Opting Out of Holiday Gift Exchanges

January 25th, 2012 by Steve Pavlina

Today I told my family that I’m permanently opting out of buying/giving/receiving gifts for all future birthdays & holidays.

Many people grow up with holiday traditions that center around buying and exchanging gifts with family members. I enjoyed and appreciated this when I was younger, and I have many fond memories about it. These days it no longer resonates with me though. It’s not a good fit for my values. I feel it’s time to make a conscious choice here and drop this tradition from my life.

Gift giving is a popular love strategy that means a lot to certain people. I respect that. But it’s not a tradition that I personally find fulfilling or meaningful, either on the giving or the receiving end of it.

My primary love strategies are physical touch (like hugs and affection) and spending quality time together. I experience these in abundance, which makes gift giving feel really hollow by comparison.

I’ve never been particularly good at shopping anyway, nor do I care to get better at it. Most years I don’t even start my Christmas shopping till December 23rd. This past year I didn’t start till Dec 26th. :)

I know that some people love shopping for gifts, but for me the experience often feels tedious, annoying, and even creepy. I always procrastinate on it and then have to force myself to do it. Then I usually surrender before I seriously try, and I resort to buying everyone gift cards. This is clearly a path without a heart for me.

Some people like making gifts instead of buying them, but that doesn’t resonate with me either. I’d still be bothered by the obligatory nature of it. I occasionally enjoy giving someone a gift (bought or made) when it strikes me as a free and inspired choice. But when it takes the form of an expected obligation, it gives me the overwhelming urge to pummel an elf.

I told my family that if they still feel compelled to get me gifts, they can donate to charity instead. I suggested fellow TLC member Cynthia Kersey’s Unstoppable Foundation, which builds schools and wells for children in Africa.

As for how my family reacts to my decision, that’s up to them, but from my end it’s a done deal regardless of their responses. Hopefully they’ll understand though.

I feel good about this decision. It simplifies my life, which I like. And perhaps by sharing this quickie blog post, it will inspire others to consciously reexamine their holiday traditions.

Which of your behaviors are consciously chosen? Which are merely inherited?

Which practices would you discontinue if you knew there’d be absolutely no negative backlash from anyone?

If you wouldn’t continue a practice except for reasons of social pressure and obligation, then your motivation is fear-based, and fear will taint your gifts as well. If you can’t give from a place of free conscious choice motivated by love and inspiration, then is it really a gift you’re giving? To me that sounds more like a curse.

Leo from Zen Habits has a nice article about opting out of gift exchanges. Although Leo’s reasons are different than mine, he shares some insightful food for thought.


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