How to shorten your holiday gift list

Amazon Black Friday Deals Week

Today begins Amazon Black Friday Deals Week, with big discounts on just about every category of product Amazon sells.

Now's a good opportunity to knock off a chunk of your holiday shopping. But before you start working through your gift list, see if you can shorten it.

First, remove anyone who doesn't really need a present. I'm not trying to stifle your generosity; I'm just inviting you to consider if gifts are the best way to express it.

Does every service provider in your life need a gift, or would a generous tip be more helpful? Might some of your giftees feel awkward if they don't have a gift for you?

Next, ask yourself:

How about a handwritten card instead of a gift? Teachers, especially, appreciate this.

How about a donation instead of a gift? Good for everyone who already has everything they need and may even be trying to declutter.

How about one special present instead of multiples? If Santa visits, one gift plus a full stocking is plenty. For kids, especially, the initial WOW of piles of wrapped boxes often turns into overwhelm or lack of interest (and possibly, down the road, greed and entitlement).

How about a small gift instead of a big one? Some people feel uncomfortable when presented with extravagant gifts. It's fun to make a big splash every now and then, but usually, the best gifts are small treasures that demonstrate how well you know someone.

How about an experiential gift? Membership to a local museum, theater or performance tickets, a massage, a night in a hotel?

Paring down your gift list will save you money and time, and will help you feel calmer during the holidays. But, most importantly, it will help you express your love and gratitude to friends and family in ways everyone will appreciate.

How do you keep your gift list from getting too long?

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RelatedUse Google Documents to share family gift lists


  1. says

    These are great tips Asha…as you know, I’m totally on board with this approach! I’m especially a fan of experiential gifts for kids — so much more memorable for them!

  2. says

    Glad you mentioned paring down the list of who *really* needs a gift. I think so much of gift exchange can become an obligation thing, where you worry about reciprocating more than you just feel moved on a personal level to give a gift.

    I do find my kids like to have lots of “things” to open, but they don’t all need to be huge presents – just wrapping the smaller stocking stuffers works really well for the Oooh! factor. As they’re now teen and tween age, trying to buy 5-10 “big” gifts can be unrealistic, at least for my budget!

  3. says

    As the season approaches, I have told friends that their friendship is present enough. Please don’t get me something, because then I feel obligated to get you something, which I likely can’t afford. Let’s not, and say we did.

  4. Rael Dornfest says

    Shhh… don’t tell her I told you this, but today is Asha’s birthday…

    How about tweeting her out a great big happy birthday!

  5. says

    (heh, heh, Rael hijacked the comment thread to tell you about my birthday! He’s adorable.)

    What I was going to say about kids and “having things to open” (Gina mentioned it in her comment): it’s the opening and the fun more than the actual gift sometimes, isn’t it? In my experience, there’s a fixed amount of total WOW during gift opening. Increasing the number of gifts reduces the WOW for each gift.

    On the other hand, increasing the length of time it takes to open gifts makes the whole thing more fun. Turning who gets to open next into a game (draw straws, hide the presents, “guess which gift is yours,” etc.), opening later in the day to increase the anticipation…simple changes in routine heighten the whole experience.

  6. Trish says

    Happy Birthday Asha!

    To stay on topic, I’ve decided that my child is only getting three presents from me this year. And three from Santa. I’ve also encouraged grandma to limit herself to three also. My almost 7 year old gets so overwhelmed by all the presents at Christmas and she never has enough time to play with all the things she already has.

  7. says

    Happy birthday!

    We’ve done this for a while now, it’s wonderful. Each kid gets one big (expensive or large, depending on age) gift from us. Then they each get one medium gift from Santa, and whatever fills their stockings. It makes it a lot easier to deal with, especially with 3 kids!

  8. says

    I love these ideas! We’re really getting the kids involved in the true meaning of the holidays this year and they’re old enough to appreciate it! They may actually realize that they have more than enough stuff – and there are others who do not.

  9. says

    We open stockings and a couple of other little things during the morning but build anticipation and a sense of occasion for the main pressies by all gathering together around the tree at afternoon tea time – fuelled by plenty of tea and Christmas cake of course. If the kids have one key gift we make an adventure out of opening it by hiding it down the garden or in the garage and put a ‘follow me’ gift tag and LONG piece of string for them to lead them to it. My parents began this tradition when we were little and now our kids seem to love it too…

  10. Margo says

    for this year, we are skipping all the gifts (whether people will feel awkward or not), and instead “adopting” a family from a shelter. it’s a local shelter for battered women and their kids. so seeing things on the wishlist such as “hat” and “gloves” or “toothbrush” and “socks” immediately puts things in perspective and aids to that warm and fuzzy feeling of realizing that we indeed have more than we need. it is also an invaluable opportunity to have that awkward conversation about the wealth distribution and “need vs. want” with the kids, while promoting “attitude of gratitude”. happy holidays, everyone! :)

  11. says

    Meaningful gifts are definitely the way to go although my kids don’t get them. As teens they aren’t quite ready to appreciate them. Although we are being more careful to get them the gifts they really want rather than something that will just be ignored in a month.

  12. says

    THis is great and especially important for single moms who need to shorten their lists to fit their tight budgets. I know many single moms would love the gift of an hour or two of free babysitting from a good friend. The gift of time is priceless.

  13. Michele says

    We try to follow a four gift strategy: something to wear, something to read, something they want, something they need.

  14. says

    I’m glad you * really * a girl who needs to reduce the list. I am so indebted to the gift exchange thing where it just on a personal level as they feel moved to give a gift that can be more than fulfilled. The truth is, more open and fun gift, right? In my experience, the total amount that you have time to peel open the gift. Increasing the number of gifts for any loss gift crust.