How To Ask For No Gifts This Holiday (And What To Do With Gifts You Don't Need)

Less Stuff, More Gratitude This Year

Holiday messaging is often about more: more family, more food, more parties, and if you’re fortunate, it’s about more stuff. The sentiment isn’t always purely materialistic; gift-giving is a real love language, so the spirit of it transcends the holiday trinkets. But it can be overwhelming, and at a certain level it can detract from the real reason for the season: celebrating and loving one another.

Whether it’s swelling closets, shrinking budgets, or just the sheer overwhelm of stepping into a retail store in December, many of us find ourselves wanting less this time of year. Less noise, less stress, and less stuff.

Sometimes, it’s necessary to draw a line and say enough is enough. Whether it’s swelling closets, shrinking budgets, or just the sheer overwhelm of stepping into a retail store in December, many of us find ourselves wanting less this time of year. Less noise, less stress, and less stuff.

If you’re feeling the pressure of wish lists and upcoming gift exchanges, there are some ways to reduce (maybe not eliminate) material gifts this year. The most difficult part is getting your gift-happy loved ones on board—but it can be easy with direct and thoughtful conversations.

Here’s how to ask for no gifts (or fewer gifts!), and what you can do with gifts you receive that may not be right for you or your family in this season of your lives.

How To Ask For No Holiday Gifts

Start as early as possible! If you haven’t had the gift-giving conversation yet, reach for all the kindness, patience, and gratitude that you can muster and give your loved ones a call.

1. Start with a thank you.

Gratitude is essential to frame the conversation—since some people’s love language revolves around gift-giving, let them know how much you’ve appreciated their thoughtful gifts during the holidays.

2. Be honest.

The best strategy for asking for no gifts (or fewer gifts) is to be as honest as possible. Let them know that you’ve been focused on simplifying and decluttering, or that you’re working on a tight budget this year and are unable to participate in the same level of gift-giving. Frame it with positive language like: “I’m excited to keep things simple this year,” or “I’m saving up for X, so I’m looking forward to Christmas on a budget”. This helps get the gift-giver in the same spirit and on board with your holiday plans.

3. Offer alternatives.

Instead of just saying “no gifts,” and hanging up the phone, offer alternatives to people who may still want to flex their generosity this season. See the next section for ideas on what to suggest instead of traditional gifts!

What To Ask For Instead Of Material Gifts

First thing’s first: don’t be afraid to ask for what you need.

Asking for specific gifts as an adult reminds me of spending snow days home from school circling half the items in the Target holiday catalog. I would hand it off to my mom, expectantly, and completely unaware of the price tag of what I was asking for. Not my proudest moments.

But while it can feel selfish or needy to ask for specific things, it’s actually helpful to give your loved ones ideas of gifts you’ll actually use (more on the dreaded “what do I do with this?” gift later). They’ll get joy out of seeing the items at use in your home, and you get something that adds intentional value to your life. So first thing’s first: don’t be afraid to ask for what you need.

Now here are some more ideas for what to propose instead of material gifts:

  • Ask for experiences. Movie tickets, restaurant gift cards, theater or concert tickets are all excellent gift ideas—and it’s even better when you can go with the person who’s gifted them to you. Plus, they still have a tangible aspect if watching you unwrap an item is important to the giver.

  • DIY something together. Maybe it’s something as simple as cookies or a gingerbread house, or maybe you up the gift factor by getting extra crafty. Spend an afternoon painting something together and sip on wine or eggnog—you can even exchange paintings at the end of the day if that suits you. Take a ceramics class together, make holiday cards together, or make garlands for your Christmas tree, and let each other’s presence be your present.

  • Propose an alternative gifting strategy. If you’re used to giving gifts to each of your siblings and parents separately, try suggesting a single-gift strategy instead. Select a name from a hat and focus your gifting energy on just one person so you can really hone in on what they truly want—and you only end up getting a single gift rather than a handful.

  • Consumables are where it’s at. Wine, tea, hot cocoa, bread, baking mixes, soup mixes, cookies—you name it, you’ll probably use it. This is another great opportunity for someone to wrap something up and hand it to you. If you have any dietary restrictions, suggest a consumable gift exchange in advance and let your friends know about your specific preferences!

  • Exchange services. You don’t have to go so far as to gift a handmade coupon booklet of redeemable services, but it sure will get you extra cheesy gifting points. Offer your loved ones things like lawn mowing, snow shoveling, taking their kids to school (or watching them during date night!), or cooking dinner for one another.

  • Volunteer together. Consider swapping out your typical gift exchange day with a day of volunteering! Shelters, nursing homes, and meal centers can always benefit from cheerful smiles and service-oriented hearts, especially around the holidays. Add to your impact by donating needed items, money, and continuing to volunteer year round.

  • Coordinate donations. You can ask for donations on your behalf to organizations you care about, or adopt a family over the holiday season and make their wishlist yours. Search for local organizations that can connect you with a family in need to make the most impact right in your own neighborhood. Or, simply ask for non-perishable food items or hats and gloves in lieu of gifts and take them to a community organization in need.

How To Handle Gifts You Don’t Need

The “no gifts” conversation may take a few years to really take hold as a new tradition.

First and foremost, gratitude is always the best practice. Your gracious receipt of a gift might be more important to the giver than what the gift actually is. And if you’ve asked for no gifts, but get them anyway? Try again next year—the “no gifts” conversation may take a few years to really take hold as a new tradition.

If you find yourself with gifts that aren’t going to add value to your life, here are a few ideas on what to do with them:

  • One in, one out. Is it yet another pair of holiday-themed long johns? If you already have the same item and have no use for the new one, donate one of them. This frees up space, and you can make the call on which item you’d prefer to keep.

  • Donate the item. If the gift is a duplicate, or you just don’t have need for it in your home, donate it to a shelter or organization that can give it a good home. Remind yourself that it may bring more joy and usefulness to someone else than it does to you—especially if you end up storing it away for a “just in case” that will never come.

  • Recycle or repurpose the gift. Not quite your style? DIY something with the item that you’ll proudly keep in your home—frame and hang fabric with a lovely pattern, have a seamstress alter a piece into a style you’ll wear often, or search through Pinterest for other ideas on what to do with holiday knick-knacks.

  • Get a gift receipt. If you’re a frequent gifter yourself, lead by example and include a gift receipt. If you feel comfortable, ask for gift receipts before exchanges—this way, if one of your loved ones misses the mark, you can exchange the item for something you’ll truly love and it will still be thanks to them!

  • Regift it. The dreaded regifting! There is no shame in keeping a gift on hand for a spur-of-the-moment Secret Santa at work. Or, gift it to a friend who you think would absolutely love and cherish it—but maybe wait until after the holidays are over so you’re not deluging your sweet friends with gifts they feel like they need to reciprocate.

  • Resell it. For the boldest among us, if you find yourself with unneeded big-ticket items, resell it on Poshmark or eBay and put the money towards something special—this still holds true to the spirit of the gift, and you can still send your gratitude to the gifter.

If a month or two down the line, the gifter asks about it, respond as truthfully and graciously as you can. Consider saying something like “Thank you again for such a kind gift! I ended up having duplicates of X, so I [donated it to a cause I really love, exchanged it for an item I’ve been wanting for years, shared it with a friend/family member who really needed it]”

Explaining how you’ve still received joy from their original gift will help soothe any hurt feelings—and can potentially lead to more open conversations about how you can best appreciate each other without gifts on future holidays. Gratitude. Is. Golden.

Bonus: How To Deal With Secret Santas & White Elephants

If you’re feeling the anxiety of upcoming Secret Santas or White Elephant gift exchanges at the office and in your friend circles, try suggesting something new! These gift exchanges can be entertaining, but they can also put additional unneeded pressure on people to purchase holiday trinkets or come up with a clever gift idea in the midst of an already overwhelming season.

Things you might enjoy instead:

  • Host a cookie swap, where everyone gets a few cookies from each other and leaves with a platter of delicious treats.

  • If you’re in the office, take a long lunch out, or order pizza in and listen to music or watch a movie together.

  • Host a limerick writing contest—there’s no cost involved, and it can be a fun bonding experience!

  • Share a wine tasting evening with your friends: have each person or couple bring a bottle of wine, lay out some of your favorite cheeses and taste responsibly!

Stay honest and true to the season: spending time with one another, celebrating each other, giving back together, and supporting one another’s growth in the new year is what it’s all about.

The most important thing about shifting your holiday focus to include fewer gifts is to stay honest and true to the season. Spending time with one another, celebrating each other, giving back together, and supporting one another’s growth in the new year is what it’s all about.

Keep the pressure low, and hold gratitude in your heart for everything—you’re already beyond fortunate to have a network of people willing and able to give.


Emily Torres is an Editor at The Good Trade and the writer behind Ennaree, a blog dedicated to intentional, colorful living. She’s a Los Angeles transplant who was born and raised in Indiana, where she studied Creative Writing and Business at Indiana University. You can usually find her reading or writing, caring for her rabbits, or practicing at the hot yoga studio.