Become a Christmas Minimalist

Season’s Greetings from a Christmas Minimalist

I’ve never been one of those bubbly people who sparkles during the holiday season.  I am more of the Meredith Grey type, a bit dark and twisty.  I am also one of those people who believe that Christmas has become a massive marketing campaign – overlong, overdone and overbearing.

But I’m not a complete bah humbug, Debbie downer type either.  I enjoy eating and drinking with friends and family. I allow myself to eat Lindt chocolate balls even though each one contains 4.5g of saturated fat and 80 calories. I sing Christmas carols in the car. There are lights strung up outside my house, and my Christmas tree is up and decorated.  I get my annual fix of the Sound of Music.  And I buy gifts.

So, maybe I’ve become a Christmas minimalist of sorts.

It Used to be Bad

When my kids were small, I bought gifts for everyone.  Their teachers, coaches, babysitters,  neighbours, our friends’ kids, family members of and of course, my own kids.  I think I had over 60 recipients at one point. In those days, I would start to feel the pressure the day after Hallowe’en. Gift giving was time consuming, stressful and strained my pocketbook.  I tried hard to come up with budget friendly ideas and would shop warehouse sales and then package items so that they looked more expensive than they were. Finally, I’d force myself to do all the wrapping on the 2nd or 3rd Saturday evening in December.  I’d start around 9PM and would not stop until every last gift was wrapped and ticketed with my custom made tags.

the minimalist inspiration

Years ago, a friend’s boyfriend thought that spending anything less then $1,000 in gifts was not good enough for his only nephew.  My friend did not have that kind of money but still scraped together several hundred dollars to lavish gifts on this boy who, by the way, did not need a single thing she gave him. And quite frankly, did not appreciate them.

She also bought gifts for all her co-workers, friends, neighbourhood kids, service workers, all sorts of people. With some members of her family, she would accumulate items over several months and at Christmas, would spend a couple hundred dollars to ship these large, heavy boxes.  This was a woman who did not earn much and was even unemployed for a while. She would spend money she did not have to buy presents she could not afford.

I think about her situation every Christmas.  I know I judged her at the time.  I thought that she felt that she had to give a lot of gifts in order to be liked (that’s my dark and twisty side speaking).  Looking at it now, maybe it just made her feel good.  I don’t know.

But for myself, I gave so many gifts out of a sense of obligation that sprung from having children. And okay, maybe some of it was trying to impress people with my creativity.   I know that only a few of those gifts actually came from my heart.

I shudder when I think about those years.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy gift giving. I just don’t enjoy buying for the sake of buying. And I hate when gift giving creates a sense of obligation. And I really don’t like the one-upmanship that some people indulge in or the expectation that you need to spend a lot of money.

How to be a Christmas minimalist

While I consider myself just a “wanna be” minimalist, I am getting better at it as the years pass.

  1. DO buy or make consumables.  They land in peoples’ stomachs, not in landfills. Who doesn’t love bottles of olive oil, cava and packages of jamon brought back from Spain during a recent holiday? Or some locally made smokey balsamic vinegar?  Or mango salsa (homemade but not by me) delicious on that Christmas tourtiere.  For myself, I am hoping my daughter makes me some of her super yummy date squares.
  2. DO buy or make experiences.  This year I am hoping for a gift certificate to a spa.  That would beat the Apple Operating System for Dummies book from last year. For nieces and nephews, I am getting them movie gift cards.  For my family, I am thinking of booking one of those murder mystery dinners or scavenger hunts over the holidays. It’ll be fun and something we will remember down the road.
  3. DO DIY. Last year, I made dozens of bath bombs, packaged them and gave them as gifts to the staff at my mother’s nursing home.  This year, I’m getting a friend to mix some soothing essential oil blends along with some homemade soap.  I’ve got some other great recipes for body wash, lip balms, sea salt scrubs, and body butters that I could use to make personal gifts for friends and family.
  4. DON’T add to landfills. Not to be negative but I find the amount of waste that North Americans produce truly appalling. Take a look at where our fast fashion ends up. I want to actively minimize my participation in activities that add to environmental destruction. We all should.

So from my minimalist perspective, gift giving is fine.  It’s about creating a positive experience or feeling for the recipient.  And that doesn’t necessarily mean that it takes a lot of money or time to accomplish that.  It’s not about me anymore.  And as a result, I’m enjoying it more.

Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Happy New Year!

Woman indulging in retail therapy

I’ve Lost My Shopping Mojo. Retail Therapy Won’t Help.

The Oxford and Urban dictionaries define Retail Therapy as:

The practice of shopping in order to make oneself feel more cheerful.
The act of shopping as an outlet for frustration and a reliever of stress.

Not so long ago, shopping was one of my favourite leisure activities.  I would go shopping for any reason but particularly enjoyed bargain hunting for clothes, shoes, personal and household items. While I could happily spend hours going from store-to-store, I especially enjoyed making the 90-minute trek to the mecca of discount shopping, the Lewiston, New York factory outlet mall just across the border. It was irresistible.  It offered many possibilities of finding treasures at 50%, 60%, 70%+ off.  Even now, I feel a bit of a thrill thinking about it.

I had an epiphany after I retired.  I did an initial purge and quickly lined up eight garbage bags full of “stuff” including kiddie toys, books, household items, clothes, and shoes.  What was particularly horrifying was the fact that many of these things were barely used.  A few still had their price tags.  I tried to tally the $$ that had been spent on all these things; it had to be at least a couple of thousand.  I was appalled.  I had worked so hard during my career, stressed myself silly, sacrificed time with my family.  For what?   To buy stuff that I would barely use?  And this was only my first go at purging, there was lots more to go

Why We Shop

There is an obvious “need” to shop.  I have to buy groceries and other household basics.  I am talking about the “want” element of shopping.  Retail therapy and buying items, especially on sale, always made me feel good. At least temporarily.  I guess it satisfied some sort of “hunter/gatherer” instinct in me. The bigger the discount, the better I felt.

It’s no surprise that I’m not alone.

Do you know what “neuromarketing” is?    It is the scientific research of the effectiveness of product marketing on the brain.  Large marketing firms have spent over USD $117 billion to find out the best ways of influencing our shopping behaviours.  They examine what advertising characteristics are most effective at maximizing the emotional and reward areas of the brain that trigger excitement and impulsive buying decisions.

For many people, retail therapy offers short-term gratification especially when they are stressed, bored or procrastinating.  It releases dopamine, the “feel-good” neurotransmitter.  But the effects of dopamine are short-lived and are often replaced by guilt or shame.

In a Consumer Reports survey of 1021 women, 83% of the respondents identified themselves as bargain-hunters.  Some of the responses to the survey questions are below.

  • 23% buy things they don’t need just because they’re on sale
  • 36% feel guilty when they pay full price.
  • 47% tell their family and close friends and 35 percent tell anyone who will listen
  • 59% wait for sales
  • 80 % say they’d look for a sale even if money were no object.

I say “yes” to all of these bullets.  And I loved bragging when I scored incredible deals.  It made me feel special.

Breaking the Retail Therapy Trap

I stopped shopping as frequently once I retired. I didn’t need to buy work clothes anymore.  And I was more relaxed.  Plus, with less disposable income, I had to be more careful. But it was really the purging of thousand of dollars of barely used “stuff” that broke the camels back for me.  That’s when I really lost my shopping mojo.

Some ways that I cope with impulse when I do shop:

  1. Make a list.  Making a list requires examination of what we already have whether it’s groceries, clothes or anything else.
  2. Be intentional. Shopping is no longer a leisure activity in itself.  When I go shopping, I intend to buy what is on my list.  Not to say that I only buy what’s on the list because sometimes I do.  But I tend to be less impulsive when I have objectives.
  3. Walk Away.  If I want to buy something I know I don’t need, I will often carry that item around.  If I am still undecided by the end of my trip, I put the item back.  After 3-4 days, I will go back and buy it if I still want it.  But often as not, the desire to buy that item has gone away.  This method cuts down on impulse buys.
  4. Monthly Credit Card Threshold.  I don’t have a budget per se but I do have a monthly spending target.  Because I collect points, I put groceries, gas, clothes, car service, dentist, etc. on one credit card and pay it off in full every month.  I always have a rough tally in my head of where I stand on a monthly basis.  I target a certain $$ threshold for regular and incidental purchases.  And, when I come under that number, I get that familiar happy rush.
    I also like the fact that I can download the credit card data and examine where I have spent money.
  5. Purge Away.  There is nothing like seeing what you are not using anymore to stop you from buying anything new. Your pantry, your closet, your basement.  Sell what you can.  Give the rest away to good causes.
  6. Create Buying Goals.  Maybe it’s a new purse.  Or, a fitness membership. Or, a family vacation.  I tally what I don’t spend impulsively and add it to the budget for a bigger ticket item.

So while I do indulge in retail therapy from time-to-time, the intense desire to shop is no longer there.  I have so much already, I don’t need more.




Love DIY and It’s Not ‘Cause I’m Frugal

Now that the cold weather has settled in, I am taking baths again and have discovered something luxurious:  pretty and fragrant bath bombs!  The kind that are sold at Lush for $8 a pop.   While this post is late (better late than never), I made DIY Bath Bombs as Christmas “thank you’s” for the staff at my mother’s nursing home.  It was nice to do something over-and-above chocolates and cookies.  And they ended up being a big hit!

DIY Simple Bath Bombs

These are simple to make and require everyday ingredients.  Ok, the citric acid is a little tough to find but I ended up sourcing it at bulk stores and Amazon.  If you don’t take baths, you can use these pucks as “freshies” to keep your toilet smelling fresh*.

Recipe for DIY Bath Bombs *

  • 1 cup of baking soda
  • 1/2 cup citric acid
  • 1/2 cup Epsom salt
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 3 tbsp oil (I used grapeseed)
  • 20-30 drops essential oils of your choice
  • Food colouring (if desired)
  • Hydrogen peroxide spray (as required)
  • Moulds


  1.  Add the baking soda, citric acid and epsom salt together in a large bowl.  Whisk the mixture very well to break up anDIY Bath Bombs expand in the mouldsy lumps.

2.  Add water, oil and food colouring to a glass measuring cup and mix well.  I added different essential oils at this point.  Lemon to yellow, vanilla to blue and rose to red.  While I kept it simple, you can add mixtures of different scents.  It’s really up to you.

3.  Slowly add the liquid to the dry mixture.  I poured very slowly with my left hand while I whisked briskly with my right.

4.  The mixture should be damp enough to stick together when squeezed.  If it is too dry, spray lightly with hydrogen peroxide.

After 48 hours, DIY Bath Bombs are Dry5.  I used different moulds but the best were the ones from Ikea because they were stiffer.  I pressed the mixture firmly into each mould.  There was some minor expansion that occurred.

6. I let them sit in my cold, dry oven for 48 hours.  At this point, they were very dry and hard so popping them out of the moulds was easy.

7. To keep them moisture-free, I wrapped them first in cellophane and then inserted them into small Christmas “food cartons” that close at the top with handles.  Since I was giving them away to strangers, I printed a label with instructions and a list of the ingredients.

DIY Bath Bombs Make a Great Gift

In Summary

I am a novice when it comes to DIY products but it doesn’t matter.  They are many recipes on the web and most items are very easy to make.  Once you get your “pantry” of basic items together, these things cost pennies to make.  For example, I made 60 small bath bombs which cost about $7.15 total.  Not only did the recipients enjoy my DIY bath bombs, I also really enjoyed the process of making them.  And as equally important,  I know that they are natural and good for the environment.   What a win-win!


* If you only want to use these as “freshies”, eliminate the oil and Epsom salt.   Instead use 1 1/3 cup of baking soda and 1/2 cup of citric acid with 1 tsp of water. Recipes inspired by Jillee at  (