Buy nothing for Christmas

Gift giving was never a strength in my family. Sure, we gave gifts, we just didn’t do it well, as in “Hey, here’s your annual CD/book/cake that’s mostly indistinguishable from what I got you last year.” Later, through friends and girlfriends, I learned what a good gift was: something personal and thoughtful that they’d enjoy or need, but probably wouldn’t think to buy for themselves.

But with the web, and the same 15 chain stores in every mall in every city, it’s harder to buy truly good gifts. There is an abundance of easily available impersonal goods people don’t want or need (and the idea of gift cards is just one step away from giving someone cash).  I’m loathe to buy people more stuff anyway – I know few folks who complain about empty storage rooms, closets or kitchen cabinets, in need of more things they used once and never again.

So this year I made three four rules:

  1. To buy only experiences. Tickets to plays, events, massages, meals, things that they’ll experience and own as a memory instead of as a thing. Perhaps I can baby or pet sit for friends, gifts that could make a difference. This also has the benefit of low environmental impact if you’re into that sort of thing.
  2. To make things for people. If I make it with my own hands then it’s impossible to get at the GAP, or amazon, and as ugly or fragile as it might be, it will be personal. Writing a letter is more personal and requires more of my precious time (and therefore in a way is more likely to be a more meaningful gift) than any clever purchase ever could. It will will represent more of the the most precious thing I have, my time, than anything I could buy.
  3. Art, film, books, plays, performances or even board games are special kinds of buying. Anything made by an artist or creator needs the support of buyers to continue to do their profession. Although these are still purchases, the effect they can have on the person you buy them for can be profound, personal and long lasting.
  4. If my best or only choice is to buy, do it thoughtfully. Is this something this person will truly appreciate? Is it something they wouldn’t get themselves, even though they desire it? Is it something I want them to want, or something they will truly appreciate? Perhaps purchase from a local, independent artist or maker, or from a store that has sustainable practices for makers.

One problem for some people is they don’t know how to many anything. But there are always ways to offer gifts of your time, like coupons to babysit for a friend, to take them out for a fun night out or even to help them with housework, or a free lesson in a skill you have that you know they want to learn.

bnxmasBuy nothing Christmas is an alternative approach to the holidays. There are various flavors, from the official Adbusters Buy Nothing project, to a Facebook group, to a documentary, and simple tips for inexpensive and creative gifts, to ideas for parents and kits for simplifying the holiday season.

Perhaps my favorite is the Canadian Buy nothing Christmas group, asks the question “What would Jesus buy?” with a humorous catalog of free things to give (includes the ever popular seaweed), advocacy, and even a well written FAQ. Check it out.

[Updated November 2017 –  Thanks to Heather Bussing for suggesting #3]

15 Responses to “Buy nothing for Christmas”

  1. Mark Ashley

    Are you kidding, Scott? You can’t make anything? Come on–think outside the box.

    You make analogies, draw connections, build metaphors, tell stories, and so on. Why not do it with, about, and for the people on your “gift list”?

  2. Scott

    Just heard on NPR that the average American spends $800 on Christmas, not including an additional $100 in purchases for themselves.

    They also mentioned that 27% of people can’t recall anything they received last year for Christmas.

    Of course they don’t say where they got either stat from (I hate that – I’d love a law that says if ever you quote a stat, you have to provide a reference).

    Anyway, they mentioned a few other resources:

    Experience gifts has mostly high end experiences for sale.

    Waste free holidays is a Seattle area program to make gift giving easier on the environment, which includes discounts on various gifts that support the program.

  3. Ben Buchanan

    A few years back my family decided not to buy Stuff(tm) for Christmas any more (for the adults at least – children still get presents); and we’ve been doing smaller scale Christmases just with immediate family. We still do presents for birthdays.

    So now instead of going half broke and insane dealing with shopping centres at Christmas, running around desperately trying to find gifts… we save stress, money and we don’t add detritus to our lives (since any gift other than The Perfect Gift usually doesn’t add significantly to your life).

    Having saved on presents, we’re able to spend more on good food and drinks; which we consume with gusto and greatly enjoy our Christmas.

    I thoroughly recommend it :)

  4. Fed up

    The problem with buying only for the kids is that there will be no one who will appreciate your gift(s).

  5. Jonathan Lapointe

    That’s something I’ve been trying to do for some time with varying level of success. Even for birthdays, I tend to try to give time. It’s harder that we think. Time with my dad for his birthday. We go golfing or fishing. Time with my niece or nephew, we go at the movie, bake home made pizza where they choose ingredients, shape etc. At christmas we do a gingerbread house where they get to choose what they do and how they do it. You get the idea. Spa tickets and the like are also popular. Everyone need a good relaxing day, not another dust gathering thing made by cheap laborers…

    In this world of stress, giving time is still the best gift for me to give and get :-) (though I’d take a good book too)

  6. Dev

    Man, I love this blog a lot. I was born and raised in India. When you mentioned $800 every year, it cracked me open. In India, especially Hindu people spend more than 100,000/- Rupees every year on various or several festivals. I don’t know much about other religions or cultures and their spendings. Honestly, it is such a waste of time and money. We can use the same amount of money to feed, educate and cultivate un-preveledged children in and around the world. I thank my self to not to associate my self with any culture, religion, image or belief system any more and I love being an authentic human being.

  7. Dev

    Dang it, forgot to mention the big fat weddings. Even though people don’t have enough earnings, they will beg and borrow money to have a lavish wedding. What for? Man, some times I dislike to be born as a Human or being part of this society and I wished I was born as an animal or some tree in a remote forest. There are two kinds of people in this world, one who earns money and second who spends money and they are Husband and Wife.

  8. Heather Bussing

    You’re welcome. Love this! Now you have four rules though. <3



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