How to Ask for the Gifts You Really Want This Holiday Season

by Edna Rienzi   |   November 19, 2015

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I have an annual Christmas Day tradition that I am almost too ashamed to admit.

Every year, we spend a lovely day at my parents’ house with my brother and sister’s families. We eat a big lunch. We play games. And we get presents. Not just from my immediate family, but also from long-distance aunts and uncles, cousins, and family friends. So many presents.

And, every year, when we’re toting the bags of gifts from the car into our house, I begin to feel anxious. Where am I going to store all this new stuff? How can it be good for my kids to receive so much every year? Then, without fail, I get upset with myself for such a clearly first-world problem: being showered with gifts from loved ones.

But still, I wish I didn’t end up with so much stuff. I’ve hesitated to say anything too direct in the past. I don’t want to seem ungrateful. I really do appreciate how much time and effort goes into gift-giving.

So I’ve tried to give subtle hints. We model the kind of gift-giving we would appreciate: gift cards and homemade coupons. We ask our siblings what gifts we should get our nieces and nephews, and we get those gifts and nothing else. I also talk about the resources I work on for New Dream’s Simplify the Holidays campaign.

But we still have too much stuff. I can accept it, or I can try to be more direct with my family.

Here are three ways that New Dreamers have transformed their gift-giving traditions:

1.   Propose One Big-Ticket Item

Talk to your family at Thanksgiving this year and tell them how much you enjoy spending time with them. Then, tell them about our Twitter follower, Gretchen, whose family decided to forgo their holiday gift-giving tradition this year to instead send the whole family—ages 5 to 60—to Hawaii for Thanksgiving!

Although a big trip like Hawaii may not be in the cards for everyone, you can propose a fun trip for 2016 that is manageable for your family. Maybe you can rent a vacation home at a nearby beach. Or plan a group camping trip. Or even spend the day at a local amusement park together.

2.   Propose a Theme

Some families stick to an extreme monetary limit ($5 and under per gift) to encourage creative gift-giving. Others hold a secondhand swap—you can only gift something that you already own. You also could do a Yankee Swap, shifting the focus from getting more to creatively exchanging just a few things in a fun way.

If you celebrate Hanukkah, consider having a theme for each night instead of giving gifts for eight consecutive evenings. Themes could include hosting a family party, working on a charity project together, making homemade presents, and playing games—with gift-giving as only one night’s focus.

3.   Propose Wish Lists

Some people really like picking out gifts for everybody. If this sounds like your family, wish lists may be your solution. SoKind is a free online registry service that allows you to make lists for any gifts you want. Would you prefer babysitting hours to the latest kitchen gadget? Put it on your list. Have too many sweaters? Ask people to spend a day with you volunteering at your favorite charity instead. 

SoKind lets you register for anything from homemade gifts and secondhand goods to charitable donations and experiences—as well as more-traditional gifts.

It’s not easy to be the first to push out a holiday wish list. Why not try proposing it like this?

“This year, I really want to make sure that I’m giving gifts you really want. I don’t just want to add clutter! I heard about this wish list service called SoKind that lets families make holiday wish lists. You can even think creatively and register for gifts that you can’t get in a store. Here’s a sample holiday wish list to look at. Wouldn’t it be fun if our families each created a wish list this year?”

I plan on bringing up all three ideas to my family this Thanksgiving. Hopefully, one will resonate. I know which one I’m voting for. If my vote wins, I won’t be lugging gifts from the car on Christmas night. Instead, I’ll be drinking hot cocoa by the fire in a cabin with my entire extended family.

What’s your family gift-giving tradition? Share your stories and tips by emailing us at

Check out our full range of Simplify the Holidays resources, including gift suggestions and practical ideas for making your holidays less stressful and more fun!

Edna Rienzi is Director of Programs at New Dream.