Limiting Gifts Without Being a Scrooge

Dec 02, 2020

When I was a kid, and during the early years of my motherhood, the holidays were a gift explosion. Growing up in an interfaith home, we celebrate Christmas and Chanukah, so imagine 8 nights of presents + overflowing 2-foot long stockings + a Christmas tree practically floating on top of a sea of presents.

It was bonkers. I'd love to tell you that a epiphany about the true meaning of the season and raising grateful children was the catalyst to me putting the kibosh on the present overload, but the truth is far more materialistic. The first year it was my turn to host Christmas, I realized very quickly that the big responsibility of stuffing those stockings, feeding everyone, making sure the tree didn't look too 'meager' all fell on me! And after one visit to the dollar bin at Target yielded barely enough to stuff one stocking with crap no one wanted anyway and a big dent in my wallet, I realized very quickly that this was such a crazy waste of money; I am just too practical for stuff like this. I know it's not romantic, but the truth is my own Type A personality and frugalness are the real reason I decided to limit gifts in my family. Of course now that my kids are older and I can see more immediately the effects of materialism on my kids, I have deeper and more profound motivations, but that all came after the fact for me.


So now, the way I handle the holidays and birthdays is a lot simpler and down-to-earth.

1) I make a list for each kid. First I list things they really need and I would buy anyway, like socks and underwear, school supplies, clothes that are worn out. Then I think of 1 thing they would really love and be surprised and delighted to receive (even if it's kind of pricey) and maybe 1 smaller thing. That's it. I fight the urge to bulk out the lists or worry about how big/small they are. To be honest, the act of making these lists is one of the nicest parts of the holiday. I sit down and think about my kid. Who they are right now, what they are into, what's going on in their lives, what they love, their personalities, and what I see for them in the next few months/year. It's really lovely!

2) Then I send the whole list to family who ask for it and make sure they tell me what they are getting.

3) I buy the things that no one claimed on the list (even if it's all lame stuff that they 'need' and Grandma is the one getting the cool stuff).

4) The end.


Two things you might be protesting with:

1) What if the rest of the family doesn't follow along with my approach?

Good! You are never meant to control the rest of the world for your child, and learning that people all do things differently is a great lesson. It won't spoil your child, I promise. Show loads of gratitude and love, and your child will follow suit. I learned from experience early on that trying to control the gift experience by making outside family members get in line only strained relationships and made no difference whatsoever in my kids' learning (or, in some cases, in how many gifts they sent!). The scrooge isn't the one controlling her own choices and feeling good about it, even if those choices mean giving less gifts. A real scrooge is the person who gets so wrapped up in controlling everything that she spends the holiday angry and raining on everyone's parade.


2) What if I'm always giving the lame gifts?

Of all the people in your child's life, you are the last one who needs to worry impressing your kid with material things. The gifts you give your child all year long are the reason your relationship is what it is, and nothing will ever change that. A loving childhood is enough, I promise. And, kids really don't care which gifts came from whom. If you don't believe me, ask them who gave them each gift when it's time to write thank-you notes!


I'll be talking about gifts and presents this week in the Facebook Group and I would love to hear your ideas. How do you handle presents in your family? Is it a conflict or a joy?