12 Ways To Be More Intentional and Minimal About Gift-Giving

Christmas is my favorite time of the year. It’s the only time of the year when I can tolerate snow and cold, and I feel festive for a solid month. I want to spend my time with my friends and family, decorating the tree, going to ugly sweater parties, driving around to see the lights, exchanging cookies, or watching Christmas movies. I love slowing down a bit and savoring the time and the memories. To me, Christmas day isn’t the best part–I think it’s the whole season leading up to it!

However, holidays also mean another thing besides spending time with friends and family: giving everyone gifts. Sometimes it feels like the holidays just revolve around gifts, gifts, and more gifts, overshadowing the other joyful parts of Christmas. Gift-giving madness makes the holidays feel material, mass-produced, stressful, and maybe a bit off-putting.

I was chatting with fellow Iowa City Moms Blog contributor Nikki about how Christmas doesn’t have to feel this way. Presents don’t have to take over Christmas, because we realized that you can either be more intentional about your gift-giving or minimize it altogether. Our ideas below may help you find ways to control the gift giving madness if you also feel like it’s taking over your holiday season!


Ways to be More Intentional with Gift-Giving*

(*Brigette’s Ideas)

I get turned off by the material aspect of Christmas, but I’m someone that has always loved going Christmas shopping, spending time wrapping presents, and giving gifts to family and friends. But over the last few years I decided to be more intentional about it and spend my energies somewhere outside of the chain stores at the mall:

Consider experience gifts over physical gifts.

Last year my daughter got a membership to the Iowa Children’s Museum from her grandparents, which she’s been able to enjoy all year long. You can also consider giving tickets to a show or a gift certificate to a couple’s favorite restaurant (along with an offer of free babysitting!). Untraditional gift ideas are sometimes the most memorable!

Donate on behalf of someone to a charity they are really passionate about. This is a good idea for someone that’s very clear about not wanting gifts. You can wrap up the donation receipt as a present or stocking stuffer.

Plan ahead

Gather gifts as you go throughout the year. If something catches your eye a few months before the holiday, buy it then. This makes your gifts more intentional instead of something you bought in a panic last minute at Target. Gifts are also something to keep an eye out for while you’re on vacation, because you can give really unique items.  

Gather up a few friends for a local small business shopping day in Iowa City and make an afternoon of it. There are some great stores to check out for gifts, like White Rabbit , AKAR , Moss , OM Gifts for Body and Soul , Silver Spider , and Ten Thousand Villages. (Check out more of our favorite local stores!) You can also time your shopping extravaganza with the Holiday Retail Open House on December 2. 

Craft Fairs

Shop at a craft fair of local artists and snag some handmade gifts. There were some great craft fairs in November but still plenty throughout December:

Online Markets

If you can’t make it to a craft fair, check out an online marketplace like Society B  (run by one of my lovely coworkers, Lindsay), The Little Market, AHAlife, Uncommon Goods, or Ten Thousand Villages. You’ll end up supporting an artisan, purchasing fair trade goods, or supporting businesses that invest in charitable causes.

Double Up

Do a “one for one” for Toys for Tots: Buy a gift for your kid in the store and buy a second version to drop off in a Toys for Tots bin.

Team Up

Get a few people together to go in on a big gift for someone. Sometimes you come up with the perfect gift idea for someone, but you can’t afford it on your own. Find a few people that also think it’s a great idea and divide up the cost instead of coming up with the idea but gifting miscellaneous junk instead.

Give to the Givers

Give a gift out of the kindness of your heart instead of an obligation because you are exchanging a gift. You can give a gift to someone like your mail carrier, garbage collector, or even your favorite barista or server at your regular spot.

Ways to Minimize Gift-Giving*

(*Nikki’s ideas)

There are also great ways to focus on making Christmas less material but still equally merry. This way, you can truly enjoy the spirit of the holiday season and teach your children the other reasons for Christmas beyond presents:

The 3 Gift Rule

Give three gifts that represent what the Wise Men gave to Jesus: something highly desired (gold), something for the mind or spirit (frankincense), and something for the body (myrrh). 

The 4 Gift Rule

Participate in the Four Gift Rule, where each child gets “something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read.” Some other articles and posts about this concept can be found here, here, and here.

Take a Vacation

Instead of giving gifts, go on a family vacation over Christmas and make memories together instead of piling your house with more stuff.

Create an Advent Calendar of traditions

The holidays spark memories of family traditions and not presents. Go on a Candy Cane Hunt throughout the house, have a Polar Express Movie Night, make your own nativity scene using toilet paper rolls, go sledding, look at Christmas lights, make Christmas cookies, and so much more!

My days as a greedy kid at Christmas hoping to get as much stuff as possible are now over. In my adult attempt to focus on enjoying the holiday spirit with my family, I’ve had the same realization as our dear green friend, the Grinch:

“What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more!”

Do you have ideas about tackling the monster of gift-giving during the holiday season?


Brigette lives in North Liberty with her husband Brian, energetic daughter Kate (October 2014) and their two cats, Penny and Olive. Originally from the Chicago suburbs, Brigette came to Iowa City to attend the journalism school at the University of Iowa, fell in love with the area, and decided she couldn’t leave. After meeting Brian while working at the same Iowa City restaurant in college, they got married in August 2015 in the heart of downtown. She works full time in project management and as an employee of the Core Fitness Kids Club while finishing her MBA at Upper Iowa University. In her free time, she drags Kate out garage sale-ing, tries to keep up with her reading list and runs, lives for Hawkeye football season, enjoys a good meal on a patio, runs her Bachelor/Bachelorette bracket with her family and friends, and of course, chases her daughter around the pool and the park.


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