Inside: You don’t want your extended family and friends to feel you’re ungrateful for the gifts they want to give. Here’s the best way to politely request no Christmas gifts this year – without offending anyone.

My husband and I learned the hard way that when it comes to Christmas gifts for kids, more isn’t necessarily better.

A few years ago on our oldest child’s last Christmas as an only child, we wanted her to feel special. So we went a little overboard. A new American Girl doll, LEGOs, puzzles, board games for all ages, art supplies, tclothes, movies, and on and on.

But on Christmas morning, about five presents in, the light went out of her eyes. She moved from one present to the next just for the sake of getting through the pile that was set before her, not because she was excited for the surprises.

Like a Christmas morning assembly line.

How to politely ask for no Christmas gifts this year
This Is What Happens When Kids Get Too Many Gifts

Our child couldn’t appreciate any single gift because she was absolutely and completely overwhelmed by the sheer volume of all the new stuff in front of her.

The experience made me realize that the more gifts you give a child, the less she’ll fully appreciate any single gift.

When I researched the issue, what I found confirmed my experience on that Christmas morning. For example:

Some research shows that kids who are given a large number of toys cannot play or learn well from the play experience. Whereas a smaller number of toys allows kids to fully engage in the play experience. One study found that too many toys keep kids stuck in the “exploring” phase of interacting with a toy and prevents them from truly playing with the toys. But it’s that play mode where learning and development happens for kids’ brains – not the “exploring” mode. Another study showed that when you remove all the toys from a playroom, kids engage in more imaginative play, their ability to focus and concentrate increases. Too much stuff? This is the best way to politely request no Christmas gifts this year
What’s a Parent to Do?

My husband and I want to raise kids who are grateful for what they have instead of adopting Dudley Dursley’s attitude of “it’s never enough.” So after that Christmas, we did some research and decided to follow the four-gift rule. For this tradition, each person in the family gets four gifts: something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read.

It’s catchy, easy to remember, and helpful for setting expectations with kids on what they might get from their running wish list that they’ve been adding to throughout the year.

We’ve been following that tradition ever since the wretched excess of that one Christmas, and the four-gift rule has transformed our family’s gift-giving and gift-receiving experience from one of overwhelm to one of gratitude.

We’ve loved this refreshing shift so much that in my simple holiday planner for busy parents, I even added a “wish list” page for kids built on the four-gift tradition.


How to ask for no Christmas gifts this year But Here’s the Problem

Grandparents. Family friends. Cousins, aunts, uncles.

They all want to give the kids something.

You can make a pact within your immediate family to follow the four-gift rule or some other tradition for keeping gift-giving reasonable, but how do you get extended family and friends on board?

Because even if each loved one gets your child “just” one or two gifts each, that still adds up to a teetering tower of gifts, and you’re back to a Christmas morning that overwhelms your child instead of truly delighting her.

And yet, you don’t want your extended family and friends to feel you’re ungrateful for the gifts they want to give. So how do you politely request no Christmas gifts this year – without offending anyone?


How to Politely Request No Christmas Gifts This Year

I’m not the expert on this topic, but I have done a lot of reading about how to broach this subject with loved ones. Plus, I’ve picked the brain of nearly every parent I know about how they handle this tricky situation. (Thanks, wise Starbucks barista!)

In this post, I’ve gathered all the best ideas for how to politely request no Christmas gifts this year. Because we all know simply saying “no Christmas gifts please” won’t cut it.

Full disclosure: I’m personally guilty of not bringing this up for the longest time because I was worried about creating tension with extended family. But when my husband and I finally did ask my kids’ grandparents to skip Christmas gifts for our kids, they were excited about the idea because we used a couple of the sample conversations listed below.

If you haven’t already explicitly asked your loved ones to skip giving you and/or your kids Christmas gifts this year, give it a try because you might be surprised.

But first, a few important caveats:

Relationships between immediate family and extended family can vary widely, so every idea in this list may not work for you. Give the list a quick read-through and see what resonates because odds are, you’ll find at least one doable technique for requesting no Christmas gifts without offending your loved ones. You know your loved one best and whether a phone call, text, email, or in-person conversation would be most appropriate. However, this message works best delivered one-on-one instead of in a mass letter to your whole extended family. In general, it works best to suggest an alternative to a physical store-bought gift so your loved one still has a way to show you they’re thinking of you and your family. That’s why the example conversations below include alternatives for redirecting your loved one to a more meaningful gift. You may like a sentence from one sample conversation and another sentence from another sample, so feel free to Frankenstein together something that feels right to you. Also, many of these samples mention kids, so you’ll need to adjust that if you don’t have little ones at home. Be prepared for this to happen: You may ask, and they may still send gifts. The truth is that some people show their love through physical gifts. It may help reduce your frustration if you remind yourself that their heart was in the right place. And remember that you can always try again next year! Several people I talked to said it took two or three years of having these conversations before they sunk in.

Ready to politely request no Christmas gifts this year? Here are a few clever ideas for you…

1. Bring Up a Memory

If the loved one has asked what your kids want for Christmas, you could reply with:

“Thank you for thinking of us! You know, we just finished decluttering and getting rid of so many things the kids weren’t even playing with, so we’re trying to keep gifts to a minimum this year. One thing the kids loved – and still talk about even months afterward! – is that time when you xyz (insert example of a time when the loved one spent some quality time with the kids or gifted them an experience).

What would make them happiest is the gift of another memory like that with you. Something as simple as a trip to the movie theater with you or going to the ice cream shop together would make their day! Or if you wanted to do something a little more out of the ordinary, tickets to a play or musical, or tickets to an amusement park would be something they’d love to do with you, too.”

If the examples at the end don’t resonate, check out my epic list of all the best experience gift ideas, especially the “for everyone” section and the “for kids and families” section.

Related: The Ultimate (Most Epic!) List of the Best Experience Gift Ideas

2. Tap Into the True Spirit of Giving

This one requires getting your kids on board first but would have the added benefit of teaching your kids to be grateful for what they have. Try this trick to politely request no Christmas gifts this year:

“This year, our family has been doing a lot of reflection on wants and needs because we’re trying to teach the kids to be grateful for their blessings. We’ve been learning about other people who don’t have even their basic needs covered like food to eat or a roof to sleep under, and the kids have decided they want to donate most of their Christmas gifts to others this year. They always appreciate your gifts every year, so I wanted to let you know what they’d decided for this year.

We’ll be donating their Christmas presents from extended family and friends to the local children’s shelter, or if you’d prefer you can make a donation in their name to xyz (insert name of charity). The kids have even set a goal for what they want to raise for charity, so they’ll be excited to get closer to that goal!”

Related: A Sweet Way to Guarantee Your Kid Has an Attitude of Gratitude {Printable}

3. Blame the Budget

If your reason for wanting to politely request no Christmas gifts this year is that you don’t have the budget to reciprocate and/or that you suspect your loved ones are on a fixed budget and are making sacrifices just to send you presents, try this:

“We always appreciate your Christmas gifts every year, but this year I need to let you know something that’s a little uncomfortable to talk about. We’re on a fixed budget this year, and we’ve even had to limit the gifts we give each other in our immediate family. We can’t send extended family physical gifts this year, so as our gift we’ll be writing personal letters to loved ones instead.

We’d love it if you could send a card or a letter instead of a physical gift this year because that would mean so much more to us! And if you can slip a photo of you and your family in with the card or letter, we’ve cleared a spot on our mantle for photos of our loved ones.”

4. Go Handmade

This one works well if you’re crafty or you like to bake. When your loved one asks what you’d like for Christmas, you could reply:

“I just came across this phrase that really stuck with me, so I shared it with our little family and they loved it too: Gifts from the heart, not a shopping cart. We did some brainstorming on what that would mean to give gifts from the heart, and the kids suggested baking their favorite cookies and sending them as gifts (or insert another baked good or a craft that would make a great gift).

This year, will you join us on this “gifts from the heart, not a shopping cart” mission? The kids would love to get a surprise in the mail that’s something handmade, even if it’s just a handwritten card from you!”

If you want more ideas on handmade gifts you could exchange, check out 15 Fool-Proof DIY Christmas Gifts and 15 Delightful Christmas Gifts That Come From the Heart – Not a Shopping Cart.

Related: 15 Delightful Christmas Gifts That Come From the Heart – Not a Shopping Cart

5. Invite Them to Help With a Special Project

This one could end up being a special gift for your whole extended family. If after you receive everything, you can the pages and save as a PDF, you could email that to everyone who contributed.

“Hey! We thought it would be fun to do something a little different for Christmas this year instead of exchanging physical store-bought gifts with extended family. The kids are really excited about this idea, so I’m hoping you can join in! This all started because we just cleared out several bags of clutter and donated them to Goodwill, and we got to talking about how gifts don’t need to be something from the store to be meaningful.

We want to put together a book about the whole family. We picked out a special scrapbook, and we’re hoping to get a photo from everyone in the extended family along with a handwritten note or letter that we can put in the scrapbook…nothing fancy for the note, just a favorite memory or a quick story or an update on how you are. That way, even if we’re not all together throughout the year, we can pick up this family book anytime and feel closer! After we get the book together, we’d love to scan the pages and create a digital version we can email out to everyone who contributed. Will you help us with this project by skipping physical gifts and sending a photo with a card or letter instead?”

Or similar to that idea, you could invite everyone in the family to send you their favorite recipe, then compile a collection of the most treasured family recipes and share that PDF with the whole family.

6. Channel Your Inner Librarian

If your family enjoys books, here’s another approach that could work if you want to politely request no Christmas gifts this year:

“This year, we feel blessed that our family has everything we need. So along with the kids, we’ve decided to shift most of our gift-giving budget to donations to others who need help this holiday season. We’re so proud of the kids for thinking of others! So we were wondering: Will you help us with a special project to surprise the kids a little?

It took a lot of maturity for them to make the decision to give to charity, so we want to honor their decision and not shower them in gifts anyway. But we would like to surprise them with something small, and they absolutely love to read. Would you be willing to forgo other gifts and instead send your favorite book you read as a child? I know it would be such a delight for the kids to have a little mini-library of their loved ones’ favorite childhood books that they can enjoy throughout the New Year.”

7. Ask for Keepsakes

This may touch the hearts of older family members especially. Here’s one more trick for how to politely request no Christmas gifts this year:

“We recently went through our closets to find unused items to donate to charity, and the experience gave us an idea for Christmas this year that we were hoping you could help with! While we were sorting through everything, the kids found a few of our old mementos from our childhood, like a school paper I wrote and some old photos of us as kids. And finding those keepsakes made their day! Their faces just lit up.

So we were hoping that instead of a store-bought gift this year, you could share a keepsake with us and the kids. I’m sure we all have things sitting in our closets or attics that wouldn’t see the light of day for many, many years otherwise! You could take a photo of the keepsake, or feel free to send the actual object. If you could include a short note to give the background story, that would be really fun too. These could be mementos from your childhood or from other family members’ pasts.

We’re hoping to give the kids a family treasury of keepsakes so we can pass along the oral history of our family, and even if you just send a short note with a written story, I know the kids would be absolutely delighted! Thank you for helping us make this family history project come to life.”

Printable Holiday Planner Download now: More Joy, Less Stress: 2017 Holiday Planner Your Turn

What’s the best way you’ve found to politely request no Christmas gifts this year? Share in a comment below!

This is the best way to politely request no Christmas gifts this year 

I’m a mom of four, a recovering perfectionist, and the author of Happy You, Happy Family. Parenting is hard enough without all the guilt we heap on top of ourselves. So let’s stop trying to be perfect parents and just be real ones.

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