All I want for Christmas ... is to not buy things people don't need

Christmas can be more magical when seen through a child's eyes. Photo: Shutterstock.
Christmas can be more magical when seen through a child's eyes. Photo: Shutterstock.

I am reluctant to describe myself as a Grinch because there is plenty I adore about Christmas. I love the music, the end-of-year concerts, the festive food and the way the end of December beckons. The last week of the year offers a rare opportunity to really check out of real life, even if only for a few days, and I always look forward to it.

There is no doubt that having children to share the magic of the season accentuates the delight. There is the excitement of finishing another year of school or the prospect of bidding preschool farewell and heading off to kindergarten. There is the thrill of putting crayon to paper to create misspelt letters to Santa. There is the earnest reciting of carols in anticipation of their class performances. All of these rituals are laden with joy.

Of course there are frustrations too. A recent weekend visit to a shopping complex reminded me of the hazards this time of year presents. Forget a quick 30-minute dash to Target or K-Mart. It'll take you that long to find a car park, and longer still to wait in the queue. The bringing together of families isn't without its challenges.

But the reason I fear I am verging on Grinch territory is because I have one significant reservation about the festive season that I am trying to navigate. It is the proliferation of presents, and I say this as someone who really likes things.

I am incapable of walking into a shop without experiencing the rush of adrenalin as I begin picturing my home, wardrobe, children and life, adorned with all the beautiful things I don't need but covet all the same.

I salivate over online stores and the perfectly curated sponsored posts that pop up in my Instagram feed. Name a category - clothes, homewares, shoes, linen, baking equipment - and I shall show you my wish-list in an instant.

The good news is I resist temptation 95 per cent of the time and my internal reaction to Christmas shopping suggests my quest to become a mindful consumer is working.

The idea of buying stuff people don't need fills me with dread and it's not because I am ungenerous or cruel. I love picking a present I know will delight the recipient. Giving feels good. And when you're a kid, getting feels pretty good too. I vividly remember my own excitement the morning of Christmas upon discovering Santa had filled my stocking.

I have no intention of depriving my children, my family or my friends, but I cannot bring myself to buy things they don't need.

This determination was formed by an image I can't forget. In his bestselling book The Barefoot Investor, financial adviser Scott Pape shows a terrifying picture of what happens to the billions of dollars we spend on things. Most of it ends up in landfill in six weeks.

When you consider it is estimated that Australians spend roughly $8 billion on Christmas presents, this potentially translates into tonnes of landfill by February.

The price tag of this waste is staggering to contemplate, and the environmental impact is just as frightening.

Which is why my objective for gift-giving this Christmas is twofold: I want to celebrate in a way that won't break the bank and won't needlessly create more landfill.

To do this I am embracing three rules:

Four presents per child

Last year Fairfax Media columnist Jenna Price outlined a recipe that I'm going to suggest Father Christmas replicate in our place. The rule is to buy only four things for each child: something to read, something to wear, something they want and something they need.

How perfect does that sound?

Give food

We waste a lot of food in Australia and it carries with it adverse financial and environmental ramifications. But have you ever seen mince tarts or rum balls or homemade rocky road go to waste? If you have, it is likely you haven't met my family or friends.

The best thing about making and giving edible Christmas gifts is that you completely circumvent the whole problem of giving someone something they don't "need". Technically none of us need Christmas treats but who doesn't want them?

Secret Santa

In my own extended family and in my in-law extended family, we have adopted a Secret Santa scenario where adults only give and receive one gift. It saves time, money and the potential for waste. When you are only buying for one person it's a lot easier to get them something they genuinely want, even by asking them or someone close to them if there is anything they have their eye on. (If anyone asks, there is a beautiful Bundt cake tin from Williams & Sonoma that would look very lovely under a tree with my name on it.)

Georgina Dent is a journalist, editor and TV commentator with a keen focus on women's empowerment and gender equality.

This story All I want for Christmas ... is to not buy things people don't need first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.