Gift giving while living a simpler life

 Gifts of time and love are surely the basic ingredients of a truly merry Christmas. ~Peg Bracken
An over the top holiday

The deepest point of our overindulgence during holidays was about 8 years ago.  Our oldest son was 5 and among many other gifts we also purchased a real go kart, not one of those plastic ones that are expensive enough, but a real $700 go kart with a gas motor!  I know, what were we thinking...

When we are kids we really put together the concepts in our heads of what our expectations are for things.  For me that included holidays and it was somewhat of a mixed bag.  Some years I had very little and longed for the types of things my friends got, other years it was over the top and as an only child I would get loads of presents.

Once I had kids, I longed to give them everything they wanted. I fretted over equal amounts of gifts for each child, about filling up the space under the tree, and about how I could out do the previous year.  More than that, I also made sure to have fancy outfits, Christmas cards (most times taking multiple rolls of film to get the "perfect" shot), matching jammies for Christmas morning, the right amount of decorations, a huge tree, tons cookies made, etc, etc, etc.  The expectations are what needed to change!

How did we go from there to here?

I am sickened when I look back at all that self induced stress and money down the drain.  But I am so proud as I now see the positive effects on the children and ourselves.  Had we continued down that path I believe that the kids would be very consumer driven and all around different kids.

Here is how we rid ourselves of consumer driven habits.  It all starts as a mindset so we began by looking at the poverty levels around the world, educating ourselves on a deeper level, and purposefully teaching empathy to the kids and ourselves.  It was and is a great way to keep things in perspective.  This perspective really made us grateful for the things we have.

The next step for us began 7 years ago.  We asked family and friends to stop buying our children and ourselves gifts and we let them know that we would no longer be purchasing gifts for them.  In the place of actual gifts we would be making donations in their names to charities or organizations that we hoped would be appropriate.  We started to realize just how over-privileged we were and thought making donations to charities in the name of our loved ones would be the best thing we could do.  What the hell did we need another sweater for?

Likewise, the people we bought gifts for already had everything they needed as well and buy themselves whatever the need whenever they want.  There were a few family members that thought this was radical and against the spirit of the season, but we figured anyone that wasn't OK with this doesn't realy understand our view of the season and we wouldn't let their negative thoughts bother us.

Next we observed!  Watching the insanity that unfolded year after year on Black Friday, even the kids were wondering what on earth is going on with people.  "How can it be that someone's life is not as important as some item on the wishlist", my oldest asked one day.  It seems that society places value on "things" more then practically anything else in life. That in itself helped us to see that less is best and to focus on experiences and happiness.  True happiness that isn't guided by new gadgets but by loved ones and life itself.

I am so proud of my boys who have really shed the attachment to physival items and love to just have 1 on 1 time with one of us or to take a trip someplace new.  Without a regular stream of TV, they are never bombarded with commercialism and so when Christmas comes along they don't even know what to ask for.  A simple basketball or skateboard is typically all they want.  One year they asked to go to the store before Christmas so they could see what was available.  This was never an issue in the US, they always knew what was avaialable and what everyone else had. Since we started to travel, they don't even seem to notice as most of our friends are also not into consumerism.

Every year we seem to minimize material aspect of holidays, but not the celebration.

So what will Christmas look like this year?
The sky is the limit, an experience driven Christmas
This year and every year from this point on we plan to make birthdays and holidays more centered on experiences then consumption.  1 small gift each and a family trip is all that is on my mind for this year.  My oldest son has already decided that what he would like most for Christmas is to trek to Everest base camp, not a new iPhone (although he would gladly take it, he is an almost teenage boy after all), not a over indulgent party but an experience rich with hard work, diversity, and pre-thought.  I am not sure if base camp at Everest will happen this year, although we will try our hardest to make it a reality for him in the future (maybe his birthday in March), but either way if what we focus on is experiences and true happiness then the children will also focus on the same.

So which path will you set for your children this holiday season?

Check out how other travelling families feel about holidays now:

Pearce On Earth: A Different Kind of Christmas

Family Trek: What's For Christmas? Dear Santa, do we really need more stuff?

The Nomadic Family- Poverty for Christmas

New Life on the Road - Dear Mr Santa Claus Whats For Christmas

With 2 Kids In Tow, It's Backpacking We Go: Dear Santa, For This Christmas We Wish...

Living Outside of the Box - The Best Christmas Presents

Discover Share Inspire - Christmas is Coming - What Do We Give on the Road?

Presence vs Presents - Christmas Time for Travelling Families

Family Travel Bucket List - Feliz Navidad Without All the Stuff

Livin On The Road's kids

A King's Life: Forget the Gifts, Give an Experience this Christmas

A minor diversion - Reinventing Christmas

Carried on the Wind - Christmas Giving

Edventure Project


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  1. Wow, so many of your sentiments are exactly how I feel. Why spend so much on each other, when we already have what we need. Let's make someone else's life better, who doesn't even have life's necessities. Also, the idea of experiences over stuff is an enriching focus.

  2. I enjoyed reading your post, Mary. Indeed, "How can it be that someone's life is not as important as some item on the wishlist" What an insightful comment from your eldest child. I have been asking a similar question to myself lately as well. I also love your statement, "True happiness isn't guided by new gadgets but by loved ones and life itself." I feel very fortunate to realize the truth in that.

  3. Wow! Base camp at Everest, huh? Sounds like a REAL experience of a lifetime. It's quite a mental shift to realize that things don't make memories, but experiences do. But those aren't as easy to find on a shelf and wrap up to shove under and already crowded Christmas tree!

  4. Good to know that you're not still being hard on yourself for the $700 go cart - at least you remembered what it was! We've spent too much money on gifts forgotten, and sadly received many gifts that we don't use or remember. Mt. Everest base camp will be COLD in December! If you do end up there at the end of March, let us know as we will be in the area too.

  5. What a wonderful post. We have a self-imposed deadline to leave the rat-race and travel and life life on our terms too.
    I am enjoying your blog and agree with your Christmas guidlines, now I just have to convince the rest of our family! Our children are 2 and 4yo and are so spoilt, it's ridiculous. I have culled all their toys but am dreading the onslaught of consumerism that will rock through our door during the festive season.
    Happy travelling

  6. Enjoyed reading your story and about the journey you've been on. I know the feeling you have about being sickened by some of your past behaviors. Just remember that was a season of your life... a part of your story that has lead you to where you are now.