Mark Douglass used to spend thousands of dollars a year on gifts for his loved ones, and receive almost as much in return, in a never-ending display of love paid for on his credit card – and left, forgotten, in the cupboard.
Douglass, along with his fiancee Jess Geerligs, is now at the other extreme, following a minimalist’s philosophy. The movement is based on the idea of de-cluttering, including spending less money on gifts.
“I still like to give something of myself, [such as] a promise of time,” Douglass, an author, said.
“For Christmas, for a Secret Santa, I gave the promise of writing a short story about them, so I’m going to have a chat with them, sit down with them, find out about their [earlier] life and write a short story – a fictionalised version of their life.”
Birthdays, house warmings, engagements, weddings, baby showers, Christmases; the occasions for purchasing a gift often feel endless. Unfortunately, like Douglass, the social pressure to give a present often means that people end up with a whole lot of stuff they don’t need – and, more often than not, a hefty credit card debt to boot.
Last year, Australians splurged more than $7.9 billion on Christmas gifts, according to a Commonwealth Bank study. An estimated $1 billion of the total spend was on unwanted items, a separate eBay survey found.
On Mother’s Day, we splashed out $1.4 billion, further research from IBISWorld found. Fathers were the recipients of some $676.5 million in gifts.
And that’s not even counting birthdays, weddings and other special occasions where it’s de rigueur to bring a present.
It’s hardly surprising, then, that the cost of all this gift-giving is something of a financial burden.
More than one in ten people rely totally on credit to buy gifts over Christmas, causing a $1 billion jump in Australian credit card balances over the holiday period, according to credit reporting agency Veda. It takes an average of eight months to repay these end-of-year outlays.
Lucent Imagery, the nom de plume of a blogger who writes about her experiences as a legally blind photographer, has spent the past three Christmases experimenting with strategies to de-gift the festive season without losing cheer. Two years ago, she tried a “no-consumer Christmas”, forgoing all gifts within her family.
“I like knowing that my request takes the pressure off them to hit the shops again, especially when I know they’re not enjoying the process,” Lucent wrote on her blog.
Feeling inspired? Here are The New Daily‘s top five tips to ban presents – without losing friends.
Teach a skill
Everyone has a trick, talent or skill that they can share for free. If you’re an excellent cook, teach a friend your favourite recipe. Help your grandma learn how to use Facebook or Instagram. Or, if you’re handy with tools, teach your children how to fix a leaky tap. It’s not something you can wrap, but this knowledge will stay with them for the rest of their lives – unlike that 20th t-shirt.
Offer your time
Time is precious, so how about giving some of yours? Offer new parents the gift of babysitting for a night. Clean your parents’ house, so they can put their feet up for a weekend. Instead of thinking of an item, think of something your loved one needs done for them and go do it. They’ll love you even more for giving them a moment to relax.
Give an experience
An experience that you can share with someone is the best kind of present. If you want to spend money, you could book a class or buy tickets to a show. But you don’t have to be decadent to create a special memory with a loved one. There are many things you can do without opening your wallet. Have a games night at home, go to the park, spend a day at the beach, or do something adventurous like exploring the underground of a city.
Tell them you care
Instead of showing your love with your wallet, write down the things you love about the person. Record a video of your version of a memory you have with your friend or family. Or, if you’re artistic, draw them a picture and frame it.
Douglass used his talent as a writer to create a short novella for his partner. In turn, Jess uses her painting skills to create unique art for her loved ones.
Treating others how you want to be treated goes a long way if you’re keen to stop the flood of gifts. Explain to your friends and family that you don’t want to be given things anymore and suggest some of the above options as alternatives.
Douglass admits that a lot of time was needed for his circle to adjust to his no gift policy.
The end result, however, was worth it, he adds.
“I don’t know if I have the perfect answer yet [to convince people not to buy gifts], but it’s a lot of conversations as it’s definitely going against the status quo and changing people’s minds is one of the hardest things to do,” he says.
“One thing to do is lead by example, [and] give something we’ve made from us that means something special.”