Here’s How to Tell People You Don’t Want Any Gifts This Year, According to an Etiquette Expert

published Dec 7, 2021
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Whether you’re on a decluttering journey, or frankly don’t need anything new this holiday season, it’s possible that the idea of adding even one more item to your household stresses you out. After all, you may have all the cooking utensils you need for a while, you definitely don’t need another scarf, and you’re all set on the Dyson Airwrap since you already bought one yourself after holding out for months. (OK, maybe that last one was just me.) 

Whatever your reasoning to skip the gifts this year may be, that conversation may feel a little awkward to have with loved ones. For example, they may take your request to not receive gifts as a slight against their shopping choices in the past. Or maybe it’s a parent or grandparent who truly finds enormous fulfillment in finding you just the right thing. 

This, of course, begs the question: How do you set that boundary with friends and family without hurting anyone’s feelings? Do you bring it up first? How soon should you do so? No sweat — here’s how to tell your friends and family you don’t want any gifts this year, according to an etiquette expert.

Bring it up first (and as soon as possible).

Elaine Swann, an etiquette and lifestyle expert and the founder of the Swann School of Protocol, advises that the very moment you decide you do not want to receive gifts, you need to tell your loved ones and give them a heads up. Be sure to bring up the conversation first, rather than wait for them to ask you what you want for the holidays this year, or when they offer you the present and things get awkward.

Be honest and direct.

“Be honest and be very clear with your request. You can do it in writing, if you wish, for example in the family group text chain. The key is when you share this information is to make sure that everyone understands that it is a wish you have this year and you’re not doing it in a manner to make people feel bad,” directs Swann. 

Swann recommends saying any of the following phrases to help keep things respectful (and not personal): “‘This year, I have everything I need,’ or ‘I’m not accepting gifts this year, I just really want to celebrate your presence,’” are two great ways to keep things clear, direct, and succinct. “This way, people aren’t taking it personally,” she explains.

Skip the high horse.

Remember, your decision to not receive gifts is your own. And while it may be the right call for you, it may not be aligned with others’ wants or values. With that said, make sure to avoid being self-righteous about your choice to not receive gifts.

“Don’t get really preachy about it and start talking about how there’s wastefulness in the world and that there are people starving in other countries and things like that,” Swann notes. These are all good aims to have, but they can ultimately belabor the point and alienate loved ones who weren’t thinking about anything but delighting you with a gift.

If they got you a gift anyway….

If someone did some shopping before you decided you didn’t want any presents this holiday season — or they insisted on buying you a present anyway — it’s still good form to accept the gift politely. 

“Accept the gift graciously and leave it at that,” advises Swann. “Gift-giving is really about the joy of the giver. People in many instances really enjoy looking and shopping and selecting. We certainly don’t want to chastise people and make them feel bad about their choice to still give gifts this year.”