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Passing on Presents

Monday, November 4, 2013
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Dear Miriam,

Now that we're heading into the holiday season, I'm faced with a problem I have every year. I'm really not into gift-giving or receiving. I try to be clear about this with family and friends so that no one feels obligated to get me anything, but I seem to keep getting presents anyway. Is there anything else I can do to convince people I actually don't want gifts? If someone gets me a gift against my wishes, do I have to reciprocate? 

Signed,
Passing on Presents 


Dear Presents,

I totally sympathize with your aversion to getting a bunch of things you don't really want or need. I have even tried various tactics to cut down on the gift-giving in my own family, but to no avail. Here's what I've learned: Most of the time, the act of giving isn't about you and your needs. People give because they want to do something nice for you and show they care. Telling them not to do something nice for you isn't, you know, nice. You can drop hints leading up to the holidays about how you're not into gift-giving. Some people might take you at your word, but not everyone will.

Perhaps you're lucky enough to find a kindred soul in your significant other, and you can either forgo holiday gifts altogether or go out for a nice dinner together and call it even. You may be able to orchestrate a scaled-down gift exchange among family members where everyone is only responsible for one gift. For those closest to you, you probably can convince them not to get you some meaningless something that will just take up space. In place of whatever tchotchkes you don't want to get stuck with, suggest that your close family and friends get you gift certificates to theaters or movies or restaurants. Having experiences courtesy of your loved ones can be a wonderful way to keep the holiday spirit going without the burden of extra stuff around. You could also request that donations be made to a charity of your choice or the giver's choice.

If your family doesn't go for the scaled-down version, or if you've tried these things and they haven't worked, there's likely not much else you can do to convince people not to get you gifts. However, when the gifts arrive, you still need to be gracious. In some instances, such as for close family and friends, you will do best in your future relationships with these people if you do respond in kind. Better yet, anticipate who you know is going to give you things and get them a present ahead of time. I said that most of the time, gift-giving is about the person doing the giving but, in your case, since you don't believe in gift-giving, any gifts you give will clearly be about the other person.

Beyond your circle of immediate family and closest friends, for example, co-workers or extended family, you can get away with sending a thank you card in place of a reciprocal gift, but it should be a handwritten note sent through the U.S. Postal Service, not an email. On the other hand, if someone in your office gives the same small token to everyone in the office, an email is fine.

If you really, really want the gifts to stop and don't care about the impact this attitude has on your relationships, then by all means, don't get gifts, don't send cards and don't be surprised when these people start to distance themselves from you. In this way, the problem will probably resolve itself. Your holiday season will be a lot more pleasant, though, if you can smile through the exchanges and be grateful that you have people in your life who care.

Be well,
Miriam

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