The holidays are a time of abundance. This can manifest as bounty—more time with family, more parties with friends, more charity and gratitude—or as excess—more stuff, more money wasted, more commitments. Embracing minimalism during the holidays doesn’t make you a Scrooge, in fact, prioritizing the important things is arguably what the season is all about. Here are a few ideas to avoid the overwhelm and have a meaningful holiday this year.
1. Schedule Fewer Activities
It’s easy to get caught up in the busyness of the season and feel like you need to do everything in order to enjoy it. Chances are, doing everything is the surest way not to enjoy it. Instead of feeling the pressure to fill your calendar with ornament making and caroling and tree lighting events, pick a few traditions that are meaningful to your family and truly be present. If you don’t want to take pictures in matching pajamas and send a card, don’t. If you love the idea, make a day out of it and savor the moment.
2. Remember Your Reason for the Season
Whether your reason for enjoying the holidays centers on faith, time with family, or generosity, keep it in mind as you go about your daily business. Remember to prioritize what makes the holiday season special to you, and to act on these values—pay for the coffee behind you, call your parents more often, or spend more time in prayer. At the end of the season, you will have spent your time in ways that align with what you value.
3. Give Experience Gifts
Giving experiences is a simple way to keep the holiday season minimal, and it tends to be pretty easy to shop for these gifts as well. Experiences are versatile and can be frugal or lavish, depending on your budget and your needs. Here are a few ideas:
For Your Spouse
- Tickets to an event.
- Reservations at a hard-to-book restaurant.
- Complete a mutually dreaded house project.
- Spa treatment: massage, mani/pedi, facial, blowout.
- Self care day: let your spouse sleep in, take the kids out, and take on all parenting responsibilities, from morning to night.
- Cooking/wine tasting/drawing/karate/etc class.
- A handwritten note of love and appreciation.
For Your Friends/Family
- Offer to babysit their kids.
- Plan a fun day out together.
- Interview grandparents or older family members on camera. That way, their memories will always be preserved for future generations.
- Take a weekend trip.
- Concert tickets, classes, etc.
For Your Kids
- Membership to a museum, the zoo, the science center, etc.
- Lessons: music, art, sports, etc.
- Plan a family vacation in lieu of gifts.
- Tickets to a local amusement park.
- Plan a day out with each kid one-on-one.
- Concert tickets, classes, etc.
4. Give High Quality Physical Gifts
As a self-proclaimed minimalist, I feel like its necessary for me to clarify my feelings about holiday gifts: I love giving and receiving gifts at the holidays. And not just experience gifts, but physical items too! There’s something magical about children opening presents on Christmas morning, or finding the perfect gift for a loved one. There’s no need to feel guilty about enjoying gifts as a minimalist.
That being said, I think we can all agree that we’d rather not exchange awkward obligation gifts with family and friends. There’s nothing more uncomfortable than giving or receiving something that you clearly don’t like or can’t use. And there’s nothing more exhausting than spending an entire weekend running to eight different stores returning these unwanted gifts [or worse, having them take up room in a closet somewhere].
If you’re going to exchange physical gifts with your family and friends, use the following guidelines to ensure that your present will be well-received:
- Is it useful? Consider whether the person receiving the gift will actually use it. A sweater is useful, but if you’ve never seen your dad wear a sweater in his lifetime, it’s probably not the right gift for him. Similarly, a personalized steak branding iron might be cute, but it’s largely useless.
- Is it long-lasting? Purchasing high quality, long-lasting items is more sustainable and reduces the burden of ownership for the recipient. Especially when it comes to gifting kids toys, the hassle of a cheap item that breaks and needs to be replaced or takes up space in the closet is often not worth the few uses it provides.
- Is it either personal or universal? A gift should either be personal, meaning that the recipient has mentioned the item to you or that you know the recipient’s taste extremely well, or universal, meaning that it’s something that everyone loves. Anywhere in the middle, and you’re bound for trouble [think buying a pair of shoes for your mother-in-law]. Tread cautiously with universal gifts as well—not every woman likes generic heavily fragranced body washes, and not every man wants a tie. Universally enjoyed gifts are things like food, spirits, movie tickets, and gift cards.
- Is it tailored to the recipient? I think I can safely speak for all ladies when I say that the latest hyper-marketed piece of jewelry from the large chain jewelry store [usually some sort of heart or abstract representation of your love, for only $199], is definitely not what we want for the holidays. Generic gifts indicate a lack of thought and tend to cry “gift of obligation.” Chances are, the recipient would much rather you give a free gift [your time, your attention, your assistance] than spend money on generic “foolproof” items. Spend some time thinking about the recipient and what they value. If you don’t know them well enough to know what they value, go with a universal gift or a gift card.
If the answer to any of the above is no, consider an experience gift, the gift of time, or a gift card. The thought will be appreciated, as well the relief from the holiday return-a-thon.
Minimalism is all about focusing on what really matters in your life, and the holidays are the perfect time to embrace a minimalist mindset–spending time with loved ones, sharing meaningful gifts and memories, being charitable and grateful, and focusing inward on family, faith, and love.
What are some of your favorite ways to avoid consumerism and focus on the important things during the holidays?
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