Ah, gift-giving season: It’s as American as football and apple pie. Or, in the parlance of startups, something so established that it’s ripe for disruption. That’s what I’m doing this year: disrupting my gifting circles and cycles. The same way we no longer stay at hotels (hi, airbnb) or rent a car (hello, Zipcar), we also don’t have to gift like we used to.
It’s a mindset that crystallized for me the first winter after I became an entrepreneur. Suddenly, I had neither the cash nor the energy. Why did I have to buy gifts for 30-plus people? At first, my new entrepreneur mindset went a little overboard and adopted a “screw it” mentality: I was over gifts: giving and receiving. Both came with pressure I didn’t have the bandwidth to handle. I had software to build and customers to woo!
Opting out wasn’t completely new for me. Throughout my 20s, I often skated by taking people to dinner or drinks in lieu of traditional gifts. Sometimes, it was laziness, but usually, it was a visceral reaction to loading more stuff on people. Instead, I tried to focus on experiences, like a ticket for my brother to come visit me in New York, or entry to a race that a friend and I could run together.
Then I married into a family of passionate gift givers and quickly realized I was in over my head. My solution was to throw money at the problem. I used my growing paycheck to “give good gifts.” The internet made it especially easy: With a few clicks, I could send wine, gourmet ice cream, and stockings full of novels. I ordered cashmere sweaters and hats and so many other…things. The gifts I’d felt drawn to, I loved giving. And the filler gifts — when no inspiration struck — felt like…filler. Expensive filler that gave me a financial hangover come January. Between us, my husband and I spent over $1,000 one year…to do what, exactly? Return home with $1,000 worth of things we didn’t particularly need or want?
I thought there was no way out, and that gift giving was what it took to keep the peace. And then I left my nice corporate career to launch my own company, and realized that I didn’t have to do anything. That was the first year I inadvertently tried disruption: cold turkey.
Here’s what happened.