Maybe It’s Time to Stop Exchanging Gifts During Holidays

Not having to exchange gifts might be the best gift you can give your family and friends.

One Christmas some years ago, my family came to an agreement that made all of us breathe a huge sigh of relief: we agreed to stop exchanging presents.

Outdoor Christmas Tree
Is this what Christmas is all about?

The truth is, we were headed in that direction anyway. It was getting kind of ludicrous – my brother and I would just ask each other, “what do you want for Christmas?” and order it online for each other. Same with my parents. This minimized hassles but there was no surprise, and really no point in it since we basically had everything we needed already.

But even worse, I know many people who stress out over the holidays about coming up with gift ideas, shopping for those gifts, and figuring out how to pay for them.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that maybe it’s time to ditch gift-giving among adults when done just because it’s a holiday. We shouldn’t feel obligated to purchase crappy things just because it’s Christmas or Hanukkah or someone’s birthday.

What if the holidays could become purely times for family, friends, and celebration instead?

Here are some reasons not to exchange gifts during the holidays.

1. Gifts are often not needed or even wanted

Do any of these situations ring a bell? Have you ever…

  • Hastily chosen a pretty useless gift at the mall because you waited until the last minute?
  • Received a gift that you didn’t really like, or that you never used?
  • Pretended to like a gift that you received so the other person wouldn’t feel bad?
  • Re-gifted something or sold it on eBay?

For me, the answer to all of these questions is yes, many times!

Studies have shown that gifts have lower utility (usefulness) to the recipient than the equivalent value in cash. How often do we buy some useless trinket as a gift because we couldn’t think of anything better and we ran out of time?  I am guilty!

According to, 7% of Americans knowingly give unlikable presents, 1 in 2 people dislike at least one gift each holiday, and $16 billion was wasted on unwanted gifts during the 2017 holiday season.

2. Shopping is stressful during the holidays

Does anyone enjoy going to the mall the week before Christmas?

One of the leading causes of stress around the holidays is finding and purchasing gifts. Often we do it only out of obligation, and we rarely an equal amount of satisfaction from the gifts we receive. If you’re a procrastinator, the amount of stress and hassle is multiplied.

3. Gift card value might not be fully utilized

Gift cards might seem like a great gift solution, and I believe they are better than many material gifts purchased last-minute at the mall. But between one and three billion dollars of gift-card value goes unredeemed annually, which is why businesses promote them so much. 

There are many reasons that gift cards go unused. The recipient may not like the products at the particular store, or they may forget about it, or they may lose it, or it may expire.

Once, I received a gift card and the store went out of business, leaving me with a $150 gift card that was worthless.

Another annoying thing about gift cards is the inconvenience of having to carry them around everywhere. Or, if you’re like me, you leave them at home and slap your forehead when you’re at the store and don’t have them.

4. Many generic holiday gifts are a bad value

Have you ever received one of those pre-packaged gift baskets? You know, they have crackers, cheese, chocolate, and some other stuff nicely displayed in a huge basket. Unpack it all and you end up with some snacks that cost a few dollars and a whole lot of wasted packaging including the basket which you’ll throw away. These are priced anywhere from $40 to $150 and up. Would you rather receive one of these baskets or the equivalent value in cash?

5. Useless gifts contribute to climate change and landfill

Manufacturing stuff is a huge contributor to climate change. Most gifts will end up in landfill, probably sooner than you think.

Let’s not forget about the waste of wrapping paper and ribbons – something enjoyed for maybe a few hours during a birthday party or a few days during Christmas and thrown away.

6. Holiday gifts are an unnecessary expense

Money is tight these days. Consider the amount of money you and your family spend on gifts, and what else you could do with that money.

7. Gifts detract from the true meaning of Christmas

Fighting crowds at Walmart to buy gifts that are not needed for people who already have enough and expecting the same in return doesn’t have anything to do with Christmas.

The Exceptions

Before you think I’m a total Grinch, I do think that children should still get Christmas and birthday presents. I wouldn’t want to rob them of the fun I had getting toys as a kid.

Also, I’m in favor of giving gifts when you find something that the recipient could truly use or appreciate, especially if it’s hard to find or unusual. For a few special people in my life, I’m on the lookout all year long for things that I know they will enjoy. That’s a huge difference from panicking a week before Christmas and hastily grabbing a nick-knack at a department store that they might never use.

What To Give Instead

According to the same article at, a majority of people, 53.25%, say they most look forward to spending time with family during the holidays, while only 3.25% say they most look forward to receiving gifts.

I’m in favor of giving non-material presents such as giving your time, your expertise, a night at a nice restaurant, a day at a baseball game, or your special home-cooked dish? How about helping someone paint their home? Or fixing up someone’s computer? Or giving them “coupons” for free rides to the airport from you? Or just catching up with someone over coffee?

A great idea I got from travel guru Samantha Brown is to give a museum membership! I love that! Even if the recipients don’t use this gift, it still benefits a good cause – the museum! If the person is not into museums, how about a zoo or botanical garden membership?

Or, make the holidays a time when you give to the needy, the poor, and the lonely. This was probably the original intention of these traditions!

Most People Actually Agree

It turns out, I’m not the only one who feels this way. Seven out of ten Americans would give up gift-giving during the holidays if others gave it up. If you’re one of the majority of Americans who feel this way, maybe it’s time to have a talk with your family and friends who might actually be up for this!

Imagine all of the time, money, and grief that could be saved if we did this!  Not to mention damage to the environment and landfill usage!

Check out some of these articles that agree with me:

What do You Think?

So, do you think it’s time to stop being obligated to give material gifts to adults during the holidays? Am I a total Grinch or is this the way to a more fiscally and environmentally responsible future? Please leave your comments below, yay or nay. – Brian

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1 year ago

Equivalent to scrooge. Basically worshipping scrooge. Trying to make the miserly look eco, righteous, the ‘right thing to do. Give me a break. Maybe you need to look into your own heart and ask why its such a hassle to go shopping for people in the first place? It’s your attitude that sux and people like you not gift-giving or christmas or any holiday that is the problem. I’ve noticed people who always want this pattern often appear very cold sometimes narcissitic family members. Not often very warm people…
In fact, there are many ‘love languages’ in different people; and one of them is gift givers. Your taking away their joy in givi8ng which obviously you don’t share with these warm hearted people who love to give and there also also love languages in some that they love to receive gifts. Thats how they feel loved. Other people have different love languages like they’d rather have someone wash their freaking floors and they’d feel loved and cherished! But to demonize all those who love gifts and/or love to give them is stealing the joy from horrible I felt so devitalized reading your limited opinions with very slef centered motives whereby you can’t seem to stand in anothers shoes and let those who love it do it, instead you demonized it in the name of some cause…give me a break for crying out loud.

2 years ago

Giving gifts has everything to do about Christmas. Hence it is similar to to the actions of the three wise men bringing gifts to the infant Jesus.

4 years ago

I totally agree! What I dislike most is the expectation of undeserving family and friends that I am going to spend precious time and money on greedy people who are on Santa’s BAD list all year long. I am so over it. Sorry but I stopped buying for kids too. Today’s children have a sense of entitlement that I cannot support. Plus, I don’t recall one Christmas toy from childhood. It was the beauty of the lights and decorations that ingrained my memories. Thanks for the article but you could have said something about this culture of commercialism creating a society of “ever increasing” entitlement and “keeping up with the Jones” when we need to save and invest instead. It’s really sad.
Thanks again.

Judy Love-Fischer
Judy Love-Fischer
4 years ago

I totally agree! Under our Christmas tree there is 1 box for each of the children or (teen-age) grandchildren who will be here. Those boxes are recycled every year; only the lid of the box is wrapped, so it can be lifted off, and the box can be reused. Family members know that their box will contain a check or cash to spend as they see fit–whether to buy themselves something they really want, or just to cover some unpaid bills. Far-away children and grandchildren get their checks in the mail.
My husband and I give no gifts to each other. Since my husband is both a church musician and a jazz musician, he sings, plays, composes and arranges music as a gift to us all. This year he also made 25 German stars and 10 Danish hearts (both with instruction by youtube video) for a church sale of holiday ornaments raising money for global safe drinking water.
For our family the focus on December giving is not on Black Friday, but on Giving Tuesday. As a member of Charity Watch (Charity Navigator is also good), I can check to see which charities are most efficient in promoting the causes we wish to support. Then on Giving Tuesday we can give online or by mail to those charities (with the money we’ve saved by not over-gifting our children and grandchildren). Often at this time of year, those gifts will be matched, making our money go farther.

4 years ago

Hi Judy,

Thank you for sharing! I love what you are doing! I hope more and more people will think like this. Merry Christmas and best wishes.