In Budgeting, Discussions, Discussions, Lifestyle, Minimalism, Money

Why we don’t do gifts at Christmas or big events (Minimalist Christmas)

This is going to sound really weird to those of you who have followed me for a while, considering how much I love shopping and so on, but we actually do not do gifting at Christmas or any big events like birthdays, anniversaries, etc.

My childhood with gifting

I didn’t grow up with a massive celebration at these events for most of my life. Periodically, when my parents were flush, they’d do something like buy a whole bunch of gifts (this is my mother’s love language), for a birthday, or a Christmas, but practically speaking, these events were all celebrated with a big meal in a restaurant, not with any things.

For things that we did want or need, like a bicycle, my father found someone selling a used bike, and got it for me for $50. No fanfare, just – here’s a bike, you said you wanted one. I sort of adopted the same attitude towards Little Bun over the years. I actually wrote a few posts in 2013 and 2016 (god I am old), that still hold true for most of the time:

Please, I am NOT SHAMING ANYONE about wanting to have lots of gifts. My mother’s love language is gifting, so this is very difficult for her to accept, hence why she now sends a million YouTube videos and recipes a week in an attempt to ‘gift’ something to us. I have actually told her to only send food (or make it for us when we visit), or buy / give books because you cannot go wrong with books for us. We are voracious readers.

So I totally understand that for some people, this is a very special event, and it brings back the most joyous of memories and goodwill. I am only saying what we and my family do, and I am asking you to consider that maybe not every event needs to be excessive and over the top. Less really is more in this case, because it becomes more meaningful, I think.

For instance, I knew a guy who lamented each Christmas what a bloody waste of money it was for his parents because his mother would buy these cheap dollar store knickknacks pieces of crap that would break after 2-3 uses, and he would have rather had NOTHING AT ALL, or for them to give him the cash, or use it on ONE decent tool set as a gift. For him, it was just garbage, it was not anything he wanted or needed, and it was wasteful.

Unless they want it, it’s kind of a waste….

Ironically, my siblings who also got nothing alongside me, grew up with another attitude – their family Christmases are insane. I am talking like a massive tree, 30 presents per child in total… it’s crazy. I went to go visit them years ago, when they were younger, and it only reinforced how little meaning these gifts had for these children, and how under appreciated it all was.

I came to a personal conclusion that unless the child asks and wants it, in line with their hobbies and interests, it is a waste of money, a burden on the environment and it goes under appreciated. My nieces and nephews had a basement FULL OF TOYS they did not play with. Clothes they outgrew within months (which we benefitted from, so I cannot look the gift horse in the mouth), and all they wanted was to play fight on the couch with each other, sneak underneath the kitchen table and mingle around adult legs, and sit in cardboard boxes pretending to be in a ship. Kids in my observation, wanted boxes and imagination, and play time. They toy itself did not matter. A tissue box could become a train or a spaceship, just as easily as an expensive toy one. Just look, he used sewing thread as a toy here:

It is not my business and never will be, to tell anyone how to spend their money (I am not one to talk), but I did observe all of this and filed it away in my head that children cared about connecting with parents, attention, and had less of an emphasis on things. Also, I found that the less that they had, the more they played with what they had. Little Bun for instance, has a small amount of toys – blocks, Barbie doll (the scientist version, mind you), Ken doll (the lazy surfer bum one), two Stuffies, a house we made for him, card games, a small BBQ, and a few knick knacks like boxes he appropriated from my shopping. And lots and lots of books.

We do not have TV in the conventional sense either. I buy him shows to watch, that are ad-free, or I buy DVDs of shows, or movies (my mother has given a few of these to us as well, delighted she could give something we would want!!). As a result, because we do not have many ads or commercials targeting kids in these videos, he doesn’t really ask for anything. He doesn’t even know what is out there to ask for. I don’t give him toy catalogues to peruse through to see what he wants. I just observe what he gravitates towards, and I buy him what fits his needs, hobbies and interests, in the moment in time. For instance, the other day, I know how much he is into Heart & Brain comics so I bought him the calendar for 2022 – the wall one and the daily one, so he could have a new comic each day as a surprise.

I actually asked him – do you want the wall one OR the daily one? And I explained the wall one would have the month and days in boxes so he could record down events and notes to himself (he loves planning, like I did as a child), but the daily one was just the daily comic. He paused, and said: I would prefer the wall one, so I could plan out my week and days. In the end on a whim, I bought him both because I also wanted him to enjoy having a daily calendar comic to read. I didn’t have to, but I did it anyway.

Gifting in the moment

We buy mostly experiences where we can (I mean, from what we could do, considering the pandemic), and I had wanted to travel a lot with Little Bun but that is on hold for now. Instead, we have adopted the attitude of gifting in the moment. Whatever he needs during the year, he gets, within reason. For instance – I saw his crayons were getting nubby, I went out and bought a nice pack. Then we got him some pencil crayons. And none of it is stuff he asked for at all (I ended up with a rather non-consumerist child), and it was just stuff we saw he needed like this fun puzzle map of the world:

http://amzn.to/2vlHxFU

If he needed a bike, I would consider it, and buy it in the moment for him because I am not going to have him wait until winter, to have this bike he cannot ride until next spring or summer. Please note: I understand many families can’t afford to do this, and I am super aware of being privileged enough to just buy whatever he wants when he wants.

Another example is the piano. I taught him treble & bass clefs on paper, then on the iPad we practiced basic songs I wrote out for him on paper, and I observed him over 1.5 – 2 years to see if he had a REAL interest in it. I wasn’t going to go out and encourage a hobby, no matter how bougie, if he wasn’t going to pick it up and enjoy it. It wasn’t until I saw he was struggling to do songs correctly on the iPad screen in Piano, that I decided it was time for one. So we bought a nice piano, and he now plays on it daily as a hobby. I waited until he was sure to pick it up as a hobby, and then we got one.

Learning how to spend consciously

I want him to learn that buying and wanting things, saving for them, and so on, is important. But what is also equally important is spending consciously. You don’t just buy things on a whim, you sit on them and then consider if you really want it. This is the kind of thing I am now learning because when I was a kid, money seemed so scarce and unavailable that when I was able to buy anything – even if I did not want it – I bought it because I wanted to feel like I had enough money to be able to do so. I was searching for that feeling of security and abundance, ironically, in spending money to feel rich. It’s a REAL thing.

I want him to learn a different way of looking at money and things. That there is enough money for what you want, but not for everything you want. I want him to think about what he is buying, why, if it will bring pleasure to him, and if he will enjoy it for the money he spent. I want him to understand that spending is not wrong, and to consider what he is giving up if he spends that money instead of saving it for something else he really wants. I want him to learn what I did not know until my late 20s, even early 30s.

Want to give him what he really wants

I would rather put the money into his education fund for his future, or in cash on the side for future secondary school education (we plan on switching to a private school when he is older, like all the other parents), and to have general cash for him to decide that maybe he wants to use it to buy a used car. Or maybe he wants to use it to do a weekend trip with friends. I mean, this money is for him to decide consciously as he gets older, what he wants to do and buy. It is not for me to decide now, seeing as he doesn’t need much. I would rather save all that money from not buying toys at all, invest it for him and his future and/or just give it to him for his own purposes.

Stress-free is the goal

It all just seems so stressful to plan and shop for an event, on top of having to cook for it, have people over, decorate.. it’s just.. a lot. It’s too much for me. I do not find it important for us, but if Little Bun found it important (he does enjoy setting up the reusable tree), then we would do it. But for now, he hasn’t asked for it, and we haven’t done it. I would rather spend the time and money on food and the meal that we will all enjoy, than to run around harried and stressed trying to find THE PERFECT gift for someone. Honestly, I am that person who would rather get cash. In lieu of cash, give me a gift card to a store I actually visit and like. Or give me food and things to eat, consumables are best. Personally, no one can really know what I want unless I give you a very specific, detailed list; and anything I want, I can buy for myself in the moment.

Future changes

Lastly, please note that we started this when he was a baby so he has zero expectation of gifts at events from the get-go. The only gift is that when we celebrate, we do it with a special meal and with cake of some sort. He does not get cake randomly during the year, only for special occasions, and he truly savours these specialties when it is a big event (this is part of our conscious eating habits too, as I grew up with absolutely terrible habits, eating sugar 24/7 and I want him to learn a balance).

As he gets older, I am fully aware of him wanting to have other items that kids will want. Maybe he will want branded clothing. I am not opposed to that (lol how can I be, have we met!?), but I want him to be conscious about buying $200 shoes, or $200 jeans, and if they are what HE wants, not what others say he should want. I want him to feel like he fits in too, and social markers of clothing are important in doing this (we both know this, having grown up without such things, we acutely felt the effects at school of not fitting in). I do not want him to be raised consumerist or brand-conscious, but he should enjoy what he actually wants as well. Or find ways to buy it secondhand to save money. I am totally willing to support all of this within reason.

Also, for Christmas or birthdays, he will be asked: WHAT DID YOU GET?.. and I am okay with giving him gifts then, for that specific occasion. It is whatever he wants, within reason. We are not here to police him about gifts, and lecture on consumerism, we just want him to grow up without a scarcity mindset but to have a balance between that and spending consciously.

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