A New & Improved Version of the Four-Gift Rule

Four Gift Boxes by Element5 Digital on Unsplash via www.angelamaywaller.com

For the last several years our family has been using the “four-gift rule” to help guide our gift giving at the holidays. You’ve probably heard of it; it’s a rhyme that goes like this:

Something you want,
Something you need,
Something to wear,
Something to read.

For the most part it works. But we’ve always struggled with the “need” and “wear” gifts. Sometimes what the person needs IS something to wear, but we don’t want to give two clothing gifts. Sometimes the person doesn’t need anything to wear at all, and then you’re stuck trying to give something that fits that the person actually wants.

We’ve lived with it for several years because otherwise this system works for us (read my full explanation atSomething You Want, Something You Need). But this year we decided that we wanted to make it work even better.

Part of the reason we have a system like the four gift rule in our house is to shift the emphasis away from materialism. We still give gifts because our children have made it clear that this is important to them (let’s be honest, my husband does, too). But more and more as a family we’ve been trying to push our focus away from things and toward experiences instead. As I continue to evaluate our seasonal traditions, I’m always asking where I can increase the experience quotient.

Our solution for holiday gift giving? Replace “something to wear” with “something to do.”

Our new, updated version of the rhyme now is:

New & Improved

Something you want,
Something you need,
Something to do,
Something to read.

One small tweak has made this new and improved four-gift rule more in tune with our family values. It also is both more flexible and, for us anyway, more clear. The kids took to it right away and structured their Christmas lists into the four categories—an unexpected benefit of this system but one I like. I don’t want to waste money on something someone doesn’t want!!


Something You Want

This is always something cool, fun or special that the recipient wants. It’s that thing they desire but would probably never buy for themselves. For my kids that looks like LEGO sets that are out of their budgetary league. For my husband, computer gadgets and for me something for the house I’d probably not buy otherwise.

Something You Need

Now that there is only one “need” category, this can be clothes or something else. Maybe its school supplies or sports equipment or anything that the person needs to do what they want to do but haven’t gotten for themselves yet. This year I’m asking for my very own tools.

Something to So

This is my new favorite category, the place where experiences get put front and center. There are so many possibilities. This gift might be an intangible like a trip, class or activity, but it could also be supplies or equipment that support an activity. Some requests on family lists this year include art supplies, piano music and craft kits. In other years it might be tickets or sporting goods.

Something to Read

I love books, so this is always a favorite. I’ve got a long list of my newest favorite series of unabridged children’s classics. The kids are asking for the latest book in the series they are each reading. In our house this usually books, but it could also be magazines, audiobooks or kindle.

All in all, I think this little update is going to be a big improvement for our family this holiday season. (Updated: It was!!) While it isn’t the ideal of no gifts at all, it’s a step in the right direction and a good way to emphasize doing over having, something I think everyone can appreciate this Christmas.

Do you use a limited gift system in your house? What do you do? Comment below and tell me or come find me on Facebook or Instagram!

Updated: If you’re curious to find out how this panned out for me this year, check out my post:What I Got for Christmas This Year.

Love, Angela


Many thanks to the generosity of photographers whose work is shared for free onUnsplash:Element5 Digital.


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