Gift-giving (and receiving) can be a touchy subject this time of year. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the expense of it all, or simply by the number of gifts involved. If you’ve gotten to the point where gift exchanges have gotten out of hand or are over the top, you may be feeling frustrated and unhappy. Maybe you want to call a halt to it all, but are worried about how others might take it. Or maybe you’ve tried to end exchanges in the past, but have been overruled by family members who just can’t conceive of a holiday without gifts.

Here’s how to end over-the-top gift exchanges and have a peaceful holiday.

  1. Clarify your goals. Decide what your ideal holiday would look like, gift-wise. Does it involve one or two presents total per person? No gifts at all? Adopting a family, gifts for only the kids, drawing names, having a grab bag/dirty Santa exchange, or some other combination of things? Remember that it’s easiest to implement changes that don’t require a consensus.
  2. Dig deeper & frame your idea. Think about why your ideal holiday would make you happy. What would changing the gift giving traditions mean to you, and how would that be a positive? Would you feel less overwhelmed? Would you be able to stay out of debt? Would you & your children be more appreciative? It’s important to think about this so that you can express yourself clearly and frame the reasons behind your idea in a positive way. Understanding your purpose can also help generate alternative ideas that might work equally well.
  3. Bring up the idea early. The definition of “early” will vary from family to family, but remember that even if you are too late for this year, you can still get people thinking about next year and bring it up again then. Sometimes people take time to warm up to the idea, or may change their point of view once they see how it might actually work.
  4. Approach people individually. People sometimes suggest bringing up ending gift exchanges over Thanksgiving or some other occasion where everyone is already together. While it’s handy to have everyone there at once, doing so in a group can also make it too easy for one person’s objections to overrule the others. Approaching people individually means that you can discuss ideas and feelings in more detail without having to deal with potential objections from others.
  5. Respect other people’s points of view. Remember that for some people, giving and receiving gifts can feel really important. Usually you can tell who those people are because they are often the ones who shower you or your kids with gifts. Telling a person like that that you don’t want to exchange gifts any longer can feel like a personal rejection to them. Try approaching them instead by mentioning how much you enjoy their thoughtfulness. Point out that what you love is to receive a single meaningful gift, because it means so much to you know they took the time to find the one item they thought you would most appreciate. (Or, take the easy way out and just let things remain as-is with those particular people.)
  6. Be flexible and open to other ideas. Remember that not everyone has to agree with or participate in your ideal vision. They may have a different vision of their own, or an idea that you like even better. But even if some things remain exactly as-is, or if you decide not to approach certain people, ANY reduction in gift-giving and receiving at all will help. You don’t have to try and change other people or bring everyone around to your point of view. All you have to change is yourself and your own actions.