Look Forward to Simpler Gift-Giving This Year

Photo by chatirygirl

A simple Christmas means not focusing so much on gifts, that’s certainly true. But considering the time, expense, thought, and effort involved, it’s only natural to hope the gifts we do give and receive will be good ones.

I asked a panel of wise women for their advice in gift-giving, and they shared much of their experience, especially about simplifying how we give gifts to children.

Scale Back on Unneeded Toys

Alana had previously commented, “Over the past few years we’ve scaled back a little…  The problem we have is convincing other family members to take it easy with gifts for the kids.” Alana suggests asking grandparents for “experience gifts” instead of things.

Knowing how some people get started with shopping early, it might be too late for this year, but early next year you can talk more with grandparents about your plans for fewer gifts. Be honest, be positive, and share about the imaginative ways your kids really like to play.

Prior to Christmas time is a great time to clean out the toy box, give it away to others, sell it at a yard sale, take it to a homeless shelter or to a battered womens shelter.  Instill the sense of giving to your child as they see you model this in your life.

Talk About It

“Good communication can help offset disappointment.” – Gay Nell, grandmother to three

If extended family members don’t seem to want to cut back on gifts, then you can still make suggestions. Grandparents who live far away might not know what would either be age-appropriate for the child or what the child would enjoy, and your suggestions could help.

Have a list of gift ideas ready for those who ask: you can include the product name, price, and a store which carries it. You can even keep an ongoing wish list online.

I asked some of our family if they wanted to draw names for gifts, and they were glad to do that.

It’s Not About the Gifts

To take the emphasis away from gifts, don’t pile them under the tree right away. Wait until Christmas Eve to bring them out, so family members aren’t constantly being reminded of them.

Check your own shopping impulses.  We know our families will want to buy presents for Lane, so we keep that in mind as we shop for her.  We typically buy three presents for Lane (that’s as many as her attention span can handle, in any case).

No matter what the gift is, use this opportunity to teach your child to receive it in a respectful manner. You can always re-gift it later.

Let the Gift Be Secondary to the Experience

For small children, the surprise in opening a gift is better than the gift itself.  I can see this so clearly in an old family photo.

On Christmas morning in 1981, I had a look of pure glee on my face after discovering a brown banana in my stocking. The stockings filled with fruit and little toys would have been enough, without the other gifts.

I see how Lane gets excited about gifts, even when they’re not for her. She mainly likes opening them, but even that won’t hold her attention all morning.

Promote Easy Gift Policies

“I want them to have what they want, not what I like.” – Sarah, grandmother to one

Enclosing the gift receipt saves your loved ones from the embarrassment of asking for it, and lets them know you won’t be offended if they want to return the gift.

Along with providing the receipt, pay for gifts with cash instead of using your credit card. This makes it easier for someone to receive a cash refund instead of store credit for the gift. (Most companies won’t give a cash refund on a credit card purchase.)

When giving a gift card, check to make sure a store is located within a reasonable distance from the recipient’s home.

If the grandparents give your child something that doesn’t interest them, return it and purchase something that you can say is from them.

Above all, don’t compare the price of a gift to a measure for love. I know that goes without saying, but it still seems like people feel that way sometimes. Don’t try to top last year’s gift each year, and don’t believe for a minute that there is one perfect gift that can be found in a department store.

Giving gifts stirs up both excitement and apprehension. How do you manage gift-giving? Is it a fun thing, or are you glad when you’re done shopping (or maybe both)?
About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. Both for me. I love finding personal gifts that let people know I’m familiar with their interests. There is also a wave of relief when my gifts have all come together. We’re simplifying our gift-giving for our daughter, making sure that we purchase a few meaningful gifts that will inspire her creativity.

    Nicki´s last blog post..A Wreath and a Tree

  2. I love gift-giving, it’s one of my favorite things to do but at Christmas but we do our best to keep it simple. There are so many gifts going around that a few thoughtful gifts are plenty. We also love experience gifts – we normally do those for birthdays and for our anniversary we don’t exchange gifts but we do take the time to do something together.

    I’m a giver, it’s just my personality so giving other people gifts at Christmas is one of the funnest parts of the holiday for me. I do my shopping early so that I don’t have to deal with the craziness of the crowds in December but that leaves me time to finish my hand-made gifts, baked goods for my customers and the neighbors and to decorate for the holiday.

    We too are only giving our daughter three gifts – (plus her stocking on Christmas morning) and we’ve kept the total we spent under $75 – she’s getting a used, but in excellent condition musical toy, a huge stuffed animal and a jumper that I’m making her.

    Blessed´s last blog post..My First Hunting Trip

  3. I still love coming up with gift ideas, although this year has been particularly stressful. I keep feeling like I want to scale back, but then I also think how I’d like to get all these great things for everyone on our list. And the size of our gift list is somewhat overwhelming at times. Between all our moms, dads, siblings and nieces and nephews we have to shop for over 20 people. It’s all worth it to me when they truly love the gift we’ve gotten them, but it doesn’t mean it’s not stressful to make sure we get them something great.

    We’re doing better in some respects this year- giving a charitable donation for my dad’s gift, smores supplies and a coupon for our attendance on a camping trip to pop & step-mom in-law, some baked goods to others. Hopefully someday I’ll get it all sorted out how to make Christmas gift-giving equally joyful and simple.

    Jessica´s last blog post..Stocking Stuffer Ideas

  4. When I was young my parents asked for bond in my name instead of a pile of toys. I relatives gave me a small toy or some books as a gift to open; I never had a toy fall by the wayside and I never felt cheated. But when I reached college it was like the biggest Christmas ever when I found out I had money to start out with.

    Also my parents wrapped all the little things that went in my stocking. They still do this and I LOVE unwrapping the pack of gum or hand lotion I ran out of the week prior.

    Kate´s last blog post..Faith

  5. Kate, we’ve had people give bonds to Lane too, and I know she’ll be excited about it when she’s older, since she was given plenty of toys.

    We wrap stocking stuffers too so they seem like little presents. Very fun.

    Jessica, you have a great list of stocking stuffers on your blog!

  6. Gift giving is always a tough thing for me. I get really nervous about whether the recipient will actually like what I hoped they might. I LOVE when people make lists of what they really want or need. That way I’m assured that my efforts to shop/purchase/make/wrap/ were worth it.

  7. I adore gift-giving. I love seeking out something unique, something so out-of-the-ordinary that the giftee didn’t even know they needed it, and something perfectly suited to the person I’m gifting. I’m a crafter – so naturally I tend to look for ways I can make gifts. Most of my family has (happily) received handknitted gifts, and now I start to get requests in June, LOL! The hubster and I have really tried to focus on the joy of gift-giving with our boys, and it’s awesome to watch them thoughtfully planning their (secret) gifts to each other for this Christmas. I’m so eager for Christmas morning, not only to watch them open the gifts that the hubster and I have thoughtfully chosen, but to see their joy as they exchange their own gifts.

    theresa´s last blog post..Thanks for playing…

  8. True Marissa – sometimes shopping for men is even easier, because not only will Doug suggest what he wants, but sometimes he will go out and buy it himself, since he’s particular.

    I love secret gifts, though. Theresa I think that’s so sweet of your boys.

  9. While I love Christmas, I do dread all the shopping. I tend to second-guess my purchases. We have cut back a lot from years past, but still my girls get too much. I am glad when my shopping is over and I can enjoy the other aspects of Christmas that I love so much (baking, listening to music and spending time with family).

    Angie´s last blog post..Caffeine Free

  10. My kids get toys that we bought at yard sales over the summer. And some Dollar Tree items for their stockings. My family gets homemade jam. :)

    CC´s last blog post..Super Woman’s un-doing in 6 hours or less

  11. We are a family of 4 in a 2 bedroom apartment, so storage is always a huge issue for us. We have tried (sometimes unsuccessfully but we still try) since our children were born to limit the gifts that family members buy for them. We have had some luck with experience gifts, but have found that the giver will still insist on actual gifts on Christmas”so the kids will have something to open.” They have both had college accounts since birth, and we haven’t had much luck asking for contributions instead of gifts. Everyone seems to want the “wow” factor of seeing the kids open presents. We’re a work in progress, but as the kids get older (they’re 6 & 7) I have found the presents get smaller. We’ll see you this year goes!

    Mother Necessity´s last blog post..My Life in Color

  12. We keep our kids gifts completely small – if it doesn’t fit in a stocking they don’t get it for Christmas… they have two indulgent grannies – one always does clothes (the day before Christmas) and the other always does a heap of stuff and books (the day after). My kids know they keep the books and regift the stuff! In there stockings we put little things: a ball of string, some builders tape, sidewalk chalk – tiny things and 90% consumable and gone by New Year. Initially I would agonize over each gift, wanting something deep and meaningful – until I realized that for all that effort I couldn’t remember what I had given my kids the previous year… hmmm now we go for instant stocking fun on the day.

  13. Thankfully my husband & I view gift giving pretty much on the same level even though we came from drastically different families in regards to gifts. My family was always minimal – even if we had the money one year, we still did 1 big gift & a few small tokens & the “big” gift really wasn’t all that big. Sometimes we would even “vote” on doing a big summer vacation together or getting bigger gifts…the vacations always won out!

    Hubbs’ family was all about the amount of gifts – piles & piles of toys, whatever they wanted they got. Thankfully hubbs is a minimalist – but it’s to a much further extreme than I am. He doesn’t like celebrating his birthday – doesn’t want any gifts & actually is a bit angry when he DOES get a gift. So we balance each other out a bit. :)

    Because our little family is fairly young, we haven’t really adopted any real gift giving “policies”, but we both dread Christmas rolling around simply BECAUSE of the gift giving issue. I don’t mind giving gifts in general, but I personally am not “gifted” at determining what might please someone else. Sometimes I am, but most of the time it’s a true struggle. And since I don’t “need” a lot of gifts, then it becomes strange to me when my adult friends send me gifts for Christmas – now I feel obligated to get them something as well.

    I’ve recently heard of one scenario that both hubbs & I think would work well for our children as they get older.

    1 gift they WANT (within a specified $$ amount)
    1 gift they NEED
    1 gift that reminds them of JESUS

    It’s easy, keeps the gifts to a minimum & I’m a big believer in fun & cheap stocking stuffers!

    I also hope to include a service project every year with my children during the holiday season in which they personally get to experience serving the needy in some way, or buying a gift for a needy child or something to that effect.

    Vicki´s last blog post..My mosaic

  14. I loved this. :) We’re doing a toy-free Christmas this year and encouraging people to only give our kids toys they will need. We’re also having the big talk about kids who are much less privileged than them. I ope to keep it simple, simple, simple.

  15. I totally agree scaling back is the right thing to do. And as you pointed out, that’s not what Christmas is about anyway.

    Geri´s last blog post..Remedies For a Cold

  16. Awesome (and timely!) post Rachel!
    My side of the family does Secret Santa and has done so for the last few years. Its works out great for the giver and the receiver since we have to hand in a list of 5 things under $100 that we would like. As the giver, know you don’t have to waste hours pondering over the “perfect” gift. You know you are giving something that is wanted and the receiver knows they are going to get something they want/need.

    Now, educating the other side of the family… for us this is one battle we lose every year! Luckily my parents in law don’t want us to spend huge amounts of money on them, they just want to be able to spoil us all instead!

    Meegan @ Harveys at Home´s last blog post..7 weeks today!

  17. I so wish our family would get this – oftentimes it feels like a chore to try to find gifts for people! None of us actually need anything at all, which makes gift buying difficult. Maybe the key is try to make it simpler and simpler each year until it finally is simple!

  18. This is hard to write. While being an artist has meant that through the years my gifts have mostly been handmade, my cards too, this year will be different.

    Unlike those commenting, i have no more small children but identify with the issues from years ago. Once my parents were gone we were more able to slowly cut back on gifts and attempted to give the holidays a more meaningful tone, until now my son at 25 is teaching me instead.

    i loaned him my car last week (my unpaid for, still quite new car) and he had an accident. The car was just yesterday deemed a total loss. The miracle and the blessing is that my most adored son walked away without so much as a scratch and we were told by the investigating officer that he couldn’t have chosen a better utility pole to hit. It would seem that it was rotted clear through at at 55 MPH, had he hit one intact we might not be having quite the same conversation.

    i love Christmas, spoiling those i love with all that they crave on the table, a warm and inviting home, and humble but fun little gifts to delight them.

    Well, due to the expense, the fact that a 30 year tradition of my husband’s Christmas bonus unexpectedly did not come through, the stress and other factors (like the rental goes back Tues and another car in the near future is a question mark) i found myself standing with tears to tell my family that a tree was even too much just now. My usual handmade gifts may not even make it. There is just too much going on and not near enough money. My son’s eyes welled up and he said, “Don’t tell me we can’t have…a turkey??!!??”.

    “Well sure, honey, we can EAT on Christmas”. His face brightened, he sighed and said…

    “Whew! i thought you were going to tell me ‘NO TURKEY’, and Mom, all i really care about is that you and Dad and me and (his girl) will all be here together. We’ll have a great time”.

    Food. My sweet young man wants only to be with his family, laugh and eat. i guess we did something right somewhere.

    Gentle, tearful thoughts…