My family hasn’t given holiday gifts to each other for years and when we stopped, the holidays went from stressful and expensive to a time when we could relax and enjoy each other. Recently, some blog readers asked me how we got to that point—how did we have the conversation that initiated the change so we no longer gave gifts to each other?
One thing that differentiates my family is that when we decided this, there were no small children. My father and sister never liked shopping for holiday gifts anyway, so the real obstacle was my mother.
The Holiday Review
My family has an informal process that we go through before and after the holiday season to make sure we capture all of the best aspects of that season and make sure never to repeat the worst aspects. At the start of every holiday season—usually Thanksgiving–my mother (now my father) pulls out the prior year’s Holiday Review List and we all read through it together. Last year’s list had stuff like:
- Snickerdoodles (dad)
- English Toffee (jenn)
- Cookie Brittle (mindy)
Fun Things We Did
- Drove around and saw Xmas lights
- Sat in Starbucks and people watched
- Rode Max (Portland’s light rail) downtown and saw the big tree
- Decorated tree together
- Made cookies together
Things Never To Do Again
- Visit Jenn’s in-laws too early in morning on Xmas
- Muffaletta – want hot snack
Things That Stressed Us Out
- Cooking big Xmas breakfast (eggs benedict) – too much work!
- Waiting too long to grocery shop (Dec 23rd)
You get the idea. Ever year, we review the prior season, so we can make sure we NEVER repeat the bad stuff just because we forgot! Then we make a new plan every year to incorporate the good stuff.
This means that when I proposed that we eliminate holiday gifts, I had evidence that my mom was getting stressed out by the holiday crowds, and that my dad hated gathering and recycling all of the discarded gift-wrapping materials. I was able to elicit comments like, “It’s getting harder to shop for you, the older you get.” I could also remind them of how much fun we had just hanging out together and point out that the best memories were experiences, not specific holiday gifts we received.
What NOT To Focus On
Like anything in life, it’s better to propose change by accentuating the positive benefits that will come, instead of the negative—here are 3 attitudes that typically cause people to resist:Click Picture To Tweet!
Focusing on the money. When I think about the reasons my family decided to stop giving holiday gifts, it really had nothing to do with money. But as a financial professional, I always hear everyone’s judgment on the overconsumption and consumerism emphasis during the holiday season. Yes, people tend to overspend, but NOT overspending isn’t ultimately what will make you happy about no more gift giving, it’s simply a nice by-product.
Making someone “wrong” for the way they do things. People KNOW they spend too much money during the holidays, this isn’t a revelation … but if you TELL them this, they immediately jump to protecting their way of doing something. And, usually they feel guilty, which is never a good place for change. You can only change if you’re not defensive or judgmental of yourself.
Trying for 100% conversion. With any change, people need to ease into it. We weren’t perfect the first few years—my mom agreed not to buy holiday gifts and then still got us a few things. Rather than get angry that she didn’t adhere to the “rules,” we checked in to see if getting us those little gifts actually made her happier. When she realized they didn’t, she was able to stop altogether without feeling like she was giving up something.
The Top 5 Reasons To Eliminate Holiday Gifts
Since giving up gift giving during the holiday season really isn’t about money, then you need to focus on what it IS about:
No more shopping stress. I love watching crowds and people, but I don’t like being among them. Most years when I gave gifts, I had my shopping done by Thanksgiving! But then I missed out on the decorations and enjoying the season. Now, I will just go out to one of the shopping areas, sit with my peppermint mocha and watch the people.
Having experiences instead of possessions. I went back and tried to remember my favorite gifts when I was younger, and all I could recall was Barbie (actually, I had PJ and my sister had Barbie), my bike, my roller skates and volleyball. What I really enjoyed thinking about was the times I made my family go ice skating, the Harry Potter marathon, driving around to see Christmas lights, decorating cookies and the year my boyfriend and his best friend shot down a Christmas tree in the woods.
Slowing down the pace. One thing I always appreciated about my mom was her ability to just hang out. She could just sit and talk for hours with anyone. In my world, it’s really rare to come across people who don’t have places to go and people to see. So between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, it’s really nice to UNschedule, and make spending time with the people you care about your only agenda.
Making it about family versus individuals. When you give holiday gifts to each individual, you make it about their response and satisfaction—and the individual tends to focus on what they got or didn’t get. When you do things for the benefit of the group, it becomes about a community of people who care about each other. Then, people tend to focus on what they can contribute.
Modeling behavior for children. When I was younger, it was so fun to wake up Christmas morning and see what was in my stocking. It was never anything expensive, but I loved the anticipation of knowing that Santa brought something. As I got older, I started getting frustrated over how the family would get up early, open holiday gifts, and then pass out again by noon. I still wanted to play! By age 11, I had already started managing the family and convinced my (older) sister to wait until 8 am to wake everyone up. The point is, I was willing to sacrifice the gift opening experience if it meant that I could sustain more family connection throughout the day. And several years ago, I saw a young girl (about 5 or so), literally tell her mom that she was too tired to open any more gifts! She had been opening gifts for 2 hours and still wasn’t done! Children don’t need as much as we think they do. And, what take-away do you want your children to experience during the holidays?
Actions This Week
- Conduct a holiday review. If you haven’t pow-wowed with your family already, check in and make sure everyone has a voice in planning how to best spend the holidays.
- Plant the seed. Look for opportunities to show others (and yourself) that gift-giving really is a by-product of the season, and not the end-all purpose.
- Reflect on your thoughts about gifts you want. If I am dating someone during the season, I typically have expectations about what this guy “should” get me, or should want to get me (yes, sometimes I will exchange a gift with my romantic partner). Look for areas of attachment and resistance so you can understand what is really going on for you. It’s never about the gift.
And in the comments below, tell me . . .
What would you focus on this season if you didn’t have to worry about giving gifts?
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