The Art of Asking for Fewer Gifts
This year, my family gave me gifts, carefully picking out a variety of different things that they hoped would make me happy. I did the same for them. But, somehow, after all the wrapping paper was thrown away and the thank you notes were written, I didn't feel very wonderful about all the things I had received.
I have one relative that sends me a long chatty letter every year along with a check. I love the letters, but I certainly wouldn't mind if she just skipped the check — I don't need it. I have another relative who carefully chooses Christmas tree ornaments for my husband and I, but hasn't actually asked if we even have a Christmas tree (we don't). I appreciate the thought, but the gift itself means that I'm going to have to find something to do with it.
I feel like a bad person for it, but I don't want my relatives to go out shopping for all these gifts for me or sending me money or anything like that. I'd much rather a few more chatty letters or the occasional visit. But I know that my family cherishes the opportunity to do something nice for one another (even I enjoy going out and finding what I hope are favorite gifts). Finding a way to express my preferences for fewer gifts has been a difficult process and isn't nearly over. But I'm working on improving this particular art form.
Think About What You Truly Want
At the end of the day, I do like getting gifts. I like knowing that my family and friends want to go out of their way to do something nice for me — and I think that's true of most people. It's just the end results that bother me: I don't want to have to find a home for some knickknack that I only keep because a family member gave it to me.
One of the best gifts I've ever received was when I convinced my grandmother that all I wanted was for her to bake me up a batch of my favorite cookies. I truly wanted those cookies (a treat I didn't normally get) far more than anything she could have given me.
Just sitting and thinking about the gifts that I really have enjoyed and loved has provided me some insights on what I want and how to ask for those items. I love the handmade gifts I've received. My favorite blanket, tasty treats, and other homemade gifts are what I remember with the most fondness.
The tough part is telling my friends and family that I cherish these gifts far more than a check or another purchase. Trying to tell relatives that I don't want their money can go very wrong. When I have these conversations, I want to talk about the fact that I appreciate what they do for me and the matter is not that I don't want their gifts. It's incredibly difficult to gracefully say that you'd prefer something other than what your family members have been giving you, and it requires as much sensitivity as you can find.
Consider Helping Others
One of the simplest approaches I've found to the gift question is telling family members that I appreciate the thought but, if they were thinking of sending me a check or a gift card anyhow, I'd love if they just sent it directly to my favorite charity.
Of course, there is that occasional relative who will make a donation in your name and then turn around and still give you something, but that's a situation you'll have to talk about with the giver.
It Isn't a Matter of Giving Less
No matter my own preferences, I try not to give fewer gifts out. Part of the matter is that I love giving gifts (although, over the past few years, I've been trying to focus on giving meaningful gifts, homemade where possible). But I also don't want to offend anyone or give the feeling that I don't appreciate them.
Not too long ago, there was a Miss Manners column where someone wrote in with a question: A relative had switched to making donations in family members' names rather than giving gifts. It was to the giver's preferred charity, and the giver seemed to still prefer receiving gifts rather than donations. The question was about how to handle the situation.
In my mind, every aspect of that situation was problematic. I want to be able to give my family exactly what they want — and, despite any hope I have of rising above wanting gifts myself, I want them to give me exactly what I want. It just so happens that the things I want (to make donations to a favorite charity or a homemade batch of cookies) don't quite match up with what my family expects to give. At the end of the day, if keeping my family happy means finding another knickknack a home, I'm happy to do it.