Wednesday, December 21, 2016

My Anti-Consumerism Christmas

I've written before about how much I dislike gifts.  It's not that I intentionally want to be a Scrooge, it's simply that I don't have a lot of material wants and needs (by privileged North American standards), and those that I have are easily met on my physician salary.  What I want far more than a sweater that someone else picked for me or another gadget for our overflowing kitchen drawers is time.  Time to rest, time to read, time to do the 1000-piece puzzle that I ordered from Amazon.

For years, I've been trying to convince my family members to simplify Christmas by giving fewer gifts.  And for years, I've been met with a desire to maintain the status quo of everyone giving gifts to everyone else.  This year, however, possibly as a result of my years of wearing down rationally discussing my views with my family members, people have finally agreed to cut back on gift giving.  Success!

Here (in case this is interesting to you) is how it is all working out:

Girlfriend (M):  M is the one person I enjoy giving gifts to, because she has a long running list of things that she wants, which makes her really easy to buy for.  And, unlike me, she loves getting gifts.  Last year I took this way too far, to the point where it was awkward for me to give her gift after gift in front of her family members.  This year, we are giving just one larger gift and one "stocking stuffer" to each other.  Our cluttered apartment will appreciate the (relative) self restraint.

Mom:  Normally my Mom gives everyone multiple gifts, many of which end up being returned or donated to the thrift store because she bought them months earlier to "save money" and they can no longer be returned.  This year, she is planning on one physical gift for each person (maximum ~$30) and one gift card to a preferred store.  Some of the physical gifts are still of questionable quality (sorry M), but at least they are smaller, and at least the gift cards will get used.

Because I hate shopping, I once again bought my Mom season's tickets to our local theatre.  We go to the theatre six times per year, and it's a great way for us to spend some dedicated time together and to do something we both enjoy.  Way more valuable than anything I could find in a mall.

Brother and Sister-In-Law:  I consider this my biggest win of the year!  My brother and sister-in-law have crazy busy lives, which have gotten even busier since bringing home a new puppy, so I managed to sell them on the idea of no gifts between couples.  I'm far happier to spend an hour or two more with them than I would be running around trying to find them a half decent gift.

Nieces:  When I suggested to my brother that we not exchange gifts, his first reaction was "But you'll still get the girls something, right?"  To which I sighed.  Because my nieces have everything.  There is literally nothing in the world that either of them needs.  Clothes, makeup, music, movies, ski equipment, a new puppy.  They have everything.  For their birthdays this year, I copied my idea for my Mom and gave them both season's tickets to our local children's theatre.  But for Christmas?

One of the things that makes me sad about my nieces is that neither of them really reads for fun.  When I was a kid, my single favourite thing was to visit the bookmobile that would come to our neighbourhood once a week.  I would return home with shopping bags full of books, which I would then proceed to binge-read until my parents forced me to turn out the bedroom light and go to sleep.  (Sadly, I didn't own a flashlight for reading under the covers.)  I really want to get my nieces more into reading, so once again I decided to get them books for Christmas.  I was very successful with Chris Colfer's book last year, so they will probably always get books from me.  Whether they want to or not.

 And that's it.  Christmas shopping done with only two trips to the mall.  Success!

If you celebrate Christmas, how are you doing with your shopping?

Edited to add:  Ummm...or Hanukkah.  Of course.


  1. It sounds like much of your dislike of gifts comes from a fear that what you get for the other person won't be appreciated. And part of this maybe stems from you not appreciating the gifts other people buy you, and then feeling guilty about disposing of them when you imagine that the other person would have been so much better of had they just kept the money. I can relate to so much of this! I've been trying to get my parents to stop giving me gifts for YEARS for the same reasons you describe, and this year I succeeded in getting them to make a donation to Planned Parenthood for me in lieu of buying me stuff. My husband and I don't really exchange gifts either. We tend to go out for special occasions instead. I do love buying presents for my daughter, but that's because she tends to love everything I get for her, and that makes me feel good. I could imagine that buying things for your nieces might be less fun, especially since maybe they don't act as excited as you hope they'll be at what you bought them. I love your idea of books for them. Another alternative, if they have hobbies, is to get them something related to that.

  2. I love getting people gifts - IF - I find something that I know they will love. What I HATE about gift giving is this concept that you MUST buy everyone SOMETHING even if they need nothing, want nothing and you have NO IDEA what to get them.

    My friends fall into the second camp - very rarely do I find something that I know they will like and that they will not buy for themselves. Gift cards become the default, which is ...fine?

    Thankfully my brothers, who live far away, are TOTALLLY ON BOARD with this whole "don't try to buy me gifts and I won't try to buy you gifts and we'll all be REALLY OKAY WITH IT" concept. Which we adopted years ago, including my mom (who is no longer with us) when we all became ADULTS and moved out of my mom's house.

    This year I have a half dozen gifts wrapped up under the tree, ready to give out. I bought MYSELF what I wanted, on Black Friday - and I'm happy :D I don't need or expect anything.

    Merry Christmas!

    1. I also enjoy giving gifts when I can find something I'm certain someone will like, which is unfortunately rare. Everyone in my life seems to have so much already!

  3. DC1 LOVES those Chris Colfer books. Hard to believe he's also a super talented actor and singer since he's such a good writer.

    I am thankful that one of my SIL populates her amazon wish list as well as those of her kids. DH's family is so very much into the idea of gift giving that cutting back is really a non-starter, especially since we're probably the highest income of the group. (Technically it's DH's job to figure out presents for his family and my job to figure out presents for mine, but in practice figuring out what to get his family sometimes takes all of us brainstorming.)

    My family exchanges gifts but on so much of a smaller scale that there's not much point in trying to change anything. Plus they're good at getting stuff off my wishlist. :)

  4. I was so proud of my gift to my mom this year - I ordered her personalized stationery (and myself a complementary set) so that we can correspond in writing which she has always said she prefers. She loved it. It felt AWESOME.

    And then my husband and I opened, between the two of us, over $600 worth of gifts from her. I felt so inadequate, and like my gift of a $40 stationery set paled in comparison.

    I'm 31, and I know that money doesn't equal quality. But it's a terribly difficult habit to break after 31 years of getting overloaded with expensive gifts every Christmas.

    My solution? Stress out in the weeks leading up to Christmas, procrastinate on the shopping, snap at people, cry at night, and then swear off Christmas next year. I keep trying to convince my family to exchange time instead of gifts, or to set a limit, and every year I hear the same thing: "we've really downsized this time," except nothing ever changes.

    It totally makes me feel ungrateful, but I wish all that money could go to useful things instead.

  5. These all seem like excellent solutions! We're in a similar position when it comes to gifts - we've been trying to get the family to cut down on gifts for years, partly because the ritual gift-opening is longer than the Academy Awards. This year, the deal was that you could give multiple gifts but they all had to fit in the same box. Plus, almost everyone asked for donations to their favourite causes this year, so physical gifts were cut down even further. I still got waaaay too many books but I am not complaining ;) Hope you had a lovely holiday!