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.

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 and guaranteed we’d like our gifts, but there was no surprise, and really no point in it.

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

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

7. Holiday gifts detract from the true meaning of Christmas

Giving gifts that are not needed to 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 still 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 Do 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?

Or, perhaps best of all, 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 of a more fiscally and environmentally responsible future? Please leave your comments below, yay or nay. – Brian

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