An Experiment in De-Commercializing the Holidays

The average U.S. Consumer is now spending over $1,000 per year on holiday gifts, in addition to a few hundred spent on themselves while combing through all of those unbelievable deals.

Exorbitant holiday gift spending is as American as apple pie, but it is one tradition that we would be better off for if it were to go the way of the dodo.

The reality is Black Friday, the wonderful new Black Thanksgiving, and the ensuing weeks are really just “open season” on our bank accounts. We think we’re the ones doing the hunting – but sometimes the hunter becomes the hunted.

I appreciate the value of giving something of sentimental significance. I also am a big fan of giving gifts that save money. Or gifts that give an experience to enjoy.

But the large majority of holiday spending does not come in these forms. It comes in the form of buying others a bunch of crap off of their wish list (in which case they should buy themselves) or crap you think they want (which they probably don’t). It’s a terribly inefficient process. No matter how accurate your gifter is, they could never be as efficient as you are in buying only the stuff that you need, and vice versa.

So the holidays become this inefficient commercial exchange that leaves everyone with a bunch of stuff that has no sentimental value, no use, and the resulting guilt.

de commercialize the holidaysThe No Gift Proposition

Back in 2009, I proposed cutting off holiday gifting between my wife and I. She was 100% in agreement.

We then started a quest to de-commercialize the holidays (and birthdays) in our families.

We told them that we wanted to de-clutter our lives and of our desire for the holidays to be more about the tradition of spending time together versus consumption and the associated stress and waste. We wanted it to be Thanksgiving: Part 2 (the pre-Black Thanksgiving version). Food, drink, family, and relaxation! And we wanted our birthdays to be the same way.

At the time, the idea just didn’t catch on. My side of the family said they liked the idea, but then went ahead and bought some crap anyways (probably out of guilt or habit). Her side of the family couldn’t comprehend it, and we felt somewhat resigned to defeat.

But we kept spreading the message.

The New Tradition

Three holiday seasons later, the picture has completely changed.

Last year saw no gifting on my side of the family, with the exception of a few bottles of wine and some food.

On my wife’s side of the family, we’ve turned git giving in to a combination of donating to a local charity and a white elephant exchange.

Gone are wish lists, gift cards, and all the stuff.

In effect, we’ve started a new tradition. And no one seems to miss the old one. In fact, something about the white elephant makes it much more fun and rewarding than traditional gift giving.

In the process, our families have increased our collective net worth by thousands, we have less clutter, less stress, and a more satisfying time together.

Even if unpopular and first met with resistance, some new traditions are worth starting.

No-Gift Discussion:

  • Have you pursued a similar idea with your family? What was their reaction?
  • If you’ve been successful in de-commercializing the holidays, do you have any recommendations for others interested in doing the same?

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