When a Loved One Won't Stop Shopping

I used to use gift-giving as an excuse to shop.

I had a little shopping addiction, and craved that rush of pleasure you get when you acquire something new.  But when I didn't really need anything, I had to find a way to manage the guilt of buying for no reason.

So I'd buy a gift.  I could always come up with a gift-giving occasion -- maybe Mother's Day was only a month away, or a colleague had a birthday on the horizon, or I thought I'd save an item for Christmas.  (I had a closet full of potential gifts.)

holiday shopping bags

What exactly was I buying?  

According to surveys, millions of unwanted gifts are received every Christmas.  Well over half of the stuff we purchase isn't actually brightening anyone's holiday.  And since we all feel a certain amount of guilt when we get rid of gifts, they add to the clutter in our homes, and increase our feelings of stress and overwhelm.

I was wasting money to buy things people didn't want, filling their homes with clutter.

So what do you do when your mother-in-law won't stop shopping?  She greets your pleas for no gifts, or at least fewer gifts, with horror and even anger.  She tells you that you're ruining Christmas and destroying everyone's pleasure, and that your kids "deserve to be spoiled."  She makes you feel like a Scrooge, when all you want to do is reduce clutter and waste.  Do you just give up and let her continue to load you down with unwanted gifts?

I have some ideas about that.

6 possible reactions to your shopaholic loved one

1.  Don't wait to have the "no gifts" or "fewer gifts" conversation.

Don't wait to bring the subject up at Thanksgiving dinner.  Speak up now.  Share your reasons, such as:

  • "We're really enjoying our less cluttered lifestyle." 
  • "We really want to focus on being together, rather than on opening presents, this year." 
  • "We all have plenty – wouldn't it be fun to pool our money to give to Charity X?"

2.  Share the latest research that children do better with fewer toys.

They're less distracted and more creative, finding new ways to play with the toys they have.  This actually increases their focus and cognitive development.  They also value their toys and learn to take better care of them.  Additionally, real toys (rather than tech gadgets) allow children to be in charge rather than passive, which increases their confidence and competence.

3.  Take some time to reminisce with her.

Point out that the favorite memories you share aren't about items you owned or purchased, but about places you visited, celebrations you enjoyed, traditions you practiced, and those jokes, sayings, and funny happenings that families share.

4.  Tell her that the best gifts you or your children could receive are her time and attention.

Even if she believes her "love language" is giving gifts, remind her that gifts don't need to be limited to what can be purchased in a store.  A special outing, such as a day at the zoo or science museum (without a trip to the gift shop) would create more happy memories for her grandchildren than just another toy.  A shared meal or concert would strengthen your relationship with her more than any physical gift.

5.  If she must purchase tangible gifts, be specific about wants or needs.

Make sure she knows your children's clothing and shoe sizes, and their current interests and hobbies.  Share info about your perfume allergy and the fact that you prefer to choose your own clothes, but also that you enjoy pure beeswax candles, exotic tea blends, and cozy slippers, size ___.

6.  Set the example for clutter-free giving.

Show your love and appreciation by spending time and effort, instead of shopping.  Take her to the art museum and then to lunch, arrange to get a manicure together, spend a day helping her with household maintenance or repairs, make her a calendar featuring photos of her grandkids, or donate to her favorite charity.

Updated September 2022


  1. I did enjoy this post alot. As a young mother, I copied my grandma and created a gift giving cupboard for when my littles were invited to parties or when family came to visit or early Christmas shopping. Now that my two are young adults, I ask for a list and most likely it has weblinks on what to get. I do enjoy spending time with my two going to Christmas concerts or driving around seeing the lights that others do. No more cupboard filled with gifts. No more searching for neighbor gifts and giving them. I only purchase gifts for my two young adults at Christmas. When they have families of their own, I will probably write them a check and give it to them on October 1st. Then they can decide to use the money for a family gift or family travel or get the kids what they have to have. I hope to gather them for food and song when they have families. No gift exchange needed. With a female friend of mine I started doing Jolabokaflod-- an Iceland tradition of giving a book and chocolate for them to read in December. A in Texas

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comment. That Jolabokaflod sounds like a great idea!


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