Miss Conduct

Advice: How to say ‘No presents, please’

My large extended family loves to give gifts. I don’t have the room for them.

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I am blessed with an extended family of in-laws who are like my own brothers and sisters. Their family has a tradition of exchanging gifts at Christmas, resulting in five separate families sending gifts to the members of the other four families. While I enjoy figuring out what to give others, I am at the age where I am trying to pare down my stuff. Is there a way to suggest “consider giving to charity in lieu of gifts in my case” without appearing to be criticizing the rest of the family? My gut tells me I’m in Scrooge territory.

J.H. / Cambridge

You can definitely request a change, and it’s a good idea to put in it terms of your stage of life, as you did here. Everyone knows the more-stuff-than-room-to-put-it struggle is real, particularly after a certain age. (What that age may be varies depending on the number of children, cats, careers, crafts, and catastrophes in a person’s life.) And this is a reason that doesn’t implicitly judge those who still like and get traditional gifts. You’re not playing Holy Holly to someone else’s Merry Mary.

You also aren’t being Scrooge-like at all — the Victorian miser’s main flaw wasn’t that he didn’t want presents for himself, and I can hardly imagine him requesting contributions to charity in his unfortunate name. But paying attention to gut feelings is important. So what’s up with that intuition? Would charity donations seem bloodless and abstract to your in-laws? Do they have a deep need of the pageantry of a wrapped box to open? Some folks are like that; gifts don’t feel like real gifts if they don’t directly please and provide for the recipient. If this is the case, could you compromise by asking for consumable gifts — food, alcohol, fragrances, houseplants, socks, Sudoku books — instead? This would still solve your clutter problem (and you could donate your budget for such things to charity if you wanted).


Whatever you decide to say, say it soon, so that people aren’t stuck with the Instant Pot they bought you.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.