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How to stop buying Christmas gifts without being called a grinch

stop buying christmas presents grinch

Imagine Christmas Day without the piles of discarded wrapping paper and the stress of having to find somewhere to store all that new stuff. I gave up buying Christmas gifts years ago, and I’ve never looked back.

So you don’t give Christmas presents?

Whilst I’m big on giving, I actually don’t give any presents! Not just Christmas presents, but presents in general. Not to say I don’t go to mates armed with the groceries to make them a meal, or give in lots of other ways.

I’m not anti-gift, I’m anti-waste.

I’m noticing loads of my mates changing to this attitude too.

One of my friends was massive on the novelty gift. You know the big plastic, silly gag, that’s funny for a minute then spends a lifetime in landfill, along with the wrapping paper. She is now one of the most dedicated anti-waste people I know.

Years ago, a bunch of us started giving Oxfam Goats. What a brilliant way of showing many of us live with too much stuff, while many of us still really need life’s basics. Why not pair the two?

I’m the youngest of five kids, so Christmas at Dima Inc. was full on: stressing out running around buying stuff wrapped in landfill for my parents, friends, siblings, their partners, their kids, and so on.

One year, the five of us decided to choose one charity and all donate money to that charity instead. We’ve never looked back.

We have nine nieces and nephews. That’s a lot of hours and a lot of money spent looking for a lot of presents these little nippers certainly don’t need.

Now all the kids go Kris Kringle style. Each kid gets one gorgeous thing they really want, rather than nine bits of stuff they don’t really care about.

It feels like they each really value and enjoy the one special gift they receive more than when they would just tear the wrapping off nine random items.

Way less stuff, way less money, way less stress and way less rubbish in the form of wrapping and sticky tape, and more time for the fun stuff like screaming around the backyard or mucking around on the beach.

Is it just about saving money?

It’s more about saving:

Time

Who’s feeling the joy of Christmas doing laps of shopping centre car parks looking for a space?

I went for Christmas dinner at a friends’ house a few years ago. It was meant to be me and a favourite couple. It ended up being just me and my friend.

Her partner left work around 9pm headed for the shopping centre (how fun?!) to get all the Christmas presents done as it was the only time they would have to do the shopping. I reckon we’ve lost our way if we’re spending Christmas in shopping centres rather than with loved ones.

Resources

We have finite resources on this beautiful planet and most of us have too much stuff already.

Waste to landfill

Remember, UK has nowhere left for their rubbish – when we throw something “away” (where is away?) but yes…

Yes, it can save huge amounts of money, too.

Or you absolutely can blow loads of dough giving experiences, vouchers or adventures if you want. It’s up to you.

One Christmas, (before we’d instigated the one gorgeous gift per child policy) I shelled out a load of cash on having a professional bubble blower come to our house.

no gift christmas tamara dimattina buy nothing new the new joneses

It cost me more money than I would have spent on nine gifts for the kids, but it was far more enjoyable and memorable. Everyone – kids and adults alike – was mesmerised, and there was no Mount Everest pile of wrapping paper and already broken toys to rake up.

So it can be a massive money-saving exercise or more expensive than giving stuff. That’s up to you. It’s more about a thoughtful approach to the unnecessary waste that we can all do without.

Can I still give to charity?

Let’s be jingle-bells-clear. A Buy Nothing New Month approach to Christmas is a call to cut out the waste, not cut out the giving! Anyone can give whatever they like, to whoever they like but there are so many ways we can give, that don’t involve trashing our planet.

I know for lots of people Christmas gift giving is their favourite part of the year. And so it should be if it’s really special to them.

The Buy Nothing New Month approach invites people looking for alternative, beautiful ways of celebrating, giving and marking events like Christmas, birthdays or anniversaries that doesn’t necessarily mean buying more stuff headed straight to landfill.

Giving to charity is a fabulous thing to do all year round, but yes, particularly at Christmas what a wonderful thing to do.

oxfam goat christmas charity
Instead of traditional gifts, Tamara suggests a charitable donation such as an Oxfam goat. Photo: Oxfam

An awesome way of giving something while giving to charity at the same time is to get into the incredible selection available at our national charitable recyclers, like Red Cross, Salvos Stores, Vinnies, Brotherhood of St Laurence, and Sacred Heart Mission. Find an excellent quality op-shop and their range of accessories, homewares, books, and fashion will amaze you.

I want to scale down the gift-giving in my family. How can I bring it up without hurting their feelings?

We reckon some people are really attached to gift giving. This is understandable but is achievable without the waste.

Maybe you could guide your family by requesting a list of things you really want, so there is no waste and you don’t get lumped with those things you keep in a cupboard and take out when the giver comes around.

Or you could start with a no-wrapping Christmas, and ease them into it, so it’s really clear it’s an exercise in cutting out the waste. I know a family who have a tradition of wrapping gifts in tea towels. Then they all take their tea towels back at the end of it.

Or a no plastic please, Christmas.

Or only stuff to stuff my face with, Christmas (an “edible gifts only” Christmas, as polite people would say).

We agreed no gifts but they bought me one anyway – now what?

No drama. Changing habits can take awhile. But after a while it becomes the norm.

Remember when we first started seeing “no presents, just your presence” on wedding and birthday invitations years ago? It was noteworthy back then, because it wasn’t the norm. I find now that’s become the norm.

If someone gives you something you don’t want or need, we’re going to be controversial, but what about a re-gift? Surely you’d know someone who would like or use it.

I’m always honest in this situation: “Someone gave me this, it is not my style, but I thought you might use it” is a good start. But if you and your circle aren’t up for a re-gift, there are hundreds of charity stores who would love it and do great things with it.

Does it get easier?

What could be easier than not spending December running around shopping centres like a lunatic, racking up credit card debt, to buy people you might not really like, something they don’t even want, that’s likely to be thrown away pretty soon?

I reckon it’s one of the easiest ways to cut back the stress this time of year can bring.

As for year-round present buying, I’ve had parents tell me they don’t have kids birthday parties anymore because they can’t deal with the waste and rubbish that comes with the birthday gift giving. Isn’t that sad – cutting out the joy of the party rather than looking at a way to cut out the waste?

What does a no-gift Christmas look like?

Probably a better way to describe it is a no-waste Christmas. We have nothing against beautiful gifts (even new ones!) that are made to last. It’s really the waste we’re working to cut down.

A no-waste Christmas looks a lot more loving to our people and planet who are suffering under the weight of our wasteful ways. Most of us were pretty shocked to see ABC’s War on Waste. Looking at other gorgeous giving ideas is an inspiring way we can be part of the solution, rather than piling more stuff on the problem.

And honestly there are so many beautiful gifts that are thoughtful things that come with great value and will be used and loved. Bikes, boogie boards, books, board games (all of which can be bought second hand).

christmas lunch

We’re not the Grinch who stole Christmas; we’re just the loving reminder that there are great options and loads of loving alternatives that don’t require trashing our planet.

We run school tours with kids and ask them: What could you give as gifts to cut out the waste?

Plants, they shout. Movie tickets. Cupcakes. Theme park visits. For adults, there is a load of options, such as spa treatments and massages, (we don’t recommend giving anyone a botox voucher – that could be misconstrued…)

I know a busy bloke who gives “Me Time” to his friends. It’s “dinner with me”, “a movie with me”, “a boat trip with me”. It means he’s prepared to give to his friends something we all really value – time with the ones we love.

Written by Tamara DiMattina

Tamara DiMattina

Tamara DiMattina studied public relations at RMIT and went on to establish Trumpet PR + Marketing, a communications business focused on strengthening communities through positive behaviour change. She is the founder of Buy Nothing New Month, a campaign for conscientious consumption, and The New Joneses, a living pop-up installation embodying stylish, waste-free, conscious living.

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