The "Don't Buy Me Any Stuff" Gift Guide

by Annie Fox, M.Ed.

The year our daughter turned 15 she announced that she didn't want us to buy her any "stuff" for Hanukkah. Huh? Did I hear that right? No stuff? What's going on? Did she still love us? Wasn't she grateful for the many very carefully selected gifts she’d received since...birth? Was she planning on running away and wanting to travel light?!

Actually, the truth was far less sinister and more profoundly personal. As she put it, "I've had it with holiday commercialism." This led to a lively family discussion about needs vs. desires. Form vs. Substance. Carnivores vs. Vegetarians.

NOTE1: Our son was 9 at that time and while he dearly loved and coveted all kinds of "stuff," (except when it came to clearing it off the floor and stowing back where it belonged) he agreed his sister's idea merited serious philosophical consideration.

NOTE2: Said son is now a college graduate with a degree in...philosophy.

We love each other in this family and we're not shy about showing it. So even though we placed a holiday moratorium on buying each other stuff there was absolutely no restrictions on the act of giving. Of course, without the stuff option to fall back on, we each faced the creative challenge of figuring out what to give.

That first year we abandoned traditional gift-giving our tokens of affection and admiration became more experiential and far-reaching. I'm talking about live performances and other cultural outings. There were factory tours, waterfall hikes, specially baked desserts, multi-media presentations, and hand-crafted treasures.

By far the best innovation emerging from our new tradition was the advent of personalized coupons books. These hand-made packets offered a variety of a dozen or so customized "goods and services and special privileges." If you're thinking "Give my kids a month of dry-cleaning?! A reserved parking space?! Is this woman nuts?" allow me to explain.

The key to coupon success is knowing your recipient. Daughter, who frequently got busted for talking on the phone after lights out, was thrilled to get: "This coupon entitles you to use the phone between 11-11:30 on a school night. Homework and all getting ready for bed preparations must first be completed."

Son, who has always loved sweets, got: "This coupon entitles you to 2 dozen of your choice of home-made cookies that you don't have to share with anyone (unless you happen to be feeling particularly generous). Minimum 24 hour notice required."

I remember happily receiving: "I will water all the plants in the house for you for 1 week." And David, who spends lots of time hunched over his computer, was delighted to get: "I will give you a 10 minute shoulder massage."

Freeing ourselves from buying stuff has opened the door to a new tradition and kept us out of the malls.
Now just in case you think I live under a rock, have a heart of stone, and/or am independently wealthy...none of the above. So, yes, I know times are tough and retailers around the country are wracking their business brains to figure out how to get us to regain enough confidence in the economy and our future earning power to get ourselves down to the mall and do our part for the recovery. I get that.

And this No-stuff Gift Guide isn't meant as an all or nothing deal. I mean, let's face, there is very cool stuff in stores. And sometimes the special something your kid craves is just what you want to give, and if you can, go ahead and give it. Then knock yourself out on the kid's joy when he/she receives your gift. All I'm saying is that you are not and never have been required to go into debt buying stuff that's out of synch with your innate sense of what's appropriate and healthy for your child.

So, if you're looking for some extra meaning during this holiday season and a little less wear and tear on your family values, you might talk to your kids about alternatives to traditional gift-giving. It may not be coupons, but your family will likely come up with all kinds of great ideas. When we explore more creative ways to show our love for each other, we celebrate the uniqueness of each of family member. Now there's a gift!

Happy holidays from our family to yours.

Annie Fox, M.Ed. is an award winning author, educator, and online adviser for parents and teens. She is the author of Too Stressed to Think? And the new Middle School Confidential™ series. Download her entire free Teen Survival Guide to Dating & Relating. For more information and to check out her podcast series, visit her website.

Copyright © Annie Fox. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.