Gift-giving is a powerful social gesture that’s as old as mankind. When done right, a great gift reflects your heartfelt appreciation for someone, in a way that says something about the giver too.

Unfortunately, our culture of mass consumption is capitalising on our gift-giving instincts. We have entire industries dedicated to giving thoughtless token gifts to each other - and it can result in a huge amount of waste.

The UK spends around £5 billion on unwanted gifts every year. Not only is this a waste of money and time, it’s a waste of resources, too. Gifts given ‘for the sake of it’ are too often destined for landfill.

Giving gifts can be incredibly stressful - and it can also be deeply rewarding. If you’re finding yourself drained by the gift-giving process, we want to help you take a step back. These eight questions will allow you to interrogate the pressures you’re putting on yourself - and help you find an approach to gift-giving that works for you.

Does that sound like a relief? Read on.

1. Do I actually need to give a gift, or do I feel obliged to?

Before you start looking for a gift, the first question to ask yourself is whether you really want to give a gift at all. Are you gift-giving for the sake of it, because of self-imposed pressure? Is there an unsaid expectation? Or do you actually really want to make the person feel loved and appreciated with a gesture?

Taking the time to consider this ultimately leads to more mindful gifting decisions. If you want to communicate your appreciation for someone, then it’s worth taking the time to find a thoughtful, well-made gift that conveys that. And conversely, why spend your hard-earned money on token ‘just because’ gifts that mean very little?

Piglet in bed linen pyjamas

2. Can I suggest limitations on gift-giving?

Setting gifting rules with groups such as your family, friends or colleagues can help alleviate stress and uncertainty for everyone. At Christmas time, a secret Santa setup means everyone has to buy just one gift for one person. Or you could all agree to buy no Christmas presents at all, and simply enjoy time spent with each other.

For weddings, a gift list or a cash-only rule means the bride and groom can get exactly what they want and need. And for birthdays, you could tell your loved ones not to buy you anything - and to just bring themselves to a party or dinner instead. If any of these appeal to you, don’t feel embarrassed to suggest them. It will make life easier for everyone!

gifts under 50

3. Can I make something instead?

Homemade gifts are a great way to express your appreciation for someone, because they represent time and care spent instead of (or as well as) money. Plan early, and give yourself plenty of time to get materials and make the gifts. From knitting and baking to preserves and infused oils, there are plenty of homemade things you can create - even if you don’t have any particular crafting skills.

Plus, a homemade gift doesn’t have to mean presenting someone with an object. You can give someone an IOU to make them a home-cooked meal of their favourite foods, or plan a simple day out that’s all about the things they like.

4. Can I afford to buy this?

If you’ve got your eye on something really special that’s outside of your budget, it’s easy to overspend in the spirit of gift-giving. However, overspending on gifts can be a slippery slope - especially if you’re shopping for lots of people, or want to push the boat out for the kids. 10% of Europeans go into debt due to their Christmas shopping.

shopping online

Be realistic about your budget. Instead of thinking ‘could I get this without going bankrupt?’, keep a mindset of ‘how much was I planning to spend on gifts this year?’ Due to the bleak economic climate, 70% of people are expecting to reduce their Christmas spending in some form. So if you are reining it in, you’re not alone. 

5. Do I know for certain that this person will like, use and keep this item?

We spend £5 billion on unwanted gifts every year - about £41 per person. When you’re searching for the right gift, you should always be frank with yourself. Even if you’ve found something you think will delight your loved one, do you know that they’ll like it? Or do you know that you like it? 

If you don’t want to ask someone exactly what they want, you could ask for a general area to work from, such as gardening tools, kitchenware or craft supplies. It’s always best to avoid things where taste is a factor, i.e. clothing and accessories - you’re much more likely to miss the mark. Giving an experience is another great way to avoid unwanted gifts.

gift shop

6. Will this gift have a long useful life?

When you’re on the hunt for presents, it can be easy to be seduced by cheap novelty items that we know won’t last. This often happens when we’re looking for stocking fillers or ‘padding out’ gifts, or when we’re simply on a budget. But these throwaway products aren’t just bad gifts - they’re a waste of resources, destined for landfill.

When you buy gifts, you should always consider the entire lifespan of a product, and try to choose things that are made well (our shop is a great place to start). The best gifts are the ones that we carry with us for life. Plus, you don’t have to break the bank to buy something that will last a long time. Still want to add on some cheap ‘padding out’ presents? Opt for consumables, like food.

gifts in stocking

7. What happens if they don’t like it?

Giving a gift someone doesn’t like is awkward, not to mention a waste of money and time. But it’s a common occurrence - in fact, 40% of people lie every year about liking a gift they’ve received. If you suspect your gift might not be 100% guaranteed to go down a storm, make sure you include a gift receipt.

Most stores will be able to provide a gift receipt (where the price isn’t shown until the item is returned) upon request. Then, your recipient will be able to get cash back or a voucher, so that they can spend the money on something they actually want and need. Including the gift receipt means they won’t feel bad about doing so either.


8. Is all of this stressing me out?

The stress that can be caused by the complex social pressures of gift-giving - not to mention the element of money - is pretty much a universal experience. Always remember that the ‘rules’ we set around giving gifts are often self-imposed, and it’s okay to change them up.

If you’re feeling stressed out by gift-giving, allow yourself to take a step back and remind yourself of your priorities. Ultimately, a great gift is an expression of love - and there are more ways to show this than through buying things. 

In a world telling us to shop our way into people’s hearts, taking a more conscious approach to gift giving empowers us to do things the way we want to - not the way we feel we have to.

Visit the Buy Me Once Christmas Shop or take a look at our gift guides below for conscious gifting inspiration:

  • Very Practical Gifts for Very Practical People
  • Long-lasting gifts under £50
  • 11 gifts for the perfect host
  • December 05, 2022 — Jasmine Vorley