Rule of Three: Skipping Materialism to Focus on What Matters

A few years ago, my husband and I realized that the holidays were getting a little crazy. Who really needed all this stuff? How many presents did a three year old actually need to open? For that matter, how many did we need? So we sat down and thought about what we really wanted to teach our kiddo, and came up with the Rule of 3.

Our family’s Rule of 3 emerged out of our concern over our own growing materialism during the holidays. We noticed ourselves buying bigger, buying more presents…and we bought presents out of silly “what if” scenarios: What if he buys a really expensive present and I don’t? What if she buys me six presents and I only bought her four? What if this isn’t what she wants…I guess I should buy a back-up? One holiday we each spent hundreds of dollars on stuff.

So we stopped.

Our Rule of 3 is simple: one gift wanted, one gift needed, and one gift handmade. We additionally do stockings, which often contain gift cards for experiences and small gifts that remind us of the other person. Combined, the three gifts must not total beyond $100; the stockings are their own thing.

Our holidays are more about each other than about stuff. Our daughter receives three gifts from us, and one from Santa as well. We curbed Santa’s gift giving after reading a great article written by a teacher sharing how she witnessed conversations transpire in her classroom after Christmas between students living in financially comfortable homes and students living in poorer homes. She described the crestfallen faces of her poorer students when they realized Santa brought so many gifts to other homes. Having never considered this aspect, we moved Santa to one gift, though it’s typically a larger, sought-after gift. (This year it’s a LEGO set).

Limiting our gifts to three for each other encourages us to pay attention to what those we love really want or need; it’s gratifying when we get it right. We listen more attentively during conversations. We shop smarter too with the budget of only $100. I keep a list of things mentioned all year on the fly, and watch for them to go on sale. Four years later we still love this system.

Many variations on our Rule of 3 exist; another cute idea is the 4 Gift Challenge: Want, Need, Wear, Read. Who wouldn’t love receiving a new book every holiday season? Also trending over the last few years is the Snowman gift: three gifts wrapped and decorated as a snowman: the bottom is a wanted gift, the middle is clothing (or other necessities), and the top is a gift card or small gift.

Transitioning to less was honestly easy. And the bonus to the Rule of 3? Less holiday shopping! No crazy crowds, no Black Friday hoards…we’re mostly done before December. It’s easier to hide three presents too!


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