Reining in Holiday Gift Giving

 holiday gift giving

Are you spending a lot of thinking about what to get your kids for the holidays this year? I am.

Are you feeling the angst of getting it all right? Hand raised.

Are you peering over the edge of the holiday tizzy cliff, about to step off? I’m trying not to.

The expectations for holiday gift giving, especially for our kids, have gotten way out of control. Wayyyy. Many American families are literally drowning in a sea of presents, wrapping paper, stockings, and stuff.

There is a lot of pressure to delight the people you care about during the holidays. I feel it too. I’m a gift-giver that loves finding the perfect gift. But the truth is, a month or two later, about 75% of the stuff we buy has lost its luster. And then we’re all stuck with unwanted, unused, or unappreciated items (a.k.a. clutter).

A couple of years after we became parents, my husband and I felt both the stress of a huge influx of “stuff” at the holidays and the disappointment of the excitement not lasting. So we decided then that we would not shower our kids with presents during the holidays.

It’s been a battle. Grandparents often do not take kindly to limits. (“This is our time to have fun!”) Our kids approach us with a long list of desires. Some of our kid’s classmates are getting everything they want, from XBoxes to iPhones and numerous other tech gadgets involving a strategically placed letter in the name.

It’s FUN to give gifts.

But…we’ve found that by not making the holidays all about the presents, we give our kids something else: the long term benefits of simplicity, creativity, and learning to find satisfaction in a finite amount of things. We are finding that these non-tangible gifts outweigh the short term pleasure of hoards of holiday presents.  

You have to wonder what fuels the pressure we put on ourselves at the holidays. What’s motivating over-the-top buying behaviors? Maybe some of these subliminal messages are floating around in your head:

  • My kids won’t have fun without a lot of presents.
  • A good holiday equals lots of fanfare.
  • Anything is worth making good memories.
  • I don’t want my kids to go without.
  • I don’t want my kids to be disappointed.
  • I don’t want to seem cheap.

Maybe this is the year to examine those thoughts. Our Januarys don’t have to be a wasteland of forgotten toys and a pile of items to exchange or return. Might the rush to fill the cart at Kohl’s at the 11th hour be worth exchanging for a more peaceful season?

I can’t tell you the right dollar amount to spend or right number of presents to buy. But I want to encourage all of us to feel released from the burden of feeling that we have to go crazy with the credit card to make the holidays bright.

I’m inspired by the fictional March sisters in Little Women. Instead of devouring their delightful Christmas breakfast, they packed it up and gave it to the needier family down the street. Yes, they were poor and in the middle of a war, but Christmas wasn’t focused on piles of stuff. It was about gratitude, caring for others, and togetherness. I want to raise kids with that same spirit.

Let’s start a new holiday trend. Let’s find more joy in the being together. In walks in the snow. In baking and decorating cookies. In reading by the fire with hot chocolate. In having a family dance party. In taking care of others.

Giving our children holiday memories that aren’t attached to loads of “things” takes a little more effort up front, but kids will (eventually) be excited by whatever we think is awesome. Haven’t we spent too many hours getting rid of, selling, or donating all the stuff we don’t use? Disconnecting from the idea that our wallet needs to provide a happy holiday season just might lead to the best year yet.


10 Non-Toy Ideas for Gift Giving

  1. A costume bin with stuff from Goodwill (Plenty of room for imagination to come into play)
  2. Experiences (Play or music tickets)
  3. Season passes (The zoo, kid’s museums, jumping places, etc.)
  4. Quality time (A coupon for baking something together or date nights)
  5. Books
  6. A plane ticket to see a relative or family friend
  7. A weekend trip somewhere (A mini-road trip, a night away at a water park)
  8. Music or art lessons
  9. Sports equipment
  10. Art supplies 

Here’s to a holiday season full of joy and love! 

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One Response to Reining in Holiday Gift Giving

  1. Nikki December 5, 2016 at 1:54 pm #

    Thanks for sharing! We feel the same way at our house…. We have decided to do less gifts and then make a special breakfast together Christmas morning followed by a day of sledding with our kids, then roasting marshmallows and having hot chocolate! My husband and I are so excited too! Nothing better than getting to be a kid again ☺️

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