My One and Only Birthday Wish

I never liked being born on Christmas.

For years, I dealt with the same question: “Do you get two sets of presents?” And for years, I’d shake my head no, mourning the loss of this alternate world where the 25th of December brought a literal avalanche of toys and gadgets. I remember thinking that my birthday sucked — and only because my parents did the sane, logical thing and set aside one of my Christmas presents as a birthday one instead.

(Thanks, Mom and Dad!)

As my next birthday inches closer, though, I find myself in a dramatically different place. I don’t want much. Hell, I don’t even need anything. I have everything I need, now, and I can say that with way more sincerity than I used to be able to. I have my family beside me, great friends both on and offline, and all the time in the world to celebrate both equally.

But there is one thing I want this year. And I’m hoping — maybe even praying — you wonderful people can make it happen.

Sparing Someone the Holiday ‘Spirit’

The holidays have lost a lot of their charm.

You can blame it on growing up, but I think there are other factors at work here. What about the sense of obligation that coats the entire month of December? You have to buy gifts. You have to spend hours (and plenty of dollars!) puzzling out what to get, and then spend even more stomping your way through a mall when you can’t come up with something clever.

It’s not fun. Frankly, it’s a pain in the ass.

And it’s a sad departure from the true spirit of the holidays — the chance to share some love and laughter with friends, family, and even the occasional stranger you bump into on your daily routine. That’s Christmas. But that’s not what we encounter, now, whenever December 1st rolls around, and it’s not a perspective that’s easy to keep when the ‘spirit of the season’ demands consumerism and wild excess.

What You Can Do

Get out of it.

When someone asks you what you want for Christmas this year, very kindly say “Nothing but you.

Be firm. They’ll laugh and insist on getting you something (and if you ask why, give an uncertain response), but hold your ground and stick with that same mantra: “I want you.”

But don’t stop there! There are just a few more words to tack onto the end of that sentence. Here are some examples:

  • “to take me to the movies.”
  • “to meet me at a coffee house.”
  • “to call me sometime so we can talk about life.”
  • “to come ice skating with me!”
  • “to come have dinner at my place.”
  • “to invite me to dinner at your place.”

You get the idea.

You don’t want stuff. You don’t want stocking stuffers or sweaters or any other pointless object — you want an experience with someone you care about, and you want a chance to spend time with friends or family.

You want time to do something fun, magical, or memorable, and share it with someone you love.

Simple enough, right? And here’s a plus: the benefits are enormous.

The Real Holiday Spirit

The other person should love this. You might save them money, for one, but you’ll definitely save them something even more valuable: time. They won’t have to spend hours on the Internet trying to find you the perfect gift. They won’t have to stop a single time and wonder: “Will he/she even like this?”

Of course you’ll like it! They’re spending time with you, after all, and you’re both coming away happier and lighter for the experience. And the best part? You’re giving them something too! You’re offering them the satisfaction of knowing that you truly want to be with them. You don’t want them to get you some pointless gift, but you do want to share your time with them for as long as possible.

You’re giving your time. They’re giving theirs. You’re both smiling and laughing and bonding, the experiences that really should count this Christmas season.

Time: it’s the gift that keeps on giving! And it’s in the real spirit of the holidays, I think, a celebration of friends, family, and those bonds that build us up here on Earth.

My Birthday Wish

I’m going to do what I described above.

I want you to do it too.

When your friends ask you what you want for Christmas this year, make both your life and theirs so much easier with this simple response: “I want you to (super-fun activity).” You don’t have to do it for every friend, but I think it’s a worth a shot — especially when you can get that much closer with the ones who like the idea!

There’s a reason I’ve brought this up so early, too. As of today, there are still a few good weeks before the 25th rolls around, which should be ample time to spread the word about the one thing I want for my upcoming Christmas/birthday.

I want you to join me. I want 100 of you to join me, in fact, by the time December 25th comes knocking.

Is that aiming too high? Maybe. Maybe not. I’m not sure I care, honestly. I think this idea strikes home truer to the idea of Christmas than any all-day shopping spree, and I’m betting so many of you — at least 100! – would agree.

Think you’re up for it? Leave a comment below. And even if you’re not, I’d really appreciate you spreading the word about this as far as you can. I’m trying to give the idea plenty of time to hit that magic number, but who knows? I’m betting you’ll surprise me!

Join me. Leave a comment below saying that you are, and then spread this message as far as you can. Like it on Facebook, Tweet it on Twitter, Stumble it — the medium doesn’t matter. What’s important, though, is reclaiming the Christmas spirit for as many people as possible.

Let’s remind ourselves what the holidays should be about.

Thanks so much for reading! If you like what’s going on around here, then why not have free updates sent directly to your inbox or to your RSS reader? I really appreciate it! And you can follow me on Twitter, too. That always makes me smile. :)

81 Comments

  1. Nina Yau says:

    Let’s have coffee sometime, Matt! Highly caffeinated conversation with good friends = FUN!

  2. Count me in as #2 on your quest for a 100 Matt!

    Love it! = “When someone asks you what you want for Christmas this year, very kindly say “Nothing but you.”

    This is my first Christmas going 100% gift free and I’ve been telling everyone that all I could possibly want from them is a big ol’ bear hug, the kind that last for a good minute or so.

    Cheers,
    Tanj

  3. Chase Night says:

    I think this is an excellent idea! I hope we can make your birthday wish come true. :) +

  4. Seth says:

    Being a December baby myself this is quite timely. Count me in.

  5. Mike says:

    Sounds like an excellent idea! In addition to helping to deconsumerize the holidays, it might also be a good way to apply a bit of minimalist philosophy to the people in your life. Just as we can accumulate more things than we really need, it is also possible to accumulate more people than we need. Asking for the gift of someone’s time and company will whittle down that list — if someone isn’t willing to spend a few hours of quality time with you in lieu of exchanging trinkets or baubles, then are they really worth having in your life?

  6. StrivingTowardMinimalism says:

    Matt, for a number of years my spouse and I have elected to give what we would normally spend on Christmas to our favorite charity. The rituals of cooking a good meal, taking a long Christmas hike and others have lasted and either don’t cost a thing or they don’t accumulate excess materialistic goods. We have never regretted our decision and plan to continue it this year. So, please count me on your list.

  7. dusti arab says:

    I want you to Skpye with me, so we can talk about changing the world! Unless you are in Portland. Then, I’ll buy you a beer. ;)

  8. Turling says:

    I started it last week, actually, when asked by my wife. We’re going to spend an evening watching movies and sharing a bottle (or two) of wine in front of the fireplace with the kids at the grandparents house. Perfect present for us both.

  9. I agree 100%. I wrote about something similar on one of my blogs http://www.vagabondguide.com and how I didn’t want any gifts. If someone had to get me something id like it be money or a donation to a chairity.

  10. Nani Kai says:

    Timely? Timeless!! I’m a first time poster, just want to say thanks for the encouragement to follow our dreams. While I’m at it, count me in!! And an early Hau’oli La Hanau! (Happy Birthday in Hawaiian; say “how-owe-lee law-ha-now”) Giftgiving free Christmas on tap for us. We simplified our Thanksgiving as well, sent gratitude texts to family and friends ate a simple grilled meal with friends and spent the day at the beach grateful for the beauty we live in, time with friends and our health. We are blessed with so many gifts as Americans, as people born in modern times who needs this year’s “hottestest, must have gadget, scarf, etc”? It brings at best a momentary thrill. We give gifts from nature or a heart to heart letter that shows how much we value the recipient. I still have the beautiful bit of coral and shells my husband found on a dive, I treasure special “artwork” by nieces and nephews and a few selected family photos; but try and ask what I got or gave a couple of Christmases ago and I’d be hard pressed to remember. Thanks again for the reminder to stick to our guns this year!!

  11. Soledad says:

    Count me in! (from Argentina LOL)

  12. eema says:

    great idea! count me in

  13. David Damron says:

    Cool idea. Simple and shows ones true feelings towards what the holidays truly should be.

    Have a great bday and happy holidays!

    David Damron
    LifeExcursion

  14. Couldn’t agree with you more Matt!! It’s experiences and activities that we should spend our oney on. They’re the things what make the memories, and help us to spend time with the people we care about.

    An besides, if one person spends £20 on a gift for his friend, and vice versa, it just becomes a formailty, and a pointless one at that, as we can then say ‘why don’t I spend £20 on the gift I want for me, and you do the same for you’.

    It takes away the spirit of Christmas. Good on you for trying to bring it back!

  15. Uniqknown says:

    Hello from Russia!

    I’m in too :)

    The same idea I got a week before and use it with great joy.

  16. maggie says:

    Great idea,
    I am in !

  17. Vegetarilin says:

    I’ve been thinking about this for awhile now. Count me in!

  18. Jenny says:

    Given that I’m selling everything I own to travel the world, my friends and family keep asking me what I want for Xmas since they don’t know what to get me. I said, nothing. If they must get something then I made a little, “fund a travel day” on my site just for them or they can contribute money towards the mac book pro that I need.

    Then comes the real dilemma. I don’t really want to get anyone anything for Christmas, but I know everyone would be super pissed if I didn’t buy anything for anyone. I think I’ll make something instead.

  19. DMSx2 says:

    I’m definitely with you on this! Me and my wife aren’t even buying each other gifts this year, we’ll save the money and spend time out together watching films, eating a nice meal etc. This is a great post and my first read of your blog, I’ll be sure to check back regularly.

  20. Jen Gresham says:

    I wish I’d read your post 2 weeks ago. I really struggled with what to tell family regarding presents this year. I am new to minimalism and knew they wouldn’t accept the “please don’t get me anything” response. So I pleaded with them to band together to buy me a group gift, so at least there was just one thing (and in all cases, it was something I actually wanted).

    That said, I think your idea is better. And it’s important to think about this kind of “gift giving” especially with kids. I want my daughter to get out of the materialism cycle before she ever gets in it.

    Great post, Matt. And happy early birthday! :)

  21. Well I’m with you all the way. I like the way you think.
    My most recent post “Simple Living vs Stuff” runs along this same vein. Perhaps if enough voices call out fer a return to the real meaning of Christmas, it will make a difference.

    Good job Matt!

    OK… Who’s next?

  22. April says:

    I love it! I will do it!

  23. mema says:

    Just wanted to say what a great idea! Spent many hours in the month of November buying the perfect gift for each of the kids on my list. I have shortened the list over the last few years but still find I am buying way too many things that won’t be remembered much past the New Year. I am also trying to become more of a minimalist which really does take practice! Thanks for sharing your idea with us – all I want for Christmas is for family to come and visit me!

  24. Todd Caraway says:

    Love it! I’m down. I’m totally doing this with at least 5 friends I can think of right now.

  25. levonne says:

    Okay, the cliff hanger. How can we help?

  26. levonne says:

    Somehow I didn’t see the remainder of your post on the first reading. But now I see. For years my husband and I have opted out of a material Christmas. No presents sent and none received, by choice and agreement with other family members. Just today I was realizing that I have everything I want and need. Take care Matt. Good post.

  27. Linda says:

    Hello from the Netherlands! :)

    Count me in…. my birthday is just one week into the new year, which makes for *almost* the same problem.. the avalanche of stuff (and fatty foods, *lol*)

    This insanity’s got to stop….
    love your blog and definately going to join you on this one!

  28. Fawn says:

    I’m in. Though really, it’s nothing new with my loved ones.

    I keep my personal owned objects to less than 100 items. They all know by now not to buy me stuff, though I do get the occasional gift card.

    I will be spending my extra December time going to high school and middle school concerts.

    Happy Birthday!

  29. Vicky says:

    Hi Matt–New subscriber, love the post! I, too, have a December birthday, and have progressed with you from frustration to not needing–okay, cake, but nothing else. I am with you 100% on wanting only experiences and time with my loved ones. It is the one thing we would all want should we be faced with losing them, and the only thing that really matters. My best friend and I (also a December child!) have already made our plans for special shared moments of the best Italian food in town and to savor our long friendship in a cozy afternoon of talk and memories. No shopping, no wrapping, no guilt, no expense, no trying to find a spot for something we didn’t really want or need. Just Bliss!

  30. Miss Robin says:

    I’m with you all the way! Our grown kids and their families are on board, too. Now if I could only get through to my parents….

  31. crunchycon says:

    Not quite a Christmas baby, but born two days after. And, as a kid, it sucked big time. As an adult, though, I’m loving your “Nothing but you…” solution.

  32. Megan says:

    Count me in, too. Happy early birthday and Christmas!

  33. Jennifer says:

    Count me in! This is so well said and such a simple idea. I don’t even have to MAKE the time coupon book thingies this year. I can just say it. Talk about minimal!

  34. Hi Matt! Please count me in as one of your 100. Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday!

  35. Gio says:

    I’m in! This post puts words to exactly how I am feeling this Christmas. Thanks a bunch :)

    ~Gio

  36. Pingback: How To Change The World In 31 Days – A Challenge

  37. Gabrielgirl says:

    What a great idea. I’ll be doing something similar – I’ve starting throwing a Boxing Day party (the day after Christmas) to get together with my old school friends who are in town. We tell nerdy stories, watch funny youtube videos, and sometimes give away the crap that we got for Christmas :-)

  38. Susan says:

    My Mom’s ‘love language’ is gift-giving. And most of the time it’s extremely thoughtful, well considered, and lovingly wrapped. It’s hard to say no.

    We’ve hit some kind of silent stride, in that I ask for things I genuinely could utilize – gift cards, a plane ticket home, candles, wine, perhaps a pair of jeans, a subscription to an online service like Media Bistro.

    When I give gifts, I tend to only give things that can be utilized. Meaning, no knick-knacks that sit around. I like giving experience gifts like theater tickets or the table top letter press I bought my husband.

    I like these ideas though, of sharing the wealth on a personal level. I should take my girlfriends out for brunch or the movies for Christmas, we never see each other quite enough.

  39. Hi Matt, well I never. It does suck really, when you’re small, but I think this news makes Xmas a bit more special. Well actually special since I’ve been over it for a while. I’ve never met someone born the same day as Jesus before – so glad it’s you:)

    I wouldn’t send you an Xmas present anyway. No offence but I only give them to people who really love and expect them – my mum, my kids and a few kiddie friends and relatives. My hubby gets a new shirt and some chilli sauce….

    But anyway, I will send you a birthday gift. I hope a heary virtual hug from me and all the koalas and kangaroos of Australia will go down well:)

    Off to promote now as that’s something more tangible I can do for you and you deserve it:)

  40. I already did this to my sister and she felt guilty … she didn’t want to do it!

    I told her to take the $30 she would spend on me and use it for gas money to spend a weekend at my house. All I wanted for Christmas was to know the date. Hmm, count me in, and let me go text my sister again quick.
    Melissa

  41. Joe Dixon says:

    I’m in! I’ve been trying to figure out a way to get people to stop buying me ‘stuff’ for Christmas (and birthdays) for a few years. This seems like a great tactic!

  42. Debbie says:

    Hi Matt, great post and we’re in :-)
    In fact my husband & I decided a few years ago to stop buying Christmas presents, we go out and get some lovely things to eat for our family and enjoy just being together. It’s what really counts and time is precious. I love your answer to the question of what do you want – that’s great and will help us in future with others and it’s a lovely way to let people know what you value (them). Hope you have a lovely birthday and Christmas too x

  43. livnletlrn says:

    I did it in three directions. It only went over well with two of them, but that’s two more than in the past!

  44. Mary M says:

    Having more time with family and friends makes this season very special. For several years now, I’ve given gifts only to the children and senior citizens on my list, as well as spending extra time with them. My friends and other family members plan special events where we can relax and have fun instead of the insanity of the shopping centers.

  45. Hi Matt,
    Great stuff! My fiance (Mike Donghia, you might know him!) and I recently came to this same revelation as we were discussing Black Friday shopping. Why buy pointless gifts that don’t even really mean more than surface level happiness??? I think it’s great about what you’re advocating!

  46. Carissa says:

    I want you… to eat Vietnamese egg rolls and Pho with me:)

  47. Pingback: Living Lean: An Interview with John Nguyen (Part One) | 3NL

  48. Pingback: Christmas Hangovers, Cured (Non-Alcoholic)

  49. Margaret says:

    Will definitely be taking part!

  50. Judy says:

    Hi Matt,
    I just stumbled upon your blog. I love this idea! “I just want you.” Too cute. Count me in.

  51. Debbie says:

    Count me in to reach your birthday wish. I already started doing this last month!!!

  52. Bethany says:

    I told my family I didnt want anything, but my mom got me stuff anyway. She said she has receipts if I want to return the stuff. I’m just thinking “great. Thanks for making have to run around and return things.” What should I do?

    • Matt Madeiro says:

      Run with it. :)

      You’ve got the right idea, here, but it’s difficult to change someone else’s mind about how the Christmas season should go. You’ll have to run around and make returns, unfortunately, but there is a silver lining here — a realization that your mother wants to make you happy. She might think stuff is the way to do it, but the gesture is still there, I think.

  53. Pingback: Living Lean: An Interview with John Nguyen (Part Two) | 3NL

  54. Diane M says:

    I’m totally on to your birthday wish and you can count me in! My friend and I went to lunch today before the holiday rush sets in so we could just spend some time together.

    As far as the IF goes, I’ve spent some time contemplating it and it just didn’t sit well with me and my experience. I have fasted once a month, for religious purposes, for 45 years of my life and it’s never been a no brainer or easy. Anorexics can get use to the idea of not eating and it feels so much the same.

    However…reading and pondering about IF and your experience has brought a new shift in my eating which feels life changing and something that I can do for years to come! I eat only fruits and vegetables until 4 pm and then I eat a piece of Ezekiel toast. I wrap the day up a little later with a light dinner. I’m eating so much better and am already feeling the results! Thank you for your hand in helping me make a much needed change.

  55. jan says:

    My family has decided to forgo the Christmas present thing this year and get together, have a bite to eat, read about the birth of Jesus. Instead of presents any who have the calling on them to give has been asked to give to a family, group or charity locally to make a difference in someone’s life who needs to be gifted. It’s time to get off this hamster wheel of consumerism and start looking and asking “how can i help” in this difficult financial climate. Thanks and may God Bless.

  56. Pingback: Day Nine – In Which I… « Raising Your Game

  57. Ri says:

    Count me in… I’ve had 3 separate conversations in the last few weeks with family members about not buying gifts for each other anymore because it’s pointless, and we all agree! Instead, we’re putting the money towards plane tickets to get together more often (we all live in different states).

  58. Zernike says:

    Happy B-day. I’m in!

  59. Amber says:

    Love it! Count me in!

  60. Flyn Gallardo says:

    My wife asked me what I wanted for Christmas and I replied, “You’re more than enough.” It sounds a bit cheezy but it’s true since I started thinking and living a minimalistic lifestyle.
    I’ll be in your TEAM Matt.
    Cheers from OZ!

  61. Carrie says:

    hi Matt, and Happy Birthday!! Awesome idea, count me in too!

  62. I’m in…just called my high-school best friend and invited her to coffee and a chat.

    I LOVE this idea Matt…Happy Birthday….Merry Christmas!!

  63. Jeanie says:

    I’ve opted out of Christmas this year too…I to ld
    My family they were getting me, free and happy. :)

    For the first time in my life…that’s enough.

    I would like to meet you & give you a hug. :)

    • Matt Madeiro says:

      I would like that as well. :D

      You were in Austin recently, right? I wish I had known! I was there just a few weeks back myself!

  64. Minimalist Minx says:

    Love it! With baby number 2 due in less than a month, my Xmas present from my husband is an hour to myself every day. My present to him is Sundays are for him to start kayaking again.

    There is no way any jewellery or gadget will be as beneficial to us and make such a positive difference to our lives at this stage. And each gift involves real thought and generosity consistently rather than a quick credit card swipe.

    Now if we can get Granny in on the act with a regular babysitting commitment, it really will be an amazing Christmas. :0)

    Have a wonderful birthday.

  65. Pingback: Idea spending time | Christmas Countdown

  66. Mia says:

    I did it!! Sort of. I actually got onto this too late and a few people (me included) had started the buying cycle. So instead I made some compromises (no presents at all next year, $50 limit this year) for my nearest and dearest, and placated them with the idea that we could have better birthdays instead. My sister, who I thought would be the hardest to convince, actually loved the idea – makes this time of year a lot less stressful.

    But I have recieved a few things from aquaintences who should know better. People who are buying for me not out of love (these are people who have never texted me just to say hi or called to suggest going for a coffee or a beer) but out of guilt or obligation or a selfish need to feel like they are being a “good person” or “thinking of me.” It makes me irrationally angry – and of course people dont get it. Why would I not want *gift*? Everyone likes those! It’s NICE! Bah humbug.

    How to deal with that, I wonder? Kick up a fuss in order to stay true to what I believe? Or smile, suck it up and donate the thing to charity in the new year? I feel bad yelling and screaming at people to NOT buy me things, but if I dont, they just assume I am being modest and secretly really want to be showered with gifts. Really, a hug and a Chai latte is all I need. Yet is seems so much harder to find..?

    • Matt Madeiro says:

      Strange, isn’t it, how the idea of gift-giving has been so skewered? The idea of giving something out of obligation has to be one of the most mind-boggling concepts yet. :)

      I can understand your dilemma, in any case. I had a family relative give me boxes of candy even after I said I didn’t want anything. It’s especially silly since I eat so healthy now, haha!

      In any case, I think your idea to donate is probably the best one. You can pitch a fit, certainly, and offend a few people, but it’s probably easier to just go along with the people who don’t listen and make sure their gift goes somewhere that it’s genuinely needed. You can’t stop people from giving you stuff you don’t need, I’m afraid, but you can definitely make sure that stuff is put to use somewhere better. :)

      • Mia says:

        I ended up taking Miss Minimalist’s advice and saying “Oh thank you, you shouldn’t have.” And not getting them anything in return. Hopefully by next year they will have got the hint! It’s evil in it’s simplicity. :)

  67. Pingback: Christmas Confessions

  68. Karen says:

    Hi Matt – hope you had a great Xmas & birthday. I’m just starting out on the minimalist journey and love the site – I expect to be dipping in all year. So my request to you is to keep on blogging and my offer to you is some one to contact in Scotland (UK) if you ever come this side of the pond.

    Heres to lots of fun in 2011.

    Karen

  69. Beverly says:

    I absolutely agree! And “I want you” is the perfect response. Isn’t that why we give gifts anyway, to foster closeness with those we love? Time spent on me, talking with me, is a much better gift than almost anything anyone can give me. GREAT post!

  70. Rob says:

    Matt,

    I just found your site last week and have been enjoying reading and getting up to date. i strive for minimalism not necessarily from the point of having as few things as possible, but from the aspect of not having more than I need to have. It is a battle, but I am starting to win.

    This article made me want to brag on my wife. It is usually me that insists on getting Christmas gifts for each other when she says, and truly means, that she had rather just spend time with the family and enjoy our holiday together. This Christmas I will count my blessings that I do not have a wife that insists on stuff. I will not push her on the gift idea, not will I push her to get me something. I will, like her, sit back and enjoy the reason for the season. I will enjoy my family.

    Thanks for the post and the site.

    • Matt Madeiro says:

      Hey Rob!

      You and I share a similar perspective of minimalism: it’s not how much you have, really, so much as how much you don’t. I’m fascinated by people who can live with less than 50 things, but I’m also content to just be mindful of what I purchase and keep my own possessions in check.

      It sounds like you have a remarkable wife! And I’m sure she’d be very proud of you for the lines you wrote above. That’s such a great attitude to have for this upcoming holiday season, and it warms my heart to read that you’re going to de-emphasize gifts in favor of what the holiday is really about: family and friends.

  71. Pingback: Rediscovering the Holiday Magic

  72. Tish says:

    Way to use the itnneert to help people solve problems!