Reduce Unwanted Holiday Gifts This Year with This Survival Guide

Gift-giving is historically significant. 

In fact, giving a gift to show honor or appreciation, or to cement social or economic bonds, is an ancient practice.  So is giving gifts to a newly-married couple or a newborn baby.

But in spite of these age-old traditions, we don't seem to do it very well.

festive gifts for any occasion

What makes gift-giving such as challenge?

Part of the problem might be that our culture expects us to do it so often.  Gone are the days when a child might get one present on his birthday and a handful at Christmas.  Now we give gifts because it's the first day of school, or the first day of summer.  Or because we went through a fast food drive-thru.  Or because she asked for it in the store.

We give gifts at Easter and Valentine's Day.  We give gifts for Mother's Day, Father's Day, Grandparents' Day, Administrative Assistants' Day, and more.  We give gifts to teachers, coaches, and pastors.  We give gifts to say "Get well" or "I'm thinking of you!"  We give gifts for housewarmings and retirements, engagements and graduations.

And then there's the holiday season, which is a gift-giving marathon.

Gifts are supposed to be about thoughtfulness and love, but Americans spend over $15 billion on unwanted Christmas presents every year, and about 61% of people surveyed expect to get at least one gift they won't like.  Of those, most will add to people's clutter.  Some will be returned or exchanged, and a certain amount wind up in the garbage.

Most people give presents they hope their recipients will like.  They'd be dismayed to know that you're among the 62% of people who admit to lying about how much they like and use a gift.

Why are we so bad at this, even when we try to give something that won't wind up in the back of a closet or buried in a landfill?  Possibilities include:

  • The recipient doesn't need or want anything.
  • The recipient has very high expectations or very specific tastes.
  • The gift-giving is impersonal and obligatory; for example, a Secret Santa exchange, classmate's (not friend's) birthday party, milestone anniversary, etc.

There's a lot of room for error, and since we don't want to offend anyone, these gifts take up space, gather dust, and remind you that so-and-so doesn't really know you.

Maybe you think minimalism requires an offensive strategy that shouts "Don't you dare give me anything that's going to clutter up my life!"  That's not a great attitude if you want to preserve a relationship you cherish.  But never fear – nastiness isn't necessary.

5 ways to receive with gratitude

"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," so let's start with strategies to reduce the number of unwanted presents you give and receive.

1.  Have a conversation.

Don't wait to have a conversation about Christmas gifts at the Thanksgiving dinner table.  Bring the subject up earlier, and do it by talking about some of the changes you're making in your life as a minimalist.  Comments like the following could start some interesting discussions.

  • "I just decluttered my garage, and I can't believe how many things I donated!"
  • "We've implemented a one in, one out strategy with the kids' toys, and it's had so many positive results."
  • "I watched a documentary about minimalism, and it really changed my thinking."

By opening a conversation, you'll hopefully spark some curiosity and a thoughtful exchange.

It's especially important to share your resolutions with your loved ones when you're new to minimalism.  Your desire to live with more lightness and freedom may look quite different to your previous lifestyle.  Be patient, because the idea of wanting less rather than more is startling to some people, and can be a difficult concept to accept.  As time goes on, and friends see that your choices are permanent, they'll adjust.

That's what happened for me.  Now my family and close friends know I'm not interested in acquiring a lot of things I don't need, so they try to choose gifts they think I'll use and enjoy.

That said, some people may never understand your chosen way of life.  They may not be willing or able to accommodate you, so you'll need to accommodate them.  Be the example of loving acceptance, and continue to practice the following tips.

2.  Ask a question.

It's pretty standard to share a wish list with family and friends for baby showers or weddings, so why not do it for your birthday or Christmas if they're likely to give you a gift?

Make it a two-way transaction.  Begin by asking potential gift-givers what they would like to receive.  Do they have a list of things they need or want?  That may trigger them to ask you the same question.

Remember that your wish list doesn't need to be restricted to tangible items.  Mention experiences you would enjoy having as well.

3.  Make room.

As you practice minimalism, your home becomes less cluttered and your schedule less frenzied.  You can accommodate a few new gifts or experiences.  It may seem contradictory to add things, but one benefit of minimalist is that instead of being weighed down by your stuff and your past, you can be open to what the future offers.

4.  Don't feel guilty about purging.

If a holiday gift only adds clutter to your home or to your child's toy box, don't feel guilty about donating or selling it.  It was given to you, presumably without strings attached.  If it will be valuable to someone else, let it go.  Your loved one would surely not want you to feel burdened by a gift.

5.  Be gracious.

Maya Angelou wrote, "When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed."  I'm thankful there are people who care enough about me to give me gifts, and I do my best to let them know I appreciate all they add to my life.  A tangible gift is only a symbol for a relationship, and that's what I really cherish.

Are you dreaming of a simpler Christmas?  

You're not a Grinch, but you definitely want a holiday with less greed, less clutter, less stress, and more love, more meaning, and more peace.

My book, A Minimalist Holiday,* helps you identify the Christmas traditions that hold the most value for you and learn to say no to the rest.  It arms you with practical strategies that help you focus on the things that bring you joy.

This revised and expanded 3rd edition of the original can be your guide to:

  • remove clutter and prepare your home for the holidays
  • budget money and time for maximum satisfaction
  • inject humor and comfort into common holiday challenges
  • deal gracefully with difficult relationships and sad memories
  • discover that the most wonderful parts of the season have nothing to do with gifts
  • and much more!

With chapters detailing a sure-fire holiday diet, tips on how to give without buying, ways to celebrate the winter solstice, and the Danish concept of hygge, there's something here for everyone.  You don't have to do more or buy more to make the holidays mean more, and A Minimalist Holiday can show you how. 

* This blog is reader-supported.  If you buy through my links, I may earn a small commission.


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