Dec 12

How Four People Simplified Their Gift-Giving for Happier Holidays

Photo Illustration by Katherine Borah

You love the thought of picking out the perfect presents for your friends and family but cringe at the stress of finding everything in time. Then there’s the financial cost of all these presents. If you’re searching for a way to simplify gift giving for a happier, more meaningful holiday, try one of these ideas–all road-tested by real people.

“We happily regift!”

Last year, Sara Lieberman was feeling a bit strapped for cash. When she talked to her friends, they realized that many of them were feeling overwhelmed by all the excess around the holidays. “I love the idea of gift giving, but wondered if there were a way to work with what we already have,” she says. So instead of buying new gifts, the 40-year-old journalist, who lives in Paris, hosted a gift exchange where everyone brought a new or lightly-used item they hoped others would genuinely like. She ended up with a piece of artwork brought by a friend who works in a gallery; other regifts included a laptop sleeve and some twinkly lights.


Lieberman and her friends used the “Yankee Swap” game — where participants can swap or steal gifts as part of the exchange — which helped people to get things they actually liked. And, even though not everyone ended up with something they loved, it was still entertaining. “With a regift, you also get a story about where the item came from and why you’re giving it away,” says Lieberman, who plans to do another “regift exchange” this year.



“We use an online tool to draw names.”

For the past 5 years or so, Cortney Marchetti and her adult family members have been using the site Elfster to simplify their holidays. The site assigns each person one other person to buy a gift for, and they avoid exchanging any other gifts amongst themselves. Marchetti, 38, has three siblings and two step-siblings, and she says as they all get married and their family grows, they needed a way to scale back. “Everyone buying a present for everyone else just became untenable,” says Marchetti, who works in talent management and lives in Chagrin Falls, OH. Elfster allows Marchetti to set parameters so that no one draws their spouse or the same person they gifted last year. It took a few years for them to iron out some kinks and make sure everyone spent roughly the same amount. Now, it’s a tradition that everyone enjoys.

“Instead of gifts, we splurge on a fancy meal.”

For the last five years, Kendra Borowski and her family have been skipping gifts. Instead, they put their money towards ingredients for a luxurious Christmas feast for everyone. The family spends the day hanging out in the kitchen as Borowski, who loves to cook, whips up a roast and lots of side dishes. “After my siblings and I grew up and moved out of the house, and my grandmother moved into a smaller apartment, we wanted to minimize the amount of ‘stuff’ in our lives,” says Borowski, 39, a publicist based in New York City.  And, she says, it just makes the holidays more enjoyable and helps her to be more financially responsible. While they skip the big gifts, they still get each other little tokens, to maintain that “element of festivity.”

“We give back together.”

For the past several years, Steph Caldwell and her family have been pooling the money they would have spent on gifts to donate to a charity. “Being able to donate money to a cause, instead of buying someone a sweater, just makes sense,” says Caldwell, a 40-year-old hairdresser living in Jersey City, NJ. “It’s a small thing, but I think we all agree it’s the right one for us.” (Read why giving back together brings you closer.) They choose a different charity each year, and usually just go with whatever is suggested first. This year, they’re donating to Gilda’s Club, a community organization for those with cancer that helped Caldwell’s late mother-in-law. 


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