Christmas, birthdays, new home, new job. Sometimes it feels like people look for any excuse to buy you a card or present and say 'congratulations, we love you!'. Don't get me wrong, I love feeling loved (who doesn't?), and I'm a sucker for a nice present, but there's only so many vases, candles or teddy bears a girl can handle?!

As a December baby, I get all of my birthday and Christmas presents in the same month. This generally means I'm left with a box full of stuff I'd have never asked for, never wanted, and will never use. And it’s not just me. UK adults receive £2.6 billion worth of unwanted Christmas gifts each year. That's a lot of stuff that annoyingly ends up gathering dust in our homes, given to charity shops, or binned.

But what can we do?

In an ideal world, we'd be able to tell our friends and families either that we don't want any presents and that we’d actually much prefer some quality time with them. Or be able to ask them to get us something specific instead (that pair of winter boots you really need but can’t afford), but it’s not that easy. In fact it’s just plain awkward. It either feels like you are being ungrateful and prohibiting people from showing their love (just imagine the look on your Nan's face if you told her you didn't want a stationary set this year)… or that you are ruining the joy they get from surprising you with a mystery gift by requesting they get you something specific instead.


So how do you get past the awkwardness?

I’m not totally sure that you can (please comment below if you’ve cracked it!). A few years ago I decided to just embrace the awkwardness and shared a written list with my extended family.

So last year my family put some money towards my bucket list holiday to Iceland. And in previous years, they've bought me practical things - a smoothie maker, hair dryer, or a small luxury- a subscription to National Geographic.

But when writing and sending my list, I always ask myself, “will they think I’m taking the mick?”. That awkwardness stops me from asking for what I really, really want, because I'm scared of how my friends and family will react, or because what I really want costs more than I'd ever expect my loved ones to spend on me.

Golden rules for a tat-free Christmas

1. "It's almost Christmas, what do you want this year?"
You can hardly ask for things that you want if you are buying things for others that will go straight to the back of their cupboard (maybe your nan doesn’t like scented candles!). Ask your loved ones what they want, and ask them for a list of ideas so that you can make sure you're buying them something they’ll really cherish.

2. "I know you start Christmas shopping soon so I've made a list if you need some ideas".
Share your list early. 1 in 3 women feel more stressed at Christmas than any other time of year - and I know for certain that for my Mum it's the stress of finding presents for people! Help family out by giving them ideas, so they're not grasping at straws.

Where you can give people room to be creative then do. Why not say you’d love a funky woollen hat instead of just sharing a link to a retail website? (Obviously only do this where you will be genuinely happy with what they come up with!)

If you don’t want anything material, fill your list with super imaginative adventures you’d like to have with people instead. For example, “take me to the Natural History museum one afternoon” or “plan a film night for us with popcorn and a cheesy rom com”. Looking for fun ideas? Point them towards our Elfless Acts website or SoKind register!

3. "I know it's a bit expensive but..."
If what you really want is rather pricey, don't shy away from asking for it, but make sure you acknowledge that you're asking for a lot. Explain how it would bring you happiness to your life, and then suggest that family members contribute to it altogether. You could use a website like Patchwork, so that each giver can visualise the bit that they have contributed to, adding up to a whole picture.

4. "THANK YOU!"
It's not rocket science - gratitude goes far. When you finally get to open your presents on that special day show the love.. The more you show your appreciation, the more likely your loved ones are to ask you for what you’d like in the future – even it’s not as much of a surprise as the ridiculous dancing snowman they gave you last year.


We're never going to stop our loved ones from wanting to buy us presents to make us feel loved (and I for one, never want to stop them!) but we can guide their decisions. Try a list out with your family and friends this year, and let us know how you get on!