Tips for setting gift-giving guidelines with love


December 12, 2019

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Before I became a mom, Christmas gift giving was simple. I could count on gift cards from my parents, a book from my brother, and a sweater from my mother-in-law. The amount of stuff I brought into our home after the holidays was always manageable.

But Christmas with children, I soon found out, was a different story. Our first daughter was born the day after Christmas, which soon meant two solid days of gift giving. 

We weren’t just receiving a few new items anymore. No, now we were bringing suitcases full of new stuff home from the holidays (yes, we actually had to buy two new suitcases to fly all of our gifts home one Christmas). As much as I was grateful for the generosity of our family, I felt a bit overwhelmed, and wondered: how am I going to manage all the new stuff coming into our home this year?

While I love all things Christmas, and the tradition of gift giving, I didn’t love my newfound role as full-time “new stuff manager.” It was my job to make sure all the gifts made it back to our house. And then I had to find a place for them in our home after Christmas.

If I didn’t, new toys took over our living space. Calm turned to chaos. I’d trip over things and lose my temper. I found I just wasn’t a very happy mama post-Christmas. The joy we all felt watching our daughter open many new, shiny toys on Christmas morning simply wasn’t worth the energy expended in keeping them from overflowing into our living space.

When our second daughter was born and Christmas rolled around again, I knew something had to change. With two kids, we easily were on track to inherit over 50 new items that year. At the time, we lived in a cozy, 1,000 square foot home and we didn’t have the space (or the need) for that much new stuff.

Honestly, I was concerned about my ability to stay present to my family during Christmastime. If each newly opened gift sparked a thought about its future location, then I really wouldn’t be able to focus on my family.

I knew I had to say something to our loved ones. But how? Would my extended family and in-laws be offended if I requested fewer gifts for our girls? What about people whose love language was gift-giving? Certainly they would be upset, right?

I took some time to think about it, and came up with a way to gently explain to my family how I was feeling. And you know what, it worked. Not immediately, but with time, they got it. And no feelings were hurt in the process.

Here’s the three-part approach I’ve taken when talking to family about holiday gift giving the last couple years. It’s a positive approach that has helped keep our Christmas more simple, calm, and more meaningful.

 01. Express your gratitude.

The fact that family and friends want to buy things for your children is, first and foremost, a huge blessing. Gift giving is, after all, an act of love. These people love your children enough that they want to bless them with things that will make them happy. Putting gratitude-based guidelines in place can help limit what’s purchased while letting gift-givers still feel appreciated.

02. Find ‘your why’ before talking.

Take some time to reflect and even journal on why you want a simpler Christmas. Why do you want fewer gifts given this year? Maybe you just had your third baby and the idea of managing a lot of new stuff sounds overwhelming. Maybe your family just moved into a new house and you don’t have space for much more. Or, maybe you want to help shift your children’s focus to family togetherness at Christmas, instead of counting the number of gifts they receive. Getting to the bottom of why you’re looking to simplify the gifts being given will be helpful when you approach loved ones about it.

03. Tell people what you’d like them to do (instead of telling them what not to do).

Tell family what your children would love to receive. I make a list of things I know our girls would love and use, and then, around the first of December, I begin sharing it with family. I usually send one gift idea for each girl per person, and leave the big gifts (bikes, scooters, a tent) for grandparents. 

I even try to match the gift request with the giver’s interests. For example, if my daughter is asking for books, then I will ask my mother-in-law for these because I know she especially loves giving them. We let material gifts come from family members, and then, as parents, we give our girls “experience gifts” (tickets to the Nutcracker ballet, a day ice skating at a downtown rink, a special dinner out to the girls’ favorite restaurant). 

So the formula I’ve found most effective looks like this: Be grateful + state your why + tell people what you’d like them to do. 

Here are some examples of how you can say this:

“We are blessed that you want to buy our girls gifts. With two kids now, we have room for a new scooter and a play tent. They’d love these gifts so much!”

 Or, “We are so grateful that you want to give our children so many wonderful things. Right now we have space for art supplies and books. They’d absolutely love those gifts!”

One thing I’ve learned through this process is that it may take a couple years of talking to family before they catch on that you’re serious about your requests, but in general, they really appreciate the opportunity to give something they know will be loved and used well.

If loved ones still shower your children with random gifts after you’ve lovingly asked for intentional presents, don’t take it personally. Just stay positive and consistent with your message.

Ultimately you can’t control what people will purchase. But you can control your outlook and decide to be grateful.

You also control what you decide to keep in your home after the holidays. The purpose of a gift is to show love. Once a gift is opened and the love behind it has been appreciated, then the gift has served its purpose. If it’s not something that’s being used or loved at home, you can donate it so someone else can use or love it.

Keeping these three things in mind when talking to family has worked wonders in limiting Christmas gifts and making giving more intentional. Instead of bringing suitcases full of random toys home from holiday gatherings, we bring home select items our girls cherish and use throughout the year.

Instead of being distracted during the holidays and worried about my upcoming job as “new stuff manager,” I am now able to enjoy time with family more deeply and better give others the gift of my presence. And that alone, I’ve found, has made setting loving, gift-giving guidelines worth it.

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