Gift giving has changed a lot in our home over the last several years. What was once a stressful, debt-inducing endeavor where I had to get a gift for everyone is now a fun way to give intentionally to those closest to me.

The catalyst for this change was my challenge to give generously with only $5 and in the years following that Christmas, we’ve experimented a lot, including not giving gifts at all (hated that), only giving to our kids (also hated that), only giving our kids cash and making things for everyone else (meh) and other variations.

We took the things we loved and ditched the ones we hated and now feel pretty content with the way we approach giving, not only during the holidays but for giving occasions around the year.

These are the few parameters we have in place that help us remember that giving is an act of love and not just another item to cross off the list.

I encourage you to adopt one or more if giving is a source of stress or you’d just like to change things up a bit.

1. Make when it's possible

When it comes to giving with my family, we only do homemade gifts. What started as an effort to spend less has turned into a fun tradition. It’s really brought out my brothers’ creativity and it gives my mom an excuse to make my husband more cinnamon rolls.

I give almost exclusively handmade gifts in general, with the most popular being gluten-free chocolate chip cookies (these are the BEST, y’all), natural skincare items, or salted caramel sauce.

I put it together in a cute little recyclable box, tie it up with some jute twine, and voila! One or two days of making with help from my kids and we’ve got everyone covered.

2. Remember that presence is a gift

Things are a bit different with my husband’s family. Because we live farther away from them (we’re in the same town as my family and have dinner with them every Sunday), experience trumps stuff when it comes to giving.

Getting together and sharing a meal, each family contributing something to the mix, is much more fulfilling.

The same is true with our closest friends. We’d much rather treat each other to coffee or lunch so we can spend more time together because we value relationships much more than things that will clutter our home.

3. Be thoughtful of the recipient

I’m an INFJ and we are thoughtful to a fault, and will painstakingly obsess over consider the perfect gift for someone for months. Actually, that was a big source of my stress, so I try not to do that anymore …

Thankfully, this guideline is actually quick and looks a little something like this:

  1. Write out the shortlist of people who will receive gifts.
  2. Thoughtfully consider/pray over each name and ask what kind of gift would bless them.
  3. Write down any ideas as they come up then or over the next few days.

This is a great way to put more intention into your gifts. It gives you a chance to think about the people in your life and what they love.

Does your mom often say that she would love the chance to spend more time with you? Has your best friend ever exclaimed with delight over something she’s seen you make? Do little kids love cookies?

Don’t make this hard, especially if they’ve explicitly said, “I really need and would like ______.”

Often the best gifts are the simplest ones.

A quick note on whiners

I’ve talked about this a LOT with people who are intrigued at the simplicity of our gift-giving and the most frequently asked question is, “What about people who get mad when you try to do that because they expect a big fancy gift?”

Oh the entitlement!

My response is typically, if you don’t have to get them anything, don’t. Do you really need friends like that? However, I know that it’s sometimes a close relative and that doesn’t really feel like an option.

I’ve been fortunate not to have that issue, which I think has a lot to do with the third guideline. When you give a gift knowing what that person loves, it’s hard for them to complain.

If they do, you can explain that you’re trying to spend less, or be more thoughtful or whatever your reason is. And if they still complain, may I gently remind you that you most likely don’t actually have to give them anything.

But if you still feel like you do, perhaps set a little bigger budget for them and get them something they consider nice. They’ve got deeper stuff to deal with than can be fixed with homemade pie.

Choose your battles.

So the moral of the story when it comes to making giving less stressful? Be intentional.

While kids love tearing the paper off new toys, they get REALLY excited later when the novelty has worn off and remember they were given a jar full of their favorite cookies.

Most people don’t need more stuff – they’d rather have more time with you.

And remember, the gift is about them, not about you and your creativity, so if your father-in-law says the ONLY thing he wants is a Home Depot gift card, just get him one.

Don’t make it harder than it has to be.