This year my family decided not to buy presents and it’s drastically changed how I view this season.

A few months ago I stumbled on a box while I
was cleaning out the room that would become Finn’s nursery. In it was a box of
presents from last Christmas—mugs, trinkets, and stuff—lots of stuff. They were
nice gestures, beautiful gifts—received warmly and given with love, but
ultimately stuff we had lived without for almost a year. If the stuff we give
ends up in a box, unused, why give it at all? Can’t there be a better way to
show our love?

Our family thinks so.

This year for Christmas, my family decided not to give each
other presents. Now, you should understand this is rather extreme. I’m one of
seven kids, who are all married with their own kids. My parents have eleven grandkids!
And we buy presents for everyone. Everyone.
Then we take all of Christmas morning to open the presents, one by one. Hundreds of presents. One by
one. It takes hours. We usually have an intermission half way through. It’s a
rather big operation.

This year will be different. We will be giving no presents, other than one small present for each

How did we make such a drastic change?

Well, let me be the first to say: it wasn’t my idea. I love
getting presents. I enjoy the process. I love opening gifts. I love the surprise.
I love giving gifts, and laughing and talking about why such and such gift was
more funny than practical. It’s something I enjoy. But as the conversation
started, I was eventually won over. It was a conversation that happened over
email—a thread of 74 emails to be exact. So if you’re hesitant like me, check
out our conversation—maybe you’ll be won over too.  

It all started with a simple email from my brother and his
family. Here it is:

Make Way For Oliver

When we found out we were
going to be having a baby, we were beyond happy and excited. There was,
however, one minor concern: space. We had just moved into a smaller apartment
and every nook and cranny were already full. 

After reading “Unstuffed”
by Ruth Soukup we were inspired to launch The Great Purge of 2016. The
book helped us realize that having more space would not be the solution. When
we have more space we just get more stuff. So the solution to making room for
Oliver we decided is to have less stuff.

We’ve purged before, but
this time we were being more ruthless getting rid of so many things that times
before we couldn’t let go of. We literally had boxes of stuff that have been
boxed up since we moved in together. We kept saying “we might use that
eventually…” or “once we have more space, we can get that out” or “that has
sentimental value.” Another thing we learned from the book is, stuff and
memories are not the same things.

There’s a sense of relief
with not having so much stuff around us. And we don’t miss a single thing we’ve
gotten rid of. We still have plenty more to purge, and we’re slowly working on
that, but there’s also another thing we need to work on–stopping the flow of
stuff coming in. And that brings us to our next topic…

Christmas is two months
away already! We’re so excited for Oliver to experience it all for the first
time. The snow, lights, music and family gatherings. But there’s also the
stuff. Don’t get us wrong, we’re not going all anti-gift on ya’ll. We both love
giving (and receiving) gifts. But we have to be real. We get a lot of things we
don’t need and we give you all things you don’t need.

Last year we spent hours in
the gift opening process (not exaggerating). Understandably that’s easy to do
when between our families we have 17 brothers/sisters, 19 nieces/nephews and
our parents. We have found that we feel obligated to buy something for everyone
with the thought that if we leave anyone out we don’t love them as much. It’s
not a healthy habit and causes a lot of unnecessary stress. And we feel many of
you may feel the same way. I mean we draw names for a reason, right?

I guess what we’re trying
to say is, please don’t feel obligated to buy us a gift just for the sake of
giving everyone a gift. We love gift giving but there does come a point where
it’s just too much. We have decided to reign it in this year, sticking to our
names we’ve drawn and our parents. 

We’d love to talk about
other solutions or new traditions on how to refine the Holiday gift giving if
anyone has ideas.

And we’re looking forward
to spending time with everyone, hanging out, relaxing and talking and hopefully
not spending hours opening gifts 😉


Mackenzie, James &

This email started a thread of 74 messages about how
Christmas might look different. At the heart of this conversation was a simple,
but profound thought, explained by my sister: “we have been
trying recently to teach my son that love and giving him things aren’t the same

Do we sometimes confuse giving stuff with
showing love? Now, I get it: gifts are one way to show love. But they aren’t
the only way. There are many other ways to make sacrifices, and even spend
money on behalf of others, without acquiring more stuff.

My sister later suggested we take the money
we save and use it to buy a flight for my sister’s family. They live in Arizona
and can’t afford to come home this Christmas. Instead of buying presents, we
pooled our money, bought plane tickets, and we will spend Christmas with three
more members of our family.

We had other ideas too. For example, we could
pool our money and host a pancake breakfast at a local church. Either way, we’re
giving to each other, and giving sacrificially, but in ways that build up our families
instead of our closets.

This shift in my family has been a true
blessing. Allyssa and I recently had our first child, and it’s been a financial
stretch. On top of this, we pledged to give over and above to Central’s Forward
Campaign, which has further stretched us financially. We wouldn’t have had much
left to give towards presents, anyways. But knowing that we can take what
little money we have and put it towards causes we care about is rather

I couldn’t be more proud of my family.

I challenge you:

What would it look like for your family to do
the same?

How has your family re-imagined Christmas?

In what ways, have you transitioned from
filling up boxes and closets, to building up your family?

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