Being a minimalist during the most commercial time of year can be tough. But you can do it! Here are 22 ways to have a minimalist Christmas.
Not All Rainbows and Roses
No matter how you cut it, the holiday season can be a bundle of stress. With all the madness with travel, family politics, and panicking over a packed schedule, you really don’t need anything extra to worry about. Unfortunately, though, we have to add the enormous pressure of gift-giving to the mix to make this season truly chaotic.
On its surface, giving gifts is a wonderful way to show someone how much they mean to you. In reality, though, it is a culturally required exchange that can cost a ton of money and fill your home with piles of unwanted stuff. On top of that, there are tons of other various social obligations that can leave you broke and exhausted. I want to share some of my best tips to help you navigate this holiday season so you can enjoy a minimalist Christmas with all of your favorite parts while avoiding everything else.
Why I Need Minimalism
For years, I have struggled with clutter in my living space — even as a child! With divorced parents and a large family, I received tons of toys, craft kits, and gadgets every holiday season. In fact, I regularly received duplicates of the same item from different sides of my family. Even back then, these growing mountains of stuff stressed me out and felt like a burden.
Once I grew up, I realized that one of the biggest problems I faced was getting rid of gifts I received over the years. No matter how much I didn’t use, like, or need certain items, I would still keep them tucked away because the idea of tossing out gifts made me feel guilty. That’s when it hit me that the gift guilt was a big contributing factor to my issues with clutter.
Last year, I finally snapped. We were preparing for our move to our new house and I decided that it was time to attack the pile-up of gifts given to me over the years. I went through my closet, storage bins, and junk drawers without mercy and ended up with tons of donation boxes. Finally, after holding onto presents from years and years for no good reason, I was free. And I felt amazing.
Holidays are Problematic
Once you get yourself into the minimalist mindset, you realize that the holiday season presents a real challenge. People insist on giving gifts during this time of year. No matter which way you look at it, your minimalist ideals are going to be put to the test during this season. But with a bit of discipline, a minimalist Christmas IS possible.
Don’t get me wrong — I love receiving a thoughtful gift from a loved one. And I love giving gifts that I know will be valued! But one thing I’ve learned over the years is that most people give gifts out of obligation. Most people have no idea what anyone else wants even if they are close friends or family. This leads to a lot of wasteful spending on unwanted gifts and piles of junk in the aftermath of the holidays.
Heading into the holiday season with an eye toward minimalism will help you cut through the unwanted crap and enjoy what really matters to you.
22 Ways to have a Minimalist Christmas
Having a minimalist Christmas can mean different things to different people. For me, it means not getting a ton of junk that will clutter my house. My holiday minimalism also means not wasting a lot of time, energy, or money on things that don’t matter to me, like shopping for a million meaningless gifts to give to people I barely know.
Here are some of the techniques I’ve developed over the years to try to keep this stressful season in check.
#1 Ask for No Gifts
When you truly don’t want anything from anyone, it can be weird to ask for no gifts. Swallow the awkwardness and just ask. Say that you are happy with everything you have and you couldn’t possibly ask for anything else. Be polite and insist that you’re all set if you’re pushed on the subject. If that isn’t enough for your family, try one of the other suggestions below.
#2 Ask for Specific Giftcards
Don’t trust your family to get you gifts that you actually want? Don’t worry, you’re not a bad person. Even the people closest to you can have a hard time knowing what to get you as a present. So make it easier on yourself and your loved ones by asking for gift cards to specific stores. Make sure you only ask for gift cards if you are certain that you will use them.
For example, if you are wanting to buy some new furniture, ask for an Ikea gift card. If you want some new clothes, ask for a gift card to your favorite clothing store. Looking for something more artisan? Ask for an Etsy gift card!
#3 Request the Best Gift Ever
To keep it even more simple, ask for cash. Yes, you will likely get pushback from relatives saying, “But that’s not personal enough!” Yes, asking for cash can be a bit awkward because it tends to be frowned upon.
If you catch flak from your family about asking for cash, try a different approach. Find an expensive thing you truly want, like a new car or a much-needed vacation. Then tell your relatives that a gift of cash would be special because it would help you toward your big goal. This will help put the cash gift in perspective and help your relatives feel like they are contributing to something important.
#4 Ask for Consumable Gifts
A great workaround for folks who insist on giving gifts is asking them to give you something consumable. Ask for your aunt’s famous banana bread, a gourmet barbeque sauce from your grill master grandpa, or a bottle of wine from your sophisticated cousin. Other consumable items you could ask for are candles, bath bombs. or specific cosmetic products.
#5 Create a List with Links
Does your family insist on getting a Christmas list from you despite your best efforts? Mine too! That’s why this year I created an Amazon wish list with the exact products that I want, down to the size, quantity, and color. That way there is no guesswork and I can rest easy knowing that anything bought from that list will be perfect for me.
#6 Arrange a White Elephant Gift Exchange
If you want to minimize the number of gifts you need to buy and how much you’ll receive, try to maneuver to a white elephant gift exchange this year. Just bring one gift to add to the common pool and everyone walks away with a single present. It’s economical, simple, and can be an entertaining evening depending on which rules you use!
#7 Ask for Receipts for Easy Returns
If you give a gift list, make sure to add a note saying that you’d like the receipts if possible. Some people might be very uncomfortable sharing how much they spent but ask anyway. Try to insist that you get a receipt so you can return or exchange something that isn’t quite right for you. You don’t want to hold onto something that you’ll never use because it is the wrong size or color!
#8 Create a List with the Intention to Donate
Have a family member that insists on getting you stuff even if you begged them not to? Cheat the system by giving them a list of items that homeless shelters are asking for, such as socks, shoes, hygiene products, coats, or towels. Then when you receive those items for Christmas, thank your relative with a big smile and drop off the gifts at a shelter where you know they will be deeply appreciated.
If you need some ideas, here is a good list of items that homeless shelters commonly need.
#9 Request an Experience
Instead of asking for products, ask for experiences from your loved ones instead! Here are some of my favorite experience-based gift ideas:
- Cooking class
- Mani / Pedi
- Tickets to a sports event or show
- Date night (restaurant gift card and movie tickets)
- Pinot’s Palette
You can also use this as an opportunity to develop a new hobby! Here are a few of my favorite creative hobbies, you can try.
#10 Request a Service
In lieu of a product, ask for a service this year! Request something helpful like a maid service to clean your house or a mechanic service to check that knocking in your car engine.
#11 Don’t Give In to Pressure
If your family is pushing you to come up with a gift list and you’re struggling to fill it in, you may feel pressured to add items you don’t especially need or want. Avoid this temptation! If you have a perfectly good blender, don’t add a newer model blender to your list just to have a fuller list. If you saw an ad for some new product that looked cool but isn’t something you think you’d actually use, don’t use it to bulk up your gift list.
Minimalism is about acquiring things you truly love and use, so don’t give in to the temptations of commercialism and ask for stuff you feel lukewarm about. You simply can’t have a minimalist Christmas while asking for everything you might like. So, limit any gift lists to only include stuff you’d be over the moon to receive as a gift. Anything else is just potential clutter.
#12 Support an Artist
If there is a certain artist you follow who sells prints or originals, point your loved ones in that direction! Then you might get art that you adore, satisfy your relatives’ desire to get a gift, AND support an artist all in one fell swoop.
#13 Ask for a Charitable Donation
When you really have everything you could want and your family still insists on getting you something, ask them to make a charitable donation on your behalf. Pick a charity that you love and send your relatives a link to their donation page. That way you can stick to minimalism and help out a good cause!
#14 Think More Digitally
You don’t need to be limited to physical gifts! Ask for online services that won’t clutter up your house but will provide value to your life. For example, you can ask for a year’s membership to Skillshare so you can learn fun new hobbies and broaden your skillset. Or request an Amazon Prime membership so you can get all the benefits like ad-free Prime Music, Prime Video, and more. You can also point your relatives toward online courses like my course, Brush Lettering 101 (hint hint), so you can learn an exciting new skill and support a small business!
#15 Offer an Experience
Stressing about what to get a friend or family member? Just give them the gift of a free meal at a nice restaurant! Take them out to show them how much you appreciate them. This is a great way to bond and enjoy more than a few moments of opening a present. Plus you can schedule several of these meals across the year so you aren’t spending all your money in one month.
#16 Do Something Together
For the past several years, my husband’s nuclear family has opted for a family vacation in lieu of giving a bunch of gifts. They all work together to come up with a cool destination where we can enjoy an exciting trip together. We’ve done a cruise to Mexico and a few trips to Las Vegas, and all were so much fun! Plus this time of year, you can find a ton of great travel deals of sites like Groupon.
#17 Donate Unwanted Gifts Right Away
When you get a gift that isn’t quite right for you, it can be tempting to hold onto it for a while because it feels wrong to get rid of it. Resist this guilt! You won’t feel any better about those ugly coffee mugs or that oversized sweater if you keep them for a year. When you know for a fact that it won’t be used or appreciated in your household, get it out of your household. Plan a donation trip in the week after Christmas and bring everything that you don’t want. You might feel a bit bad at first, but you’ll feel light as a feather by the time you’re done!
If you receive a gift that was a good try but isn’t a keeper, don’t be shy about regifting! In fact, last year my in-laws bought me a salt lamp that I liked except for one thing — this model had a constant changing color display. I find that constant change distracting instead of soothing, so it was not a good fit. Instead, I immediately regifted it to my friend who I thought might enjoy that feature and bought myself a slightly different salt lamp that I knew I would like. Now my friend loves her salt lamp and I love mine. That’s a win-win!
#19 Add a Personal Touch
One of the hardest things for me is figuring out gifts to give to my family every holiday season. I used to feel guilted into getting something for everyone, which would run me hundreds of dollars — all while I was a struggling student, no less. Besides, I never know what to get them since we aren’t especially close. My solution for keeping my giving minimal and simple is to make everyone cards by hand. It is a process I enjoy and it allows me to avoid buying guesswork gifts. And no one can complain about a handmade card!
#20 Throw Away (Recycle) Cards After the New Year
If you receive a lot of holiday cards every year, you might feel guilty about tossing the cards after the season is over. Toss ’em anyway! Unless someone wrote a particularly touching card that you just HAVE to keep, chuck the rest in the bin and move on. No one will be mad at you for not keeping those cards.
#21 Skip the Themed Parties
Around this time of year, you’re bound to get invited to some kind of themed parties like an Ugly Sweater Party. These are fine if you already have what you need (like an ugly sweater). But if you have to go out and buy something for this one event only for it to get shoved in the back of your closet for the rest of the year, skip it! You don’t need the added stress of shopping for a one-use item and you can find other ways to get into the holiday spirit this year.
Of course, if you’re a big fan of themed parties, then go for it! Minimalism isn’t about devoiding yourself of everything — it’s more about making sure you only focus on what makes you happy and avoiding the extra junk.
#22 Limit Your Visit
If you travel to your family for the holidays, you may feel like you have to stay for longer than you’d like. Back when Jon was still in law school, we’d drive 9 hours to our hometown of Wichita and stick around for three to four weeks! As you might expect, those trips were just too much. Now we limit our trips back home to no more than a week and we’re both so much happier for it. Shorter trips mean fewer chances to get homesick and grate on each other’s nerves. So keep it simple and make your home visits short and sweet!
Enjoy Your Holidays on Your Terms
I’m sure you want this season to be a wonderful experience, so cut yourself some slack! You don’t need all the guilt that comes with the holidays. You deserve to feel happy, comfortable, and stress-free during this time of year, so give that gift to yourself. If certain holiday traditions make you uncomfortable or give more stress than joy, then don’t participate. If you’re fighting clutter in your house, don’t let any more stuff waltz in. Find the things that you truly enjoy during this time of year and focus on them. You absolutely can have a minimalist Christmas, you just need to work for it.
What are some of the things you do to create your perfect minimalist Christmas? Comment below and let me know.