For past Christmases, I went through a list and went to the store or online to try to successfully guess what people wanted as gifts.
You know where this is going, I bet.
If I guessed right, I was good until the challenge repeated next year. If I was wrong, they returned it for the right size or color or regifted it.
It’s time-consuming. Financially draining. Cluttering.
It’s nuts, isn’t it?
Many people feel this way and I’m hardly the first person to attempt to simplify Christmas.
But I do have a story.
Starting a revolution
Three years ago, I tried to revolt against this madness and convinced my extended family to stop exchanging gifts with everyone. That meant — aunts, uncles, cousins.
Just like that, I announced very early in the year that we were doing a white elephant exchange.
If you haven’t played it before, let me introduce you. In this game, each person brings one gift worth $10-15 that is either silly or super helpful like toilet paper. Then we fight over the gift each person wants the most.
Frugal. Fun. Useful. What more could you want?
The problem was that you don’t know my family until you have met them.
I had an uphill battle
First, they have never heard of this game before. I had to explain thirteen times and rejected all proposed rule variations. They had to trust me.
Second, as a grandchild (even a 30-something one) I am considered one of the young ones. Revolutions are harder when I’m surrounded by people with more age and authority.
Third, my idea of gift giving — involving stealing — was just strange.
But if there was ever a determined person, it was me.
The first year we did this, everybody picked their gifts and nobody stole, which missed the main point of the game. It was such a dud that I had to forget how it went before I had the courage to propose it again.
The year after, we got so into the game that we chased each other around the room to steal from one another.
What was different?
It takes time to get acclimated to any change. The second time we played, we understood the rules, gained experience, and perspective. The new white elephant tradition got us laughing and bonding.
It reclaimed Christmas.
Creating meaningful experiences
If you’re like me, you want to return to the heart of what Christmas is about — people and experiences — rather than accumulating things.
- See related: 25 non-gifts for kids
At the end of our lives, we value relationships the most.
Too many gifts is problematic
The cost of too many gifts is money and time.
Every year, the average American family spends over $900 on Christmas gifts. When over half of millennials have less than $1000 in savings, that’s a problem.
Also, by not going to the stores several times to buy or to return, it opens up a lot of time.
The other time sucker is making lists and figuring out who wants what.
What you can do instead
These are a few ideas you can do with the time and money you save:
- Go caroling through your church.
- Wear ugly sweaters for a get-together with friends.
- Drive through the neighborhood and share which you like best.
- Make cookies.
- Watch movies on Netflix.
You don’t have to be a Scrooge
Don’t get me wrong. You can still buy gifts. But it’s not the kind that accumulates in people’s homes. We don’t need more stuff.
Instead, you can tip your teachers, mail carrier, trash collector, hair dresser, or donate to charity. You can buy museum membership for your kids. You can buy a ticket for your parents to visit or fill up their gas tanks.
These are kind of gifts that make a difference or that you can do together and create memories.
If you decide to stop or modify gift exchanges this Christmas, too, communicate it early. If it flops, don’t lose courage. New traditions don’t form overnight but with time.
At the end of our lives, relationships and meaningful experiences are what we cherish. Not stuff.
You can also take the challenge to simplify Christmas to get back to making people and experiences the focus of your holidays, too.