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How To Tell People You Don't Want Any Gifts This Holiday Season

What to do when you don't want more stuff, but don't want to hurt anybody's feelings.

The holidays can be hard for a lot of reasons. If you're someone who's trying to live with less, there's a chance that gifts are high on your list of stresses.

While gifts, and the process of gift-giving, can be lovely and intensely heart-warming, for many of us it can also be a source of frustration and anxiety. Maybe you're living in a small space, trying to declutter, or just want to make the holidays more about people and less about stuff — there are a thousand reasons to want less gifts. The trouble with wanting to receive less gifts arises when you're trying to communicate these wishes with the people who want to give them to you. Words can easily be misinterpreted and feelings can be hurt, if someone feels like you specifically don't want a gift from them, and they don't understand why. So, we've put together this guide that will (hopefully!) help you navigate the delicate process of asking for, well, nothing at all.
Kari Shea / Unsplash

While gifts, and the process of gift-giving, can be lovely and intensely heart-warming, for many of us it can also be a source of frustration and anxiety.

Maybe you're living in a small space, trying to declutter, or just want to make the holidays more about people and less about stuff — there are a thousand reasons to want less gifts. The trouble with wanting to receive less gifts arises when you're trying to communicate these wishes with the people who want to give them to you. Words can easily be misinterpreted and feelings can be hurt, if someone feels like you specifically don't want a gift from them, and they don't understand why.

So, we've put together this guide that will (hopefully!) help you navigate the delicate process of asking for, well, nothing at all.

1. Be honest about why you don't want any gifts.

To people who love to give and receive gifts, hearing "Oh, I don't want anything this year!" can feel the same as hearing "No need to bring anything but yourself!" when going to a friend's place for dinner — it can easily be interpreted as a nicety that's expected to be ignored.

Honesty isn't always easy, but it's always the best place to start. If you feel like the real meaning of the holidays is being suffocated by gift-giving, try explaining your feelings as best you can. You could try something along the lines of: "I've been thinking a lot the past few months about how stressful the holidays are now compared to when we were kids. This year I'm going to try shift my own focus to family, good food, and fun, rather than physical gifts. So, there's no need to buy me anything this year."

2. And back it up with practical reasoning where possible, so people can better understand where you're coming from.

If your apartment is cluttered with knickknacks you've been gifted over the years, it's perfectly fine to say, "I've been trying to declutter my home over the past two months, so I'm trying not to bring anything new into the apartment until I have sorted everything out. So, this year, you'd be doing me a big favor if you didn't buy me anything." People can be surprisingly understanding (trust me!) of small spaces, upcoming moves, and cluttered spaces.

Beatriz Pérez Moya / Unsplash

3. If you can, tie your decision into a New Year's resolution.

People respect a resolution. This is also an easy way to explain that your loved ones would really be doing you a favor by not buying you a physical gift. Your resolution might be to be more of a minimalist, make special occasions less about gifts (this one is especially great if you have kids!), or to finally clear out your garage or basement.

4. Start the conversation about gifts well in advance of the holidays, when people aren't likely to have bought you anything yet.

If you know a friend or family member is the kind of person who starts thinking about holiday gifts in September, be sure to at least subtly mention your wishes around that time. If someone has already bought something for you, or even has what they consider the "perfect present" in mind, when you tell them you'd rather get nothing, feelings can easily get hurt.

Kari Shea / Unsplash

5. Tell people what you'd prefer instead of a physical gift.

At the end of the day, if someone really wants to give you something, they're probably going to — even if you kindly tell them you don't want anything. And that's fine! But this is why it's helpful to have back-up gift ideas prepared. Maybe there's an app subscription you'd love renewed, theatre show you'd love to see, or fancy bottle of olive oil you'd never splurge on, but would love. Experiences and consumable items are all lovely gifts that won't gather dust on your bookshelves.

6. Lead by example when you're the one doing the gift giving.

Plenty of people love receiving gifts — it's one of the five love languages, after all — so those people deserve the gifts they desire. However, you should always be the gift-giver you want to see in the world. Ask people if there's anything they want/need before buying them something (unless they're someone who thrives on surprises, of course), and if they ask for a non-physical gift, or no gift at all, grant that wish.

7. And when someone doesn't give you something, be sure to thank them for listening to you.

Thank you cards are always a good idea, and there's no exception when it comes to non-gifts. Rather than thanking someone for something they bought you, thank them for spending the holidays with you, their kindness during the year, or their friendship. It's all about positive reinforcement, people!

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