays will ensure that you and your family focus on what’s important during the holidays – people, not things.
Who this will be hard for
While I understand how my “rethinking gifts” during the holidays goes against the norm, I think this choice will be rewarding for most people. But I think it will be particularly hard for the following three groups of people.
1. The person who receives love through gifts. If you’re someone who receives love through gifts, this may be particularly hard for you to swallow. After all, one of the “five love languages” is gift-giving, so it’s likely that some people will argue that gifts are an expression of love. But again, I would say to that, that only gift-giving shows love if it is truly a gift and not a list of presents that makes the holidays more stressful. It’s the madness that makes people go into debt for the holidays and the stress that’s brought on that’s so unnecessary. If gift-giving is truly your love language and important to you, then make a thoughtful gesture through a card, handwritten note, picture frame, or something small and meaningful. Don’t do the traditional holiday shopping list that turns the meaning of the season into a commercial event.
2. Parents of young children. If you’re a parent of young children, this may sound blasphemous to you, given the holiday tradition of giving gifts. I urge you to read Ruth Soukup’s post called Why We Say No to Gifts. Ruth has instilled a “no gift” rule for her kids, and she does this topic more justice than I can since I don’t have kids. This post is incredibly inspiring and walks through the reasons why she is crusading against bringing more “stuff” into her home, and instead instilling values of quality time with her family. I’m team Ruth on this one, and think the effort can be tailored to fit your family. For example, maybe Santa brings one gift to each child instead of 123297 gifts. Maybe you go on a family outing as a new tradition on Christmas day, instead of having your kids make you a Christmas shopping list of everything under the sun that they want. Naturally, kids will compare their experiences to their peers, but in the long run, instilling good values will be worth the complaining you hear now.
3. Entitled adults. Adults who have a sense of entitlement with respect to gifts (i.e. they expect gifts and believe they have a right to them) will have a hard time limiting gifts. Whether it’s rationalized through saying “we always do it this way” or believing that “we deserve it”, it’s going to be really hard for someone who thinks she’s entitled to lots of gifts to give them up. I don’t have a solution for this, but bring it up as a talking point. You just may have to get really creative and keep trying before you convince an entitled adult.
A Final Note!
I’m rethinking gifts this year. I’ve canceled my extended family’s gift exchange and opted for a celebratory dinner instead. Why? Because at the end of the day (and at the end of my life), I don’t need more stuff. I need more meaningful experiences and time spent with the people I love.
If you want to lessen the stress of gifts during the holidays (and save some money!), I encourage you to propose rethinking gifts to your family. Instead of multiple gifts or creating a list of things you need to buy or want other people to buy for you, suggest a secret Santa or white elephant exchange in conjunction with a family activity or outing.
Shift the focus away from gifts and toward meaningful experiences. Because this is what the season is all about.