How to Give Gifts in a Culture Where Everyone Already Buys Everything They Want
Finding the perfect gift for loved ones seems more daunting than ever. Not because they need more, but precisely because they don’t.
There is a common phrase we use during the holiday season that you’ve almost certainly heard and have probably asked yourself, “What do you buy for someone who already has everything?”
Not that long ago, that was something you said about your wealthy boss or super-rich uncle. But now, in a society where human beings own more material objects than at any point in human history, “the person who already owns everything” is most of us.
As a result, finding the perfect gift has become more stressful than ever.
Most people nowadays, who are wrapped up in the whirlwind of consumer culture, have already bought all the things they want or need. They’re not waiting for Christmas morning to receive what they want, they’re just clicking to ship on Amazon and getting it delivered by the very next morning.
Santa Claus doesn’t come down the chimney on Christmas Eve anymore; he arrives in an Amazon truck every day of the week.
Gift-giving has become a game of guessing what unconsidered product might delight our loved ones, who, throughout the year, have already accumulated all the things they need and most of the things they knew they wanted.
This conundrum leaves us buying gifts for the sake of tradition, rather than need.
How do we give gifts in a culture where everyone already buys everything they want?
First, we need to resist the urge to let marketers and sales solve our problem for us. When we can’t think of what to give someone, too often, our impulse reaction is to scan the sales, the Black Friday ads, or walk mindlessly up and down aisles at Target hoping to let the store show us what to buy.
Relying on businesses to tell us what to give as gifts will only result in us gifting the gifts businesses want us to give. If you absolutely have to give a physical gift, think of the items you used recently that were genuinely helpful in moving your life forward.
But here are some alternative approaches:
Consider the charm of experiences. No experience is ever the same. Plus, they’re the gifts that result in connection, laughter, and growth. Whether it’s tickets to a local play, a promise of a home-cooked meal, or a voucher for a dance lesson, these gifts offer something that no store can stock – time spent together.
Handmade gifts come next, brimming with personal touch and thoughtfulness. Again, they are entirely original and unrepetitive. They stand out in a sea of mass-produced items—and can never be purchased on a whim during a late-night online shopping spree. A hand-knit scarf, a personal poem, or a personalized playlist can sometimes convey affection in ways that a purchased item cannot.
Another idea is to give the gift of your time. The most valuable gift you can offer someone is your time because when you give your time you are giving a portion of your life that you will never get back. Offer to help your sister paint her kitchen, take your nephew out for a day at the zoo, or schedule an afternoon hanging out with your mother. It’s about being there for each other.
Another thoughtful approach is to consider a gift that gives back—gifts that contribute to a cause or charity. These gifts resonate with the spirit of the season, spreading joy beyond the immediate circle of giver and receiver and enriching the lives of others.
Each of these is an idea to help you think differently about gifts rather than just buying “something” at a store to fulfill an expectation.
But maybe the greatest gift you can give is the gift of not needing to exchange gifts.
First of all, if you are someone that already owns everything you need (and want), you can lower the stress level of your loved ones during the holiday by telling them not to buy you a gift this holiday season. Or, better yet, tell them you’d like to go out for a nice dinner with everyone, and that would be the best holiday gift anyone could give you.
Being clear and taking the initiative among your family this holiday season will provide the added benefit of allowing them to enjoy their season with less stress.
Sometimes, the best gift might be the gift of release from expectation. Suggesting a ‘no-gift’ agreement or asking loved ones to donate to a charity on your behalf can relieve pressure and refocus the holiday spirit on what truly matters.
And if you are in a family where the current holiday arrangement is everyone buying gifts for everyone else who already has everything, suggest a new idea this holiday season. You could try offering “no gifts at all this year,” but that might be a tough sell. Some intermediary steps are “giving gifts to only the kids,” “exchanging names,” or “just one gift to the entire family rather than each individual.”
Several years ago, my family decided to stop buying gifts for the adults. And have loved it ever since.
This holiday season, let’s redefine our approach to gifting. Let’s make it less about the items and more about the message they carry.
After all, almost everyone is buying whatever they want all year long already.
As we embrace a new perspective on presents, we might just find that the greatest gift we can give is a little more simplicity in a world cluttered with choices.