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  • Theresa Cashman

3 Ways to Eliminate Useless Gifts

A handful of years ago, I was living and working in Sydney, Australia. On a particular Tuesday morning, I was walking through a small outdoor mall when all of a sudden, I was frantically searching for gifts for my family. “I could get this pin for my mom, and my sister might like this tea towel…” when I paused...


I realized that, even so many miles from home, in an opposite season from what I normally experience at Christmas, the simple trigger of hearing Christmas carols over the loudspeakers had elicited a conditioned response. Like Pavlov's dog, one chorus of Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, and I was hooked; shopping hurriedly for a holiday that was months and thousands of miles away.


So that’s my first tip: just be AWARE that you’re shopping. Be aware that you’re shopping for a specific person with their own likes and dislikes. Be aware that your purchases have far reaching consequences, both good and bad, for the planet and its people. Just be aware.


Since then, as our family has grown, we’ve discussed our patterns of gift giving. This can be a VERY touchy subject! Some members of my family are deep in debt, while others love the extravagance of the holiday, and yet others are deeply religious and resent the commercialization of the holiday entirely! Given all these different points of view, we decided that the feeling of obligation to give everyone a gift was doing more harm than good.


Like so many other families, these days we’re trending towards experiences and memories instead of material possessions. One year, our gift to each other was for the family to visit me in Denver, instead of having me flying to CT to see them. We got to go skiing in the mountains, drink cocoa around the fireplace, and had a blast! (And we even SAVED money compared to a regular gift-giving year!) Another year, we opted to have a quiet evening in and decorate cookies that we brought to the local children’s hospital the next day.


There are also options to cut down on the number, and increase the quality and meaning of gifts. Doing a secret santa or hosting a white elephant, both with strict price limits, can help eliminate shopping for shopping’s sake, or receiving 37 meaningless gifts from your extended family, friends, and neighbors. I’ve even gone so far as to ask my dentist not to send me a card. (I figure, I see her regularly, and while I appreciate the gesture, I’d rather she save the paper, postage, and fuel getting a card to me.)


When it comes to kids, cutting down on gifts can feel cruel. I love to spoil my nephews, but the studies have shown that fewer gifts, given with care and consideration, can be just as enjoyable as overloading kids with gifts.

One of my friends has even instituted the 4-gift rule. Each child gets one gift they want, one gift they need, something to wear, and something to read. When we were kids, my mom got sick of having us all tear through our gifts in 10 minutes, missing memorable moments of delight and feeling like her months of preparation weren’t appreciated. She solved this problem by asking that we take turns opening presents and you know what? We all got to enjoy Christmas morning more!


Would you like more tips on how to decrease your holiday stress? Check out my blog: Keeping Your Home Organized Over the Holidays

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