Wednesday, December 1, 2021

In Search of a Less Wasteful Christmas

It's December 1st, and if this were any other year I would've had at least one holiday prep-related mental breakdown by now. But it hasn't happened yet, and here's the beautiful reason why: my husband and I aren't getting the kids gifts this year.

Before you start penning your letters to CPS, please hear me out. It's all part of a bigger plan. In fact, it was the kids' idea.

For years now, I've had the sneaking suspicion that our Christmas season was out of control. I tried to simplify and streamline everything I could, using task management apps, jettisoning traditions that were more work than enjoyment, even paring down our holiday decor so it didn't feel like such a big job.

But I couldn't quite bring myself to re-examine our gift-giving. It was Christmas, after all: the one day a year (other than their birthdays) when the kids get presents. And Evans family tradition had it that every kid received four gifts from Mom and Dad on Christmas morning, plus another from Santa.

Maybe that doesn't sound like a lot, but with 6 kids that equals 30+ presents to shop for... not including stocking stuffers. 

I don't want to know how many hours I've spent poring over holiday gift lists and wracking my brain for any conceivable way to commodify my kids' interests: the 7-year-old likes basketball, what product goes with that? A new ball? A jersey? A basketball nightlight for his room? A life-sized cutout of LeBron James? 

Which, to be honest, always left me feeling vaguely uncomfortable. If my son was happily playing basketball with what we had already, wouldn't he rather have me just go outside and play with him instead of hiding inside furtively reading "52 Awesome Gifts for Kids Who Can't Get Enough of the Game"?

Not only that, I was also feeling burnt out. I was tired of the planning, the brainstorming sessions, and the shopping. I was tired of the ordering and the tracking. I had come to resent the color-coded spreadsheet of which items we'd chosen but not ordered, and which ones we'd ordered but hadn't yet arrived. 

And I don't even want to talk about the gift wrapping.

Christmas 2016. I know.

But hey, I figured, that's just the way Christmas is, and resolved that the only thing I could do was change my attitude and try to enjoy the ride.

The gift-giving question was forgotten for a few more years, until this past spring. Inspired by The Minimal Mom on YouTube, I did a massive declutter of the house.

From the attic to the basement, I was ruthless in my purging. I didn't throw out any of the kids' stuff without their knowledge, but what I did do was give them permission to get rid of absolutely anything  anything  they didn't use or love. Even (and maybe especially) if they felt like they "should" keep it for some other reason.

Perhaps not surprisingly, a lot of the stuff we'd given them for Christmas just a few months earlier sailed right out the door that spring, and it was a real eye-opener to me and my husband. All those hours we'd spent hunting down the perfect gifts... maybe it wasn't as worth it as we used to think. 

I don't care for excess and Phillip doesn't like waste, and looking at the pile of items the kids happily discarded once they had permission was hard evidence that we'd inadvertently been creating a lot of both.

So what to do with this wake-up call?

We considered having the kids start drawing up wish lists, but only briefly. I didn't like the idea of reducing gift-giving to an "I put in my order and you fill it" transaction. (Where's the magic in that?) And to be honest, I wasn't sure that shoving a toy catalog in front of my 5-year-old would be any less wasteful than what we'd already been doing. 

We posed the question to the kids at a family meeting, and they came up with a creative solution: experience gifts instead of tangible ones. In the next few weeks, they'll be giving us two or three ideas of something they'd like to do, see, or visit in the week between Christmas and New Years, and Phillip and I will either choose something from the list or surprise them.

But here's the kicker: that will be their only gift from us. Phillip and I are out of the presents-that-go-in-a-box game.

The 5- and 7-year-olds were a little concerned, but were fine once we assured them they'd still get stuff from their grandparents, and Santa will still fill their stockings and bring them one physical present. Our Christmas isn't going to be ascetic, just reasonable.

Ultimately, I realized that no matter how much time and effort we put into selecting the perfect things to put under the tree, we can never guarantee they won't end up in a pile of clutter no one uses. 

Giving experiences, however, is a different story. Even if your experience gift ends up being a dud (you got a flat tire on the way there, the tour guide was crabby, and the whole thing was not at all what you expected,) you still spent time together creating memories. It's always a net positive.

This Christmas will be much different, but in a good way. I know I won't miss waking up exhausted from present-wrapping to hunt down batteries and run tech support for new gadgets, and I don't think the kids will mind having fewer presents under the tree. Instead, we'll have a calendar full of fun things to do together, and none of us can hardly wait.

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Alicia said...

Good for you! If any of your readers haven't checked out The Minimal Mom's youtube, they should for sure.

It seems like the last piece of your simplified Christmas puzzle could be looking at an organization like Heifer International and deciding as a family to buy a goat or a couple chickens for another family with the money you save! The children's picture book "Beatrice's Goat" outlines how a gift of a single goat can change a family's whole trajectory.

During this crazy time, "live simply so others can simply live" is really hitting me hard.

Hope your family has a beautiful Christmas with lots of new memories!

Diana Dye said...

Love this! We've pared down our Christmas gifts this year but I hadn't thought of going physical giftless. I'm interested in the follow-up.

Question: what role is Santa playing in this? Is he still filling stockings? Any tickets to events from him?

Jenny Evans said...

Diana: In our house Santa has always filled stockings (mostly candy with a few little things like socks, stickers, chapstick) and brought one physical present per kid, and he's doing the same thing this year. I'll let you know how it goes!

Laura M said...

Sounds like a great approach! It would be fun to hear what your kids proposed and what you ended up doing

PurpleSlob said...

Since we only have the girls every other weekend, I went stark raving crazy! Buying ALL the things!! Once I got out of rehab, and started really looking at everything, I started gathering a pile to take back to the store. I bought slime at one store, forgot and bought it again! Nope!! Since they love crafts, I decided to only give them 1 present a day, this whole week. Saturday, I bought them miniature trees from the Dollar and 25 cent store, since we have no room for the
big one. Gingerbread house of course! And new church dresses. But ALL the other clutter toys, etc, away, away!
I love Minimal Mom too!

Anonymous said...

What do you do for gifts between siblings? This is what we have struggled to figure out.

Jenny Evans said...

Anonymous: we used to do sibling-to-sibling gifts and it was too much. Then we went to each sibling drawing a name and just getting a gift for that one person, but it still felt like we were just buying stuff for the sake of buying stuff.

So for the past several years we've done Secret Sibling, where they draw a name on Dec 1st and are supposed to secretly do something nice for that person every day until Christmas (do their assigned chore for the day, slip a piece of gum in their lunch, leave a funny picture from the Internet on their pillow, etc.) On Christmas Day, they make a card for their Secret Sibling to open that reveals their identity.

Anonymous said...

Thank you! I like that idea. My oldest is only six, and I already feel like our sibling exchange is just buying stuff to buy stuff!