Gift Giving Isn't About the Giver

In our culture there is this idea that in order to show children our love, we must give toys in abundance.
But why? Why do we feel that it is necessary to give so much? Or even that it is our right to spoil?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for giving gifts. I, myself, LOVE giving gifts.

But giving gifts isn’t about the giver.

With the holidays only days away and the focus of many people shifting to the anticipation of gifts and giving gifts.
Will you take a moment with me and think about our motives behind our gifting?
Are we gifting out of love for that person, or our own gratification?
Does the joy of giving what we want to give outweigh the wishes of the person receiving the gift?
Gifts are intended to be a blessing to the receiver. Do our motives align with that?
This is particularly important when we are gifting to children. It’s easy to get carried away with toys and fun. If I find myself wandering through the toy aisles, I see so many fun-looking gadgets and gizmos that my child would be excited to receive.
The problem comes when we give those gifts for the children in excess.
Of course they will play with some toys. But when we give several gifts on each occasion, and they’re also getting large amounts from other family members, those precious little ones get overwhelmed. What should be a time of joy, turns into a time of emotional meltdowns.

 Just think about us, as adults: When we have 200 paint swatches to choose from, it’s overwhelming to decide on a paint color! But if we limit our choices to 10, it’s easy to pick out our favorite.

Let’s look at example of the typical American family:
3 children
3 sets of grandparents
2 generous aunts and/or uncles
3 gifts from each person to each child
Total gifts for that family: 45 gifts. 

45 gifts

That’s not even counting what the parents wanted to give their children.
Of course we want to bless our children, nieces, nephews and grandchildren. But is giving them this abundance really helping them?
Most children play more, when they have less.
How about limiting the amount of gifts we give? Or giving gifts that don’t result in clutter? Like activity gifts. Memberships, sport event tickets.
Let’s be the change in this world. Let’s celebrate relationships without burdening others with more stuff.
Need some ideas? Check out 18 Non-Toy Gifts For Children and 18 Non-Toy Gifts For Toddlers

Have you simplified your giving or found unique ways to give without giving clutter?
Leave a comment on this post and let me know what you are doing to be the change this year.

Gifts are intended to be a blessing to the receiver. Do our motives align with that?

About Rachel Jones

Hi there! I’m Rachel Jones, and I founded Nourishing Minimalism in 2012 at the beginning of my minimalist journey. If you're looking for encouragement in your journey, I created a FREE Facebook Group - feel free to join me there: Nourishing Minimalism Facebook Group and I share videos each week on YouTube


  1. Sage on 12/19/2014 at 7:26 pm

    Well said!

  2. Anna Mayer on 12/20/2014 at 11:30 am

    I totally understand the heart of the post but two things stood out to me: do kids really get that many gifts?!! Mine receive 4-5 gifts from family and 1-3 from us, some of the gifts from us being pajamas and clothes. And also, I think it’s ok for gift giving to gratify both the giver and receiver. It would seem it is set up to gratify both. To me anyway.
    That all said, I read your post about clutter free gift giving and we are totally doing that this year (there had never been too much clutter for us, but we trimmed it even more). So thanks for that!

    • Rachel on 12/21/2014 at 12:32 am

      Unfortunately, yes! From the parents I’ve talked to, it ranges from 3-10 gifts from each grandparent.
      Thanks for being here. 🙂

  3. Laura on 12/20/2014 at 11:31 am

    I completely agree with this. I could not handle the amount of toys and neither could the children. I buy just a few gifts for each child now and when a relative wants to give the child something, I ask for a gift certificate for Amazon or with the promise that their name will be on a gift tag (along with other relatives) of one of the few toys I’ve already bought. That way everyone feels like the child will have a gift they can play with but the money that would have been spent on yet another toy goes toward something practical that my sons need going forward.

  4. cassie on 12/20/2014 at 8:05 pm

    Completely agree! I think you already have a post on the topic, but my issue is getting all the grandparents and extended family on board! We try to explain to them our reasoning for no gifts (including that the kids have too much, we already have been getting rid of things to fit in our new smaller apartment, etc), but they either say okay and then buy stuff anyway or try to persuade us why they want/need to buy presents for our kids!!!

    • cassie on 12/20/2014 at 8:07 pm

      I should add, we have even specifically suggested non-toy options.

    • Rachel on 12/20/2014 at 10:42 pm

      I was hoping some of them would read this! 😉 I’m sorry it’s such a struggle, I know how frustrating it is.

  5. Jamie on 12/20/2014 at 10:16 pm

    I’m in the same boat as Cassie. We have politely spoken to family about our concerns/wishes (space, kids are becoming greedier and difficult to handle during/after gift giving occasions, most stuff isn’t played with, the kids would be really interested in/appreciative of some larger/membership type items that we would suggest gift cards for or toward) and given suggestions about some gifts the kids would enjoy- tickets to a local attraction, or movie passes, or even “toys” such as learning game cartridges for their game systems…we get told people understand, get ‘yessed’ to death…and then these past few days we’re getting calls from those same people saying ‘so what can I REALLY get them?’ or ‘ you didn’t tell me enough stuff to get them’. It’s like each of these people seriously think we are kidding, or that our discussions surely mustn’t apply to them. Like you pointed out above, we are fortunate that numerous people love our kids and us and want to buy and give, but it adds up–and honestly, we do Santa on a small scale in our home, so I’ve even tried to explain that we prefer people don’t outdo Santa, and still no dice. It’s very frustrating, and I feel like such an ungrateful wench complaining, but I just wish people would listen and be respectful! It’s so overwhelming and frustrating and actually puts a damper on the holidays for me!

    • Rachel on 12/20/2014 at 10:40 pm

      I totally get that. In that end, I believe we just need to accept it and have the kids get rid of things. I don’t see any “easy” way to address it, but to just try to teach the kids to be appreciative and also let a lot of it go. I’m sorry it’s such a struggle. I too, always dreaded Christmas when my kids were getting so many gifts.

      • Cassidy on 12/21/2014 at 12:46 pm

        How do you teach your children to not feel guilty about letting a special toy from Grandma go–especially when Grandma asks about it later? (We get many “special” toys). I hate to put that burden–both of the over abundance of gifts and of the guilt in dealing with the grandparents–on my kids.

        • Rachel on 12/21/2014 at 1:30 pm

          It depends on the child- some people are more in tune with the feelings of others, so for some kids they will feel guilty and for others they won’t. Just talking about it is best- If you can work into regular conversations about we love people more than things, we’re not getting rid of the love that person has for us or the love we have for them.
          My kids are just blunt and tell the person “Oh, mom had us get rid of that.” and I shrug my shoulders and say “We just don’t have room to keep everything, so we sort and giveaway regularly. The kids keep the ones they actually play with.”
          It is what it is.
          I have a friend that tries to pay attention to which one is the “special” one in the eyes of the grandparent, then keep that one around until she knows that the grandparent has seen the item being used adequately before giving it away.

    • Reba on 11/03/2016 at 12:27 pm

      My sister is not a minimalist. But she does Move a lot AND always Into Small Places. For her SON, she usually just tells all Of The grandparents what he DOES need. I.E. she assigns them gifts. It usually Works out, that Way SHE knows what he is getting, Lego games, zoo passes, etc..

      • Reba on 11/03/2016 at 12:29 pm

        I apologize for The weird CAPITALIZATION. I guess viewing this through Facebook affects the text.

  6. Karen T. on 12/23/2014 at 1:24 am

    I’m a grandma — and I like to plan an experience with my granddaughter (and with her sibling when she has one someday). Right now she’s only 2, so that means a trip to the park and then for an ice cream cone. When she’s older, a visit to the train museum, to Japantown in San Francisco, or on an overnight camping trip with Grandpa might be possible.
    When my kids were little we struggled with the “too many gifts from grandparents” issue . . . and what it really boiled down to was that my mom and my MIL liked to shop, and buying for my kids and their other grandkids gave them a good excuse to shop. It wasn’t so much that they were truly thinking about what would give my kids joy, but about what THEY wanted to buy (needed an excuse to buy). So your post about gifts not being about the giver is right on.
    One thing I liked to do to prolong gift giving (even when I managed to limit the number to only a few) was to make a treasure hunt for each child. I made up riddles for clues, or the child would have to do a “feat” (like stand on one foot and count to 20, or say Merry Christmas in a foreign language, or do 10 toe touches, or whatever I thought might be fun and appropriate). This got more elaborate over the years, and became a big part of the fun of presents — not just the present itself (which might be only some pajamas or a home-made sewing kit), but whatever I came up with for the kids to do in order to follow their trail of clues. It made good memories.

    • Rachel on 12/23/2014 at 2:03 pm

      I really like the treasure hunt idea! My parent’s did that for us one year, and it was really special.
      Thanks Karen 🙂

  7. Teresa on 12/23/2014 at 8:18 pm

    Years ago I heard this radio personality (he was a psychologist with 10 children) explain that he told his parents and extended family for years that he didn’t want gifts for his children(it was too overwhelming with so many children). They just would not listen. So he finally told them that he was going to let his children keep ⅓ of the gifts they received from extended family. The remaining ⅔ of the gifts were taken to a children’s hospital. The children decided which gifts would go to the sick children, but they were not allowed to open the gifts before sending them off.

    • Rachel on 12/23/2014 at 11:36 pm

      Wow, that’s great!

  8. Amanda on 12/24/2014 at 1:20 pm

    This year we are giving only what was asked for and for some people that meant a small and inexpensive gift–fine by me! And in order to keep our own home minimalist, we requested only upgrades or replacements for things that we own and use all the time. I know my parents think we don’t have enough stuff (aggghhh!) but I hope they will respect our preferences!

  9. Collaroy on 01/25/2015 at 11:58 pm

    A suggestion for all those who cannot stop others from plying your kids with too many gifts:have them buy the presents (toys) then keep them at the gift givers house for when the children come to visit.I have no grandchildren of my own yet but I would definitely be on board with this.I have fond memories of my Gran keeping a toy tea-set at her home which was only brought out when I came to stay and how exciting was it to me when she brought this out and we would sit and play tea parties together!Bit old fashioned I get it,but electronics or whatever the latest toys,DVDs etc could be enjoyed at the gift giver’s home and they surely would not be offended by this idea.

  10. Seven on 01/26/2015 at 10:44 am

    How does one end up with three sets of grandparents? Shouldn’t there be Mom’s parents + Dad’s parents = two pairs of grandparents?

    • Rachel on 01/26/2015 at 1:21 pm

      It’s common these days to have at least one parent be divorced. For us, I am divorced and so my older boys have their biological grandparents on both sides and now my husband’s parents, so “step-grandparents”. 🙂

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