The 4 Gift Rule. Maybe you’ve heard of it. It’s where for Christmas (or Birthdays!) you decide to gift your children only 4 gifts. Those gifts are:
- Something They Want
- Something They Need
- Something to Wear
- Something to Read
I want to preface this by saying this is not, obviously, my invention or rhyme. It’s been around since before I had children 5 years ago, but when I read it leading up to my little baby’s first Christmas I loved it and we decided to implement it into our home. 5 years later the 4-Gift Rule is still running strong within our heavily decorated walls. We gift our children 4 gifts under these guidelines. My husband and I have also adopted this gift giving for each other. And I love it. I will shout it from the street corners I will advocate for it for the rest of time. But why, you may ask?
First, it’s because I have no self control when it comes to gifts. It is my love language. I want to shower people in gifts always. I live to watch their faces light up as they open something I picked out for them, curated to their hearts. This joy absolutely applies also to my family. As any mother, I want to sit back and relish in their surprised faces. But here’s the problem. I’ll say it again. I HAVE NO SELF CONTROL. Especially when it comes to my beloved Christmas. I have a Christmas tree in every room of our house. Santa’s sweet jolly plump face graces every table top we have. Get over here and pucker up or get out of the way because you’re standing under mistletoe in every doorway of my home. Garland? Got it. Wreaths on every door and even in the bathroom? Yup. You might as well call me Mrs. Claus at Christmas because I wear the glasses, have the plump thighs, and will fill you up with cookies and cocoa if you even come near my house.
So, you see the problem. It’s me. If I had free reign over showering my children with Christmas gifts, each wrapped in a different Christmas paper, guess what? I WOULD DO IT. I would pile those presents to the sky. I would shop until the last moment. I would let the gift-giving overtake my holiday season. And that’s where the 4-Gift Rule saves me. You see, I don’t want to be preoccupied with the gifts I have to buy. I don’t want gift wrapping to take up so much time I can’t watch Christmas movies every night for 25 nights with my kids. I don’t want to watch them open a mountain of gifts and not know which is their favorite because there are too many. I want to really enjoy my family during Christmas. 4- Gifts keeps me in check and keeps the balance of enjoying from toppling over into overwhelming.
The second reason we love the 4-Gift Rule is because it keeps our Christmas budget where it should be: working for us and not crippling us. Christmas is overwhelming enough on its own. The gifts, the food, the decorations, the glittery-snowflake-magic we want to ensure our family experiences. Add on the financial burden Christmas can be, and good grief, it just seems like it would be too much. Financially, for us, the 4-Gift Rule takes that aspect of Christmas-Craziness and squashes it. We have a set amount for each child we want to spend for Christmas. It feels easier to navigate 4 gifts under that umbrella than if we had a tower of toys to buy. We do choose an equal amount for each child, however, each of their 4-Gifts do not typically cost the same. Maybe our daughter’s something to read is $15 and our son’s is $10. Or maybe the something our son wants costs most of his budgeted amount. That’s fine because I can find his other 3 gifts on a smaller scale and still stay within our budget. And the best part? If I come in under budget for all 4 gifts….I just funnel that extra money into something else Christmasy and fun—insert Italian chef kiss here—and then I’m also not breaking the bank on Christmas activities, either. I am all about eliminating the stress of Christmas and being able to enjoy the holiday season without being totally overwhelmed. Which brings me to the 3rd reason we do the 4-Gift Rule in our house:
It takes the stress out of Christmas gift buying. As I said before, my husband and I also do the 4-Gifts for each other. Let me tell you. It’s amazing. Do you have a spouse who is a terrible gift giver? Have you sat, a little afraid, on Christmas of what you might open? I truly believe that this will help SO much. I love my husband. He is the hardest worker. He is the best dad and husband. He deserves ALL the things. But you know what? SO DO I. Listen. I told you my love language is gifts. I love to give them. I love to give gifts that are thoughtful and heart warming and make people feel loved. But I also love to get gifts (I can say that because we’re real friends. Obviously). Gifts. I want ’em. I love ’em. I appreciate them. So having a formula for both my husband and I to navigate for Christmas takes the work out of buying gifts and adds some fun. I love how creative my husband gets with my 4-Gifts. I love that I don’t have to be totally overwhelmed by what to buy a man who deserves all the things but needs and wants none of the things. The 4-Gifts has been a gift in and of itself because I can store away the tiniest little things my husband may mention throughout the year because I know what I’m on the hunt for: something he wants, something he needs, something for him to wear, something for him to read.
This stress-saver also applies to shopping for our kids. We don’t spend hours upon hours Christmas shopping. I don’t have to constantly add something to his list because I saw something to add to hers. That’s a slippery slope that is all too easy to fall into. Have you ever been all done shopping but on the way to the checkout you see something child A would really really REALLY love so you grab it, but now you have to get child B a little something else as well. IT’S TOO MUCH! And I just can’t do it. (See the opening paragraph where I tell you I have no self-control and you will see why this is absolutely not an option for me). Where would it end? For me, the answer would be: dead under a mountain of unnecessary gifts and crippling debt. I ain’t doin’ it, guys. Thank you, 4-Gift Rule, for saving my life.
The 4th—and final—reason we love the 4-Gift Rule is because it sets up the expectations for Christmas in our home. I am a big believer in setting up expectations in pretty much every relationship and circumstance. When going to a pool I always talk to my kids about the expectations—“You can expect there to be a lot of people and a lot going on. However, you must stay close to me, and you may not enter the water without me” (because they’re little). I have them repeat that back to me so we all know what to expect. The biggest disagreements in my most important relationships have almost always been born out of unmet expectations that were never voiced. Expressed expectations alleviate disappointment.
Because we have done the 4-Gifts their entire lives, they know what to expect. There is no question of whether there will be a huge mountain of gifts under the tree—there won’t be. There will be 4-Gifts for each of us. Each chosen intentionally and specifically for the recipient. One of my greatest fears is raising entitled children. I think of Dudley Dursley from Harry Potter, how he counts his presents each birthday and demands there be more than there was last year. I cringe at the thought. Anything I can do to equip my children to be content with what they are given, enjoy the moments they are in, and be grateful no matter the circumstance—I’m doing it. And I think the 4-Gift Rule helps with that.
If you have older kids, it’s not too late to implement this into your homes. Make it a fun thing where you tell them about the new thing your family is trying. Maybe pull them aside and help them come up with the others’ 4-Gifts. Include them and hype it up. They might just fall in love with it alongside you.
I do have two disclaimers about the 4-Gift Rule.
- We do stockings. This is an extra little space where I can put a new toothbrush, a sought after Lego, a new set of paints. I also put in underwear and socks because #momlife. So those little last-minute buys can safely fall there as long as they fit in a stocking.
- We do not make our extended family adhere to this rule. As someone who lost her mother, I place no bounds on family members who want to love on my children. I know that Rah and Gigi will get something that sets their hearts ablaze and will make them squeal when opening. I know my sisters will send chocolaty snacks. As a lover of gift-giving, I will not place bounds around someone else’s joy in what they give. This is another reason, though, why we do the 4 Gifts: I know other people will get them things and they certainly do not need more from me!
The 4-Gift Rule:
Something They Want
Something They Need
Something to Wear
Something to Read
It has been such a joy to implement in our household. I love it. I stand behind it. And perhaps, if you’re looking for a way to change things up this year and eliminate a little stress in your life, it might be for your family, too!