For once, I have finished my Christmas shopping early. I just went over my list to make sure that I hadn't forgotten anyone. It was pretty easy; this year, everybody's getting the same thing from me. Nothing.

It really saves on the wrapping paper and the trips to the store. And it lets me avoid Black Friday completely. By giving my friends and family the gift of nothing and having them return the favor, they won't have to wrap anything, they can sit home on Black Friday, putter around the house, relax and spend time with their family. They won't have to wait in line at the post office; they won't have to risk being trampled by frenzied crowds; they won't have to circle the mall parking lot for 20 minutes trying to find a spot. In short, the gift of nothing is not a chintzy gift.

I was never any good at tying bows, anyway. I will probably get long, effusive thank you notes from people for having the guts to give them the gift of bubkes.

Sue is not so sure. She thinks I will be shunned. It's a chance I'm willing to take. Will Aunt Betsey be that upset because I didn't get her The Clapper again?

And I'm not wrecking the economy. If you believe the TV news, you'd think that if we don't buy a ton of worthless junk then we are letting our country down, are unpatriotic for not buying a scarf for Aunt Minnie and an ascot for Uncle Bob. "Will more people shop this year than last year?" the pundits ask. It seems they are confusing Christmas with a football game, and the side that spends the most wins. Wins what? More credit card debt? More time in the car? More frenzy? What? Your life's not crazy enough, and you want to add to it? And you're not helping our economy you're helping China's economy, where the scarf and the ascot were made. And they don't even celebrate Christmas.

The gift of nothing sounds like a dodge to get out of buying gifts for my friends, my family and my co-workers. It's not, but it only works if you tell them that the only thing you want from them is the gift of nothing first. Some people will understand right away that this is a substantial gift; that you are one less person they have to shop for, one less thing they have to think about. If you can't bring yourself to buy nothing, spend Black Friday baking cookies. Homemade cookies can't be bought in a store. Now that's something that didn't come from overseas.

With children living at home, it's different. They won't understand the gift of nothing, but they will understand that Santa's sleigh can only carry so many things, and if you ask for 10 things, there will be less room for other children's toys. Never underestimate the power of shame when it comes to children.

The Thanksgiving gathering is the perfect time to mention that you're planning to give the gift of nothing this year. You'll be surprised at how many of your nearest and dearest will say, "Thank you! For years I've wanted to take Christmas back and make it a family gathering, not a competition about who can spend the most. I can't stand what it's turned into."

Make this year the year you don't have to worry about buying something that is the wrong size, wrong color or something someone already has. Make this the year to swear off buying trinkets just for the sake of buying. If you think giving someone a gift says, "I love you," guess what? So does saying, "I love you." I can only remember a few gifts I've been given over the years, but I can remember every time someone hugged me and said, "I love you." It's not a little gift. It's huge.

Jim Mullen is the author of "It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life" and "Baby's First Tattoo." You can reach him at jim_mullen@myway.com.