The holidays can be a challenge for us simple living people. The pressure to buy gifts for an endless list of people is real, and it’s conflict with personal values of trying not to consume “stuff” can be stressful.

But you can make choices to make your holidays simpler. Through some careful planning ahead of time, your holidays can be stress-free and focused on what matters most. Below are my tips on how to create a simple holiday gift shopping season.

Don’t Be a Grinch

Most importantly of all, don’t be a grinch. The holidays are an opportunity to enjoy time with friends and family, as well reflect on the past year. It’s NOT a time to get on your high horse about your simple lifestyle.

It’s important to understand that not everybody shares your values. Don’t judge other people for what they do for the holidays, and hopefully they will do the same to you.

Suggest Simple Gift Exchanges

It’s good to plan ahead of gift giving to set expectations.

My wife has a large family: 14 adults and 5 children in the mix currently. Buying gifts for everybody is expensive and difficult. While in the past we have bought everybody gifts, it’s become less and less feasible as more significant others and children join the family.

To help bring the focus of the holidays back to enjoying each other’s company, and less on gifts, we’ve opted to doing simple gift exchanges.  Here are a just a few ideas you can suggest to your friends/family.

Adults Draw a Name and Kids Get a Gift – We usually suggest that the adults draw a name to buy a single gift for another adult, and anybody can buy a kid a present if they want. It’s fun to have the kids open presents, and us adults don’t leave empty handed.

Kids Only – If you are going to a holiday party where the adults don’t care about gifts, you can always suggest gifts for the kids only. This is a fun way to still includes some presents for the kids, who get the most excited, but save on buying needlessly for adults.

Limit Spend ($20 per person) – In the case where you are buying a gift for everyone at a holiday party, you can try to communicate a limited spend to the group before. This could help limit the financial impact a party can have. But to be honest, this is not one of my favorite options, as it puts an unnecessary dollar value on something that is supposed to be a nice gesture.

No Gifts – My favorite holiday get togethers are the ones where we can just bring ourselves. Having a gift-free holiday party is a great way to focus on your relationships, save some money, and reduce consumption. I usually just offer to bring food or drinks to a holiday party.

Budget and Save

Never buy gifts that you can’t afford. If you can’t pay cash for a gift without it effecting your other financial obligations, then don’t purchase it. Always pay cash, and always plan for gifts in your budget.

My wife and I make a spreadsheet every November that lists everybody that we are going to purchase a gift for. We then estimate how much money we think we are going to spend for each person. Once we have our total, we then go back to our monthly budget and allocate that amount.

Simple Gift Ideas For Adults

Sharing gifts with adult friends and family is a great way to show appreciation for your relationship. No matter how much you spend on somebody, it truly is the thought that counts. I try to focus on simple gifts that are useful or improve somebody’s life.

Restaurant Gift Cards – I know many people say that gift cards are lame, but I really enjoy sharing a favorite restaurant. It’s a great way to support a local business, as well as gift a nice dinner to a friend.

Alcohol – Being somebody that enjoys craft beer, I like to gift mix-and-match six packs. I also have friends that are into other alcohol, like wine, bourbon, or scotch, and they too like to gift their favorite drinks. For non-drinkers, quality coffee and tea are options as well.

Concerts/Trips – If you have a good understanding of a person, gifting an experience like a concert or trip is a fun alternative to a product.  My wife and I have done this often for birthdays and holidays, as we both don’t have many material needs.

Favorite High Utility Items – “Socks for Christmas again!?” As a kid it wasn’t very fun to get gifts like socks, but as an adult, I love getting some nice wool socks as as present. My other favorite items to gift are water bottles (Hydro Flask), cook ware, and comfy blankets.  Do you have favorite items that you like to gift people?

Simple Gift Ideas For Kids

I have two goals when getting gifts for kids: 1) do not burden their parents with more plastic garbage in their home; 2) give the kid something that is meaningful.

Experience – About 30 minutes south of where we live is a very cool cave system. There are guided tours that take you deep into the cave, as well as explain the history of the area. For Christmas two years ago we gifted a trip down to the cave, as well as lunch out with us to our nine year old nephew. We put rock candy and a note in the box for Christmas – he loved it! We’ve done other experience gifts like museum trips, zoos, and laser tag.

Mini Vacation – If you are close with a kid, another fun gift is a mini vacation. We used to spend a weekend with our nieces and nephews from out of town. It was nice break for the parents, and was special for the kids to get our full attention for a weekend.

Favorite Toys – If I’m going to purchase a physical “toy” for a kid, I try to find something similar to a favorite toy from my childhood. This way I can share with them something that brought me joy.

Clothing – Parents love when people gift useful clothes for their kid. The question becomes, does the kid? If you know the kid will get excited with the clothing, or if they are young enough to not care what gift they get, then I think it’s great to gift a useful article of clothing.


The aftermath of holiday gift giving can feel like a hangover for simple living people. Thankfully you budgeted cash for the holiday purchases, so the main stress is what to do with all this “stuff”.

My wife and I do a quick inventory of items that we received as gifts, and then plan to either keep, return, or donate.  We do this right away, so that unwanted items don’t sneak their way into our basement or closet. What’s left are the items or gifts that we are excited to have in our lives.

With some planing, you can take control of the holiday shopping and gift giving season.

Please share your tips or suggestions on how to keep holiday shopping simple below in the comments! 


  1. Ema
    November 10, 2017

    Kids love to feel special, so the experience and mini vacation gift ideas are a great way to extend the Christmas excitement and make sure they know how important they are to you!

  2. sienna Rose
    November 11, 2017

    I love giving pure beeswax candles made by Nuns. The candles are high quality, clean the air, smell subtle and it supports the convent as well.

    • James
      November 13, 2017

      Funny you mention that! I just had a coworker telling me how much she enjoys beeswax candles. Great idea!

  3. Steve
    November 13, 2017

    Post cards are also a nice personal gift.

    A few words in ink from the heart is the remedy for the holidays!

    • James
      November 13, 2017

      Nice thought Steve. I completely agree that it is nice to get a card with pictures from a friend or family member, especially those you don’t physically see over the holidays.


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