Thursday, November 10, 2022

Is a No-Gift Christmas with Kids Really Possible?

Have you ever come to dread something you once loved? Last Christmas, I realized that even though I looked forward to the cookies, the lights, the general goodwill in the air, and of course the special religious meaning for my family, I also felt an overwhelming desire to hide under the covers and not come out until January. 

The problem was my family's gift-giving, which had gotten out of hand. We were spending way too much time, effort, and money on stuff that didn't add value to our kids' lives, and on top of it all the house was always a disaster because it was too much for any of us to organize and manage. 

So we simply quit giving the kids gifts at Christmas. No more toys. No more stuff. 

We’d tried experience gifts to avoid the excess and waste of past holidays, but it never worked until we discovered the right way to do it! Our first truly gift-free Christmas was a success, and here’s an FAQ about everything we figured out about making it work for our kids. #experiencegifts #toomanytoys #christmasoverwhelm #kids

How did our first no-gift Christmas go? Would we do it again? And would it ever in a million years work in your family? 

Here's everything you ever wanted to know about going gift-free this Christmas, but were afraid to ask.

Q: What did your Christmases look like before?

We used to get each kid four presents, plus one from Santa. That doesn't sound excessive, but with 6 kids it quickly added up, and when you added in extra toys and gadgets from extended family members it was way too much. 

I know it's a privilege being able to complain about having too much stuff, but it certainly doesn't feel like a privilege when you're drowning in it.

Q: What does a no-gift Christmas look like?

A: Each child gets one experience gift from us, and that's it. The only tangible items they receive are a stocking filled by Santa, one physical gift from Santa, and whatever their grandparents choose to get them.

Q: Were the kids actually on board with this?

A: We started by having a family meeting. We explained to the kids we wanted to avoid waste and focus on doing stuff together instead of giving stuff. At first they were skeptical (especially the younger ones,) but once they started making lists of fun places they've always wanted to go they got excited about it.

Q: Wait a minute. Wasn't Christmas Day super-lame without gifts to open?

Well, they still have a few gifts to unwrap from Santa and their grandparents. But aside from that, we tried to make the experience of opening the experience gifts fun by printing out a certificate for each experience and packaging it creatively. 

We rolled up the 5-year-old's certificate and stuck it in a balloon for him to pop, and the 13-year-old's went in this folded paper pyramid. In future years maybe we'll wrap certificates in a bunch of boxes inside each other, have them follow a strand of yarn all over the house to find it, make a scavenger hunt, or write it in a scrambled language to decode.

Q: What kind of experience gifts did you give?

We're big believers in family time over individual date nights with each child, so it felt natural for us to include everyone who was able to participate in each experience. Here's what we did last year:

5yo: Trampoline park for the whole family
7yo: Laser tag for the whole family
10yo: Escape room for one parent and the 3 kids who were old enough
13yo: Adult go-kart racetrack for one parent and all kids who met the height requirement
15yo: Virtual reality room for the teenagers and a parent
17yo: Semester of piano lessons at a local music school (not exactly a family experience, but it was something she really, really wanted)

We found a lot of ideas by searching our city on Groupon and Trip Advisor. You could try indoor skydiving, pop-up museums, an overnight hotel stay with a pool and pizza for dinner, or one of those pay-by-the-pound ice cream places where you do all the toppings. The experiences could even be free: a cool sledding hill they've never been to before, or an "anything goes" night where they stay up late and create the itinerary.

Q: How did your first giftless Christmas go?

Every time we drove home from one of those experiences with the kids talking about it excitedly with each other in the backseat, I felt like we'd done the right thing. This year there was no wasted time and effort tracking down presents no one used, no landfill of wrapping paper and packaging waste in the living room, no meltdowns the week afterward trying to organize the avalanche of toys. I even heard my 10-year-old exclaim several times at the escape room "This is the best Christmas present EVER!!!"

Q: Were there any downsides to not exchanging gifts at Christmas?

A: It was challenging to juggle so many people's schedules to find a time to actually do all the experience gifts. We tried to complete as many as possible in the week between Christmas and New Years, but we didn't finish all of them until March. Also, our no-gift Christmas was not cheap. Most people assume we saved a ton of money, but obviously eight admissions to the trampoline park costs more than a few plastic toys. In all, it probably ended up costing about the same as before.

Q: Any tips for me if I want to try a no-gift Christmas with my family?

A: In the past, we'd tried encouraging extended family members to get us experience gifts, which was met with mixed reactions and didn't work well for a variety of reasons. We found it was much easier to fix our own gift-giving and let everyone else do what they felt comfortable with.

Start out by clearly deciding what you're trying to accomplish with a no-gift Christmas: to be more environmentally conscious? more responsible with your money? less overwhelmed by the number of toys in the house? Involve the kids, come up with a plan, and commit to trying it for just one year. Explain you can always go back if they don't like it.

Q: What if I want to downsize Christmas but I'm not really to give up gifts altogether?

Dip your toes in by giving experience gifts with a small related trinket, like a zoo pass with a dollar store bag of plastic animals or tickets for a monster truck rally with a Hot Wheels vehicle. It will get you and your kids used to the idea without going completely cold-turkey.

You can also explore other ways to ease your holiday burnout. If there's Christmas decor you don't really like putting up, get rid of it. Ask your family their favorite Christmas traditions and eliminate the ones on the bottom of the list. Deep down you probably know what should be cut out to make things simpler, you just need to give yourself permission to do it.

We're heading into our second no-gift Christmas, and I couldn't be more excited. It's freeing not to orchestrate who's getting what with a literal spreadsheet starting in September, and I know that the day after Christmas I'll wake up to a calendar of fun things to do with my kids instead of a house full of clutter and chaos. At least, not any more full of it than usual.

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Colleen said...

I love how you do this now and I want to try to transition!

PurpleSlob said...

Sounds fabulous!

Anonymous said...

Last year I gave my adult children family annual museum passes. It was such a success that they asked for them again. I also gave each grandchild one small gift. It is much less stressful and they are happy with it. I already have bought and wrapped the gifts for all 11 grandkids. So I’m almost done!

Chaun said...

Wow! I love this idea. Thanks for sharing!