September 6: Our Gift-Free Year

So I thought for today’s post I would do something a little bit different by sharing something more personal that does not really relate much to my work in Malawi.

Jon and I decided at the beginning of 2014 that we were going to attempt a one year experiment: a year without gifts. We would give no gifts, and accept no gifts in return.

WHY would we do this, is the most common question we get asked. The reason for this experiment is to confront our inclusion of materialistic giving into so many of our traditions. We give/receive gifts for Valentine’s Day, Easter, Mother’s and Father’s Day, birthdays, anniversaries, weddings (and all of their components like showers, engagements ect), and of course the papa of all gift giving holidays Christmas! While some gifts are the more traditional search for something you think a person really wants or perhaps needs, but others seem more for the sake of giving rather than the gift itself such as an exchange between two people of gift cards. The other reason is that Jon and I strive in every aspect of our lives (except maybe for our need for continuous airline travel) to be as environmentally friendly as possible. We eat vegetarian, we make our food, are very careful about reusable packaging, we compost and recycle religiously, and the big one – we are VERY careful about the amount of STUFF we buy – except for gifts. This seemed like an issue we had to address.

I want to make it clear Jon and I greatly appreciate all of the gifts we have received from all our friends and family and were happy to give all of the gifts we gave, but we are wondering, are they all necessary, and do we do too much gift giving? Could we still enjoy all of the gift giving events by simply spending time with those we love? This is what we wanted to see.

This challenge has been harder than we expected for two main reasons:

  1. Friends and family not understanding what we were doing
  2. Dealing with really special events like weddings and anniversaries.

To deal with really special occasions that happen only once in a lifetime like a wedding we agreed from the beginning we would give gifts whereas, Jon and I had more trouble dealing with our own 5th year anniversary which we celebrated this year. We realized that we had to be a lot clearer between us when we bought each other gifts and when we wouldn’t.

We also decided from the beginning that our beloved nephew would not be included in the gift-free year, because we think we have come up with a better solution than no gifts for him! Right from the beginning of his gift-receiving life – his baby shower – we decided we would do something different for him. We opened a special bank account for him and on every occasion we would have given him a gift we instead put an equivalent amount of money into his account. We made him a decorative sign which hangs on his wall with a lovely poem that Jon wrote explaining how we believe the gift of travel is the best we can give him as it will change him in ways he will never expect. On his 18th birthday he will access to that account to begin planning for his trip of a lifetime.

I did think of two small links to being in Malawi – the tradition of bringing home gifts for others from your vacations (or work abroad in this case). I have heard many people with long lists of people to buy for, running around on the last couple of days of their trip to get gifts for people. I appreciate the idea of thinking of the ones we love while we are away, but it still makes me wonder if are we buying gifts for the sake of it? I also noticed last night while hanging out with the family I live with, that while they live in a very nice comfortable home, they have very little ‘stuff’. They do not have candles in every room, paintings, pictures, vases, figurines, ect adorning every surface. I am curious to find out more about gift-giving in Malawi – but I think what I noticed is a big hint to the answer!

As we are heading to the end of the year, I am looking forward to the challenge being over. We know this was an extreme solution to the issues we have raised. I am happy we are doing it though as it has allowed us to begin to question gift expectations with our friends and family. I am hoping through this process we will find a better solution. I am curious to hear what you think and am looking forward to reading your comments.

🙂 Megan


6 responses to “September 6: Our Gift-Free Year

  1. Hey Megan,
    I think that’s a really great idea! Something I think would be difficult is if you got married or on Christmas when people still want show they care by getting you something as well. Steve and I found this cool site (not sure if you’ve heard about it) where you can make a registry for different life events. So instead of just getting random gifts, you can make a list of things you want… but not necessarily physical things. So like people could like teach you how to cook, or offer to house sit your home when you go out of town, or other things that you need but aren’t necessarily possessions (or if they are things – they could be used baby clothes if that’s what you need, and there’s no expectation that it be shiny and new). Thought you might be interested!


  2. I really enjoyed this post Megan! My family over the years has often discussed the act of gift-giving. My Dad for the past few years has asked that his birthday and Christmas ‘gifts’ be donations to charities or non-profits. For Christmas this year, my family is trying a one-person gift exchange in order to limit the amount of smaller (and often useless) gifts people give at that time of year. We will only be giving one gift to one person from our family and that gift will be a larger value gift (i.e. an appliance, a spa week, or money for university or a trip etc.) that the person has specified that they need.


  3. Hi Megan,

    What a great post! Both you and Jon are such generous and loving people, that you’re always gifting the world in the ways that matter.

    My family adopted a home-made-only gift-policy combined with a Secret Santa (only gifting one person) which is a lot of fun. It’s also very sincere and thoughtful, as we have a whole year to think about that person –who they truly are, and what could possibly make them smile. It’s also a great way to learn new skills. Thank you to Amanda for sharing the so kind registry. It looks amazing and I can’t wait to tell everyone 🙂

    Outside of the family pact, I try to make homemade gifts, but it’s tough. Not everyone appreciates the goal —trying to make the world a better place, one non-gift at a time 🙂 Stay strong and have faith…be the change you wish to see.


    • Thanks MaryEllen 🙂 What a cool idea to have the person you will gift a whole year in advance! That would really give a lot of time to think of something special to do/make/buy for them.


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