Polite Ways To Reduce The Gift Treadmill

I’ve been reading posts on blogs about how to avoid giving Christmas gifts this year. Every time I read one these posts, I wonder how these bloggers are perceived by people in their lives if they really do follow their own advice. If you don’t reciprocate when you know someone is going to give you a present, or if you insist on being the only person in the office who isn’t part of the company gift exchange, or if you self-righteously inform people that you “aren’t doing gifts” this year, you risk looking like a jerk. It’s not just that it’s rude, it can hurt people’s feelings too.

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And let’s face it, Christmas isn’t the same without presents. As much as I bemoan the consumerism of Christmas, and as much as I agree with those who want to make the season more meaningful through less stress, I would be sad if no one gave me anything for Christmas. Likewise, I am grateful that I have so many people in my life who I love enough to want to give presents to. This is part of the Christmas season.

Still, there have been many Christmases where I have fantasized how I would gladly dump gift giving this year if it meant I didn’t have to go to one more mall or deal with one more crowd. Giving gifts when you don’t want to can be joyless and burdensome, and that takes all the meaning out of giving presents in the first place. Besides, with the unemployment rate still going up, some of us just can’t afford elaborate gift giving this year, even if we want to do it.

So the reasons to avoid the gift-giving treadmill are obvious: it sucks the joy out of the season, it contributes to the rampant consumerism, it costs a lot of money, it stresses us out, and it adds more clutter to our homes. So how to get out of it? That’s tough without looking like the aforementioned jerk, but there are some ways to politely reduce the gift treadmill, if not exactly eliminate it:

1. Cut to the essentials.

Try to only give to people who you love and who you truly want to give to. A lot of the stress of Christmas is self-inflicted. You don’t really have to give presents to every one of your neighbors. You don’t have to send Christmas cards. The postman doesn’t really need another plate of cookies. If you have to give a gift to someone, opt for one or two quality gifts instead of a whole bunch of stuff. You get the idea. Just don’t do the extras this year, and witness the stress and money it will save. And you know what? I bet no one will even notice.

2. Offer to get together.

Instead of handing over a gift, tell people you want to spend time with them. For a present, you would like to take them to a movie, or pay for lunch, or … I don’t know, go sky-diving. The great thing about this idea is that you can go as formal and expensive or as casual and cheap as you want. And it does two things: a. it turns gift giving into an activity of love and time spent together and b. it reduces holiday stress because you can always do the activity after Christmas.

3. Make your presents.

This saves a lot of money (although it can add to the stress) and insures you are giving something meaningful. So instead of buying things at the mall, make a huge batch of peanut brittle and divvy it up on plates. Or knit someone a scarf. Give them a six-pack of your homemade beer. You get the idea. Here’s a bunch of ideas to get you started.

4. Do a gift swap.

This works in large families or any kind of group gathering. It goes like this: everyone finds something in their house that they don’t want anymore, but that they think someone else would enjoy. Wrap the thing up, bring it to the party, and everyone swaps. Think of it as formalized re-gifting.

5. Plead poverty.

There’s nothing wrong with admitting you have had a tough year and are cutting back. In fact, this is the only excuse I know of that allows you to avoid gift giving without seeming rude. If you are having trouble paying your bills, it is irresponsible to spend hundreds of dollars on Christmas presents, and people understand that.

6. Buy second-hand gifts.

Giving gifts from the thrift store can be tacky, so make sure what you are still giving something of quality. But finding quality used gifts is easier than you think. For example, try a used bookstore. With one shopping trip, you can get everyone in your life a present that they will open again and again (assuming they will actually read the book), and for little money.

7. Get out of town.

If you are the type who hates Christmas shopping so much that they would rather not give or receive any gifts, I hear leaving town can be liberating. In fact, increasing numbers of people are spending Christmas in places like Hawaii or Mexico to avoid the holiday hassle and catch some sun. Sounds like a good solution.
How do you simplify gift giving during Christmas?

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