Somehow, the winter holiday time in the United States has become more about buying things than the simple pleasure of spreading a festive spirit of cheer and goodwill.
Yes, there is also heightened joy around this time of year, yet I find it is layered with an odd requirement to buy things as the primary way of celebrating and showing our loved ones we appreciate them.
How i formed my minimal mindset
My polar childhood experience has given me a unique perspective and is the guiding inspiration for creating meaningful ways to approach the holiday season, and gifting in general, with a minimal mindset.
In my preteen years, I was extremely poor. I mean this without exaggeration. Food, a roof over my head, and clothes that fit were not consistently available. For Thanksgiving, my family gratefully received a box of canned goods from the generosity of others who donated to food drives. Donate to these causes. It really does make a difference, I can attest to that.
For the winter holiday we didn’t decorate, put up a tree nor did we exchange gifts – I don’t recall Santa as ever being real. The few years that we received gifts they came from our grandparents in the mail and it was clearly from them, not a mysterious Saint Nick.
a contrasting holiday
In contrast, when I was a teenager, I lived in a family home where the holidays were filled with an abundance of twinkle lights, we annually decorated a Christmas tree and there was a walk-in closet dedicated to hiding the massive amount of presents and bags of stuff to be wrapped and labeled. I was so overwhelmed the first year. So many members of the family got me gift after gift.
As we all opened our presents from “Santa” at midnight on Christmas Eve laughter, the sound of ripping wrapping paper and children’s squeals filled the air. It was festive and generous and magical. Then the garbage bags came out to clean up the torn paper and boxes. 3 massive garbage bags were filled that night and it was only Christmas Eve – Christmas morning we would open gifts from the family and extended family members.
What really matters
Late on that first Christmas night in the new home, I recall sitting in my room going back through the large pile of gifts with curiosity and shock. The favorite item that made me excited, the inevitable ugly item, the perfume that wasn’t me, the items that were too big, too small or age-inappropriate and an array of clothing items that were really nice yet I certainly didn’t need and wouldn’t get a chance to wear because I wore a uniform in middle school.
I felt like a horrible person for even thinking these negative things about these generous gifts so I kept all those thoughts to myself and wondered, “What do I do with all this stuff?”
To me, just being surrounded by all the family members, the generous hugs, the fireplace bright and warm, the food readily available and a steady roof over my head was a tremendous amount of abundance and the only real “gifts” I wanted.
A minimalist guide to gift giving
When I was old enough to make my own holiday ritual I never forgot this feeling of what really mattered and my sense that a lot of gifts can be seen as just a bunch of stuff at the end of the day.
I began approaching the holidays and all gift occasions with a minimalist mindset and have never looked back. Wish you could do the same? It’s easier then you think.
Follow the below guide I created to approach the holidays and gift giving like a minimalist.
T – Thoughtful Gifting
H – Honor Your Limits
E – Experiences not Things
A – Alternative Wrapping Paper
B – Big Group Gifting
C – Conscious Consumerism
D – Delayed Gratification
S – Seek Needs over Wants
I am not against the idea of giving gifts. Giving gifts is a kind gesture and can add a special treat to the holiday. It can be someone’s primary love language, where they need gifts to feel really loved. It can also be customary in your family and something you “must” do.
Firstly, I discourage you from EVER buying something just for the sake of having a thing to give. The extensive research and data on the materials economy, the lifecycle of stuff, states that inevitably 99% of stuff will be in the landfill within 6 months of purchase. Yikes, right?!
the importance of well thought out gifts
So, what is the solution when you want to or need to get a gift for someone and you aren’t sure what to get? Approach buying presents first and last with thoughtful gifting. This means really paying attention to the person you are gifting for and select only items that actually make you think of the person when you see it.
This is the gift where you can say, “I thought of you when I saw this.” It may not always prevent it from ending up in the landfill, but it does make the stuff you buy more meaningful and up the chances that it will hold value and purpose in the receiver’s life.
Honor Your Limits
That first Christmas when I received a mountain of gifts I wondered how the family afforded it all. I also wondered if it was a burden that they felt the need to get extra gifts, with the addition of me, that year. I never asked those questions but, since the first year I lived on my own and discovered what a budget and credit card were, I made the assumption that if they couldn’t afford it at the time, they most likely put it on credit.
know your financial limitations
I strongly encourage you to honor your financial limits, especially at a high-pressure spending time like Christmas. This means, don’t put gifts on credit unless you have the money to pay it off in full the same month or you have a clear plan to steadily pay it back without negatively affecting your fundamental needs.
If you don’t have the funds giving a gift on credit can put you in a bad financial place which undermines your safety and security. No “thing” is worth the stress of that. If this is your situation, keep reading for many gift alternatives that won’t leave you in debt.
Experiences not Things
I wish it was customary that we gifted each other experiences, not things. After all, when we are old it is typically our experiences that will make the memory of our lives rich – not the things we acquired.
Every elderly person I know and have spoken to eventually aligns with this philosophy. Embrace it as early in life as you can and you will give and receive the best, most memorable gifts. As an added bonus, experience gifting can be free or less costly.
Experience gifts ideas:
- A massage
- A surprise movie night on the roof
- A date out on the town to a free event I researched and found online
- A nature adventure to a place my friend never saw before
- A full day of helping a friend complete something they haven’t been able to that you find easy and fun (paint their room, organize their stuff, fashion consult by weeding through their closet together, etc.)
Alternative Wrapping Paper
Are you a big gift giver and annoyed at me so far? Haha. I’m ok with that. If you simply love giving tangible gifts there is another way you can approach it with a minimalist mindset. How you wrap it can make all the difference.
Remember that first Christmas night of gifts I experienced and told you about? The 3 large bags of wrapping paper and boxes headed to the garbage that was the result? Well, there are numerous ways to wrap your gifts that can have a more thoughtful end result.
Eco-Friendly Ways to Wrap Gifts:
- Select biodegradable wrapping paper, ribbons, and tape. (Most of these traditional items are not recyclable and go straight to the landfill – eek!)
- Use real herbs of rosemary, mistletoe, eucalyptus, thyme and/or holly berries as a way to decorate your present packaging. (These are biodegradable and more beautiful than plastic bows.)
- Make bows out of biodegradable paper, scrap paper, newspaper, music sheets or another reusable resource you plan to just throw away. (Designer bows are made out of plastic and go straight to the landfill, avoid these as often as possible.)
- It is fun to “open” a present and it can be even more fun when a gift comes inside of another gift. House your present in a second gift like a keepsake box, a matryoshka doll or another reusable item. Get creative!
Big Group Gifting
This has become one of my very favorite ways of giving gifts. Many of us have something that we would like to have or do that is just outside of our budget or beyond the limit of what we would buy ourselves even if we have the money.
By pooling resources with a group of friends, it unlocks these larger meaningful gifts that are sure to wow! These big group gifts are very memorable and also create 1 big gift from your group instead of a set of smaller gifts that may just end up in the landfill sooner then you imagine.
Big gift ideas:
- Tickets – Purchasing a pair of tickets to a concert, event, show. Getting 2 is highly encouraged so that they can bring someone without incurring additional cost.
- Adventure Experience – Skydiving, Helicopter ride, Shark diving, etc.
- Class or Lesson – Calligraphy Class, Candle-making Class, Self Defense Class, Yoga Classes, Dance Lessons, Music Lessons, Cooking lessons. There are so many ways to enrich your mind and skills, by gifting a lesson you may just unlock a hidden talent of your loved one or fulfill something they have always wanted to try.
- Spa Day – this is typically a big winner and speaks for itself.
You may think all of the above are conscious consumption items. You are right, however, this is a separate point that takes it a step further. When you buy an item it can be thoughtful, within your limits, an experience, wrapped consciously or a single big gift but have you thought of what you are supporting by purchasing the gift?
Thinking through your purchases to the end of its impact is an act of deep care and concern that goes beyond the person you are buying for and acknowledges that every purchase creates a ripple of events.
Conscious consumerism is when you make purchases that support companies or items that reduce their impact on the planet.
Examples of conscious consumerism. Buy things that are:
- Encased in post-consumer recycled packaging
- Made of a purely renewable resources
- Made of all non-toxic materials
- Ethically sourced ingredients and materials
- Made by people that are treated and compensated justly
- Produced by a facility with low emissions and safe working conditions
- Produced by a company that has a strong commitment to giving back and donates a significant portion of their proceeds to good causes, especially ones that counterbalance the impact of their specific industry
This is a fun gift idea that will be excitedly received by the right person. The concept is to give a gift that can be redeemed later.
Examples of Delayed Gratification gifts:
This can be a specific item or an item category in which the receiver chooses from later on.
Your loved one most likely wants to do something but they haven’t yet told you about it. A salsa class, a movie not yet in theaters, a weekend getaway – the limit is only their imagination and your budget. Simply create a handmade gift certificate with a blank they can fill in.
When I received this as a gift my jaw dropped. A plane ticket wherever I want to go?! OMG! So many options – visit family or friends that live far away, visit a place I have always wanted to go, select a random adventure I maybe wouldn’t buy a ticket for myself to? Yes, please!
Giving a gift to Airbnb, HomeAway or a Hotel is a fun unique gift that gives them a night away however they want to use it. Personally, this gift also got me really excited when I received it.
There are many ways to use this. A night at a hotel with room service. A fun escape to a tree house, glampsite or another unique overnight spot are all fun uses of this gift.
Tech gadget not yet released
How fun is it to know you will get the latest item you are excited about gifted to you for when it’s released later on?
This is technically immediate and delayed gratification! You get the gift right away that month and repeatedly each month of the membership. The gift that keeps giving, this is a special gift.
It is fun to also gift memberships to things that you know they already have and love – simply pay for a year of their Netflix, Pandora or another regularly used item. You are freeing up some of their finances to use as they please when you gift with this approach. It is an awesome way of gifting no one would be bummed to receive.
Seek Needs over Wants
This is a core gift option that is founded in the roots of a minimalist mindset. It is also helpful when you have a person that you can’t figure out what to give.
Ask yourself, what is their Love Language? According to the book, The 5 Love Languages, each one of us has a primary way in which we feel loved.
Once we determine what their love language is we select a gift that mirrors the type of love they crave. This can be the best way to select a gift because it speaks to the heart of what the receiver needs to feel appreciated and loved and that is the true purpose of a gift after all.
5 Love Languages:
- Quality Time – the perfect gifts for these people involve you doing something together. [See above Experiences not Things]
- Words of Affirmation – these people tend to look forward to a handwritten card or a meaningful toast with heartfelt words more than tangible items
- Acts of Service – the perfect gift for these people is something you help them with or take care of for them so they don’t have to think about it. [See above Delayed Gratification and Experiences not Things]
- Physical Touch – these people tend to desire physical affection above stuff. Some creative physical gifts include a hand, feet, scalp or body massage, an evening of back scratching, an activity that involves touching like an Acroyoga class, a Tango class or a night of playing twister with friends.
- Receiving Gifts – this is the least common primary love language and it may seem straightforward, yet the people I know who have this as their primary love language all say that the thought behind the gift is truly what matters most. [See Thoughtful Gifting]
maintaining minimalism and maximizing joy
There are many ways to interpret minimalism. It isn’t always about having the very least of everything and shunning buying things. It is about being conscious of our consumption and selecting things that matter, are useful and bring us joy.
Gifting is the perfect opportunity to master the mindset of minimalism. As you get comfortable with this you can eventually look at each purchase you make as a gift to yourself that you can apply to one of THE ABCDS.
Have fun finding gifts for your loved ones this holiday season! I hope the above mindset helps create a more thoughtful gift-giving culture for you, our community and the planet.