Bright Shiny Things

Stores have their holiday decorations up and our mailbox is bursting with ads full of come-ons and must-haves. I haven’t heard piped-in Christmas music yet, but I know that it’s only a matter of time.

In the U.S., the day after Thanksgiving – Black Friday – has long been considered the start of the holiday buying frenzy, but most of us have noticed the creep of Christmas earlier and earlier each year. It’s not unusual for pumpkin patches to be cleared out the day after Halloween to make way for tree lots.

Catalogs full of bright shiny things… that I don’t need.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Consumermas.

The good news is the holidays don’t have to be a time of stress and over-spending. It’s possible to enjoy the sights and sounds, and partake in the magic of the season, all without purchasing a single gift.

It’s true.  

My husband and I haven’t exchanged newly purchased Christmas gifts in ages. Not with each other and not with friends or family. Before you think we are a couple of Scrouge McGrinches, we aren’t. It’s just that, at this point in our lives, we are trying to shovel stuff out the door, not add to the pile. If there were young children in our family, it would be different. but we are all adults now. If we want something, we buy it. If we don’t want something, we’d rather someone didn’t spend their money buying it for us.   

That’s not to say we don’t give gifts at all, we do, although our holiday gift list is much smaller than it used to be. And, since what we give can’t be found at a mall or online, we no longer rush from store to website looking for the perfect gift.  Breaking out of the holiday consumer ritual allows us to slow down and smell the pine trees. 

Have you considered cutting down on holiday gift-giving? Maybe this is the year to have that conversation with friends and family. You could point to the global supply chain disruption, your reluctance to join the masses at the mall, your concern for the environment, your desire to reduce stress – theirs and yours, or all the above.

Whether you agree not to exchange gifts at all or just to tweak things a bit is up to you. Fortunately, for those who still want to give gifts but also tap the brakes on crazy consumerism, there are many alternatives to traditional gifts that will bring you – and your recipient – joy.

  1. Give consumables. Tasty treats and/or a nice bottle of wine are almost always appreciated and don’t add to the clutter.
  2. Give experiences. Consider theater tickets, museum passes, restaurant gift cards, or spa treatments.
  3. Give your time. Is there something special you could do with your friend or family member? Would they love to spend the day with you antiquing or visiting a local park? Or, conversely, maybe gifting them a full day of freedom might be just the thing. Entertain their kids or pet sit their dog while they are out enjoying their “me time.”
  4. Offer your talents. Would your friend like to learn how to knit? Is your uncle struggling with a tech issue you can help him with? Does your sister have boxes full of old photos that you could help her organize?
  5. If you love to shop, agree to purchase only second-hand items. You and your friends can still enjoy hunting for the perfect gift while not spending a lot of money or adding to the supply chain woes. If what you receive is a keeper, great! If not, donate it back to the shop and let them sell it again. (A friend and her sister have an annual quest to find the weirdest thing they can for each other at a thrift shop or yard sale. Little money, lots of laughter… perfect.)
  6. If you still want to purchase new gifts, shop at locally owned stores. They probably have been struggling over the last year and a half and will welcome the boost. Believe me, Jeff Bezos doesn’t need more business.

If celebrating a more environmentally sustainable and less stressful holiday season sounds good to you, talk to your friends and family early to get their buy-in. Even though some might not be receptive to the idea, it doesn’t mean that you can’t make the switch yourself. You can decide not to feel guilty if they give you a gift anyway, or you can always have few bottles of wine in gift bags on hand just in case.

If you’ve already cut back on your holiday gift purchases, has it made a difference in your enjoyment of the season? What favorite homemade or second hand gifts have you given or received? Do you have any funny, inexpensive, gift exchange traditions with friends or family?

Author: Janis @ RetirementallyChallenged.com

My blog is about travel, relationships, photography, and whatever else pops into my head (even, sometimes, issues surrounding retirement and aging).

87 thoughts on “Bright Shiny Things”

  1. Hi, Janis – It is awesome to hear from you. I had just checked your site earlier this morning to ensure that I had not missed any recent posts from you. (My WP notification system has been quite unreliable as of late). As we have grandchildren, we do still give gifts but much more mindfully than in the past, and usually experience-based. I love the list of alternatives to traditional gift-giving that you have shared. Those alternatives can make a huge positive impact on our environment, our stress, our local businesses and our finances. Win-win-win-win! Thank you for sharing this. I hope that all is well for you.

    1. All is well here! I think a lot of people continue to give gifts because they’ve always done so and assume that it’s expected. I found that my friends and family readily agreed (for the most part 🙂 ) to cut back. Now that we are more environmentally aware of our gift-giving footprint, it just seems like the right thing to do. Yes, young children are different, but experienced-based gifts are what they will remember to most.

  2. Consumermas?!?!?! I love it and am absolutely stealing it. Love all your thoughts and ideas, Janis. I enjoy the season so much more since I have stopped “buying” (hehehe!) into all the Christmas traditions I grew up with. I do love giving gifts and still do so – but not so much at this time of year. The gifts I do give tend to be homemade…gifts from my hands and my heart. Thanks for this post!

    Deb

    1. Paul and I often go to the mall at least one evening before Christmas… but only to see the decorations and watch everyone else rush around. And, you make a great point, gifts given at other times of the year – often for no reason at all – are often more appreciated.

  3. Janis, great suggestions. We’ve significantly cut down on gift giving since the kids are all adults now and have gotten very specific in the types of things we want/need.

      1. We tried that pulling names thing too and it didn’t work for us because we would see something that we wanted to get for someone but we didn’t have that person’s name!

  4. We are the same as you. We no longer exchange gifts with each other or with friends and family. Instead we all agree to give to our favorite charitable cause, in lieu of gifts. It works beautifully, no one is stressed about shopping, and getting together with each other is much more enjoyable. It’s all about the companionship.

  5. Our family, too, has been putting on the gifting breaks over the last few years. We now have a new tradition that started when I discovered Rancho Gordo…the gift of Christmas beans. They have beautiful heirloom beans that make great gifts. Some are almost too pretty to cook and eat. Thanks for the thoughtful list.

  6. We did this several years back. It’s a wonderful thing. We too are way past wanting ‘stuff’ to clutter up and have to get rid of down the road. Love your Consumermas. It’s perfect! I could hardly believe it when they started telling us to order gifts early back 4-6 weeks ago. Here’s wishing you a wonderful holiday just the way you want it.

  7. We are like you. My family hasn’t exchanged for 30 years. A few years back I talked my husband into stopping too. His kids are in their upper 40s-50s so a check doesn’t mean much to them. We’ve refocused on supporting our favorite charities, local restaurants (seeing friends is so much better than exchanging gifts) and stores for those things you need like chocolate! Your list is wonderful. When my mother was older I would preach on consumables. She didn’t need another cookie jar, she needed someone to take her grocery shopping or maybe a nice candle. No stuff!

  8. We started something like this a few years ago, as my wife and I are in the same place as you…we want for nothing. And I don’t like for my kids or relatives to spend their money on what amounts to trinkets I will never use. We still buy for the little ones, but that is the extent of it. Much less stress all the way around.

  9. Oh, yes, Husband and I haven’t exchanged gifts for years. We don’t need more stuff. Our gift list has shrunk. Grown kids know to give us only token consumables – wine works nicely. The holidays are about being with those you love whenever you can. I am already hearing carols in some stores.

  10. What a timely post for me to read, Janis. Like you, we don’t exchange a lot of gifts with family, rather being together is more important. I hopped on the Christmas train a little early this year, mostly because it’s the first Christmas in our new house and I have a big, blank palette to decorate, which involves some planning. I have also not put up a Christmas tree since 2008 because we always traveled to SD for the holidays. I have one of those fake trees that you put together branch-by-branch and have already started. Had to move some furniture to do it! I’ve still got some Thanksgiving-y decor up, but that goes away the day after. I would rather spend Black Friday at home than online or out with the crowds. I will admit that last year, I bought a Roomba online for a crazy-good Black Friday price just before we moved and it was a great deal! In our small rural town, there is a tree-lighting coming up and some craft faires, more of an old-fashioned Hallmark kind of Christmas, which I am delighted to experience. We thought about getting a potted tree but we will likely travel a little right after Christmas and I don’t want it to dry out. Your list of ideas is perfect and right up our alley!

    1. I’m not surprised that you wanted to decorate for Christmas early since you are getting settled into your new home and want to see how everything fits. I hope you have a great time finding places for all of your decorations that you haven’t used in many years. That tree-lighting ceremony and the craft fairs sound wonderful! I’m looking forward to seeing pictures of your old-timey celebrations!

  11. Hi Janis
    Great post…and totally agree. Except for grandchildren, who we gift books, we donate to causes that relate to the person. And we ask for the gift of time spent together with loved ones for ourselves.
    Merry Christmas…but enjoy Turkey Day first!
    Nancy

  12. Too much pressure, financial and emotional. I’m a bah, humbugger. And “celebrate” Seinfeld’s Festivus for the Rest of Us. A few small cash gifts to son and grandkids is all. My sibs and inlaws are old enough to have everything we want or need, and like you, I’m slowly trying to get rid of stuff.

  13. We are like you, Janis. I enjoy the festive atmosphere and storefront decorations between now and New Year’s. I go at non-peak time to avoid crowds. Christmas is wonderful in colder climate.

  14. Janis, you mentioned the gift of books in a previous comment. When our kids were young and family members asked for gift suggestions, we would mention gift cards from Barnes & Noble since they had a sticks and bricks store in a city close to our home. After Christmas, when life had gotten back to post-holiday boring, we’d collect their gift cards and plan an outing to the book store. The kids could shop for whatever they wanted and take as much time as they needed. It was always a delightful adventure for them, and both kids have boxes of books that they’ve collected over the years. To this day, whenever I need a gift for a child, I’ll select a book or two. By the way, we jumped on the “no gifts” train with our siblings at least a couple of decades ago. I’m not a shopper by nature and that eliminated a huge source of stress from my holiday season. So thankful!

    1. Books make such wonderful gifts and your post-Christmas tradition when your kids were young sounds perfect – family time plus reading. From the comments, I am gratified to learn that most of us don’t buy a bunch of gifts anymore. Maybe it’s indicative of the average age of my blog followers, or maybe it is becoming more of a trend.

  15. All great ideas Janis! It’s so much less stressful to skip gift giving during the holidays. Besides, its more fun to give gifts when it’s not anticipated.

  16. I only buy for my daughter, my niece and my parents. I get my husband something small, like this year I bought him a book about wine because he’s learning about it. I don’t like the stress that some people put on themselves to find the perfect gift. We also tie money to love. Never a good thing.

  17. I finally put a stop to the gift exchange with distant relatives a couple years ago (something I had started). I’d rather send random things, usually food or flowers, at other times of the year. Or just help when someone might be in need. Hubby and I do buy a few things some years and others we don’t. Just depends on our mood. We sometimes just take a trip and don’t worry about it at all.

    1. Gifting whenever the mood or inspiration hits seems like the best way to go. I never quite understood the whole reason behind Christmas gifts anyway… birthdays, sure, but why Christmas? I’m glad you were able to ween yourself away from gifting distant relatives… it must have been a stress relief for you (and, I imagine, them too).

  18. Hi Janis, nice to hear from you. Like most of your readers, Malcolm and I stopped exchanging gifts years ago. We don’t participate in family gift-giving either. We too are definitely not bah-humbug and celebrate Christmas to the hilt – our way. Christmas music can never begin too early for me and I love walking through the mall, seeing Santa’s village and all the people bustling about. I love our local Holiday Home tour and all the ideas I get for decorating. We won’t be home for Thanksgiving, so I have already decorated the dining room and set the Christmas table.

    Most of our gift-giving comes from our kitchen – hosting friends for lunch, cocktails, or dinner or making things like vanilla flavoring and cheesecakes to gift to neighbors.

    We definitely contribute to the local economy this time of year since we are out and about more than usual going to tree lightings, parades, concerts, and a host of charity events. It truly is ‘the most wonderful time of the year’ in South Florida.

    We have done a few ‘white elephant’ parties in the past, but only with new items, under $10. I love your idea of purchasing the gifts to be exchanged from second-hand shops.

    Tis the season…..enjoy!

    1. The photos you’ve shared of your decorating, cooking, and entertaining are always so inspiring. I remember Holiday Home Tours, but I haven’t been to one in ages… I’ll have to see if they still have those here. We don’t do a whole lot of decorating at Christmas (we are often gone), but I love to see what other people do. Then, I am relived that I don’t have to take it all down and store it 🙂

  19. I so agree with your philosophy of giving. I only give experiences and consumables. The only exception is when I am traveling. Especially when I am in a third world country, I like to buy from people either in small shops or those peddling their own goods. Because we don’t want more “stuff”, these items end up as gifts to family and friends who don’t travel,, and I feel good about supporting the local economy and the people there.

    >

  20. I taught elementary school for 32 years. A teacher can bring home a car load of (much loved… don’t think I wasn’t appreciative) stuff from sweet little ones who are so happy to see it opened. But… “stuff.. so much stuff…” I so appreciated when a (thoughtful parent) student gave me your #1( something consumable) or #2 (an experience).

  21. We, too, have cut back to only the grandchildren. And for all of the adults, we try to plan something that we can do together, during the holidays, or shortly thereafter. It’s been a little more difficult the last two years as we aren’t sure what we should be doing. LOL! But we’ll get there eventually. I just appreciate that we aren’t spending a lot of money on things none of us need!

  22. Those are all good suggestions Janis. I don’t buy Christmas presents as I have no family and my boss/I quit exchanging presents when I stopped working on site in 2009. He sends me a check; I don’t reciprocate. It is a little quiet around her, but that’s fine too. When my mom was alive, if we saw something during the year we liked, the other would get it for Christmas or a birthday present. That worked fine for us. I hate that Christmas has become so commercialized too.

  23. As so many others have said before me, this is a great post – especially your list of alternatives. #6 – the thrift shop second-hand relovables is my favourite. Paired with a weirdest gift challenge, this sounds like so much fun! … not that I intend to ever suggest it to my gang. Gift-free works nicely for us.

  24. We went no gifts a few years back except for my great nieces and nephews (all distant) who each get one gift card to Barnes & Noble for a book and a donation to their college fund. My way of hoping they develop a love of learning. I do love going out to look at the lights and listening to holiday music…but only after Thanksgiving!

  25. I couldn’t agree more! My husband and I had cut way back on our gifts for each other, and now we’re going to cut back on our gifts for our kids as well. The grandkids will get some nice toys and books, and that’s fine. But we don’t need more stuff in our lives. We’ve also substituted experiences for material things, which works so well. We even did it for my daughter and daughter-in-law’s birthdays this year (they are two days apart). Instead of a present, we gave them each a coupon for one free night at a hotel and babysitting their kids overnight at our house. We figured what parents of young children want/need the most is a night out!

  26. You have such wonderful suggestions for alternatives to ‘Consumermas’ (love it!). Like you, we let go of the stress of gift buying at Christmas many years ago—except for our grandson, who is an avid reader and loves gifts of books. We celebrate the holidays with many festive gatherings at home and always enjoy local holiday events.
    I would MUCH rather have experiences than things. Speaking of holidays, I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

    1. Last year was the first time we were home at Christmas for quite a few years but, of course, it was pretty low-key. This year I hope to be able to mingle a bit more with other fully vaccinated friends. I really look forward to celebrating that way. I hope you have a lovely Thanksgiving also!

  27. I agree whole-heartedly! And I also wish we could ditch the over-decorated homes and gardens. Do we really need blowup Disney iconography that’s larger than where too many people sleep? Could we funnel all this decoration money into homes/meals/utility payments for the poor or houseless among us? A string of lights and a small Christmas tree are fine. But holy cow the stuff people buy, and each year needing to outdo the year before or the neighor next door….😱

    1. Haha! Those blow-up decorations (now for just about every holiday) are over-the-top. I appreciate the nicely lighted homes and enjoy driving/walking around those neighborhoods that have lovely displays. I guess each to his/her own, but I agree that there are areas of great need that would appreciate donations.

  28. I love your suggestions. With the current “supply-chain” issues, buying from thrift stores will have the added benefit of avoiding the anxiety attached to online purchase delivery while being more ecologically friendly. If it’s a charity-sponsored thrift store, it will also benefit some of those in need in the community. That’s what I call a “win-win-win.” Joy to you and yours this holiday season!

    1. In reading all the articles about the need for us to “buy early” and “expect delays,” to say nothing about understaffed stores, I intend to keep well away from that madness. My favorite thrift shop is attached to the Cancer Society and I’m always happy to donate what I no longer want to them. If I find an interesting used book there while I’m at it, all the better.

  29. Yes, I agree with the comments above – all great ideas. I love #1, we buy from our local wineries and give bottles of wine as gifts. We support the locals and give the gift that comes in a bottle that can be recycled. For our family gatherings, we do one white elephant or new gift for $10 and under for each person at the gathering. We draw numbers to see who gets what gift. It’s cheap and fun for all. Even the young kids. It’s been a fun way to play. We always went BF shopping until last year. This year we’re not sure we even want to go. We might look at family photos instead. Happy Thanksgiving week to you and yours.

    1. I love White Elephant exchanges too (the ones that allow you to “steal” gifts from each other). I don’t often end up with anything I want (poor me 😦 ) but it’s so much fun to watch the gifts fly around. Then, unless it’s consumable, I often put whatever I end up with into my “to donate” pile. I avoid Black Friday every year but this one sounds especially yucky. Best to look at family photos (and find more skeletons in the family closet to blog about 🙂 ). Have a great Thanksgiving!

      1. Yes, that’s the WE exchange we do. It’s fun to see what gift ends up with which person. I’ve done the donation thing afterwards too!! LOL.
        We’re hoping to find a few local stores to support, other than that, we will likely look through photo albums to find cheery skeletons this time around!
        Same to you – I hope you have a great Thanksgiving!!

  30. My solution is: when Hubby says he wants something, I buy it right then and make him wait until Christmas. Then he either acts surprised or is surprised because he’d forgotten I bought it for him a long time ago. 🙂 It’s been working for years.

    1. That sounds like a great plan! My mother used to do something similar with my dad but he’d often end up buying (he was the shopper in the family) what he wanted and she’s have to return her present… and it was often too late for a full refund. After that happened a few times, she made him swear not to buy anything a month or so before his birthday or Christmas.

  31. I couldn’t agree more, Janis. Of course, it is easy for me to not be a slave to consumerism, as we are never around family or friends during the holiday season…

    That being said, Mark and I never buy each other Christmas gifts (we don’t really celebrate the season, especially not this year when he will work the night shift throughout December). We don’t need anything. Our main celebration happens on our birthdays. Mine is coming up and I’ve asked for a “gift certificate” for Trader Joe’s, where I will buy all kinds of goodies that we never buy. 🙂

    Experiences are my favorite gifts to offer and to receive. For my family, I make an annual calendar with photos of us in different locations throughout the year. I better get started on that soon…

    1. I didn’t realize that Mark would be working again. The night shift – yikes! I agree about celebrating birthdays more. We don’t buy gifts for those either usually but we always do something special for each other on our day. Have fun at Trader Joe’s – they have such a wonderful selections on things you can’t find anywhere else.

  32. Somehow this got buried in my WP Reader…Janis, I just enjoy enjoying the holidays in whatever incarnation they appear each year…some more traditional than others, but always an opportunity to reflect and open myself up to others, giving in whatever way calls to my (he)art and serves the situation…
    Happy happy celebration season to you and yours, Janis!

  33. These are great suggestions. I love the tradition your friend and her sister have! Another idea is to ask someone which charity they’d like you to make a donation to. I’d love it if someone asked me that.

  34. Goodness, you had tons of replies to this timely post, Janis. Your words echo our lives. We enjoy life all year and only buy little things at Christmas. Last year I bought my sister-in-law an adult coloring book. Like Terri, this is our first Christmas in our Prescott home, so we purchased a tree and some new ornaments since we auctioned off our old one to charity before we moved. I love your list of ideas. 🙂 Thanks!

    1. I think that important thing is to celebrate in a way that feels right for you. There is a lot of outside pressure (in addition to the pressure we tend to put on ourselves) to buy the perfect gifts, entertain lavishly, decorate beautifully, and make it all look effortless. I have been so heartened by the comments… it’s so good to know that most of us have gotten past the unrealistic fantasy and have created holiday and family celebrations that work for us.

  35. For the past few years we go for experiences. I do create a family calendar each year and give them to my kids, sisters, nieces and nephews. It has become a tradition and now everyone contributes their calendar worthy pics.

  36. Every year I get upset by the added consumerism of the Christmas holiday. Or should we say, “spendaday.” This year seems worse than ever. Christmas store decorations came up the day after Halloween! Christmas music started November 10! And don’t get me started on the ads. I have six grandchildren. Young enough that they love gifts. But we try to give them “experiences” when possible. Every year our gift to our granddaughter is a night of The Nutcracker ballet at the Boston Opera House. In truth, it’s a gift to my guy and me too, and we all love it. One of my grandsons is a reader, so his gift last year was a Kindle, and it’s a gift that keeps on giving. For neighbors/friends, I bake and gift them with cookies. The more we do this, the better I feel. Great post.

    1. All of that sounds wonderful. I have some pictures of our family Christmas trees when I was very young. There was always a pile of presents underneath. I’m sure I was excited to open most of them (maybe not so much if they contained socks 🙂 ) but I have no memory of the gifts at all. What I do remember is the time we spent together as a family. Experiences – and books – are the best!

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