Feighan: Saying no to traditional gifts this holiday season

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News
Holiday gift giving isn't for everyone.

It’s called the most wonderful time of year but the holidays can evoke another reaction for those caught in the gift-giving hamster wheel: anxiety.

The quest to find the right gift for loved ones and friends makes my pulse race and palms sweat. Like Captain Ahab searching for the white whale, I scour websites, stores and catalogs for the elusive “perfect” gift. I make lists for all the folks that should get gifts. Last year, including my kids’ teachers, therapists and babysitters, I bought gifts for at least 25 people.

The entire process feels about as exciting as a dentist appointment. If holiday shopping were a race, I’d drop out.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I adore spending time with loved ones during the holidays, especially relatives and friends I don’t see very often. I love sipping a holiday cocktail and listening to Otis Redding’s “White Christmas.” And I love the look of joy on my kids’ faces when they tear into the wrapping paper to find the Lego set or toy they’ve always wanted.

But by the time New Year’s Day rolls around every year, I feel worn out – and relieved. And I ask myself the same thing: there has to be another way. What if I just opted out of gift giving?

I wouldn’t be alone. Audra Erby-Leake, a longtime colleague of mine at The Detroit News, dropped out of the traditional gift-giving routine about five years ago. Instead, she wanted to spend time with loved ones.

“I decided a new sweater, bottle of cologne or tool kit wouldn’t benefit my family as much as time spent together,” said Audra, a mom to four who lives in Southfield. “My rationale was styles and preferences change.”

She announced her new approach in an email to loved ones in January one year. She told them she wouldn’t buy birthday or Christmas gifts anymore.

“Instead, we could spend quality time together, lunch and conversation, enjoying a movie together,” she remembers telling relatives in her email.

Not everyone agreed with her new approach. Some called her cheap.

“I was even questioned about my closeness to a relative for not buying them a gift. To which, I responded, ‘We will still be close whether I buy them a gift or not,’” she remembers.

I’m not sure my kids would go for a no gift-giving approach – Audra gives her kids, who range in age from 14 to 23, money to save or spend how they’d like – but it certainly wouldn’t be a bad idea for adults. One part of my family exchanges names among the adults and kids so we don’t have to buy for everyone. But another side still buys for everyone, including grown children.

Some friends say instead of buying gifts, the entire family picks a play or show to experience together. Others say they make handmade gifts for loved ones such as body scrubs or food gifts.

A former colleague, Ebony Reed, invests money in her nieces’ college savings accounts for the holidays.

This year, I’ve bought a few “experience” type gifts for loved ones but I’m going the old-fashioned route with everyone else. Meanwhile, I keep thinking about Audra’s approach.

As the rest of world clamors to find just the right something at the right price, she’s feeling pretty peaceful.

“These days my holidays are as they should be – stress free,” she said.