Tips for a less consumer-minded holiday season

Previously I wrote about how the winter holiday season has been over-saturated with stuff and overspending. I’ve been meaning to do a follow-up about how to combat a consumer holiday, but sorry, I got a little behind here. Life has been nuts lately. There’s still plenty of December left though and that means many chances to have a less consumer-based holiday season. Take a look at the tips below. Maybe they’ll help you have a nicer, less consumer, more family focused holiday season.


Come up with a plan

The best way to combat holiday consumerism is to think things through before hand and to have a solid family focused plan in place. This is tough for a lot of us, myself included. Try discussing the issue with your family and friends early on. Talk about what sort of holiday you’d like to have, plus stuff you’ve liked or not liked about holidays past. If you need some good celebration ideas read I’m Dreaming of a Green Christmas and Celebrate Green.

Start creating traditions when your kids are young

Getting older kids to convert from a stuff-based holiday to a more activity and family focused holiday is very hard. Kids raised to value stuff over people will obviously not value holiday celebrations. Encourage kids from an early age that holidays are about hanging out with family and giving over simply getting presents. It’s best to raise kids right from the start, rather than switch it up later. Keep in mind that discussing green holidays and family-based celebrations does not take away from the magic of the season.

Convert older kids and others

If you’ve spent years celebrating gifts and stuff vs. family time, you’ll need to adjust everyone’s train of thought. Discuss how consumer-driven holidays don’t appeal anymore and discuss ways to make changes. This is one of those times that you’ll need to fess up to your child that you’ve been wrong, especially if you’ve been over-showering the holidays with gifts galore up to this point. Change can happen, but don’t expect it to happen overnight.



Celebrate a Buy Nothing Christmas this year.

Yup, it’s way outside the norm, but also an excellent challenge and will still be fun to boot. If this seems to extreme, at least take the 2011 Simplify the Holidays Challenge, which allows you to scale back, without scaling back entirely. Need help planning your Buy Nothing Christmas? See the following:


First, make a budget and stick to it this year. Then, before you buy another gift, make sure you have really thought about the gift shenanigans in this country.  Once you start thinking about it, you’ll likely notice that it’s a little out of control.

  • Figure out why you give gifts: I don’t get why we choose specific holidays to give and get things. It really makes very little sense if you think about it and is a little arbitrary. Make sure you’re giving gifts that you want to give, not just giving gifts because it’s expected.
  • Consider not giving gifts at all: Celebrate another way. Will the world end? Probably not.
  • Don’t give hundreds of gifts to everyone: Just because you know someone, doesn’t mean they need a gift during the holidays. Teachers, co-workers, friends, family and more – it all adds up. Only give gifts to your immediate (IN THE HOUSE) family and see how that feels.
  • Don’t give hundreds of gifts to anyone: Kids don’t need a million gifts. No one does, but kids seem to reap the main bulk of gifts in my experience. One or two very much wanted items can easily replace 30 or 40 gifts.
  • Go thrift: It’s 100% okay to buy a gift from a thrift store. I’ve gotten many a cool item at a thrift store. Of course, not everyone agrees. In fact, check out the debate in the comments at Get Rich Slowly; but I’d bet my life that these folks are in the spend a lot more category of humans.
  • Re-gift: Some look at re-gifting as tacky. However, what’s more tacky in my opinion is a landfill full of junk that no one is using anymore. Re-gifting is not evil or even slightly bad. WHY hold onto something you’ll never, ever use? Why not give it to someone else who may like it. It’s tacky to keep all sorts of junk around your house just because you think you’ll hurt someone’s feelings or because you feel obligated to hold onto stuff. It’s much better to give an item to someone who will use it, then it is to keep it.
  • Don’t feel guilty: Tell people before hand that you’re only giving gifts to your immediate family, or just to the kids, and ask them to please not get you anything. If they still get you something, stick to your guns and don’t just rush out and buy some dumb guilt gift. If everyone on earth quit buying meaningless crap for people, think of how many resources we’d save.
  • Have a name drawing: Some families draw a name, and only give a gift to that one person. See if this could work for you.
  • If you have a baby: Ask that people don’t get your baby gifts. Babies don’t care about gifts AT ALL and yet, in my experience, they get more than anyone. Ask for free babysitting instead. That’s a gift you can actually use.
  • Just say no to gift cards: I hate gift cards as gifts under most circumstances. A gift card says, “I feel like I have to get you a gift, but I don’t know you well enough to pick one out.” Wow – why are you getting that person a gift again?  I feel like one exception is a gift card that’s necessary because it’s extra personal. For example, you know someone who likes LUSH but scented stuff is so personal that it’s tough to pick stuff out on your own. Or someone loves music but they have so much that you’re not sure what they already have, so an iTunes gift card works. Overall, though I do think that gift cards are very consumer driven gift – why not just hand out cash and be up front – i.e. say, “I have to give you a gift because the holiday mandates that I do.


Instead of giving expensive item gifts, try out one or more than one, of these ideas below.

  • Give mixed CDs to everyone. Make cool CD covers with art supplies you already have. If you don’t keep art supplies handy, use old magazines (25-50 cents at a thrift store) to make collage type CD covers.
  • Buy $20-30 worth of baking supplies, make cookies and chocolate covered cherries with the kids and give treat boxes, plates or baskets out.  You can easily snag a ton of recycled candy/cookie boxes on the cheap.
  • Organize someone’s photo collection for them – seriously, I totally need this gift.
  • Give coupons for free nights of babysitting, yard work or house cleaning.
  • Plant a tree in someone’s name – but take them along to do so.
  • Give gifts from around the house. Most typical American kids have lots of slightly (or never) used toys that another child might love. You can make up a box of excess art supplies for a crafty child, give an entire box of books to an avid reader or a collection of DVDs you rarely watch to a movie buff. The nice thing about giving stuff you already have is that you can usually give a little more – i.e. four used DVDs vs. one new one and it allows you to purge.
  • Give plant cuttings or saved seeds to a gardener.
  • Make a batch of homemade organic dough and make ornaments or magnets or any number of other creative things.
  • Host a dinner or lunch party, sans gifts. It’s better to hang out than give stuff.


You don’t have to give gifts to people in the family. If everyone agrees, you can all get together and make a huge impact by giving a gift (or time) to a volunteer organization. Such as…

Volunteer – Personally I’m not a fan of volunteering on holidays. Mainly because it feels false; like you’re only volunteering this day because it’s a holiday. I’d rather see, for example, people volunteering for Big Brothers & Sisters of American year round (I’ve volunteered with them in two different states, and it’s an excellent organization BTW, if you’re looking to get involved). However, you can volunteer on Christmas if you like – it’s still a nice way to give back.

Donate locally – If you donate goods or cash, I think you should donate locally whenever possible. Why? Everyone I know loves to send money overseas and you see people advocating for all sorts of charities for other countries, but we have major issues with child poverty, the environment, homeless youth and child abuse right here in the USA. Help your neighbors first, you know? Then we can better tackle other country’s issues. Plus, if you’d like to keep emissions low, it’s silly to send goods far away.In PDX, check out the following (if you’re not in PDX, see resources at the bottom of this section).

Give one, get one: If you really still need to give gifts, try the following. Last year my sister had everyone give her a pair of child’s shoes for her birthday. After the party she donated all the shoes to the local foster care system. I think this is an awesome idea that you could try for Christmas too, choosing the charity of your choice of course. You could also do a name drawing so that everyone in the family gets a gift, then have everyone bring one gift for their person and one gift for a charity of your choice, such as a toy drive.


Related Posts with Thumbnails

Share this article

  • Pinterest
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • StumbleUpon
  • Google Plus
  • LinkedIn
  • Print


  1. says

    So many reasonable and great ideas as always, Jennifer. Holidays for me have always been about family and being together though I must admit when our children were young we definitely overdid it at Christmas. My attitude has changed completely now that I’m a grandmother and our grandkids know that what they get from us is always going to be a good time, minus a lot of stuff. I usually get one game everyone shares when they come here, some books and maybe one other thing. I try to make most everything else holiday related and now that the kids are bigger, including them more and more. I was driving one of our granddaughters home the other day after she spent the night with her cousins following our tree-decorating party and she said, “Abba, our family always has so much FUN!” I know they will remember that longer than they will ever remember any toy we might give them no matter how expensive.

  2. says

    You have so many valuable points here but it is so hard to change. I like the tip of not giving hundreds of gifts to anyone. It’s true, it is so difficult not to feel guilty. I guess you have to find balance and remember the real purpose of the celebration!

    Suzanne Holt

  3. Jennifer Chait says

    @Lynn – something I realized this year is that while I’m not exactly a Grinch about Christmas, I am super down about it. To the point where I seriously was considering NOT celebrating at all. In our family we’ve had some issues, i.e some folks focusing so much on the gimmie, greedy aspect that it was making me nuts. Then I started thinking that’s not so fair to Cedar, who has always been so good about this issue – he’ s not selfish about the holidays or mean or rude, so for his sake, I need to find a way to like Christmas or celebrate comfortably. This year we actually got a tree – first time in YEARS. And I’ve mainly decided to avoid the family who can’t chill out and be gracious and be with the ones who can. I need to write about that – what happens when you totally are sick of the holidays, but have kids. I’m glad you’ve found that balance.

    @Suzanne – It’s hard to change but not impossible. When you see enough kids who make fun of people for “bad gifts” vs. kids who act kind and not greedy, it makes it easier. That guilt, I think may just feed that whole we’re only having Christmas because it’s expected. I used to feel more guilt, when the whole buy less deal was newer to me, but it gets easier if you keep pushing yourself to shove that guilt off.

  4. says

    Michael and I bought bikes for each other for Christmas. This was something we’ve been wanting, but I guess Christmas is kind of an excuse to go ahead and buy them. And of course I fell in the dirt (thankfully) on my first outing. Bikes have changed so much… Maybe my shoulder will be less sore for when I start baking soon!

    I hope you have a good Christmas despite being down about it. One tradition that Michael and I like is watching Christmas cartoons like How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Charlie Brown’s Christmas. Both of these have good messages about Christmas not being so commercial. We also donate to a food bank. It bugs me that people get so wrapped up in buying perfect gifts for people who have everything when there are people who don’t have enough food.

    That said, yeah I do buy family gifts, but I try to not go overboard. And I try really hard to buy useful things, never something just to buy something.

    I also avoid gift cards except for the following: iTunes, fabric stores for people who make things, some restaurants.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *