Buy Nothing Christmas


“It’s too soon!” I hear some of you shouting.  Well, I hate to break it to you, but Christmas is ten weeks away and, as some people like to get their festive season organised sooner rather than later, I thought that now would be a good time to start this conversation.  As for me?  Thankfully, I don’t have much to organise because Christmas is generally pretty relaxed around our house.

A few years ago, before I’d heard of zero waste, I watched a documentary called “Manufactured Landscapes”, a stunning meditation on the damage wreaked by industrialisation that follows Canadian photographer, Edward Burtynsky as he shoots landscapes that have been changed by large-scale human activity.  It was a sobering watch.

The opening shot of that film really stuck with me.  It was a tracking shot, through a super-sized Chinese factory (one kilometre in length) in which 23,000 employees make most of the world’s irons…and this shot went on f.o.r.e.v.e.r.

Well, only five and a half minutes really.  But it felt like a looong time (kudos if you manage to watch it till the end).  And it got me thinking about the stuff that I buy…and all the other people on the earth buying stuff (side note…have you ever seen a real-time world population clock?…rather frightening).

Shortly after watching that documentary, Christmas season rolled around and I had a conversation with my dad about an idea I’d had.  “Hey dad…I don’t know about you guys, but we have enough stuff…we don’t need any more stuff…and if we did need more stuff, we’d go out and buy it ourselves.  So, how would you feel…if, this Christmas, instead of buying each other stuff…we bought each other “experience gifts”…you know like massage vouchers or dinner out at a restaurant or something like that?”  My dad thought for a moment or two and then replied…”or we could just…buy nothing at all”.  Silence, while I processed this novel concept…and then jubilation.  “Yes!!”  Brilliant!

So, after getting the okay from the rest of the family, that year we had our first Buy Nothing Christmas.

And it was so. freakin. AWESOME!

socksNo scrambling to figure out what to buy my brother who generally made it pretty obvious that he wasn’t that stoked with gifts I gave him.  No more working out what the hell to give my dad, an uber practical guy who, in reality, was happy to receive a pair of socks and a box of scorched almonds (I really didn’t want to go through anotherscorched-almonds Christmas giving socks and scorched almonds).  No more finding homes for gifts that I would receive but had no use for.  No more wasting money on giving family members things that they didn’t actually need and that would just add to the clutter in their lives.  No more stress.

It was a revelation.

Instead…we ate delicious food, we spent time with each other, we played games, we listened to music, we went for a walk and played tennis, we relaxed.  And we agreed that the idea of buying nothing at Christmas time was pure genius.

Now, one thing to note is that we do have kids in our family.  And we didn’t want a tiny riot on our hands.  So we decided we would still do gifts for the kiddiewinkles.  But instead of buying new trinkets, we opt for homemade, second-hand or experience-based gifts.  We’ve given indoor rock-climbing vouchers, homemade stilts, trampoline park vouchers, second-hand board games, homemade building blocks and personalised memory card games.  The coolest gift was the one we gave our then-four year old nephew, Cooper, the first year we did Buy Nothing Christmas.  We scoured our neighbourhood for used cardboard boxes and then, my husband and I, spent the morning constructing a giant rocket in my parents’ backyard.


Granted, Cooper only played with it for a matter of minutes…but building that thing was so much fun!  And weirdly, just recently (years later), out of the blue, Cooper said to me “Aunty Kristy…do you remember that giant rocket that you and Uncle Davian made for me that time for Christmas?”  Amazed he remembered, I replied “yeah?”….and Coop says “I should have played with that more.  That was really cool”.

And, just in case you’re wondering, where does Santa fit in to all this?  Well, before our daughter was born, my husband and I had a conversation about whether we wanted to teach her about Santa and we both concluded that, while we wanted her to experience the magic of Christmas, the idea of telling her that this guy flies around the world giving presents to everyone didn’t really fit in with our feelings about consumerism (or honesty).  So, we explain that Santa is a “pretendy story” that people like to tell at Christmas.  And instead of focusing on Santa, I discovered an alternative.

The Kindness Elves

Every year, on the first day of December, two little people (Christmas Pixies, as we like to call them) arrive on our doorstep with a note explaining who they are and what they’ll be doing for the coming weeks.  Every day, up until Christmas, they appear somewhere in the house with a new note suggesting a fun activity that promotes generosity and kindness.

“Let’s bake some cookies for the neighbours”.

“Let’s collect some of your toys and give them away to the local children’s hospital”.

“Let’s donate cat/dog treats to the animal shelter”.

And our daughter LOVES it.

  • Christmas magic – tick!
  • Teaching my little girl how to be an awesome human – tick!
  • And zero waste – tick!

The other thing we’ve changed in the last couple of years, is our approach to Christmas food and this is one area where we’ve seriously simplified.  The tradition in years gone by was that we would have Christmas at my folks’ place and, every year, my mum would take on the role of head Christmas chef (as mums often tend to do).  She always claimed to enjoy it and every year churned out an obscene amount of delicious food for Christmas Day.  But, the reality was, it exhausted her.

(Okay, so my mum didn’t actually cook this much food.  Also, meat didn’t feature that heavily at our Christmas celebrations…and the person pictured is not my mother, although she does look suitably fed up.)

So, for the last few years, we’ve taken our Christmas show on the road, choosing a scenic spot away from the city to park up my parents’ campervan and spending Christmas Day enjoying the great outdoors.  Taking my mum away from her kitchen, her “nuclear-war ready” pantry and her myriad of kitchen gadgets has made us simplify significantly.  Now, instead of mum cooking absolutely everything, everyone brings a plate to contribute to the Christmas feast.  And last year was the best.

We were all in the campervan, staying at beautiful Kawhia.  I was preparing some food, everybody was pitching in and we were nearly ready to eat.  And, just as I was adding the finishing touches to the meal, I turned to mum and asked her “so what did you make?”  She paused for a moment and then…dawning realisation.  “Nothing!”

“Good work!” I replied, in all sincerity, and gave her a high five.

Because I don’t think Christmas should be about stress.  It shouldn’t be about expectations, it shouldn’t be about maxing out your credit card, it shouldn’t be about waste.  It should be fun.  And it should be about relaxing and spending time with people that you love.  Which is what I plan to do this Christmas and all the ones after it.


32 thoughts on “Buy Nothing Christmas

  1. Sounds like my ideal Christmas Kristy. Thanks for sharing your ideas. Love the two little fairies that create some meaningful magic in the lead up to Christmas.


  2. Love this! I’ve told my family I don’t want presents this year, like literally nothing, but they found it hard to get their heads around that, so we settled on second hand gifts only 🙂 The elves idea is so great!


  3. Awesome blog post Kristy, We’ve been doing the shared dinner, no presents thing for a few years. It does make Xmas SO much easier. Pop in for a cuppa if you & Davian are anywhere Whangarei eh? I live in Hikurangi, just north of Whangarei. ka kite Kirsten x

    On Tue, Oct 18, 2016 at 1:30 PM, a zero waste warrior wrote:

    > Kristy (A Zero Waste Warrior) posted: ” “It’s too soon!” I hear some of > you shouting. Well, I hate to break it to you, but Christmas is ten weeks > away and, as some people like to get their festive season organised sooner > rather than later, I thought that now would be a good time to start thi” >


  4. OK, NO WHERE NEAR WHERE YOU GUYS ARE but loving getting there. Rewind 10-20 years ago and Christmas eve saw me in the mall looking to pick up ANYTHING for that niece/nephew, mom/sister that had EVERYTHING ALREADY and it was exhausting and NO FUN. We still do gifts but to much more organized and realistic way. I have recently purchased most of the gifts for the nieces and nephews online (oh by the way, I like in Trinidad and Tobago in the West Indies) so had a family member heading to Miami and bought stuff on Amazon. My mom, sis, huzzy and my kids are heading to Disney next Easter and we are saving up towards that so everyone is focused on that and happy that any money that would have been spent buying gifts goes towards or at least the gift would be a ticket to Cirque de Soleil or something special on that trip.

    Love your story.


  5. That video was paaaainful to watch. I don’t like stuff! Stuff kind of sucks. I love experience and food gifts or just none. I had a conversation with my sister last night and she totally refused my idea of no gifts. She also refused my opinion on it, which was crazy to me. But I’m happy to say I reached a no gift agreement with my mother! I just don’t need anything, and I’m happy receiving nothing but family time. Great post!


  6. Love this! My sister, my father and I have for the last three years donated to a joint charity instead of Christmas. But I got caught in a step-relatives Christmas giving horror last year. I made it clear I didn’t want to exchange presents, but that was pretty much ignored. The ritual then became, me “oh but you shouldn’t have,”, others “oh, its only something little”. Hmmm, junky things I had to cart back home on a plane and then pick up and then get rid of after everyone was bored of them. Rant over. It is great your family is onboard.


  7. This year, we’re doing ‘cash’ – my 10yo and almost 8yo both want to donate it to animal conservation groups. I think I’m going to cash gifts from now on 🙂


    1. Your kids sound awesome, Naeha :). Funny you mention donating to animal conservation groups…as I mentioned in the post, we have Christmas Pixies that come to our house in December to teach our 3 yr old daughter about the spirit of Christmas. Today’s activity was for her to choose an organisation to donate money to. Guess who she chose?! An animal conservation group! 🙂


  8. I enjoyed reading about your Christmas. I would be good with forgoing gifts but they are important to my husband. However we only exchange gifts with our immediate family and those all have to fit within a stocking (per person) and many of them are homemade (and often made from repurposed items) or 2nd hand. We do have a large meal but it is fun and primarily zero waste. We also don’t do Santa Claus. I think your little pixies are cute and that is a fun idea.


  9. Your Christmas sounds so relaxing. Your pixies remind me of the Eco Elf who helps fill our big girls’ stockings with things like beeswax wraps, stainless steel straws home made bath salts and home made food items etc.We have been doing experience gifts for some, progressing to no gifts with those who agree. I love the idea of simplifying to take out the stress and consumerism.


  10. We now pick one name out of a hat and have a predetermined $ to spend, usually $50. Even that is hard as everyone has everything. We often do experience gifts or theatre tickets to relatives in the UK. Son in law goes fishing and brings crayfish and scallops. Things like that are the best pressies. I like the idea of a no gift christmas. I’ve never lied to my kids about Santa. Hell, why should a fat fictional stranger get the kudos when I used to bust my guts to provide christmas as a single parent? They’re adults now, and love the dollar limit. No one goes broke or maxes out the credit card. Makes breathing a whole lot easier! Wish I’d stumbled on this idea 25 years ago!


  11. Such a good idea, my family decided to get things the person needed & all pitch in but it worked out more expensive than I could afford on my tight budget so I told them I wasn’t going to buy 4 them anymore my children make them a card & I make homemade biscuits with my children instead (for my children it’s more of something to be kind to others rather than a present). I used to do elf on the shelf, I got to sick of I decided to simplify it and make them kindness elves ( I put the piece of paper in the drawers of wooden
    advent calendar & hide the elves.


    1. Hi Annie…yeah, the expectation for new gifts can create a lot of financial strain and stress for many people. But, handmade gifts are a great idea – who doesn’t like delicious home baking?! 😋 Have fun with your kindness elves this Christmas 🙂


  12. This is terrific, I love it 🙂 We’ve done a zero-cost Christmas with our family to try and encourage lateral thinking/handmaking etc and where spending, to only buy second hand/hand made. I made a pretty fantastic slice if I do say so myself 😉 it’s pretty rad and I really like it 🙂


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