Keeping Christmas Simple: Five Practical and Meaningful Ways to Limit Your Gifting this Christmas

by - Friday, November 24, 2017

Well, happy Black Friday everyone! Here we are again, talking about the rampant consumerism of Christmas.

The hypocrisy of obsessing over Christmas shopping is noted every single year, with constant pleas from clergy and other Christians to remember the "reason for the season." Christmas as a Christian holiday about the humble birth of a powerless baby here to save the world stands completely at odds with the constant Capitalist push to shop. I hear a lot of talk about "finding a balance" but it is never a concrete thing- kind of shop as much as you want, just remember to mention Jesus now and again.

This feels like a major loss of the plot to me.

Actually making things about Christmas, not gifts probably should have a measurable difference. A visible difference. Not just a Jesus namecheck.

The idea of shrinking gifting is intimidating and offensive to some. I don't imagine many people celebrating Christmas would want a Christmas morning without gifts. But have you ever noticed that a ways in, the kids kind of lose track of everything? Or even break down because they are overwhelmed?

 As adults, I feel like it happens when we shop- you have some gifts that you thought through and you really like, but you have the gut feeling it isn't "enough" so you tag on more stuff that mostly adds to junk in your house. Whether you are shopping for adults or kids, the high expectation for "quantity" chips away at our quality and our ethics.

We all know Christmas gifting is out of control, but like so many addictions, it can be hard to know how to stop. Intent and a strategy are key, and part of this is setting real limits in a way that works for you.

If you have a set limit, the gifts you give will blow minds instead of filling space. I know this for a fact. We resolved to give our children one gift for every birthday. Yep, just one (they still get things from grandparents as well, so no one's deprived here)- and because it is only one gift, we debate and think about it and try to find one thing that our bub will really love.

The numbers feel daunting at first, and we all worry they won't feel that magic on the morning, but I think there are solutions to have an amazing morning without your tree looking like this-

just no. from thebossmom27's instagram

Come on. How is it even fun to open that many presents? How many trees died to wrap all these things? What does this have to do with magic or Jesus?!?!?!?!

Obviously this is a question of balance, and you have to find a balance that works for you and your family, but there are strategies out there to help. Lots of people are ready to avoid these mountains of pointless nonsense, and they have great ideas. Let's check it out.

Something They Want, Something They Need, Something to Wear, and Something to Read

I think strategy has got some mainstream attention, but I don't think many people only buy the 4 gifts. This one seems to help people create a balance in their gifting (without necessarily limiting). But what if each member of your family really only opened 4 gifts? I really love this post about it, which talks about why it works and variations on the theme that might work better for you (also about the struggle of wanting to keep things limited but fighting our own desires to gift). Her list is a little longer.

Something they want.
Something they need.
Something to wear
Something to read.


Something to Build
Something for Watching
and Enough small treats to fill a stocking

Want to do more than the four but keep it eco-friendly? I would add "Something to Do" to the list, and spend money on classes or experiences that will make your loved one's better. This one seems trickier for family outside of your home, but maybe you can think of a cool theme for the year? All need? All read?

Gift like a Magi

This is what we do, because I like that it brings it back to the heart of why we even gift at Christmas. It mirrors the Magi, who brought gifts to the tiny baby, and their gifting reminds us that the baby was God's gift to the world. It is important to me that my kids are well-aware of this connection on the holiday, and are less concerned about that dirty spy elf on the shelf.

So there are varying versions of this, where each gift could tie specifically to one of the magi's gifts- gold, frankencense and myrhh. When we decided to do it, I saw a bunch of different symbolic reads (gold= value, frankencense= spiritual, myrhh= preparation), so you could make your own. We don't do that- we just say 3 gifts (an awesome toy, a set of books, and an experience gift) and a stocking.

I love the spiritual valence between this gifting (like you might actually mention the big JC Christmas morning), and it is just enough gifts that they can poke through stocking stuff and play with their toy, but it doesn't have to be hours of opening gifts. And for our family outside of the house we aren't too strict, but basically try to stick to one gift (often shared across a whole household).

Gift Things that aren't Things

However many gifts you give, give the same number of gifts that don't take space under the tree. So, if you are giving 6 gifts this year, make 3 experience gifts, like piano lessons, trips to the zoo, cooking lessons, museum memberships, date nights, netflix or prime subscriptions. And for people outside your house, what if you tried all experience gifts?

 So many options, but it keeps the physical gifts limited if you have to balance the pile with non-physical gifts. But it would make 2018 one cool year, and might help you find a real balance.


The average Christmas-celebrating American family spend 271 dollars per child. That's average, so lots of people spend WAY more. It's probably comparable for adults. I have a (genius) family member who keeps a lid on things by simply limiting each family member's gifts to 50 dollars a piece.

That may seem really limiting, but I think it creates the opportunity to get creative. It is actually pretty inspirational. Buy secondhand. Try Buy Nothing. Make things. Combine gifts across kids.

We tend to set limits that constantly get pushed, and there you are spending hundreds of dollars. For people outside of your home, set a small budget as well and see what you come up with.  Keep it simple and keep your budget small. Such a simple concept, but I think it can be hard to keep to.

Adapt the Adults

I have heard of lots of families that gave up gifting completely for adults and only give presents to the children. That's amazing, and it certainly cuts out on a lot of waste. That said, if gifting is your love language, this can also be a real bummer.

If you don't think you can sell your family on skipping gifting completely, you can still switch to exchanging names. If there are 5 adults in your family, and everyone receives one gift instead of 4, that's 15 fewer things bought in all. And 3 things less for you to buy! You can also make this really fun by trying to be as secret a Santa as possible. Give them hints or try to throw them off! The point here is that everyone receives one gift with a lot of thought, not many drenched in holiday panic. Also, I am hardcore not on team "White Elephant" where everyone just picks something, because most of those gifts are aggressively useless (and you can't thoughtfully shop for anybody. You are just buying something).

How do you limit gifting in your family?

5 Ways to Limit your Gifting this Christmas

Four Practical and Meaningful Ways to Limit your Gifting this Christmas

Need more inspiration? I think this blog has fun and simple advice. How many gifts do you give in your house? What do you think a good number is? Do you have a limit or a strategy

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  1. My husband and I wait until we know what the grandparents are buying and then buy. Often it ends up just one gift from us, something we know they really want/need. We also try encourage family to buy books and clothes - books last ages and clothes are always needed :)

  2. Me and my husband always give my kids one or two gifts for Christmas. I don't want my kids to think its all about the gifts. Books are one of my favorite to receive.

  3. Yes!!! Definitely agree in simplifying Christmas and limiting gifts. It's about so much more, the meaning and the time spent together.

  4. We're definitely considering going he simplified way to doing Christmas gifts now that we have a daughter. She has so many toys already and last year for so much stuff from grandparents and aunts and uncles.

  5. Great ideas! Thanks for sharing! I always love your posts!



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