How To Ask For No Gifts This Holiday (And What To Do With Gifts You Don’t Need)

Holiday messaging is often about more: more food, more parties, and most of all, more stuff. But sometimes, it’s necessary to draw a line and say enough is enough. Whether it’s swelling closets, shrinking budgets, or just the sheer overwhelm of stepping into a retail store, many of us find ourselves wanting less this time of year.

If you’re feeling the pressure of wish lists, there are some ways to reduce (maybe not eliminate) material gifts this year. The most difficult part is getting your gift-happy loved ones on board—but it can be simplified with direct and thoughtful conversations.

Here’s how to ask for no gifts (or fewer gifts!) and what you can do with items you receive that may not be right for you or your family in this season of life.


How To Ask For No Holiday Gifts

Start as early as possible! If you haven’t had the gift-giving conversation yet, reach for all the kindness, patience, and gratitude that you can muster and give your loved ones a call.

1. Start with a thank you.

Gratitude is essential to frame the conversation—since some people’s love language revolves around gift-giving, let them know how much you’ve appreciated their thoughtful presents from holidays past.

2. Be honest.

The best strategy is to be as honest as possible. Let them know that you’ve been focused on simplifying and decluttering or that you’re working on a tight budget this year and are unable to participate in the same level of gift-giving. Frame it with positive language like: “I’m excited to keep things simple this year,” or “I’m saving up for X, so I’m looking forward to Christmas on a budget.” This helps get the gift-giver in the same spirit and on board with your holiday plans.

3. Offer alternatives.

Instead of just saying “no gifts” and hanging up the phone, offer alternatives to people who may still want to flex their generosity this season. (I think I speak for many of us when I say socks are the best gift nowadays.)

Here are some alternatives you can suggest:

  • Ask for experiences. Movie tickets, restaurant gift cards, theater or concert tickets are all excellent gift ideas—plus, experience gifts can still have a tangible aspect if watching you unwrap an item is important to the giver.
  • DIY something together. You can make cookies or a gingerbread house, take a ceramics class, or spend an afternoon painting together while sipping on wine or eggnog. (You can even exchange paintings at the end of the day if that suits you.)
  • Give fewer gifts. Instead of gifting to several people, agree to select names from a hat. Focus your energy on just one person so you can really hone in on what they want—and you only end up getting a single gift rather than a handful.
  • Consumables are where it’s at. Wine, tea, hot cocoa, bread, baking mixes, soup mixes, cookies—you name it, you’ll probably use it. If you have any dietary restrictions, suggest a consumable gift exchange in advance and let your friends know about your specific preferences!
  • Exchange services. Offer your loved ones your services, like lawn mowing, snow shoveling, babysitting, or cooking dinner.
  • Volunteer together. Consider swapping out your typical gift exchange with a day of volunteering! Shelters, nursing homes, and meal centers can always benefit from cheerful smiles and service-oriented hearts—you can even volunteer online. Add to your impact by donating needed items (or monetarily) and continuing to volunteer year-round.
  • Coordinate donations. You can ask for donations on your behalf to organizations you care about, or adopt a family over the holiday season and make their wishlist yours. Or, simply ask for non-perishable food items or hats and gloves in lieu of gifts, and take them to a community organization in need.

How To Handle Gifts You Don’t Need

First and foremost, gratitude is always the best practice. Your gracious receipt of a gift might be more important to the giver than what the gift actually is. And if you’ve asked for no gifts, but get them anyway? Try again next year—the “no gifts” conversation may take a few years to take hold as a new tradition.

“Your gracious receipt of a gift might be more important to the giver than what the gift actually is.”

If you find yourself with gifts that you do not need or want, here are a few ideas on what to do with them:

  • Donate the item. If the gift is a duplicate, or you just don’t need it, donate it to a nonprofit or organization that can give it a good home (and suits the org’s needs!). It may bring more joy and usefulness to someone else than it does to you—especially if you end up storing it away for a “just in case” scenario that will never come.
  • Recycle or repurpose the gift. Not quite your style? DIY something with the item that you’ll proudly keep in your home—frame and hang fabric with a lovely pattern, have a seamstress alter a piece into a style you’ll wear often, or search through Pinterest for other ideas on what to do with holiday knick-knacks.
  • Get a gift receipt. If you’re a frequent gifter yourself, lead by example and include a gift receipt. If you feel comfortable, ask for gift receipts before exchanges. This way, if one of your loved ones misses the mark, you can exchange the item for something you truly love and it will still be thanks to them!
  • Regift it. The dreaded regifting! There is no shame in keeping a gift on hand for a spur-of-the-moment Secret Santa at work. Or, gift it to a friend who you think would love and cherish it—but maybe wait until after the holidays are over so you’re not deluging your friends with gifts they feel like they need to reciprocate.
  • Resell it. If you find yourself with unneeded big-ticket items, resell them on Poshmark or eBay and put the money towards something special. This still holds true to the spirit of the gift, and you can still send your gratitude to the gifter.

If the gifter asks about it a month or two down the line, respond truthfully and graciously. Consider saying something like, “Thank you again for such a kind gift! I ended up having duplicates of X, so I [donated it to a cause I love, exchanged it for an item I’ve wanted for years, shared it with a friend/family member who really needed it].”

Explaining how you’ve still received joy from their original gift can help soothe any hurt feelings and potentially lead to more open conversations about how you can best appreciate each other without gifts on future holidays. Gratitude. Is. Golden.

“Spending time with one another, celebrating each other, giving back together, and supporting one another’s growth in the new year is what it’s all about.”

The most important thing about shifting your holiday focus to include fewer gifts is to stay honest and true to the season. Spending time with one another, celebrating each other, giving back together, and supporting one another’s growth in the new year is what it’s all about.

Keep the pressure low, and hold gratitude in your heart for everything. You have a network of people willing and able to give, and that’s a gift in and of itself.


Emily Torres is the Editorial Director at The Good Trade. Born and raised in Indiana, she studied Creative Writing and Business at Indiana University. You can usually find her in her colorful Los Angeles apartment journaling, caring for her rabbits and cat, or gaming.