The Dark Side of Gift Giving

It’s here.


The holiday season is upon us. Whether you’re a Martha Stewart wanna-be coordinating your napkins and drapes to your gluten-free sweet potato pie, or you’re in denial and looking for affordable airline tickets to leave the country, the days are upon us and with the season comes clutter.


Schedule clutter, extra-inches-around-our-waist clutter, and one of my personal nemeses. . . gift clutter.


My personal love language is acts of service; gifts didn’t even make an appearance on my ranking. If you want to watch me awkwardly fight the knee jerk reaction to run in the other direction, give me a gift. I’m not a talented gift giver: I once gave my kid a trash can for Christmas when she was 12, a destroyed plastic horse to a neighbor girl in the fourth grade for her birthday, and a box of chocolates for Christmas to my best friend after she spent three days baking trays upon trays of goodies to give as gifts.


Also, I’m minimal-ish. I’m consistently letting go of items and simplifying my life. So you might just be giving me something that I will keep long enough to battle the guilt related to not wanting it, then donating it sooner rather than later. So at this point, I have probably given you a trash can in return and avoided you for six months so you don’t ask me where your gift is.


I’m not sharing this about me as a passive-aggressive way to get my friends and family to not give me gifts (that will just be an added bonus) but to shine a light on the fact that gift-giving has a dark side.


Here are a few examples:


  • Not everyone wants or likes the gifts you get them and they can become clutter or a burden in their lives laced with guilt. Likely not what you intended when you wrapped that gift up with the perfect ribbon!
  • Gifts can leave people feeling obligated to give back when they can not afford to. That indebted feeling is not fun, and also increases likeliness to jack up consumer debt.
  • American’s waste about $13 billion on unwanted gifts each Christmas, none of which are finding their way back to the North Pole; lousy return policy.
  • A big one I see as a home organizer is people wanting to teach their kids a simpler life, and they’re catching on to the fact that too much stuff can have a negative impact on a child’s brain; family members (I’m talking to you grandparents) can inadvertently flood kids with more gifts than needed.



Now that I have ruined Christmas for all you gift-givers out there (sorry not sorry), and have caused a sigh of relief in the non-gift-givers, what are some steps in the right direction for all of us?


  • If you are a parent and are in my camp of “no gifts please”, know that you absolutely get to express boundaries for you and your family. An email or text now before the shopping onslaught begins, simply stating that you have decided to create a simpler and less cluttered environment for your children as you feel it benefits them mentally, emotionally, and physically so, therefore, please keep gifts to (insert whatever number you feel is reasonable) and request that the nature of the gifts are experience and or time-based; a gift card for the movie theater or the grandparents gifting a weekend getaway to OMSI are examples. If they push back, let them keep the toys at their house for when your children visit.
  • If you are a die-hard gift giver, consider giving consumable gifts to the adults in your life. Food, beverage, mini garden-kit, treats for your loved one’s pets, etc. Better yet, give your time or share a meal together!
  • Have your family take part in a white elephant Christmas so the amount of gift-giving is tremendously decreased. This is what we do in my family (we also cap the expense at $20!). It always guarantees some good laughs (and it’s also guaranteed that I will try to score back that bottle of wine I brought).


Also; a few facts and statistics to keep in mind:


  • The average 10-year old owns 238 toys but plays with just 12 daily.
  • 3.1% of the world’s children live in America, but they own 40% of the toys consumed globally.
  • Americans waste an additional 25 million tons of garbage between the Thanksgiving and New Years holidays.
  • Almost half of Americans expect to incur $500 in debt along with 45% saying they feel immense stress ahead of the holidays and 25% argue with their significant others about holiday debt.


So as I polish up my wine-loving grinch persona for the season, consider the thought that holidays are about those you love and appreciate. It’s time, and it’s memories. Time together and memories can happen without the weight of expectation and guilt. You get to set the limits for your home and your family. You can give in a way that appeals to your personality without crushing the souls of us non-gifters.


Happy holidays and pass the wine. . .