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The Simple Guide to Buying less Crap on Christmas

December 6, 2010
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ChChristmas at The Wilsons

So yeah, I’ll admit it.  I’m as guilty – if not more so – than most people when it comes to having a consumerist Christmas.  I’ve been blessed with two families for most of my life so I’ve always received a disproportionate amount of gifts during the holidays.  Double the gifts, double the Christmas dinners, double the family activities.  Of course it also means I had double the gifts to purchase for all those extra family members as well.

When I married the love of my life, again my family size doubled.  Since both of our parents were divorced when we were young, it now leaves Amie and I with four separate families all wanting to spend time and exchange gifts with us.  Needless to say, the holidays can get pretty maddening and even more expensive when you add everything up!

It isn’t the family that’s the problem

We LOVE all of our families.  Our families bring joy to our lives in so many ways.  Sure family can be extremely frustrating at times, but isn’t that the point?  Family teaches us something nothing else in this world can: To Love Unconditionally

You may have an uncle, cousin, or even brother or sister that you don’t like being around.  However, since they are family, you end up finding a way to not only tolerate these people but also love them in your own way.  You know you’ll have to spend the rest of your life with these people, so you better get used to it and learn to love them no matter what.

Its the presents that suck

If you think about it, you’ll probably agree.  Sure, we all get one or two really cool presents that stand out each year, but other than that the majority of presents we receive will hardly be used, immediately thrown away, or stored away in our basements or garages because we feel too guilty to get rid of them.   Even the “cool” presents are most of the time unnecessary.

When you have a big family, the need to purchase multiple gifts really starts to weigh down on you both financially and mentally.  It just isn’t sustainable, and it isn’t what Christmas should be about.

Yet we all love Christmas

We wouldn’t give it up for the world.  We instinctively go through the motions every single year with a focus on the gifts we will be giving.  We believe that the presents are what make Christmas so special, but in truth the presents are the worst part.  It’s the experience of giving and helping others that truly makes us happy.

So how do we find the perfect balance?  How do we give to those we love, but not make it about the presents?  How do we teach our children what Christmas is really about so they don’t perpetuate the consumerist tendencies we have so blindly accepted in our own lives?

Here are a few quick suggestions to get you thinking about what you can do to change the role of Christmas inside your family:

1.  Start New Traditions – There are so many things to celebrate during the month of December.  If you are open to it, learn a little bit about other cultures and how they celebrate the season.  Chances are you can integrate some of their ideas in to new traditions for your own family.  My family in Idaho celebrates St. Lucia every December 13th.  I won’t go in to the whole history of the holiday in this post, but essentially it focuses on celebrating light during the darkest days of the year. We don’t give gifts on this day but instead focus on cooking great food, and being with friends and family.  Celebrating the Winter Solstice is another great way to celebrate this time of year.

2.  Try Family “Group” Giving – Transform the “Giving” part of Christmas into something the whole family can do together.  Instead of buying presents separately for individual family members, try pooling your resources and giving a large gift to a person, family or organization in need of the support.   If you need a few suggestions, check out Charity: Water (bringing clean water to people in developing nations) or Kiva.org (Loans that change lives).  With Kiva.org you actually get your money back (well, 98% of the time) so you can re-invest time and time again.  Every year your family can continue to contribute to your family portfolio and soon become an amazing force for world change!

3.  Spend money on Experiences instead of things – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  Experiences appreciate over time, while “things” just depreciate.  Think about some of your best memories in life.  Chances are it was when you were doing something with loved ones (including your best Christmases!).  How many great memories do you have of your Super Blend-orama 5000?  Exactly.  If you must invest your money in buying something, consider buying an experience that your family will cherish their entire lives.  My parents have started doing this as part of their yearly Christmas tradition.  They take the money they would have spent on presents for all the kids and grand kids and instead spend it on a fun family vacation that we can all enjoy.  To this date, I can’t think of a better present I’ve ever received.

4.  Make Physical Purchases that count – If you can’t help but purchase presents for people, consider purchasing them gifts from “one-to-one” organizations like TOMS Shoes.  If you aren’t familiar, every time you purchase a pair of TOMS, another pair of shoes is donated to a child who needs them.  This means every purchase you make actually helps to make the world a better place – instead of just lining the pockets of CEO’s who are actively working against these concepts.

5.  Create your gifts – This one may seem obvious, but most of us ignore it.  Creating gifts for other people is one of the most satisfying and inexpensive ways to give.  Paint something, write a poem, make a craft.  You can also do something similar to what Amie and I are doing this year.  We’ve decided to make home made goodie baskets.  We’re making home made Spicy Dilly Beans, home made pasta sauce & noodles, dried cinnamon apple rings, and clove stuffed oranges.  We’re taking all of this stuff and putting it in to a basket to give to others.  It still cost money to get the ingredients, but far less money than buying everyone a gift from Walmart.

Of course none of us are perfect and I’d be lying if I said I will never buy another gift. I do however think its time for a change in this country and around the world.  We the people need to do everything we can to slowly change our traditions.  Its time to build a world that is less concerned with consuming and more concerned with actually giving.  Lets teach our kids that there is another way.

Here are some great posts on this subject.  Highly recommended reading:

1.  The Case Against Buying Christmas Presents – ZenHabits
2.  What Christmas is NOT about – Man vs. Debt
3.  1 Simple Strategy to save $2,000 this year and make everyone love you forever – Far Beyond the Stars

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What do you think?  Are presents key to a good Christmas?  Can you and your family live without them?  Am I just some idealistic hippie?  I want to know!   Oh, and MERRY CHRISTMAS!!   - Bryan



3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 6, 2010 8:10 pm

    Bryan your option 1 is rockin’! I like the “celebrate ligth during the darkest days” thing you do.

    Even though it’s not with Miller Lite (or maybe it is) it’s still really cool idea!

    Eric

    • December 6, 2010 8:16 pm

      Thanks, we really dig it too! Every year we pick one of the ladies in the family (usually one of my nieces) and they walk around with this big white gown and wreath on their head with real lit candles. They serve everyone in the room some really yummy Swedish cookies while balancing the candles on their head. Pretty cool stuff. No emergency room visits – yet.

  2. Amie Wilson permalink
    December 6, 2010 8:34 pm

    I can’t agree more with you Bryan! And I look forward to experiencing the giving of our time and experiences with our families during Christmas this year. Cheers!

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