By Shirley M.

You might be wondering if among the craziness and the chaos of the Season, you still have the time or the will to think how to make gift exchanging more sustainable. This is why I decided to share some ideas I hope will save you some time and, perhaps, help make your holidays a little less stressful.

Reduce the amount of gifts

The first thing to focus on is to give less gifts. Will you be showing less love by acting this way? Not necessarily! Instead of 5 or 10 smallish gifts you think they need, get one gift your daughter or son REALLY wants. I’m sure they will be grateful!

I come from a large family, where a party would easily gather 50 to 70 people. Therefore, it was soon agreed that birthday gifts, for instance, were given to kids up to around 12 or 13 years of age. The understanding being that anybody older than that has their own very strict opinions on what they want and what they will wear, and giving them something not up to their liking is a waste of money and time. If one really wants to give teenagers something, cash is a welcome solution. Don’t think of cash as an unfeeling gift. Think of it as an acceptance of the individuality and independence of the teenager.

Likewise, adults usually have all they want or need (or at least that’s how we think), and if they don’t, surely the amount of money you are willing to spend on a gift will not be enough to buy their dreams. That is why we don’t usually exchange gifts between adults.

At the end of the year, so that families wouldn’t go bankrupt, we opted for Secret Santa. Anybody who wanted to participate, took a name out of a hat sometime in early December. Then, you bought a gift for that one person only and we would exchange our gifts on December 31st, as we waited for midnight and the New Year (this was done on the Japanese side of the family).

Recycled Gift

If you are buying a gift, could your gift be something recycled? Now, here I’m not thinking about re-gifting those hideous candelabra Aunt “A” gave you some years back, which are only good for gathering dust and taking valuable space on the back of your closet. I’m thinking about the beautiful antique jewelry you can buy at the Arcadian Antiques, in the Nickels Arcade, or the antique fine china or crystal houseware you can find at the Treasure Mart, in Ann Arbor. You can find pieces of exquisite craftmanship and design for a fair price.


Food is always welcome, isn’t it? Jams and compotes, you made in the Fall and specialty cakes or desserts for the Season. I’m still looking for the friend that will gift me some homemade frozen food (think chicken pot-pie or a tuna casserole), I can whip out and warm it up sometime in January when is too cold outside and I just want to cozy up on the couch with a good book.

Gift an Experience

My husband’s family, although small, loved to see a mountain of gifts under the tree on Christmas morning. We soon realized that it also created a mountain of waste gift wrapping, ribbons and cards. So, many years ago, we decided to change the focus from gift as an object to gift as an experience. It might be satisfying to receive gifts in December but, we thought, that my mother-in-law, for example, would rather enjoy getting together in January or February, when all the Season’s invitations and spirit have long passed, for a meal in a new restaurant or a concert or performance of a favorite artist. Of course, you can cater the experience to each person: What about a mother and daughter yoga class? A cooking class with your sister? Or you can challenge yourself by agreeing to climb an indoor wall with your son or train and run a 5K with your cousin. What about a couple’s massage?

The thing is, by giving your loved ones a gift of a shared experience, you are also committing to spending more time and deepening your bond with them. It also gives you, the gifter, an opportunity to widen your horizons by trying things that you wouldn’t otherwise try on your own. And, of course, we all know that keeping ourselves open to new experiences, keeping ourselves connected to friends and family and enriching our lives with activities, will keep us younger for a longer time – a win-win situation!

Enjoy the Season, instead of stressing it out!