Minimalism & Gifts
I have tried to convince myself that I have any kind of authority on this subject because-- I've struggled with it. It's hard to be a minimalist at Christmastime! So much of our culture at this time of year revolves around stuff-- days dedicated to shopping and deals, buying gifts, receiving gifts, decorating, wrapping, treats for & from neighbors and teachers. It's definitely the time of year when consumerism is at its peak and more stuff is entering our homes than at any other time. So how does someone deal who has been intentionally focusing on decluttering, paring down their belongings, having and consuming less when everything around us is screaming "more more!"? I'm still working on it. But here are some ideas I've gathered in my few years as a minimalist.
You don't have to keep it
Probably the best piece of wisdom I picked up during the initial and major decluttering stages of my minimalist journey is that just because something was a gift, doesn't mean I have to keep it. When receiving a gift, your job is to graciously and thankfully accept it. But it is not your job to keep that item for the rest of your life, storing it, moving it, caring for it, etc. if it is something you don't like, don't need, or don't want. I like a Kon Marie concept that says that the purpose of a gift is for the gifter to express love and to improve your life in some way. If an item is no longer improving your life, then that item has served its purpose (maybe its sole purpose was for the gifter to show their love) at which point, Kon Marie advises thanking that object for serving the purpose that it did, and allowing it to move on (i.e. getting rid of it). Your gifter never intended to place a burden upon you and would probably be sad to know their gift was imposing that on you or worse, making you feel guilty or even resentful. I've heard of people reluctant to get rid of things out of fear the gifter will find out, but I've never once had someone ask me "so where is that <blank> I gave you?"
Consider giving less or not giving at all
Do you have to do a gift exchange every year with friends? Maybe suggest that you opt out of gifts and all go out for a nice dinner together instead. Or draw names instead of getting a gift for every person. If your kids have very generous grandparents, consider not getting them anything yourself, or just one or a few small things. My five year old rarely gets a birthday present from her parents, but she hasn't noticed yet, because the grandparents get her plenty. I have good friends that I sometimes get gifts for and sometimes, don't. We don't have an expectation for it, but when we when we get each other something, it's a happy surprise. This makes me actually excited about giving them things. I give when I'm thinking of them or have a great idea or find something they'd love, but I'm never ever walking the aisles of some store wondering what the heck I can get them because I feel obligated to. Try to foster this with your spouse, close friends & family--give when you want, but don't feel like you have to just for the sake of it. My husband and I usually only exchange gifts on Christmas and birthdays--there are so many other occasions society makes us feel pressured to gift--anniversaries, Valentines Day, Father's & Mothers Day, we usually opt to do something else to make the day special that doesn't involve things. Sometimes even for birthdays or Christmas we will decide to spend the money doing something special together or putting it towards a trip or something we really want.
Quality over quantity, always!
My mom received a kitchen timer every year for a lot of years because the cheap ones we picked out had always broken by the next Christmas #gifterfail. It's better to get one gift or a small gift that will work and be loved for a long time than a truckload of cheap crappy somethings to open on Christmas morning
Don't just give for the sake of giving! Really think about the person. What if you took the time to sit down and write them a meaningful letter instead of buying them something? If you are going to purchase a gift--what do they value, what do they love, what might they actually need, use and appreciate? Same goes for asking for things for yourself. It can be easy to throw together a lengthy list, but take time to really consider your needs and wants. One thing that helps me do this is . . .
Have a wishlist and gift ideas list that you add things to throughout the year
I've been trying to do this for myself, my kids, and my spouse. Whenever I think of something I want or my husband mentions something he wants, I add it to the list. After a week or month, I might realize I really didn't want it at all. Having the lists handy keeps me from impulse shopping for my family, and also keeps me from "impulse asking" for things I haven't really given much thought to. While Amazon isn't my favorite, I found out this year that you can add stuff from other sites to your Amazon wish list, which you can use to encourage others to support companies you want to support--like small businesses, ethical clothing brands, & local shops.
Ask for (& give) experiences over things
My kids are getting season passes to a local amusement park this year and I'm so excited about it! My daughter is also getting money from grandma to help pay for dance lessons. Some people may have a hard time giving money or gift cards, but may be more willing if you tell them exactly what you want it for. Or another idea is to couple a small physical gift that goes with the money (i.e. a leotard with the money for dance lessons, or a soccer ball with money for soccer.) My husband and I have a pretty tiny date budget so we love getting movie tickets or gift cards to local restaurants. You could give or ask for zoo passes, gym memberships, tickets to a ballet, symphony, museum, play, show, sporting event or concert. In Kansas City there is a place called Science City with exhibits for kids that has an annual membership. You can give a groupon for a massage, spa day, or trip. My in-laws sometimes give their married kids a night out at a hotel while they babysit our kids--BEST. GIFT. EVER. And I also love when my dad treats me to a ski day for Christmas! Take someone out to lunch instead of getting them a physical gift, or go with them to any of the above mentioned gifts. Then you get to spend time together strengthening your relationship instead of investing in stuff. Win, win. Go on a vacation for your anniversary or birthday or Christmas. Do fun things together building memories that will last way longer than whatever you would have bought at Target.
Give coupons that offer your services. Babysitting, yard maintenance, housecleaning, meals, or just a coupon for you to treat them out for lunch.
On my list this year is a subscription to audible.com (so I can listen to audio books) and several ebooks for my kindle. itunes gift cards, software you want, or online video games are other ideas.
Shoes, clothes. Do you need a new rake? Phone charger? Windshield wipers? Nothing wrong with getting something practical that you'd have to buy yourself anyway! I'm pretty sure my dad has asked for gold-toed socks every Christmas since before I was born. But he wears them every day!
Edibles, magazine subscriptions, gift cards, beauty products you love, flowers-- items that will be used up & then disposed of without cluttering your home.
Used items (more for zero waste's sake than minimalism)
I know it can be taboo to give a used item, but let's break the taboo! Let family members know you are happy to receive second hand goods. My son got a wooden train set like-new off a local facebook swap shop for his birthday that would have cost us $140 new, but we got it for $40. Kids don't know the difference! And for adults, some items might get a pass as vintage or antique.
Emphasize traditions that revolve around service instead of shopping
If you are actively engaged in service projects, volunteering, or if you are spending your time immersing yourself in drawing closer to Christ and teaching your kids about Him, you'll have less time to browse Amazon or fuss over gift lists. Whatever the true meaning and purpose of the holiday is to you-- focus on that instead of presents. While advertising is really good at switching our focus, Valentines Day is about celebrating love, Anniversaries for celebrating your marriage and commitment, Mother's & Father's Day about honoring your parents and spouse. There are plenty of ways to celebrate and make these days special without filling our houses full of excess stuff.
I hope these suggestions help minimize your holidays and I'd love to hear if you have any ideas I didn't cover!