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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!