When I see those “Gifts for the hard-to-please” guides this is what I do…

Posted on November 30th, 2015

These articles are popping up in my feed with increasing ferocity right now. For the “hard to please”. For “the person who has everything”.  You, too?

Image via keepcalm-havecoffee.tumblr.com

Image via keepcalm-havecoffee.tumblr.com

Sometimes I look at their list of gift solutions. It’s all Shit No One Wants. Shit That Takes Up Room in Miscellaneous Kitchen Drawers and Precious Resources On The Planet. Like gold-plated business card clips. And, sorry to target Goop, but, seriously…a Nymphenburg trio of porcelain wine bottle stoppers?! For $1900?

I have an antidote. A better solution. A better guide. If someone is “hard to please” it generally means they don’t want/need stuff. So don’t buy it.

I put out this notice explicitly to those around me. I’ve told most of my loved ones, don’t buy me anything. I now get sent “virtual flowers” (pictures of flowers).

For my 40th birthday my brothers and sister put together a calendar of experiences (kayaking, surfing, hiking, eating).  For Christmas my entire “hard to please” family have agreed not to buy presents for each other. We pitch in for a house down the coast instead. And hang out and wrestle and bicker together for a week.

I’ve also clearly advised on my sites, “Press agents, please don’t send me stuff”. Please don’t waste the resources, the postage.

You know, sometimes I do despair. Why do we get things so wrong and complicated? Why don’t we put an end to this madness?

Does consumerism annoy you as well? Tell me about your take on this in the comments beloew!

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  • Kirsty

    My MIL told me yesterday she was going to do all Christmas shopping this week so we needed to get our “lists” in. I told her to donate whatever she would normally spend on me to the bush fire fund after the devastating fires here in SA last week. My experience is that people have trouble not buying stuff at these commercialised/socially expected times, so I opt for donations instead.

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    Tia Reply:

    Such a great idea!

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    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    nice!!!

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    Liz Reply:

    I would LOVE to tell my MIL this but unfortunately she could shop for America and doesn’t really get it. We’ve tried asking for gift vouchers and cards to things we really want (coffee shop, yoga studio, golf course etc), but she is in favor stuff and I feel bad b/c most of it ends up either being thrown away, recycled, or donated to charity. But she’s not going to change so we just smile and accept 🙂

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  • ShayneTilley

    When our short time here is done Sarah I bet it’s the weeks down the coast you remember with the most fondness not the most valuable trinket you received.

    Treasure relationships, treasure your ability and willingness to help someone you don’t even know and will never receivethanks from.

    Treasure your experiences in happiness and sadness.

    Treasure your ability to stand up to people who use power to deceive and build more power.

    Life’s to short to collect widgets.

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    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    hey, there you are!!!! deep thoughts ST!

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    ShayneTilley Reply:

    Few and far between, but I have my moments 🙂

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  • Miss K

    ‘Oxfam Unwrapped gifts’ are perfect way to give without buying anything, the money is spent helping others who need it such as a chicken or clean water. The person you’re buying the gift for will receives a note explaining how their gift is helping others.

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    Your Local Markets Reply:

    Yes! World Vision also have a similar range of “gifts” you can buy at different price points.

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  • Davina

    Same here. Can’t stand buying stuff just for the sake of it. What I’ve done for the past few years is offer close friends & family my service. For those with children, I will offer to babysit or take the kids for a night so the parents can have a break. My grandmother gets all her windows washed, my nephews get a day at the beach and mum usually asks for a few hours of weeding.

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    Tyler Brown Reply:

    That is such a great idea. So good that you go through with it too, rather than just offer and never deliver 🙂

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    San Reply:

    How are you making sure the recipients of these gifts also get their day at the beach etc.? I like the idea, but I hardly ever witnessed these vouchers being used.

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  • Gab

    I really despair at this too. I feel like the black sheep in my family. Every year we do kk and every year for the last few years I have suggested we skip it and I’ve been met with howls of protest. And so I reluctantly participate every year. I always buy experiences like spa vouchers or short course vouchers for my kk and I only ask for ‘experience’ presents too but I feel like I’m being dragged kicking and screaming into participating. I’m so over it. Do you have any suggestions on how to handle my very materialistic family at this time of year?

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  • Tyler Brown

    I’m hoping to match last Christmas of it being the first in my life (42 years) of not buying one present! I have a medium size family, one husband and no kids and my God it was fantastic! I’m agnostic too, so it made absolutely no sense to me to even be doing it.

    Watching workmates rushing out at lunchtime hot day after hot day buying crap that no one wants or needs and wasting days and days doing it… no thanks. I do not need one more place mat, platter or pie bird 🙂 Family met up for lunches, etc. instead. It took me many years convincing my mum that this was going to be liberating, and now she’s embracing it too.

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  • MJM

    I celebrated my 40th birthday a week ago. In the months leading up to it my husband was stressing that he couldn’t think of an appropriate gift for me. I repeatedly told him that I had nothing on my ‘want’ list and I didn’t require a present. The big day arrived and there was no present and I was only filled with a sense of relief that I didn’t have to live with an unwanted gift. My sister-in-law was gobsmacked and nearly cried when she asked my what I got for my birthday and I told her nothing. I assured her that I felt that I had everything in life that I wanted and there was nothing I could get that would increase my sense of wellbeing. The longer I live with this philosophy the more I am convinced that wanting less is a better blessing than having more.

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    Your Local Markets Reply:

    Being happy and having everything you want in life is truly the best gift!! <3

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  • dg

    Bravo! Spending money you don’t have, ‘exchanging’ it for stuff you don’t need and turning the whole affair into a form of etiquette / ‘keeping up appearances’ is such BS.

    Isn’t the idea of gifts giving, rather than letting a third party profit from shifting lots of pointless / stupid stuff?

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  • Sandra

    Sarah, you say that you request press agents not to send you stuff. Do you not send stuff to such people yourself when you launch a new product?? I saw on your Instagram photos you had sent a copy of your book to Quentin Bryce & Malcolm Turnbull (who knows how many others). Did they ask for a copy? Maybe the rules apply both way…..don’t send people stuff if you don’t want it in return. Lead by example.

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    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    interesting question – yes, I target what I send out where ppl have indicated to me direct or via other routes that they are interested. I’d met Quentin the week before I sent the book, at a function. I learned she doesn’t eat sugar.

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  • Kazzy

    Does anyone have any ideas of what we can do as a family for Christmas that is not all about getting more junk or eating more junk? Do I just call up an old folks home and see if they want visitors? What? I know there are lonely folks out there, kids who mighty appreciate presents more than ours.. How do I go about doing something more community- orientated and giving that’s not just putting a present under the tree at Kmart? My children are 11,9,3 and 9mths. Ideas welcome.

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    Dee Reply:

    Many charities put together Christmas hampers and always need people to deliver them. Try Vinnies, the Salvos etc

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    Your Local Markets Reply:

    Soup kitchens and shelters for the homeless often take volunteers on Christmas Day. Good luck!

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    Lisa Reply:

    Hi Kazzy. We are a big family and none of us need anything. Happy to buy gifts for kids but us oldies ddon’t need anything. My siblings and I , through the Smith Family, sponsor a child to go to school. Depending on how much you want to spend you can do either primary or secondary. You receive a letter from your child telling you about their family and thanking you. It’sgreat to show our children that even going to school is something that not everyone can afford

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  • Brooke J

    normally our family does secret santa style gift giving for xmas except this year i made a suggestion for a new tradition to get into the spirit of this time of year and reduce the collection of “stuff”
    instead of buying presents for one another we are gathering for lunch and bring a favourite food/drink to share to enjoy with each others company – i am also aiming for waste free and simplicious christmas to be embraced by the family

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  • Emily

    I’m the same! Each birthday or Christmas I try as respectfully as I can ask my mother to please not buy me anything. It’s always something impractical, and I end up just having to sell it on eBay or donate it. That sounds horrible but for the longest time I have hated clutter and feeling bogged down with ‘stuff.’ I once related these feelings so a psychologist I was seeing (in the context of a broader discussion) and she inferred that they were reflective of personal issues. lol. Thanks Sarah for showing me (in more ways than one) that I’m not crazy!

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  • Seabird

    I get crazy that my school requests my daughter to buy Kris Kringle presents. What is that about? Yet another imported idea from guess where that is all about buying cheap stuff for a 2-second fix. And if we don’t participate, my daughter will be ostracised and I will be the worst parent in the suburb.

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  • Ange

    My family haven’t done gifts for a couple of years now- instead we contribute to Xmas day by being incharge of a dish and just hang out for the day/night. Hubby and I don’t do gifts for each other either, but instead go out for a lovely meal or purchase something together that we need, such as pest inspection for the house! Doesn’t sound romantic, but we are so over the “stuff” that just waking up Xmas day, next to him, sleeping in and making a mondo breakfast together is the best gift I could ask for!

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  • Amanda Gabrielle

    My 8yo son is devastated learning about deforestation to grow palm oil plantations so we have bought him a donation to that project run by Stand For Trees and I reckon his brother might ‘get’ a goat 🙂

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  • Lana

    Ah, this speaks volumes to me. In so many ways more than I could list here. If only we could kick those ridiculous gift guides to the curb and be done with the selfish materialism ‘bubble’ that goes with Christmas (heck, it’s all year ’round!)

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  • Lisa Cox

    I couldn’t agree more! Every Christmas morning I go back to one of my old hospital wards (10th year this year) and see all the patients with nobody to spend Christmas with (before I see my family who I am grateful for). TIME is more precious than stuff! And don’t even get me started on all the food wastage on that day.. grrr!!!!

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  • Dayna Howard

    Hi Sarah,

    Thank you so much for writing this and I couldn’t agree more. I actually run my own business as a professional organiser and help people declutter their homes and lives. I see the consumerism trap every day in my clients homes and it’s making people miserable.

    I am a big believer in buying experiences and memories and try to educate people about not falling in to the buying stuff for the sake of buying stuff cycle.

    Thanks so much for spreading the word. The more people that can live their version of a minimalist life, the happier our little planet will be.

    Dayna 🙂

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  • gwen

    Yes, all this buying of stuff drives me loopy! I’m halfway through gumtree-ing my life, and it’s freeing to not be ruled by possessions.The “gift” I personally want from my loved ones – their TIME. Quality time just be together, reconnect, gossip, squabble – now, $$$ can’t buy that!

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  • MBee

    I do something similar to the poster below. I give my sister and brother-in-law babysitting ‘vouchers’ together with dinner or a movie on me at one of their locals. And my godchildren get first editions of children’s books at the British Library that I “adopt” on their behalf. The money goes towards the books’ continued upkeep and restoration…stuff like this actually requires more thought and research (I think). If I wouldn’t buy something for myself, I don’t want other people buying it for me either.

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  • Liz

    My husband and I don’t do gifts for birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries etc. (though having said that, I did just buy him a nice watch, but it was his 40th and I knew how much he would appreciate it). We either go to dinner somewhere nice, or put the money towards travel. Now we have a baby girl, the stuff part is going to get a little tougher, but hoping to be able to encourage her to value experiences and not things and maybe even share some of them along the way with people who really need a hand. I’ve done the same with other family and friends. Either a nice bunch of flowers that can be appreciated, restaurant gift cards etc Love some of the suggestions in this conversation!

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  • Tracy

    I am 100% with you. My family and I don’t celebrate Christmas in the commercial sense but choose to celebrate together with food and company. We all have everything we need and probably even then have too much ‘stuff’. The only gifts I buy are experiences to share. I feel like such a scrooge as I hate Kris Kringle for work christmas where people will go out of their way and pay money for a kitsch gift that people laugh at for five seconds. It’s so wasteful!

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  • San

    This is so true. I try to find presents that do not end up ‘standing around’, for example cheese, a nice candle, an e-book, concert tickets or so. What I really appreciate is a card (electronic is fine) with some personal words. I like writing something for others, too, and although it is not easy, I think it is often appreciated.

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  • It is fortunate the Christmas gift guides in my blog feed are labelled as such and may be easily avoided. Along with their affiliate links!

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  • Pingback: Sarah’s guide to Christmas: the sugar-free, sustainable way()

  • JK

    I’m working as a high school teacher in Germany, and this year, we’ve started a project at our school called “Christmas in a shoebox”: the students have prepared shoeboxes full of smaller gifts for the children staying in a refugee camp near our school. Each box is labelled for a certain age group – no big gifts, also useful things, and only food that is halal (so many sweets are excluded). We also had a big Christmas bazaar to collect money and other things for the camp – and we were careful to ask beforehand as to what is actually needed… From what I’ve witnessed at the camp, these children don’t have much more than the bare necessities (if that), so giving them a ball they can play with can work wonders…
    I don’t think we need to ignore Christmas – I think what many people like most about it is in fact the feeling of giving, of creating joy in others, of this idea of being together with your loved ones in harmony (ha, how many families are fighting over Christmas?!). Of course, these things shouldn’t be limited to one day of the year, and there are so many better ways to go about this than blind consumerism and lights blinking in every color… But the kids in my class (age 12 and usually very much trying to be cool) are so proud of their boxes… And I am looking forward to Christmas!

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  • Courtney Dennis

    Thank you!!
    Seriously who needs anything these days? The most important things – like family and health – aren’t buyable. Just love your family this Christmas.

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