Miss Minimalist's Gift Avoidance Guide

a(Photo: mysza831)

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!

Related posts:

  1. Minimalist Holiday: Declutter-Gifts
  2. Minimalist Holiday: The Gift of Time
  3. Top Ten Gifts for a Minimalist

83 comments to Miss Minimalist’s Gift Avoidance Guide

  • Karen (Scotland)

    These are great tips. Number nine is harsh but admittedly effective.
    I started it for cards (Christmas and birthday) in the last couple of years and my family (except my Gran) now “get it” that I really, really don’t want cards from them. One aunt in particular was really upset but she has now seen the (green) light and understands what I was striving for – less paper waste in this little world.

  • SNM

    In India, it is acceptable for guests or elders to give cash (or gold coins with gods engraved on them) in a nice envelope instead of gifts for a function like a marriage or festival. Many people do that because they didn’t have time to buy gifts for the event. Giving cash turns out to be better because one may not know what the recipient likes and this allows the person who receives the gift to buy what they want or deposit the cash into your account!

  • Esther

    We live abroad and whenever friends or family come over to stay, we tell them we don’t want any gifts unless they are eatable or drinkable. But surely nothing that we have to dust off.
    We sometimes even ask them to buy us some of our favorite foods from back home (like Dutch cheese, gingerbread, spices,…) and when we ask them how much we owe them, thay often don’t want money, because that is their gift. We happy, because we don’t get stuff, but food we love. They happy, because they know exactly what to buy us.
    Our parents are well instructed as well and always ask us what we want. They support us in projects like repainting the house (they pay the paint) or help us buying a tool we need.
    When we visit our family and friends back home, we bring them typical local food from France. So in giving our gifts, we also don’t give stuff.

  • Good ideas! I’ve been unsuccessful at suggesting the no gift exchange or quality time vs. gifts for the past few years. I might have to resort to #9.

  • Brenda

    This is really hard for people to accept. For years now, we have requested no gifts at my son’s birthday celebration but nonperishable food items to be donated to the hungry or money contributions to the Humane Society. But people still show up with gifts and a donation. Most say they just would feel too badly to not buy a gift. This Christmas, we are working hard to get the point across, I even posted on my Facebook wall a request to forego gifts other than some great ones like you suggested.
    We will see what happens!

  • Something I’ve been doing for the past few gift-centric days (my birthday, christmas, etc.) is to ask people to take the money they would have spent on things things for me and to donate it my favorite charity. That way people still get to have the warm fuzzy feeling they’re trained to have for being generous, I don’t have to deal with more stuff, and the money goes where it’s actually, truly, needed.

  • MJK

    This year my family is going the gift cards and cash route. Makes purchasing easier and packaging to a minimum. iTunes (music downloads) and Home Depot (home repairs) only for me!

    • I’d recommend against gift cards. Aside from the fact that they encourage (even force?) the recipient to buy something (else forfeit the value), many gift cards have strings attached, such as periodic service charges that whittle away at the value.

      If you are inclined to go that route, just give real money (cash or check) instead; this way the recipient can spend it how and where he or she wants, or even just save it.

  • I proposed a no-gift christmas this year. We’ll see how it works out! But I decided to “buy” everyone these gift certificates that are given to very poor families, to buy food (or gifts for children) at christmas. All the money goes into the gift certificates. So each of my family members is giving some other family a better christmas, I think it will be great for the christmas spirit for all of us.

  • Amanda

    I have finally convinced my 4 siblings that we don’t need to exchange gifts or even draw names. We are still getting our parents a gift, but a single “group gift” that will probably be a gift certificate for a nice dinner. My step mother refuses to give up on stuffing our stockings (even though I’m 31), but she is fairly practical about it. Instead of candy or knick-knacks, she gives us toiletries and vitamins. It’s goofy to get a box of razor blades and some calcium supplements in your stocking, but she gets her traditional Christmas morning and we get things that we will definitely use.

  • JLouise

    I usually just throw in my thoughts about not wanting to receive gifts in conversations through the year and eventually the point gets across. If I do receive a gift from someone who hasn’t seemed to have gotten the message I very politely accept the gift and write a thank you note but I don’t give anything in exchange.

    If someone is complaining about all the Christmas shopping they have to do I cheerily say how I just don’t do mandatory gift exchanges any more and boy! does it improve my spirits during the holidays.

    Yes, I do buy people gifts or make them special food treats at times but this is only when I want to and a holiday or special occasion may not even be involved.

    • Karen (Scotland)

      I agree with this. I’ll randomly buy gifts when I see things that suit people I know – often as a thank you for them babysitting or giving me a lift or something. Same with cards – a random card with a proper note/letter unexpectedly arriving during the year is so much nicer that a few dozen empty-sentiment Christmas cards.
      Karen (Scotland)

  • Sam

    As for #5, ask for credits on Kiva. You can loan it to whoever you want around the world and then cash out when the loans are paid back.

  • Meg

    Yayyyy! I brought the no-gift subject up with my son and his wife and they are agreeable, in fact relieved. None of us need or want anything at all other than just getting together for food and fun. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this whole gift thing became modest and thoughtful and helpful? Great ideas–I’ve done #9 to great success ;D

  • Lori

    My sister is very into the gift giving (and receiving) thing. She insisted on knowing what we wanted this year. So I gave her a list of things like gas cards, grocery gift certificates, and restaurant gift certificates. Things that can be used and enjoyed without bringing anything in the house.

  • I give and get #5, though thru World Vision. This year, maybe Kiva too, as they support women.

  • Chester

    I usually don’t give gifts during Christmas or Birthdays, but instead I give gifts throughout the year, and usually something practical that they need, not because I have to.

    I tell my family and friends not to give me anything for Christmas or Birthday cause I already have everything I want, and for them to just save their money.

  • One year my extended family did a “make it, bake it, grow it or sew it” gift exchange and that was great fun, because everyone got quite creative. BUT it was so much time & effort & ended up costing even more money than buying gifts would have cost. Last year we did a “white elephant” gift exchange, regifting things from our homes that we no longer had uses for. That was great fun too!

  • My brother-in-law saves all the charity requests he gets through the year then at a Christmas family gathering they go through them and each picks one for him to donate to in their name. That makes an event of choosing and he knows the recipient is one the “donor” approves of.

    We sold most of our stuff and moved into a motorhome traveling around the country. Our mail goes to a forwarding service we pay to send mail to us. Family gets that we have little room and that we have to pay to get our mail. I think everyone is relieved to just send us email greetings. We get some amazing ones!

  • Wendy

    Like Esther’s comment above, I also request edible gifts for those who insist on purchasing me something. I have taken this concept a step further with my group of girlfriends. We have been exchanging gifts for several years. Two years ago I proposed we forgo the Christmas & birthday gift ritual, replacing the Christmas gifts with a group holiday dinner at a great restaurant followed by a Holiday choir concert. The birthday gift ritual has been replaced with an annual “girls-weekend” trip. It’s been a huge hit with everyone, and we have so much fun planning our trips and dinners together.

  • Last year, I gave the book Hundred Dollar Holiday by Bill McKibben to all of my family members. My hope is that they actually read it, because we’re stepping off the holiday treadmill this year. I make a lot of stuff throughout the year that’s consumable (honey from my bees, soap, hand cream, etc). So, I’ll be giving a lot of that out at Christmas, along with charitable donations. Other than that, I’m opting out of buying tons of stuff that will wind up in the landfill. My siblings and I are also getting our kids involved in philanthropic giving this year instead of gifts. It’s been fun to talk about where the money will go with the kids. I’m planning to spend December crafting and cooking with my kids. Here’s to a joyful December!

  • Christopher M.

    I’m the family’s minimalist and find it hard to gift-avoid but possible to gift-minimalize. I “self-gift” things I need the last 6 months of the year (socks, underwear, athletic shoes) and store them for Christmas. It’s a running joke that when I open my self-wrapped gifts from my daughters or wife I say “just what I needed and wanted!” (and it’s absolutly true!) It makes me mindful to hold off buying/consuming throughout the prior 6 months, makes old things stretch, elevates the mundane items to gift stature, keeps me a participant in the unwrapping ritual, and takes the stress off my family. My daughters and wife do “gift” me one special something and I ask for poems or artwork or letters, or one of my wife’s beautiful photographs enlarged and framed. I rotate and save these and plan to re-gift them to the “givers” when I am old. My wife enjoys buying the multiple gifts for the girls and herself, but I try and get each one thing special and personal.

  • I handle gifts in a variety of ways. 1.) I tell my parents and grandmother that if they want me to give me warm, fuzzy feelings give me cold, hard cash. Put it in a box. Disguise it with weighs. But I just want some crisp bills so I can go to a concert of take a little weekend trip or something like that. 2.) My cousins and I agreed that it was a lot of time and trouble to gift each other. So we just buy ourselves something and ask what we got each other on Xmas, lol. 3.) Accept the inevitable and then discreetly donate to Goodwill or sell to Craigslist if it’s something I don’t need/really value.

  • I, also, have been suggesting that most material gifts be edible (yum) if possible. Other than that, if people want ti give me a gift, I’ve also suggested (and hey, this has worked a few times!) that they buy me “experiences” rather than tangible gifts–for instance, once, I got a few hours’ lesson at a local cooking school as a gift (loved it! that was a great gift!) and have asked for more sessions at local Pilates studios as gifts. (Unfortunately they tend to be more expensive…)

  • Great post and ideas! I will definitely distribute gift-exemption certificates.

    Thanks and have a happy Thanksgiving.

    -Rene :)

  • Laura

    I have really been struggling with the gift giving thing since becoming more conscious about “stuff”. I have been unemployed for the past few months and decided that I could request items I “need” instead of “want”. For instance, I find it cheaper to buy my toiletries at Bed Bath and Beyond, especially when using their coupons, so, I requested a gift card from there. For my birthday a few months ago, since I was unemployed, I asked my husband for money so that I could take my cat to the vet for his yearly physical. I didn’t need another purse, but I needed to keep my commitment to take care of my precious fellow.

  • Be blunt and ask them to respect your wishes to not get you anything. I would start telling them now November 23rd since black friday is coming up.

    If you want to up the ante tell them that all gifts you receive this year will be returned. They may get upset but they’ll get over it.

  • Angela G.

    My best friend and I have never purchased each other Christmas gifts, but what we do is make sure we spend a family evening together. Our gift to each other is making sure we go out for dinner (and we each pay our own way) and the gift to each other is the gift of our time. I really like this “minimalist” thinking as I too have become quite overwhelmed with all the “stuff” myself and my family of four have accumulated. I like the idea of getting rid of one thing a day and at the end of the year I will have got rid of 365 things. Less stuff at Christmas means less stuff to fret about. Merry Christmas everyone!

  • This is what I am doing. I already called my sister and said no gifts this year! Thank-you for all of the wonderful suggestions!

  • I’m quite excited. Last month I got my family to agree to not exchange gifts. Instead we’re taking a vacation together to another city. To explore and relax.

    I’ve never been a huge fan of gifts anyway. ;)

  • DMSx2

    Great post!

    As a kid everyone bought us gifts, except my uncle and aunty. The explained to us that there were children who didn’t have families and that they would buy them gifts instead of us as they needed them more.

    We always accepted this as fair and this has stood me in good stead. I HATE commercial Christmas and just look forward to a few days relaxing and spending time with close friends and family.

    Each year we strip down Christmas a layer and this year me and my wife will give and receive only four gifts.

    Yes, the holidays are coming but Coke and any other corproation won’t be making a Merry Christmas out of my pocket!

  • Tradd

    In my office, I avoid the individual gift exchange. Instead of getting something for everyone in my department, I will simply bake several larger loaves of banana bread, send an email saying, “Merry Christmas! Banana bread ready to be eaten” and that works very well.

  • I think communicating about gifts is the most important part. Explaining why I don’t want anything (environment, clutter, happy how I am) is always a good way to make other to think about their own life, stuff and behavior.

    I don’t react happy if I get something which I don’t need/want and people will see it in time or I will feel like I lie to them. So communication is always a win-win situation.

    Because people often demand to get you a gift, I always tell them that they should donate to a charity or to help in a animal shelter, soup kitchen or similar.

  • Jude

    Ah, yes, disappear. That’s how my grandparents got out of giving us Christmas gifts each year when we were little.

  • I keep telling my mother that my sister and I are too old for Christmas presents–but she insists, because my half-sister gets tons of them (and gets sucked into buying tons of them). I really don’t mind buying for other people, but I try to find things that they will like and use (I don’t think charitable donations would go over well). I’m not crazy about the idea of more stuff coming into my house, but I’ve at least convinced my mother to get me useful things (like little things to DIY my thrifted clothes–that’s an experience, right?). But my sister is getting me something smelly to mask the “dog smell”–which translates into something to clutter my surfaces (which already need a good overhaul). Oh, well. I will try for the charitable donations next year–there are many that have made a diference in my life; I’d like to see that trend continue for others.

  • Peggy

    My aunts and uncles and my parents have stopped giving us gifts for a long time now. When they do give us a gift, it’s usually monetary. However, I do have a few friends who still give me gifts even though I’ve used the “oh, you shouldn’t have” and don’t give anything in return for years.

  • StoneZebra

    I love the idea of a ‘virtual’ present! What fun!! Thanks to all for the great ways to avoid gifting overload.

  • Mrs Brady Old Lady

    Yeah…. I tried to explain to a friend that I didn’t want any more Xmas gifts, but she thought it was a financial issue and wanted to set a price limit… No it is not (just) a financial issue, it is primarily that I DO NOT WANT MORE CLUTTER!!! I have two friends who insist on sending me Xmas and birthday presents. I have not sent them any presents for the past 30 years…. what am I supposed to do, scream at the top of my voice? What?

  • Claire

    +1 to Pearl and Sam!
    I’ve just been “shopping” online and bought some kiva.org cards. It’s a micro-loan community, loans starting up at 25$ and the recipient of the card can choose which raising fund he wants to lend to.
    I love the idea and personalisation and it’s perfect for my minimalist-uncle-who-has-everything-he-needs!

  • Since my mother has gotten older, she has gone the money route, which makes it easy. A person can always use money, no doubt about that. We also eat at her favorite restaurant.

    I’m glad this post came up because I was worried about my best friend. I know he’ll go overboard like he did for my birthday, but it was OK then, because I needed new boots and he let me choose which ones I wanted. But now I don’t need anything else. After reading the post and the comments, I’ve figured out what I can do. We’re taking a trip to Eureka Springs, AR in January, so I will suggest to him that we make this our “Christmas present” to each other.

    A few comments for others.

    SNM, I agree about money. Esther, food gifts are a great idea. We all have to eat! Chester, I’m a big fan of the random gift giving throughout the year for no special reason as long as it’s something they need. Linda Sand, I’d say that living in a motorhome would send the message!

  • I always opt out of the at-work gift/Secret Santa thing.

  • Annie Ashby

    We have eliminated all non family gift exchanges and instead do a pot luck with friends. We all contribute what we feel comfortable with, and a part of the evening is selecting a charity for the group donation. Last year was Heifer International, this year we are considering a program that provides food over the weekends to low income schoolchildren. As far as gifts from family, if I can’t eat it, use it up or wear it, then I don’t want it.

  • I would love to reduce the gift giving, but am probably one of the easiest people to get gifts for. There are always one or two things that help me with my current hobby, a yarn winder, or a skein of luxury yarn etc. So it has been very hard for me to convince people to stop the giving, but I am trying to reduce the wrapping paper waste and maybe do a lottery where each person gets only one present from the whole family instead of one from each family member.

  • John

    This year I sent out a group email (utilizing BCC) to anyone who was likely to get me a gift. I simply stated that I would like a current photo (digital preferred), and nothing else. That way I can have recent photos of everyone that I don’t get to see often, but still not bring much (hopefully nothing) into my home. I instructed everyone to use the money they saved to treat themselves.

  • runi

    I have a very small family–husband, 2 daughters, 2 sons-in-law, 2 grandchildren (19&25), and one grandchild’s partner. This year, for the first time, we made a pact to only “give down” to the younger ones. For us old ones this means that we can give to everybody (but we write checks)–whereas the youngest ones cannot give to anybody except each other.

    We don’t even gift each other’s cats anymore because they’re all on diets.

  • No gifts is a great idea! There will, however, be people who insist on giving, and maybe people important enough that you feel like you must give them something as at least a symbolic act. So, here are my thoughts on clutter-free gifts:

    Edibles and potables are always good, if you know the recipients tastes (and even if you don’t, such things are often re-giftable. All the better if your edible/poatable gift is homemade!

    A charitable contribution made in the recipients name – be sure to choose a cause your recipient agrees with; gift giving season is not a time to impose your moral values on others.

    E-books – Amazon now allows gifting of Kindle books. B&N may offer this as well for Nook books. Make sure you know which reader the recipient owns and their account name or number on the book vendor’s site.

  • [...] Gift Avoidance Guide 35 Gifts Your Children Will Never Forget [...]

  • Totally agree. Although it goes against the point of this post a little, if you DO have some spare cash and would like to participate in the spirit of giving this holiday season, how about giving your friends an EXPERIENCE. Something they can’t keep but will never forget…a short break away, a drive in a race car, a balloon ride. Or it doesn’t have to cost the Earth. Invite them around and make them dinner. Pay for them to join you ice skating. Arrange a game of cricket in the park.

    I know it goes a little against anti-consumerism, but at least this way their present doesn’t end up in a landfill, and you make someone’s life a little bit better.

  • Ah Christmas, the most dreaded time of year for me. You can say that I’m a scrooge but to me this is just a hyped up holiday designed to make mega sales in stores.

    I’ve told everyone to either give me nothing at all, give money or give iTunes gift cards. I’m still eBaying stuff from last years Christmas and don’t really feel like facing it again.

    We’re thinking of using #10 though and disappearing to the beach somewhere.

  • I have finally gotten my extended family accustomed to the idea that I *actually* think that an updated family photo (their family not mine) is the best gift they could get me since my family is flung all over the planet and I rarely get to see most of them. No frame, just a 4×6 or 5×7 photo so I can update the family photo collage in my bedroom.

  • [...] Miss Minimalist’s Gift Avoidance Guide by Francine at Miss Minimalist [...]

  • I love that Francine talks about gift avoidance instead of participating in gift exchanges and the holiday shopping season. I’m in the process of decluttering and the last thing I need is more stuff. Fortunately most people in my family are in the same frame of mind, or realize we can afford and get what we need really easily.

    I find that #10 isn’t all that effective because the gifts eventually show up at my door after the holiday. If people are insistent on giving gifts, the gifts will get to you.

    I wrote a blog entry about giving gifts to a minimalist as a guide for those who are still in the gift-giving mind for the holidays. I’d prefer no gifts this year, but tradition seems to be a hard thing to break.

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