It’s that time of year again. You know, still a few weeks away from Halloween, and yet Christmas trees and decorations are available in retail stores, and holiday gift giving guides are popping up all over the internet. Invariably, they are lists of the hot toys and gadgets of 2010 – the things that your loved ones will supposedly want and appreciate the most this holiday season.
But are any of you tired of the commercial feeding frenzy that seems to take over the last couple months of the year? Do you ever complain about the crowds, the lists, the effort required to find just the right gift, the stress, and all the hoopla? Do you struggle to rid your house of clutter only to find that it comes crowding back in – nicely wrapped with bows on top – during the holidays? Do you ever spend more than you can really afford on gifts, and then find yourself stressed about money in January? Do you get so excited about the holiday season that you build it up in your mind to be far bigger than it is, and then find yourself a bit let down after it’s all over?
It doesn’t have to be this way. My own family (my husband, son, myself, my siblings, and parents) celebrates Christmas by getting together for a big family dinner, but nobody brings presents of any sort, other than a side dish. We always have a great day together, but there’s no shopping (other than for groceries) involved, no money spent, no worrying about trying to find just the right gizmo for each other, no wasted wrapping paper, no gifts to return the next day… it’s about as stress-free and happy as a holiday can be. We used to exchange presents when we were young, but my parents stopped getting Christmas presents for us when I was about 17, and started taking a family vacation at Christmas time instead. That’s not really practical anymore now that all the children are grown, but we still get together most years to eat and hang out together, and gifts never cross our minds. My husband and I did exchange gifts the first couple years we were together, but we quickly decided that we didn’t need a special holiday in order to give each other things, and abandoned the practice. We have not given our son gifts for Christmas yet either, although he’s only two (we may change that once he’s in school in a few years – we’ll see).
My mother in law loves to give gifts. Most of the time, the boxes she sends are filled with books and clothes, with a few toys. We’re grateful for the things she sends, and I do enjoy making her a gift each year, usually something along the lines of a scrapbook filled with pictures of her grandkids. It’s something I like doing, and it’s not stressful at all – especially since I really only have one gift to make.
In previous years, I’ve made ornaments for our five nieces. I started doing it in 2001, when there were two nieces. I enjoy doing it, but I’ve decided that the girls probably have plenty of ornaments now, and we’re starting a new tradition this year. We’re going to donate money to a charity in each niece’s name, opting for charities that will mean something to each of them (for example, one is really into horses, so for her, I’ll be looking for a charity that protects wild horses). Charity Navigator is a great resource for finding reputable organizations. We also donate to charities in the names of a few of our friends each year, and for my husband’s father. We’ve found this to be a great option for giving something to people who already have everything they need. No clutter, and the money that we would have otherwise spent on random trinkets gets used for something much more worthwhile (and meaningful for the recipient, since we choose charities that are close to their hearts). For most of our friends, we simply get together for a meal, or talk on the phone, or something simple like that. We’ve simplified our holidays to the point where the Christmas season around here is pretty much the same as any other time of the year, but with a bit more socializing. No money stress, no frantic online shopping, no fighting the crowds at the mall… it’s pretty awesome. And there’s no letdown after the holidays are over either.
I asked a few of my favorite minimalist bloggers for their thoughts on holiday gift giving, and I want to share their wisdom with you. Everyone has different ideas about what they want their ideal holiday season to look like. Just make sure you’re being true to what you and your family really want, rather than what advertisers have tried to convince us that we want.
Joshua Becker, who blogs at Becoming Minimalist, is married with two children. Here’s what he had to say:
As we enter the holiday season (and my birthday which is in December) here is our philosophy on gift-giving and its intersection with minimalism. It is likely to vary from others, but that’s fine and healthy because it works for us – and that’s what matters most. Our approach to gift-giving and gift-receiving is based on a couple of assumptions. Assumption #1: Giving gifts is an act of love and appreciation. And I think I could argue that it is more than a cultural phenomena. Assumption #2: For many, receiving gifts is a primary mode of being affirmed in love. Some would even define it as their primary “love language.” Because of those two assumptions, we have not stopped giving gifts nor have we asked relatives to stop giving us or our kids gifts during the holidays.
Instead, we have asked for more thoughtful gifts. Many people believe the lie that giving more gifts equals showing more love, but that is not the case. In reality, 1 thoughtful gift communicates far more love and appreciation than a whole sock-ful of trendy trinkets. For our family, this means we purchase 1-2 nice gifts for our children and each other rather than 7-8 made from plastic. And for our relatives, we try to purchase things that we know they need rather than things on sale at the department store… and sometimes what they need most is a nice dinner at a fine restaurant with a complimentary babysitter to watch their kids.
This holiday season, don’t buy more. Buy thoughtful.
Miss Minimalist, an American living in the UK with lots of experiences and very few possessions, shares her ideas for “invisible gifts”:
I love the idea of “invisible gifts.” For example, instead of buying your best friend a new scarf, offer to babysit her kids for a night. Instead of giving your mom a department store knickknack, cook her a fabulous meal. Alternatively, share your skills and expertise: do someone’s taxes, fix their computer, give them a massage, or teach them how to sew. These gifts keep the spirit of the holiday alive, while eliminating the stress, clutter, and debt!
I also like making charitable donations in lieu of exchanging gifts. The money we spend buying each other gadgets and tchotchkes can do a world of good for those less fortunate. The key is to make it fun: spend an afternoon with loved ones choosing favorite charities /together/. Selecting a sheep, goat, or water buffalo to donate through Heifer International, for example, can be a lot more fun than fighting crowds at the mall! Such an experience will make your holiday richer and more meaningful, and you won’t have anything to return or declutter later on.
Tammy Strobel, the blogger behind Rowdy Kittens, sums up a perfect minimalist, stress-free holiday season:
We don’t give traditional Christmas gifts anymore. Instead, we give our time and money to charity or contribute to our nieces and nephews college fund. If you absolutely have to give someone a gift, do it yourself. For example, make a scarf, baked goods or brew up some homemade beer.
Remember, the holidays shouldn’t be about sutff, but devoting time to relationships.
I hope you find some inspiration from these ideas, and figure out your own way to create holiday traditions with your family and friends that are sustainable (both for yourself and for the environment – throwing away a garbage bag filled with wrapping paper each year is not sustainable!) and fit easily into your budget. The holidays shouldn’t be about shopping and stress, but somewhere along the line, that’s what they’ve become for a lot of people. Why not make this the year that you start simplifying, relaxing, and enjoying the season instead?