What to Get for a Person Who Wants Nothing for Christmas

When I was a kid, I wanted things for Christmas: A Teddy Ruxpin bear, Super Mario Brothers 3 (which was released in Oct. 1988 for the Nintendo system), a Super Soaker, a game called Crossfire, and a board game called Domino Rally. I got half of the things I wanted.

As an adult, when people ask me what I want for Christmas, I say: “Nothing.” And I mean it! I’m pretty content with the things I already have. My family, of course, finds this pretty annoying. What do you mean you want nothing? You must want something! And because they are lovely people who don’t want to see me empty-handed on Christmas day while everyone else is opening gifts, they usually find something to give me. I recall: a nice jacket, that wasn’t quite my style, which hung in my closet unworn until I donated it to Goodwill; various giftcards that sit in a drawer, mostly unused and forgotten; DVDs. Sometimes I’ll get a donation made in my name somewhere, which is actually very nice. Or food—there has never been a cookie I have shunned.

But the best thing to get for a person who wants nothing for Christmas is: nothing. Just don’t wrap an empty box and give it as a gift—it’s a little sad to open something with nothing in it.

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38 Comments / Post A Comment

MuffyStJohn (#280)

Sell the unused gift cards on eBay or Craigslist, Mike Dang!

@MuffyStJohn Yeah I don’t know where this stereotype that people don’t use gift cards comes from. WHY would you not use that gift card? Even if it’s a store you don’t like surely you can get a scarf or some socks or something.

Mike Dang (#2)

@MuffyStJohn I should probably dig those out. I actually just learned this minute that you can donate the unused balances to schools, so I’ll probably do that.

MuffyStJohn (#280)

Semi-related: every year when we ask what my mother wants for Christmas, she says a portrait of all 3 of us kids together. This is worse than saying she wants nothing, and it’s been going on for 8-10 years now. We all live in different cities and my little brother is kind of a flake (ok, he’s a super flake), so this never seems to happen. I’m sure that eventually when we DO make the mythical family portrait appear she will die of shock.

sintaxis (#2,363)

@MuffyStJohn My mom has been saying the same, and this year all three kids are finally going to be together so I actually organized it! The photo session is on the 26th though, so she’s getting a wrapped empty frame in the mean time.

kellyography (#250)

@MuffyStJohn Photoshop! Once the nice portrait is put together, you can also make a collage of you guys surfing with Santa!

TARDIStime (#1,633)

@kellyography AAAAH! I got here too late to say the same thing!

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

And now, the blackest present for the most brutal of all bass players… NOTHING.
One year I asked for bus tokens and socks. Nothing else. I got a whole bunch of stuff but no tokens or socks. Why does that happen?

Ellie (#62)

@josefinastrummer That’s so irritating! How frustrating to ask for something low key and super useful and blatantly not get it. Socks is a big present in our family. I really appreciate socks and have about four pairs that I regularly wear, but by this point I find them such a boring gift that it seems like a thoughtless present. Yes, we all like and use socks, but come on.

MuffyStJohn (#280)

@Ellie I always ask my mom for socks for Christmas. But I’m a snob and I only wear SmartWools (ONCE YOU GO SW YOU NEVER GO BACK), and they’re like $20/pair, and I can’t afford them unless they’re being subsidized by family.

That said, if there are no socks under the tree for me this year, I will go ape.

@MuffyStJohn My girlfriend usually gets me socks, underwear, and/or undershirts (because she’s a poor grad student) and I’m actually really looking forward to it this year!

Also I really want to buy some wool socks but I’m terrified I’ll never be able to go back and I’ll end up in indentured sockitude or something.

E$ (#1,636)

@MuffyStJohn I love those Smartwool socks and they last practically forever.

Ellie (#62)

@MuffyStJohn I have and love smartwool socks too! I have one or two pairs, sometimes they live in my parents’ house and are worn by them, and sometimes I steal them (I usually do laundry at my parents’ house, so it gets a bit confused). But given that they DO last forever, it’s not something you need to get or give every year.

I usually ask for useful stuff like razor blades and aftershave and face wash stuff which is pricey enough to appreciate as a gift, but will be used to the last drop, and one or two “special” things (this year it was long underwear to replace my well-worn pair with holes in them, and the book of my favorite Russian cartoon).

Quinn A@twitter (#1,008)

If you like the donations and the cookies, why not encourage people to give you those things rather than telling them you don’t want anything? It makes it easier for them, and then you don’t end up wasting gift cards or making Goodwill runs. The donation idea is especially lovely, since technically you would get the nothing you desire, but also get to help someone who does need or want something.

I tell people to make donations in my name all the time, and let them know which charities I support (because I’d rather they not accidentally or purposely donate to organizations that I know are not LGBT-friendly in my name). And last year, I got my girlfriend an intangible goat and it was her favourite present.

Mike Dang (#2)

@Quinn A@twitter Those are usually given by close friends, which is super sweet and great when exchanging gifts with them. My family usually asks for money for Christmas, because it’s practical, and well, because they need it, so it’s strange for me to ask them to spend money on me, and also because I am content with what I have and really don’t want anything. There was actually a year where I didn’t get anything, and everything was great and fine, and I’m hoping that will happen again this year.

Quinn A@twitter (#1,008)

@Mike Dang Ah, that makes sense, then! Carry on as if you’re normal. ;)

guenna77 (#856)

god yes, thank you! i love my parents and they are so generous and loving… but HONESTLY, i do not need a new blu-ray, i do not need a scarf. i have no real desire to accumulate this ‘stuff’ in general. maybe there’s one physical thing every year that i might really want, the gift is being an adult who can afford my own things because of the lessons they taught me! my fiance and i decided that we’re making a declaration for next year. no presents at all, either way.

Panamanda (#2,713)

I have nothing to really contribute to the conversation except thank you. Thank you thank you thank you. Too many people in my life don’t seem to understand that when I say “nothing” I mean “nothing.”

Slutface (#53)

I don’t ever want anything either, but I know I’m going to be asked and feel like I sound pretentious if I’m all “Oh nothing, I mean it, blah blah blah” so I just ask for toilet paper, razors, deoderant, cat litter, paper towels, soap, nail polish remover, anti-bacterial wipes, cat food….things I always run out of and hate stopping at the store to buy.

ciphressinchief (#1,880)

@Slutface Agree! My Christmas list is just an assortment of things that I would have to buy myself anyway. See: bike helmet, raincoat, etc.

selenana (#673)

@Slutface Off to put nail polish remover and cat litter on my Xmas list. I’m a stuff-hater too. I can never think of what to ask for.

You’re right – it’s so easy as a kid because a) you want all these things that your friends have or you see on television between cartoons and b) you have no idea how much these things cost relative to your parents’ income. Everything I want now is way too expensive to ask for as a gift (otherwise I’d probably already have it). So to me, one of the nicest gifts I can receive is a gift card to some place I already spend a lot of my money – the grocery store, Target, etc. Because that frees up my money to be able to do something I couldn’t otherwise afford, even if it’s just extra money in my savings account.

TheDilettantista (#1,255)

@swampette@twitter This is all so true! My parents are VERY generous (too generous really) but my mother has finally started listening to my pleas to stop getting me needless things. This year what I wanted/needed for Chanukah was a new linens set and a purse I’d been eyeing for months, and I got both, and I was SUPER HAPPY about it. She’s also started turning her gifts toward more house-necessity things; I’ll have nothing left to register for if I get married, but at least these are useful things like pots and pans and serving dishes that I am able to see and touch and use with frequent occasion, and when I do so I think of how nice it was for my parents to get them for me! But in reality Target and Bed Bath and Beyond gift cards are the BEST, because you will always need things from Target or Bed Bath and Beyond (shampoo! shower curtains! cleaning supplies!) and it is nice to not have to spend your own money on these things.

strunkandfunk (#2,182)

The same way that one gets satisfaction from donating time or money to a charity, so does a person who gives a gift to someone else. If someone is asking you “what you want” for the holidays, or your birthday, or whenever, I see it as a signal that they want to show that they care about you, and they want to feel good about treating you to something. It doesn’t have to be “stuff,” but it is worth considering that telling that person that you’d love to go for a hike/to a museum/ice-skating with them, or receive some of their homemade cookies or a home-cooked meal, or have a small donation made in your name to X, is a way for that person to feel generous, valued, and loving. Those are great things to feel.

sintaxis (#2,363)

@strunkandfunk Yeah, I was going to say that saying “nothing” while it may be true, is actually saying that you don’t want to participate in a tradition of gift giving. Gift giving is an important social signal of how much you care about a person, how much time and effort you invest in the relationship, and how well you know a person. By saying “Nothing” you are really just blocking that important social exchange! That’s why saying a donation to X charity, some homemade food, or some other thing that still allows for the act of giving and receiving is so important. It’s not just about “stuff”.

sunflowernut (#1,638)

@sintaxis Exactly! Gift giving is 50% about the feelings of the gift giver and 50% about the feelings of the gift receiver. It’s one thing if your family or friends tend to go over the top with it, but most people just want to be able to show that they love you/were thinking about you in the socially acceptable way of the season. And I don’t see how it’s that hard to come up with things you don’t really want enough to buy yourself but might make your life more enjoyable.

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

@strunkandfunk But why can’t people choose to opt out of this “tradition” and that decision be respected? I am a big fan of taking people out to eat for their birthdays or making plans to do something fun. But a lot of people do not see that as a “gift” and feel like there needs to a physical exchange. And some people do not want anything, and that needs to be respected, because for the majority of Americans, it is just about “stuff”.

strunkandfunk (#2,182)

@josefinastrummer Absolutely, many people don’t want to bring more stuff into their lives; that’s why I think that kindly saying that you would like to share an experience is a way to respect the other person while keeping true to your own values. There’s also a distinction here between this question being posed to you by people you care for and care for you, and participating in a pressure-filled environment to give and receive presents to and from everybody in your life like all coworkers, all peers, etc.

I would also challenge the idea that for the majority of Americans it’s just about stuff, or that somehow gift-giving is a dubious “tradition.” Sintaxis makes that great point that it’s an important social exchange. Giving and receiving treats/luxuries/kindnesses doesn’t seem like it’s just an invention of modern consumer culture.

Yes, the opening of presents at my parents house at christmas remains kind of a big deal in my family, and I guess likely will until either a grandchild becomes a thing or my parents no longer live in their home or something. I like both giving and recieving consumables: cookies, snacks, something you’ll use. It’s nice to carry on the tradition without loading on more stuff stuff stuff

Tatiana (#194)

The last 3 years my Christmas wish list has become really practical and straightforward. I’ve started the tradition of emailing my entire family to let them know exactly what I want so 1.) they don’t have to waste their time trying to figure out what I’d like and 2.) I get what I actually need. Last year it was two things: a french press and a crock pot. This year it was one thing: a waffle iron (which I already received from my sister!). I’m grateful to receive anything and appreciate the time and effort friends/family take to buy me presents. But yeah, I’ve learned that it’s best to be direct. But good for you Mike for being so easy to shop for! ;)

cryptolect (#1,135)

Probably the best present I got in the last year was my sister taking me to see “Anything Goes” on Broadway for my birthday. (We managed to see it on a day when neither Sutton Foster nor Joel Grey were performing, but it was still wonderful.) I don’t want stuff, I just want my loved ones to take me out to things I wouldn’t otherwise make the effort to go see…

My family just sends each other a short list and we pick off that. We inevitably each buy each other a book (that we specifically ask for), and my mom will get each of us kids a “big” thing (also that we ask for) plus smaller stocking stuffers (again, that we requested).

It’s nice because we can participate in the gift giving ritual, but we know we’re not spending our time or money on something the other person won’t like. My dad will sometimes get us an oddball gift, but that’s because he just doesn’t pay attention sometimes (I asked for noise-reducing headphones, he gets me like, tarmac-worker-style ear protection).

If my parents one day said “Hey kid, you’re old enough, no more presents,” I wouldn’t really argue, but I think we’re all pretty happy with our system.

Every year I say I want a paper shredder, so I can get rid of old bills and junk mail more easily. And every year they all laugh like they think I’m joking! What, do I have to go out and get my OWN $40 paper shredder? Where’s the holiday joy in that!

My dad is a total Mike Dang as far as gift-giving goes, and I’d say the things he’s liked most from me are either Unusual Food Gifts or Surprise Outing gifts. Going to do an activity like ice-skating or hiking or the zoo is fun and stress-free because he doesn’t have to plan anything. He likes adventures and, y’know, Quality Time, so it’s like “I’m thinking of you and enjoy you as a human but I know you do not desire many specific objects”. Food-wise, things like nice chocolates or fancy truffle oil are things he’d never buy himself, he’ll enjoy for a while, and then they get eaten so they don’t become clutter. I totally agree with Mike though that you shouldn’t just get people stuff so you can present them with said stuff. The point is showing that you like them!

TheDilettantista (#1,255)

Also a nice gift for people who don’t want things is an experience-based gift or even a membership to something you enjoy but maybe wouldn’t get for yourself. My boyfriend is all befuddled about things to get me this year (I tried to go no-presents but he was insistent), and I suggested that he get me a membership to one of our local art museums. So that’s feeding my desire to see art and also supporting local culture and non-profits! I gave my parents an experience-based gift this year (gift certificate to a restaurant they eat at lots–not a chain, a nice local place–alas I can’t take them to dinner for the holidays, since they’re in another state) and I know that they will use it and enjoy it, and that it won’t clutter up their house.

ghechr (#596)

@TheDilettantista I agree. I get people that I need to get gifts for but maybe don’t know very well (like an admin assistant) movie theater gift cards. Everyone likes the movies, right?

TheDilettantista (#1,255)

@ghechr Everyone likes the movies!

kellyography (#250)

I love giving and receiving “stuff” as well as donations and consumables. I’m giving a little of each this year, and think it’s going to work out fine. If anyone in my family ever said they didn’t want anything (hasn’t happened yet), I would definitely get them some kind of candy or chocolate and donate to a charity that would mean something to them. My family is super religious so I try not to give to churches and anti-LGBQT organizations (which is what they would generally do), and instead support local food banks or innocuous medical research causes.

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