Your Mindful Guide to the 2021 Holiday Season — Calm Blog

Escape the Emotional Labor of Gift-Buying

It seems the list of who to buy gifts for gets a little longer every year. Looking back, you wonder when you went from buying gifts for immediate family to buying gifts for the entire extended family, neighbors, kids’ teachers, coworkers, and let’s just throw in some Secret Santa or White Elephant gifts in, because you said yes to those too. “It’s cool,” you say to yourself, eyes glazed over, “I have Amazon Prime.” But aside from the actual cost of these items, what you’re not taking into account is the emotional labor of gift giving. 

In 2017, Gemma Hartley’s Harper’s Bazaar piece titled, “Women Aren’t Nags — We’re Just Fed Up” brought the term “emotional labor” into the mainstream and gift giving was a major part of that labor. Hartley’s piece described the mental and emotional work of keeping track of a household: remembering birthdays, planning trips, and buying gifts were a few of the things. When she would ask her partner for help, he’d offer to do the final step, but the bulk of the mostly-invisible problem solving was left to her. And this is a common experience. Many of us feel the pressure to be the sole family member to keep the holiday train moving by remembering the CVS-receipt-length list of people we need to gift. 

This year, consider simplifying. Can you donate to charities your friends and family care about in their names? The world gets a little better and there’s no shipping and wrapping involved. Alternatively, you could focus instead on handwritten letters or homemade gifts. While these can absolutely be time consuming (and let this be your reminder that every person on your list doesn’t need a personalized gift by an exhausted, burnt-out you), if you limit your list, these kinds of gifts can feel so special. DIY not your style? No one is going to notice or shame you if you buy 10 of the same thing and give it to everyone. 

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