Discover more from XO, MU by Melissa Urban
The Boundary Lady's 2023 Slow Gift Guide
How to save your sanity this holiday season by setting limits around gifting (part 2 of 2)
This issue is brought to you by The Book of Boundaries, available in hardcover, paperback, and audiobook—narrated by me! Absorb my boundary tips, advice, empowerment, and scripts straight into your brain while you drive, meal prep, walk, or fold laundry.
In Part 1 of my holiday No Gift Guide, I shared the story of going “no gift” at Christmas more than 15 years ago, and how you can get on the no-gift train too. I included specific scripts, advice for navigating pushback, and tips for holding this boundary, no matter how awkward it feels.
However, going no gift isn’t for everyone. You may take pleasure in finding something special for the people you love and seeing the expression of joy in their eyes when they open it. If that’s the case, I want you to keep enjoying that experience!
Still, many of you are asking, “Can we just, like, tone it down?” As in, you’d like to experience the joy of gift giving and receiving in a way that doesn’t break the bank, stretch already tight schedules, and pile more stress upon an already stressful month.
There are an infinite number of possibilities between NO gifts and ALL the gifts/ time/expense/stress. I call the conscientious practice of decreasing your consumption, financial output, and energetic spending going “slow gift.” These tips are for you.
Limit the cost
Institute a price limit on all gifting. Try something reasonable like $10-$20. This will force people to be creative while being respectful of your budget.
How to say it: “This year, I’d like to put a budget on gift-giving. Does $20 work for you? That’s what I’m comfortable with.”
Dealing with pushback: If someone spends more than the $20 you agreed to, you can either politely decline the gift or accept it, because you still stuck to your limit, and you can’t set boundaries for other people.
Combine a small physical present with your time. Give your coffee-loving friend a cute mug with a note that says, “Let’s have a Zoom coffee date every Sunday morning in January,” send your mom a Whole30 cookbook with a plan to cook a meal together, or buy your spouse a gift card to their favorite restaurant and plan a special date night.
How to say it: “Remember those coupon books we used to make mom as a kid? Let’s schedule our first coffee date/cook-up/dinner date now so we have something to look forward to.”
Dealing with pushback: If the other person is used to lots of gifts, this may feel like a step backwards. Reassure them by saying, “I’m focusing more on experiences this year. This will mean more to me than any present you can wrap.”
Regift on purpose. Take gently used items from your own home or thrift shop and regift them thoughtfully. This is both environmentally-friendly and trendy! I’ve heard from many of you who have adopted a “regift only” policy with friends or siblings.
How to say it: “I’m opting out of consumerism this year, so I’ll be getting creative with sourcing all of my gifts. Feel free to do the same—I’ve always loved that pink scarf of yours, hint hint.”
Dealing with pushback: If people are displeased with your thoughtful gift because you didn’t buy it brand-new, oh well. And if they balk up front, feel free to say, “Then let’s not exchange gifts at all this year and plan a coffee date instead.”
Limit the scope
Shrink your gift-giving circle. Exchange only with immediate family (no cousins/aunts/nephews), or gift only to kids under 12, and send a pre-printed photo card to everyone else.
How to say it: “I’m going to limit my gift-giving this year. I’ll only be exchanging with my spouse and kids/I’ll only be buying presents for the kids in the family, not the grown-ups.”
Dealing with pushback: If people insist on buying you a gift anyway—oh well. You’ve made your limit clear, and if you didn’t explicitly say “please don’t buy me anything” then it’s their prerogative. But definitely don’t buy gifts for people you said you weren’t going to “just in case.” That kills your boundary dead.
Set up a White Elephant or Secret Santa. In these scenarios, you’re only expected to purchase one gift (usually within a price limit), but you still get to watch everyone open their presents.
How to say it: “So many of us are stressed and struggling this year, so instead of buying individual gifts, let’s assign a Secret Santa. I’ll handle the name distribution, and we can set a limit on gifts at $20.”
Dealing with pushback: If nobody agrees, you can enact one of the other tactics. If some people agree, have your Secret Santa with them, and opt out of gift-giving with the rest.
Buy practically. Get the same thing for everyone—a gift card to Target, a new book (I might know one!), or cold, hard cash. We have this idea that cash isn’t “trying hard enough” but it may be the most meaningful gift of all.
How to say it: Say nothing, because you don’t have to justify your choice of gifts, and anyone who asks you to is rude.
Dealing with pushback: See above. If anyone is rude enough to second-guess the thoughtfulness of your gift, that’s a good sign to opt out of next year’s exchange.
Suggest something else. Instead of more toys, ask grandparents to buy swimming lessons, a zoo membership, a museum pass, or contribute to summer camp for your kids. (Bonus, invite them along during a visit.)
How to say it: “We have too many toys as it is, so we’re not accepting toys this year—not even small ones. Instead, she’s asking for (fill in thing). Then when you visit, you can take her and enjoy the experience together.”
Dealing with pushback: If Gram still brings a toy, (a) ask Gram to leave it in the car because you said no toys, or (b) let your child open it, but tell them the toy is going home with Gram for her to play with at Gram’s house. (And either Gram takes it home, or you’ll donate it to Goodwill on Monday. Stand firm.)
Think outside the box
Donate to a charity. Instead of buying gifts, make a donation in your family’s name to a charity you’d all support. (This is a great option if your mom agrees to go no-gift, but still wants to do something for you.)
How to say it: “This year in lieu of a gift, I’m making a donation to three charities in the family’s name. I’ll be taking charity suggestions until December 1, or I’ll choose an organization I know is near to us.”
Dealing with pushback: Who is actually going to say, “No, please don’t give that money to that worthy cause, spend it on me instead?”
Gift only an experience. Cook dinner for your parents, go snowshoeing with your best friend, offer to grab your sister’s kids for a weekend, or take a road trip with your spouse and kids.
How to say it: “This year, I’d like to focus on experiences instead of gifts. Instead of a present, I’d like to organize/invite you to (fill in here). Are you down?
Dealing with pushback: Be open to other’s suggestions of what would feel fun for them—if your parents would rather you see a play or your sister would rather you babysit on Monday nights this month so she can go to yoga, cheerfully gift that!
Plan a home project with your spouse or roommate, kick in some funds, then DIY-it together. Upgrading the kitchen, installing a home theater, or cleaning out the garage so you have a space to work out is the gift that keeps on giving.
How to say it: “I’d much rather build out our garage gym than buy each other a bunch of smaller Christmas presents. Can that be our present to each other this year?”
Dealing with pushback: This one works best with people you live with and share expenses with—so lay it out. “I’m going to spend $100 on stuff you don’t really need, you’d spend $100 for stuff I don’t need—$200 is three new kettlebells we’ll both use!”
Give one big present to each of your kids, instead of a dozen small ones. Go in with other family members for the new bike, a pair of skis, gaming console, a new camera, or a surfboard—something that feels like a “big ask.”
How to say it: “This year, we’d like to get you one big thing you’d really love. This means you won’t have a lot of presents to open, but you’ll have one that you’d have to save up for a long time to buy. Do you want to start looking at cameras?”
Dealing with pushback: Look back at Christmas past and remind your kids of the 90% of presents that, once opened, were left neglected, broken, or outgrown. Then, give them input on their “big thing,” and paint a picture of how you might be able to use it together over the Christmas holiday.
Bonus: Practice thoughtful consumerism
Shop locally and support your community’s businesses. They’ve been struggling since the pandemic, so spending in your own neighborhood will mean a lot. Try your winter farmers market. downtown shops, or Christmas fairs.
Prioritize Black-owned businesses, whether in person or online. Etsy and Thrive Market have Black-owned business filters, your local community likely has lists circulating, and you can do a search for “Black-owned bookstores” or other types of businesses.
Make your own gifts. Prepare mason jars of bone broth or jam, soap or candles, gluten-free sugar cookies, or photo books of your kids—as long as that doesn’t feel like an added burden on an already burdened weekend.
Set expectations around shipping and gift exchanges. Tell your family, “I won’t be spending extra for express shipping, so some gifts may arrive late. We don’t mind if gifts are late either, it just extends the celebration!” (This also reduces the pressure to order from Amazon instead of your local shop.)
Have yourself a merry little holiday
However you choose to handle gifts this year—and I hope this two-part series has helped—please remember one thing. The best things about this (and every) holiday season are free—like the laughter, traditions, warm feelings, gratitude, and memories you make with those you love.
Plus, boundaries. Those are also free, and have the potential to completely transform this year’s festivities. You deserve that too. Sending you and yours all of my warmest wishes and gratitude this year.