Miss Minimalist’s Gift Avoidance Guide

The holiday season can be a challenging time for minimalists: with all those gifts flying around, it’s almost guaranteed that one or more unwanted presents will land in your lap. And after you’ve decluttered your house, reduced your consumption, and pared down to just the necessities, the last thing you want to deal with is more stuff.

Never fear – my handy Gift Avoidance Guide is here! Put these tips into practice, and you’ll greatly increase your odds of coming through Christmas unburdened with extra things. Just think: no more items to return, regift, or defeatedly stash away in your drawers and closets!

1. Propose a “gift-free” holiday. Ah, the minimalist’s dream! Admittedly, this strategy has a slim chance of working in many families and social circles – but it doesn’t hurt to try. You may as well swing for the fences; if this meets with success, you’ll wipe out all your worries in one easy step.

2. Opt out of gift exchanges. It’s all too easy to be pulled into “obligatory” gift exchanges – whether it’s among friends, coworkers, colleagues, neighbors, or extended family members. The more you can wriggle out of, the easier your holiday will be. Cite your choice of financial, religious, philosophical, environmental, or personal reason for declining participation.onelessgift-ps-200

3. Distribute gift exemption certificates. I’ve designed a “One Less Gift” certificate that you can print out, or simply email, to friends and family. Send this to someone at the start of the season (like now!), and you’ll both have one less gift to worry about.

4. Request spending time together in lieu of gifts. Schedule a lunch, walk, or coffee together. Plan it around a holiday activity—like strolling through town to admire the shop windows and Christmas lights—for a particularly festive atmosphere.

5. Request a charitable donation in lieu of gifts. The money we spend buying each other gadgets, knickknacks, and tchotchkes can do a world of good for those less fortunate. Direct the giver to the website of your favorite charity, or better yet, choose a cause together. Selecting a sheep, goat, or water buffalo to donate through Heifer International, for example, can be a lot more fun (and certainly more fulfilling) than fighting crowds at the mall.

6. Request good deeds in lieu of gifts. Suggest exchanging services, like babysitting, snow shoveling, a car wash, or computer assistance. Give each other “coupons” for specific tasks, which can be redeemed when needed. Such help can be far more valuable, and appreciated, than another scarf or kitchen gadget.

7. Express your desire to save the earth’s resources. Every gift we give up is a gift to our planet: our air will be a little cleaner, our water a little clearer, and our landfills a little emptier. If a “no gift” policy doesn’t fly, ask the giver to adopt a tree, coral reef, acre of rainforest, or natural habitat in your name — see The Nature Conservancy’s Green Gift Guide for ideas.

8. Propose a virtual gift exchange. Have fun gifting and receiving private islands, luxurious vacation homes, celebrity-worthy bling, professional sports teams, and other wild extravagances. Simply send a digital photo of your “generosity” to the recipient. A light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek twist on holiday consumerism – with no material items changing hands.

9. Don’t reciprocate. If all else fails, this is a last-ditch, tough-love attempt to stop someone from giving you gifts. Accept what they give you graciously, add an “Oh, you shouldn’t have,” and don’t offer anything in return. Chances are pretty slim you’ll receive something from that person next year. Yes, it’s awkward, but typically rather effective.

10. Disappear. The holidays are a great time to jet off to a tropical island or other exotic locale. People can’t give you gifts if they can’t find you. ;-)

I’d love to hear your gift avoidance strategies. Please share them in the Comments!

93 comments to Miss Minimalist’s Gift Avoidance Guide

  • Funny your last suggestion has been discussed at our house. IF I was wealthy I told my wife I would good to a warm beach in Mexico and they could join me after all the holiday cheer was over. I thought of it as a win win – they don’t have to listen to me whine during the holidays and I get to soak up some warm sunshine. It was vetoed

  • I love how you mention people can’t give you gifts if they can’t find you! Great tips, Francine, and have a very happy holiday season this year!

  • Disappear is a great suggestion. We did this one year, just my wife and I. We just took off on a road trip and told the family that we wouldn’t be around for Christmas that year. Had we been on the minimalist path back then, we likely would have told everyone to forget the gifts. But we didn’t and when we came back, all the gifts were waiting for us. Even so, it was one of the best vacations of my lifetime. I got to spend Christmas with the person I love the most, and she got 100 percent of my attention; it was an amazing time.

  • Travis

    Thanks for this blog post.

    The thing I most love about Christmas is spending the day with family enjoying great food and fantastic company.

    I’ve tried the “Don’t buy me anything” route and that has been a dismal failure for the past 5 years. Every Easter my Mother-in-law (on a very very limited budget) sends chocolates. Every year they go into the bin much to my wife’s disgust. But, HEY! I’m 30kg overweight as it is and whilst I’m at it MEDIUM was a shirt size I last wore 12 years ago.

    This year I’ll try the “Things I can consume” path and with any luck I won’t accumulate more clutter that I will feel guilty about offloading.

    As an aside my 15 year old niece has an awesome gift request for Christmas. She’s asked for a goat to give to a needy African Family. How incredible is that? She’s getting it BTW.

  • Judy

    I like to give experiental gifts. This year I am taking my grandchildren to see a local play and kid’s club membership to our local baseball team(they get three free tickets to games). When they are on Christmas break from school, I am also off from work. So I watch them for a few days. We have visited train displays, go to the movies, have a board game playing day, and gone to eat at their favorite restaurant.

    Last year I treated my daughter to New York city to see a Broadway play.

    I also like consumable gifts such as food, wine, toiletries or gift cards to a favorite restaurant. That is what I am doing this year for my daughters and spouses.

  • Great ideas! This year my family has decided to give presents only to the kids. It’s not ideal, but we’re getting there!

  • seventeen_stars

    This is cutting off the nose to spite the face. Gift giving is deeply rooted in human culture. Yes it has been commercialized, just like sex, eating, wearing clothes, transportation and everything else. I’m not going to stop eating just because there is a McDonald’s. I’m not going to go naked because I resent industrial outsourcing. Why should I be rude and cruel towards those (especially family) who are kind enough to give me a gift? Not allowing someone to give you a gift, or telling them what you want as if gift giving was a purely pragmatic exchange is a dehumanizing practice. If you receive a duplicate donate it or pass it on. If you receive something you dont want what’s the harm in donating it, selling it, exchanging it, returning it? Gift giving is not for the receiver it’s for the giver. You’d be hard pressed to stop people from eating, having sex, wearing clothes, going to church, creating commerce and government… same with gifts. And running away to avoid a gift? Why do you want to avoid someone showing that they care about you and want to see you smile?! Accept the love and generosity with a loving and generous heart… and sell/freecycle/donate what you don’t want. Send it to orphans, soldiers, the elderly and sew your nose back on your face.

    • Ashley

      I think you might be missing the point.
      Miss Minimalist has simply pointed out the important realization that material gifts are only one way of gift-giving. Not everyone wants to be showered with things — instead, we can shower each other with quality time or other experiences.

      The holiday season has become too much about physical stuff? The gifts, the cards, the wrappings, etc. I understand that people are tactile creatures, but there are other ways to be generous…even if it really just is for the benefit of the giver (and if that’s the case, gift-giving at all seems a bit selfish, doesn’t it?..)

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  • […] time together? Writer Francine Jay (MissMinimalist.com) has wonderful advice in her upbeat “Gift Avoidance Guide.”  Blogger Leo Babauta (ZenHabits.net) shares some wonderful non-traditional thoughts in his […]

  • […] anni a venire (!), eccovi una guida e un articolo, completo di risposte a eventuali obiezioni: – Miss Minimalist’s Gift Avoidance Guide – io sono particolarmente a favore del suggerimento numero 10, prima o poi SO che ci […]

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  • Mary

    For the last several years my family has not exchanged gifts. Instead, we give whatever amount we were going to spend on gift/s to a charity that is important to the receiver.

    I’m leaving my pc now and going to my kindle to buy your book.

    I’m contemplating a move from Houston to Denver and am starting the process of simplifying (again).

    Have a great 2011.

  • Caroline

    #10 sounds fun ;)

  • priyanka

    I loved your ideas, Ms. Minimalist. its true that holiday season become a pain becoz of numerous gifts that you dont want/need. for the past few years, we have been trying to reduce the no of gifts that we give to our friends. and to those whom we do give, we try and give a thing, which is useful for them. i think that if you really have to give gifts and cannot get your family/friends to agree being a minimalist, the best thing is “gift vouchers/coupons”. atleast you can buy, what you really need. gift coupons of departmnetal stores are excellent. everybody needs to visit such stores all the time.

  • Henny

    These are great ideas, and I will try them out this Christmas, however DH’s family are VERY into gift-giving. One idea we had in my family when I was a pre-teen was to request either home-made only gifts (which generally lends to very modest gifts, often sentimental, but not necessarily), or to put a maximum dollar value which is very low (say $5-10) which means it will almost always be something you have to eat!

    If I get voted down on a gift-free Christmas (highly likely) my plan is to give edible home-made things, in the hope others will take the hint – eg. home-made granola mix in a nice mason jar and things like that.

    The other gift I like to give is to make a calendar using the kids artworks – this is sneaky gifting, because while we are sharing their creative talents were are also finding a new home for them ;)

  • […] Miss Minimalist’s Gift Avoidance Guide – Avoid gifting altogether? Actually, it not a bad idea…read this post for some helpful pointers. […]

  • Longtail

    We’ve been doing this for years in my circle of friends and family. We make time to create holiday meals together, go to the movies together, get massages, and donate time to each other like sitting around drinking cocoa and watching Charlie Brown Christmas. It makes for those ideal magical holidays you see in commercials and movies.

    I also have one mid-sized box of Christmas decorations. Only the most special things that are dear to me that I show off every year. The heirloom star, one set of tree lights, 4 strands of tinsel, a box of 30 small Christmas balls, and a couple of candle holders for the table. That’s it. We will often make things like wreaths, and we buy a small potted tree and then donate it to help reforest areas locally that have been stripped for timber or areas that need beautification.

  • I quite like giving gift experiences as a present, allows people to have a fun day out. Life experiences make people more interesting than the usual xmas gifts like a new pair of socks.

    I am trying to minimilise now, I live in a tiny flat and have lots of stuff I do not need or want. I am now going to read the rest of your posts for some help!

  • Zoe

    I received a book from a relative-in-law one Xmas, it was a romantic novel that I would never have chosen myself but I loved it as a present because I could read it that cold dark January (it was hilarious – not meant to be) & then pass it on for others to read & ultimately give it to a charity shop (or you can give books to the library). I might suggest certain people surprise me with a book, it is something they can choose & wrap, they wouldn’t expect you to keep it forever & you can enjoy the reading experience and then lend it out.

  • Ami

    Much as I agree with all these suggestions, I think some people express their love by giving gifts. I can’t really blame them, after all it’s been the cultural norm for a long time, and not many people know what to do when someone proposes something so radically different.

    I work around this by either asking for a facial or a class I want to take (really anything that’s not anitem works).

    My mother is one who insists on giving items, though. I don’t understand the mindset, but it’s her love language and she gets hurt no matter how I explain it. So for her, I either think of an item I actually do need even if it’s not very “gifty” (like if I wore out my shoes or socks, a textbook, etc). Failing that, chocolates, teas, coffee, or anything consumable works great.

    We got tired of buying wrapping paper every year only to throw it away, so my family has a stash of pretty gift bags we reuse each year.

    I like your list, but hopefully this will help someone who encounters a lot of resistance.

    • I’m trying to deal with the “but I have to get you a gift!” response by making a wish list on Amazon — but it’s of experiences, like concert tickets, or of items I need, like an attachment for my work keyboard so I don’t injure my wrists again.

      And I’m asking my family what they want. I’m nudging them towards experiences. And for those who expect something, but won’t suggest anything…who doesn’t love a great bottle of wine or a day at the spa?

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  • Karen

    I’m surprised to see that a gift certificate to Amazon isn’t suggested as an alternative, since you mentioned your dream of one day having an all-digital library. A gift certificate to Amazon (or other purveyor of digital books and music) is a true gift — something that you really want — that never need turn into physical possessions.

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  • Tina

    I got 2 gift cards for a discount store. I love jigsaw puzzles and usually get them at thrift stores. This way I am able to occasionally get a new one and donate it when I’m done. The gift cards last all year so it is now mid February and I just did my first new puzzle in a long time. I suppose if I didn’t want jigsaw puzzles I could buy cat food or shampoo or something that would be used up. We usually give money as that way everyone gets what they want including a dinner out or a bill paid.

  • Lindsey

    My family loves to give gifts, but we’ve been giving a lot of ‘experience’ gifts lately. Massage gift certificates, my sister treated all the ladies to pedicures last year. Many of us like to run and we’ll sponsor each other in races. Kindle books are still popular but they certainly don’t take up much room.

  • I’d love to share with you like-minded minimalists:

    Inspired by MY personal lifestyle of minimalism combined with a love for travel, experiences and adventure I’ve launched a new little company with my first design. The Messenger.

    The Messenger is unique because it’s designed to be RE-GIFTED and tracked online as it’s gifted from person to person. (each time at no cost)

    Share photos, culture, and experiences as your handwritten note is carried by The Messenger all over the world- forever! Please check tout at http://www.nomadicgifts.com

    Re-gifting The Messenger is environmentally and socially conscious by nature, though, more importantly it is a fun social experiment in modern giving. By participating in the Nomadic Gift culture you allow your thoughts, ideas and interactions with each other to become the story-share that lives on. The value is on experiences and anticipation of its travel vs. collecting more material things.

    Happy Holiday!
    Nomadic Gifts

  • […] time together? Writer Francine Jay (MissMinimalist.com) has wonderful advice in her upbeat “Gift Avoidance Guide.” Blogger Leo Babauta (ZenHabits.net) shares some wonderful non-traditional thoughts in his […]

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