Dad: “So what do you want for Christmas?”
Me: “Ummm….World Peace?”
I find it really difficult to give gifts to the beloved adults in my life. And it’s just as hard to come up with things I’d like to get. When you’re a kid, or buying for a kid, things are easy. Buy a toy, any toy, that looks like it would be fun. Toy cars and race track? Fun. Skateboard? Fun. Paint? Fun. You watch a kid tear open the package and start to play and you know you picked wisely.
It’s different when you’re buying for grownups. Adult gift giving is hard. You don’t know what people want, have, or need. You can guess, but so often you end up giving grownups things that you suspect they would have bought for themselves already if they wanted them. Or you end up exchanging gift cards instead of actual gifts.
It seems kind of ridiculous, but it’s tradition.
As we get further into the month of November, my family starts putting more pressure on me to tell them what I want for Christmas. That gets difficult, for several reasons:
- I’m a grown up. I’m not still growing (I hope!) out of my clothes and shoes. I’m not getting ready to go off to college or setting up a home for the first time. I have all of the stuff I need.
- Most of the things I want (but don’t need) are too pricy for me to be comfortable asking for. A new Kindle HDX to replace my current one with the cracked screen would be great, but I don’t really want my family spending that kind of money on
- We have an abundance of stuff and a dearth of space. What things do I actually feel are worth making room for? Please, please don’t give me anything bulky. Or that has lots of small parts.
- How can I know what to ask for until after my birthday in late November, anyway?
There’s very few things I want to put on a list. I’m difficult to buy gifts for, because I’m consciously trying to have less stuff. I’m taking baby steps toward having fewer material items in my life and that’s impacting this year’s Christmas.
Paring Down a Mountain
I’m hardly a minimalist. Actually, I may be kind of a maximalist. We have so much stuff, and until recently I haven’t really worried about having an overstuffed house.
I lived alone for most of my 30s, working at a used book store and accumulating large collections of books, CDs, and movies. I married, combined households with a guy who also had a lifetime of accumulating, and barely downsized. We had a kid, moved into a house, and kept getting more stuff.
We are blessed with a lot of material possessions: furniture, books, toys, etc. I’m not saying we’re Hoarders candidates, but we could certainly use a good decluttering in order to fit more comfortably in our house.
The first order of business: limiting what comes in our house. So instead of buying physical books, I use the library or get books for my Kindle. I stream movies. I try to conscientiously avoid buying things I don’t need.
Still not a minimalist, but I’m taking baby steps to having less stuff. Buy less. Get fewer things.
Preparing a Christmas List as an Aspiring Minimalist
My parents started asking me a month ago for my birthday list, and I drew a complete blank until I got an email saying a touring show of the Lion King would be coming through next year, with tickets on sale this month. I’d really love to take my daughter, who is enrolled in a theatre class but has never seen a play.
My dad thought that was great, as long as all he has to do is reimburse me for the tickets.
So, adhering to the advice of far better minimalists and frugal folk, I’ve asked for an experience for my birthday, rather than a thing.
That’s great for that occasion, but it only takes care of my parents. Other people are asking for gift ideas, too.
Not wanting to be a Grinch, I spent a few minutes the other day writing down some things I wouldn’t mind getting for as Christmas presents.
My list included 2 replacement items for things that were getting worn out enough to consider tossing (a belt for jeans and a wallet), 2 expensive items that seem kinda frivolous (a replacement Kindle for the one that mostly works, and a FitBit), a satellite radio subscription renewal, and gift cards so I can pick up a couple of Kindle books or Starbucks Lattes without spending guilt.
I also need to get Jon (whose birthday is a couple of days after Christmas) to do the same thing. My sweetie could use a new belt, too, and maybe some pants that fit to replace some pairs that are showing their age. Other than that, though, I can’t think of anything he needs or even particularly wants.
It’s hard enough to come up with a decent list of Christmas ideas for Jon, much less anyone else. It’s not hard to come up with a present a kid will love, but adult gift giving? That’s a different story, even for the adults we love best.
Maybe it would be easier if our birthdays weren’t so close to Christmas, but maybe not. The rest of my family has summer birthdays, and usually I give them (the adults) either good booze or gift cards. At Christmas, they get the same thing, only accompanied by a smaller personal gift and a humorous Christmas card.
Did my brother really need a “Naughty or Nice?” hat? It was funny, but surely Baby Bro already had a few toboggans.
And Other Brother? Yeah, he liked that Belgian Ale, but couldn’t he have bought it himself it he really wanted it?
I don’t feel too bad about what I give my parents, whose main present has been a personalized photo calendar featuring all the grandkids for the last few years. It may not be necessary, but at least it’s not something they can replicate with ease. Too bad I can’t say the same for the rest of the adult gift giving in the family.
I’m not sure we really need to keep going with this approach. It might be time to change some gift-giving traditions.
Picking This Year’s Minimalist Christmas Baby Step
I saw a few options going forward.
We can continue the way we’ve been going, giving each other presents that are nice, but not needed.
- Upside: No Change, life goes on.
- Downside: Expensive, giving presents that may be redundant or superfluous.
My brothers and I stop giving presents to each other, and just go with parental and kid gift giving.
- Upside: Fewer Presents to buy or get, Less money spent.
- Downside: My brothers don’t think I love them anymore? I thought this was the start of the idea, but I’ll keep going.
My brothers and I can go to drawing names. Each of us will only have one present for their sibling or sibling’s SO, but that’s easier than coming up with good presents for all 4.
- Upside: Fewer Presents to buy or get, Less money spent.
- Downside: What if the person who gets your name is not good at present giving? What if you’re that person and your giftee hates your gift! Oooh, the pressure!
My brothers and I limit ourselves to only spending $10 per present on each other, which should force some creativity and eliminate the gift cards.
- Upside: Less money spent.
- Downside: People have to be pretty creative to give good presents on the cheap. Am I really that creative, or am I just going to buy somewhat unusual but still affordable 6-packs?
My brothers and I stop giving presents to each other, but continue to give each other obnoxious Christmas cards. Worst card wins. Parental and kid giving continues.
- Upside: Fewer presents to buy or get, Christmas insults and adolescent humor reign supreme.
- Downside: I’m not seeing it. Looks like a win.
Reducing Adult Gift Giving
So the path to minimalism and reducing adult gift giving starts with a phone call.
Obviously, I had to have a conversation with the brothers. This was not something I should unilaterally try to impose. (I realized long ago that being first born does not allow me to dictate sibling actions. Unfortunately.)
They were not surprisingly receptive. As Other Brother said, “Buying presents for adults is HARD.”
And Minimalist Bonus: I have a good opportunity to banish some unneeded baby gear from my house, as Baby Bro confirmed that his girlfriend’s expecting. I have the perfect opportunity to give him stuff he really does need without getting stuff I don’t need in return.
Much as I love my brothers, I don’t keep up with them as well as I should. I don’t know what they need (okay, I have a pretty good idea of some things Baby Bro needs now). I don’t even know what they have. I would have been lucky to pick up presents for them that they actually need or want.
So this year, I reached out to my brothers to take a baby step toward having and spending less. I may never reach minimalist, but maybe I can free my life from stuff just a little this Christmas.