Why I won’t be accepting your typical birthday gifts this year

Kate Hall

Gift giving is a huge cultural phenomenon.

The value, type, time of giving, way of giving, and act of giving are incredibly important to our social interactions and relationships.

Yet, it’s a topic we don’t really talk about.

Gift giving is carried out without realisation that we are following through with strict ‘gift protocol’ that has developed for centuries.

There are ways to give, and ways not to give, and if you get it wrong, you can feel very embarrassed.


"Gift giving is carried out without realisation that we are following through with strict ‘gift protocol’ that has developed for centuries."

I’ve been analysing gift giving consciously for six months, and there are three key experiences that have completely thrown my idea of gift giving on its head.

  1. I attended a five-year old’s birthday party
  2. I completed the minimalist challenge
  3. I went for a walk

This year for my birthday and Christmas, I will not be encouraging typical birthday presents. Here’s why:


1. I attended a five-year old’s birthday party

After munching on nibbles and practising small talk with the adults, it was finally the best time of the day: present time. The five-year old birthday boy sat in the middle of the circle, surrounded by towers of presents, eyes popping out of his head- I swear I saw his mouth watering.

His guests watched on as he ripped through each present, squealing with delight as he opened each one, and moved on to the next in a millisecond. If his friends attempted to help open a present, touch one of his new possessions, or even look at an unwrapped gift in temptation, he’d throw a fit.

I don’t want to be that five-year old. I don’t want things to make me feel happy. I want people and time. Don’t get me wrong, I love fashion, toys, and beautiful things, but I don’t want them to consume me like I witnessed. I’ve lived nearly 22 years of life, I have an array of wonderful things, and I have the means to buy what I actually need.

So, when it comes to the annual day when people want to celebrate my existence, I would rather they celebrate me with their time and words. I won’t partake in pointless consumerism just because it’s my birthday.


2. I completed the minimalist challenge

For the month of April, every day I gave away the number of things that correlated to the date.

On the 3rd of April, I gave away three things, on the 21st of April, I gave away 21 things; you get the idea. I gave away nearly 900 items during April, and I still feel like I have everything I need and more.

The things I gave away were often birthday presents I kind of liked, but would never wear or use above my favourites. I haven’t even noticed they are missing. There is so much STUFF in the world, and I don’t want to add to it.


3. I went for a walk

As I walked, I looked at the trees, I breathed in the fresh air, and I heard the birds nattering. I felt peaceful, de-stressed, and calm. Our planet is beautiful, and I adore every second of it. Through my research, I’ve become increasingly aware that the production of objects, has a negative impact on the earth. I don’t want more stuff if it compromises the environment.

In his book Stuffocation, James Wallman explains that experiences bring more happiness than things. This is because experiences can be shared with others more easily, and the feelings stimulated are of sustained joy, rather than a quick jolt of happiness from a purchase, that quickly fades. Instead of another tube of hand cream and a pocket diary, I’d much rather a walk in the bush.

This year, and perhaps for the rest of my life, I’ll be encouraging experiences, consumables (FYI red wine is my favourite), and investments, rather than presents.

My family are already teaming up to buy me business coaching sessions, and my mother and mother-in-law co-bought me a woollen poncho I’ve coveted for years (made ethically right here in Auckland). I will accept socks and knickknacks from grandparents with warmth and gratefulness, and I won’t stop anyone from buying something at a local market that makes them think of me. I won’t screw up my nose if someone ‘gets it wrong’, and I will be grateful for every gift equally.

To put it bluntly: gift giving has become way out of hand.

I don’t want to be part of the monster we call consumerism. I’ll divert friends and family to donate to my favourite charity, or book in a date for a hike or lunch out together. I don’t mean to sound fussy, and I’ll try my best to handle this gracefully, but I can’t sit by and watch the world fill up with more stuff because of me.

Kate Hall

I live and breathe sustainable living and ethical fashion. This alternative way of consuming and existing dominates my every waking moment- and sometimes more. Ethical fashion and living are no longer my hobbies, it has become my mission... to change the future of fast fashion and the way we consume. My husband and I strive to live a zero-waste lifestyle, live at thrift stores, and always look to 'up-cycle' rather than throw out. Eco-living is not a choice for me, it's in my blood, and I am trying with all my power for it to be the new 'norm'.