Talking to Friends and Family About Gifts

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Do you detest the extra clutter that the holidays can bring into your home? Perhaps it’s time to talk to friends and family gifts and how to make it a more enjoyable and rewarding experience for all involved.

Don't want to bring extra clutter into your home this holiday season? Here are some ideas on how you can talk to friends and family about gifts. #holidays #christmas #giftgiving #clutterfree #minimalism

Talking to Friends and Family About Gifts

It’s a question that I seem to get every year around this time….

“We want to have less in our home and our children really don’t need anything else…but how do we tell friends and family without hurting their feelings?”

I know the feeling, you want to make your friends and family happy by letting them give gifts to your children and your family but deep down inside you know that the toy/item is just going to get tossed aside after about 5 minutes and it will eventually turn up behind the washing machine, totally forgotten. If you are trying to live a simpler lifestyle, extra gift clutter and stress can really be a weight on your home and your heart.

–If you are just getting into simple living, I would highly recommend my workbook, 31 Days to Simpler Living.

We all know that when our children have so many things they just can’t focus on something new. They will stick to their favorites. But how do you express this to your friends and family without hurting anyone’s feelings? Here are a few ideas…

Give Them an Experience Alternative

If you aren’t doing gifts or are only doing a few gifts, give your friends and family a gift alternative. When they ask what your children want or need this year, be honest and tell them that you aren’t really doing many material gifts and would love to spend time with them instead. Suggest a trip to a museum together, or a camping weekend together in the summer, or something similar. Let them give the gift of an “experience” rather than a physical item. The benefits of this time of gift will be reaped and appreciated by you and your children for years to come! You could also ask for memberships to museums or other activities that you and your children can enjoy over and over.

Homemade Oatmeal Cookie Mix in a Jar

Ask for Items That Can Be “Used Up”

This is another great alternative to traditional gifts that may not be used and will sit around. Ask for gifts that can be “used up”. Some of my favorites are food gifts, science kits, art and craft kits, etc.

When Something Comes in, Something Goes Out

If you’d rather not have the conversation at all and are open to your family giving your children gifts, another alternative is to give away, sell, or donate one old toy for each new one they bring in. That way no extra clutter is added to your home and your child won’t be overwhelmed with toys. We try and practice this rule year round with toys and clothing.

–Also see 100 Frugal Free Gifts for Toddlers

Be Specific

Something that we’ve done in the past few years is to be specific when family and friends ask us about gifts. I usually begin keeping a list a few months before the holidays of the things that the kids can use. That way, when we are asked, I can give plenty of suggestions AND we can actually use and need the gifts that we are given.

Give the Gifts to Someone Else

Another great option is to adopt another family for Christmas with your extended family. Not only are your extended family (or friends) showing your children a beautiful picture of giving, but another family is getting to enjoy the blessing of Christmas whereas they may not have been able to on their own.

Have a Homemade Christmas

While this option still has gifts for your family involved, they are much more likely to get fewer gifts and more meaningful and well thought out gifts. This should be a pretty simple one to explain to your friends and family and one they may very well appreciate if their budgets are tight!

–Here are some Homemade Gifts for Kids

These are just a few ideas of alternatives for gift giving at Christmas with friends and family. You may also want to read my post on Christmas Family Gift Exchange ideas and how we keep the focus on the gifts to a minimum in our household so we are able to focus on the reason for the season and other fun Christmas traditions as well.

Looking for some Handmade, Homemade Gift Ideas? Check these out:

Christmas Gift Baskets; Sweet, Simple Unique Homemade Gifts

Non-Food Gifts in a Jar

100 Frugal or Free Christmas Gifts for Toddlers

Inexpensive Gifts for Gardeners

Find even more Simple Homemade Gifts and Crafts and Homemade Gifts on Little House Living.

If you are looking to simplify your life even further, you may want to check my eWorkbook, 31 Days to Simpler Living! In it, you will find 79 pages of daily challenges, info and advice, and printable worksheets and checklists to keep you on track along your journey.

Make sure to share your best tips and advice on talking to your friends and family about gifts in the comment section! I want to know what works for you.


This post on Talking to Friends and Family about Family Gifts was originally published on Little House Living in December 2014. It has been updated as of October 2019.

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  1. I soooo understand this! Another way to deal with the toy problem is to suggest the relatives give books or art supplies to the kids. Children of all ages benefit in many ways from books, and when those are outgrown, they can always be donated to organizations or schools. And we never had a problem with art supplies being tossed aside. They were always used up and enjoyed. Just remember–it’s the process, not the product that’s the focus of kids’ artwork. Part of the process may appear to be “wasting” paper or paints, so it helps that you weren’t the one who had to pay for some of the supplies.

  2. When asked, I used to give a list of ideas so grandparents could choose something they would like to give that my daughters would enjoy receiving. This turned into grandparents purchasing everything on the list I gave them, so I would have to come up with a new list for the other set of grandparents as well as from us (the parents) & Santa to choose from. I then started giving them 1 idea and to purchase or not, so they bought that and other things the girls neither asked for or wanted. Ugh! A few years ago, I told them they were get their granddaughters in trouble because they don’t have space to put everything way and of course they want to keep all the gifts their grandparents give them. That worked for one year. :\ This year, I had another talk with my mom, soon with m-i-l. With too much stuff, they neither appreciate or use everything, things have no home & live on the floor where they get walked on and broken, and the stuff eventually leaves the house and their minds forever. I suggested that experiences might be a better option, one that will stick with them much longer, perhaps all of their lives. Things like a class to learn something they are very interested in (one daughter will be learning to play the ukulele, the other will be learning photography) or a chance to visit a place they’ve never been before — could be a museum, zoo, etc. or even a national park or historic site, etc. I cherish the time I spent with my grandparents and agree that is a wonderful option, just has never been my mom’s thing to spend time with kids. 🙁

  3. In the past we have asked the grandparents to buy things that we couldn’t quite afford. Some years both sets of grandparents went in on the gift together. Things like memberships to arts and science centers. One year my parents gave money to my son’s guitar teacher to pay for a bunch of lessons. As we homeschool, we have asked for specific science kits or model kits that can be found at Hobby Lobby or Micheal’s or books from Barnes and Noble. Books are huge in our house! We could probably fill a small town library. One year, one of the kids asked for a gift card to the movie theater. He wanted to be able to go to the movies with his friends and knew that money was too tight for us to be able to afford very often. My folks have done the one item of clothing, one book, and one fun gift for years. My kids love it. I always help my folks pick out the books as it saves them a big headache especially now that they are all in their teens or older. Now, we are more creative in the wrapping of the presents. It could take one 15 minutes or more to get to the gift card in the middle. Pintrest is full of gift wrapping ideas. One year, one my brother and I were in our teens, we did a scavenger hunt. Despite the snow and the wind chill, it was so much fun not only coming up with clues for the other person and sneaking them into position but also trying to figure out your clues. It is one of our favorite Christmas memories from growing up and it was one of the years when we had the least amount of money. There was so much laughter! I remember tears running down my mom’s face from laughing so hard. My dad’s face turned so red cause he couldn’t breathe he was laughing so hard. Now days, we give each other a few practical gifts. Mostly we play cards. We love playing Canasta as a family and that is what we try and focus on. Making more memories!

  4. Fantastic! This is appropriate for everyone, not just kids. I take my dad to an opera or the symphony every year as his Christmas gift. We both adore the experience and we spend time together doing something no one else in the family really likes.

  5. I totally agree and am working on a post right now about the holiday season and the excess giving..Thank you for sharing this post!

  6. So many wonderful ideas! While working in a retail store a customer once told me that they were saving all of the “freebies” they get throughout the year to give as Christmas gifts. I have always thought that to be a fun idea so my mom & I are hoping to get the family on board for Christmas 2015!

  7. So glad we aren’t the only ones who want less. Sometimes I feel like Scrooge!! My m-i-l got an age-appropriate learning magazine and our kiddo LOVES getting it every month. He always reminds me who it’s from and reads every page the day we get it. Then we just pass it on…

    Merry Christmas, everyone!

  8. Our family feels the same way and have stopped buying gifts. All the adults like to read, so we each wrap a used book we liked in the last year and do a Dirty Santa exchange. After the gifts are opened and exchanged, it gets us talking about the books and why we liked them.

  9. What great advice and alternatives to the excessive gifting at Christmas. This is my 10 year old daughter’s first year not believing and she is getting one main present. I feel so relieved that I don’t feel the pressure of making it look like Santa brought a bunch of stuff that will get tossed aside after a few days. Now that the kids in the family are older it’s a little easier to just choose one more meaningful gift instead of a bunch of toys. I especially love your idea of giving an experience instead of a physical item. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  10. When doing an “experience” gift, a fun thing to do is to follow it up with a printed photo book. My kids have a special place on the bookshelf for their photo books, and they love reliving the experiences and stories through pictures.

    Photo books can be fun gifts in general. One year my daughter did a science fair project with her close cousin (blood splatter of all things…), so I put together a book for both of them with pictures from them working on the project to clear through the fair. That was 5 years ago, and the girls still love pulling it out to look at.

    So often our pictures get “stuck” in our cameras. And not everyone is into “scrapbooking.” So many online sites make it easy to put together a simple book in an hour or 2. Wouldn’t it be great to put together a baby’s first year book for that harried new mom? (I have found hubbies to be VERY helpful with this sort of idea.)

    Over the years, I have helped my girls put together “XX things I love about my Grandma (or Grandma & Grandpa)” books to give as gifts. Interviewing the girls to find out what they love about a special person was fun for me. Finding (or setting up) pictures for those things was really fun too. It has been fun over the years seeing how the list has changed as the girls get older. Grandparents love it. And I make sure the girls have one for their shelves as well. What a keepsake for them when they grow up!

    With coupons and online sales, the cost involved can be controlled very well (never pay full price!!).

    Fun photo books are great for the hard-to-shop-for person, too.

  11. I don’t have kids, but my husband and I are attempting to cut down on the gift exchanges this year. It’s our first Christmas as a married couple. We suggested to both of our families that we do a Secret Santa instead of everyone getting presents for everyone. It gives each of us more time to think of a really special present for just one person on each side instead of trying to think of something unique for everyone. Plus we can spend slightly more money on that one person, but spend way less money overall.

  12. I just heard of this idea last year’
    4 Gifts per person’
    1. Something they want’
    2. Something they need’
    3. Something to wear’
    4. Something to read’
    Covers it all’

  13. I was completely thinking about this today. I haven’t gotten any gifts for my kids and I couldn’t figure out why. I’m normally excited to buy them at least SOMETHING, but this year, I’m so overwhelmed with so much stuff! I don’t know where I would put anything that they might want and they actively play with almost everything they already have. Great post!

    Your co-host from Turn it Up Tuesday!

  14. Great Ideas! Zoo memberships & even memberships to waterparks to save til summer have been some ideas I’ve liked. This past October my dad went to China & bought my girls pearl earrings. These will be a treasure that will be very special & help my girls think about my dad & eventually his legacy. Thx for linking this post up at the Thoughtful Spot.

  15. Thanks for the ideas. I grew up with way too much and now I am trying to learn how to not be a hoarder. My kids rooms are always a mess and this affects their social lives as they don’t want anyone to see their rooms but don’t have a place for everything and everything seems important at their ages (13 and 11) My mom is a hoarder big time and I know this is rubbing off on them which stinks. This year the kids only asked for one thing each, however they are both very expensive and not doable which also stinks. That all said, as they grew up there were some things I simply would never buy. Lego SETS (expensive and once built pretty useless), stuffed animals (hello allergens), Playdough (I can make it cheaper and not feel badly when I toss it), anything with a lot of pieces. I DID buy board games for the FAMILY but only one or so a year as well as books. My kids are not homeschooled and I have been able to get them to donate a bunch of their too young for them books to their school library over the years. This still hasn’t stopped family from spoiling the kids and I honestly feel like because they have so much “stuff” that they have no appreciation for anything and seem to believe we live in a completely disposible world. I am really trying to teach them the value of money as well as the value of experience and simply embracing JOY.

  16. We try to keep our gifts to experiences for our grandchildren (Science museum passes, a ride on the Christmas train) and this year we did an Advent calendar for them of books! One book per day until christmas day! We also make sure when we give a gift to anyone that they are free to pass it on to someone else to enjoy once they have enjoyed it. This lets people know we will not have hurt feelings if they dont keep it forever.

  17. Thanks “Merissa” for sharing your great ideas. I really apply your “When Something Comes in, Something Goes Out” idea.