A Simple Approach to Living With Less

Confessions from a Gift-Buying Minimalist

Initially, I thought a minimalist Christmas would be a cinch. Less shopping, more time. Awesome! Surprisingly, I found it has taken so much more thought, reflection, and planning to have a minimalist Christmas. Picking up a basket of candles or a cheap plastic toy on sale was so much easier!

My version of a minimalist Christmas may not be the typical version you will read about on other minimalist blogs. All of our journey’s are unique and I have a few confessions to make.

CONFESSION: It frustrates me to read other minimalist blogs about Christmas. It makes me feel like my vision of Christmas isn’t the “right” way to do things. I want to buy people gifts because I love them. I want to use the money I saved and worked for to put silly little bows on boxes that I know my two year old will love ripping off. I don’t want to get sucked into thinking that my life needs to fall into a certain category or that I should go along with the crowd.

CONFESSION: I am not ready for a Christmas with zero gifts. That may not make me any points in the minimalist community, but that’s where I am right now. The changes we are making as a family are radical for us and that’s all that matters. For the first time ever, we are actually stopping to ask questions like:

1) Is this a meaningful gift or just something to buy to check off a list?

2) Will this item last and be enjoyed for a long time in the future?

3) Does this gift fit the person’s personality and interests?

4) What could we do together instead of exchanging gifts?

CONFESSION: I’m making up a fake Christmas list for myself. Despite the fact I am making and buying gifts for others, there’s nothing I can think of that I want for Christmas. My family is a group of big gift givers and they love picking out gifts for people. Everyone keeps asking me what I want and I can honestly say that I don’t want or need anything. So, I’m actually trying to come up with a list of things I need so I can give people a list to choose from.

CONFESSION: I’m already a little stressed out about the potential Christmas gift clutter we’ll be receiving. I’m going to try to not let it bother me because I know it’s coming. I’ve been spending tons of time getting rid of things and cleaning out boxes from our storage unit so I really don’t want more clutter moving in. However, I’m starting the pep talks with myself now so I can appreciate the well-meaning intentions behind the gifts.

CONFESSION: I’m not sure we’ll go gift-free any time soon, but we’re making progress. Our kids wrote Santa this year and told him they didn’t need any gifts and to take them to other children who needed them. Maybe that’s silly, but I see it as progress. We are definitely choosing fewer gifts for our children with an emphasis on buying things that will last. I have also convinced some friends and family not to spend money on a gift for us but to plan a dinner together instead. Just the new awareness and evaluating things with fresh eyes feels like progress to me.

Do you have a confession of your own? I hope your holidays are peaceful and you make the kind of experience that fits your family’s needs. Don’t look for gifts as a replacement of joy and love, but if you find joy in giving I don’t think anyone should feel guilty about that either.


This is a section from my holiday guide, A Minimalist Family Christmas. If you’re looking for advice and ideas on simplifying your holidays you should check it out.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider subscribing to Minimalist at Home or share it on Twitter. Thanks so much for reading!

photo by sskies

Article originally published on 12/02/2010

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  1. Hi Faith,
    I’ve been reading your blog for awhile now, but this is my first comment. I really appreciate you r post today (as I do all of your posts). I am often reluctant to call myself a minimalist. I prefer to say that we are simplifying. I think my reluctance is because of issues like the one you talked about today. We give gifts, I like to give gifts – meaningful gifts. We have requested that people limit what they give our son to one gift and we limit ourselves to one or two gifts. As far as making up a personal gift list for myself or my husband, I am better at coming up with things I want (often supplies for handmade things, or household items), but my husband can never some up with anything. We have resorted to telling people that we would really appreciate a gift card to a particular store. We just tell them that we have not seen anything we really want, but would love a little extra money in our pockets if something did catch our fancy or we needed something extra. Gift cards for dinners out or movies are also nice. Many people like giving surprise gifts, but I think people are just as happy to grant a specific request.

    Good luck with your shopping and list making!

    • Faith Janes says

      Thanks so much for commenting, Jaime. Seeking simplicity is great. It’s funny how much I crave that now. I’m living in the same house with the same belongings but a switch has been set off in my head where I just want to simplify everything.

      I used to hate giving and getting gift cards, but I don’t mind it so much now. It certainly beats the alternative of ending up with something unwanted and unused.

  2. THANK you. I have not seen anywhere else, a real honest assessment of a minimalist Christmas while maintaining the fun and excitement for kids. We’ve always had a paired down approach to the holiday, making cards and ornaments, but also having wrapped gifts under the tree.

    My kids always hear me say less is more. But my kids also deserve to have a fun, not over-the-top holiday which includes a few well-chosen gifts.

    • Faith Janes says

      I totally agree. Pared down yet not nothing. It’s also fun for me to let my boys shop for each other with their own allowance. They get so excited. Hunter was so happy to pick out Connor’s gift. He said, “I am so excited! I’m gonna be his hero!” I mean come on…how adorable is that?!

      • Besides, they learn so much about being thoughtful in the thinking of what the other likes, doing for others, and the excitement of giving.

        That’s my favorite part of the whole season.

  3. Posted ‘My Simple Christmas Pledge’ on my blog today. Christmas is a tough one, as it is difficult to completely step out of the consumerism cycle when the day involves everyone, it’s about their expectations as well as your own. That has to be taken into account. I am not a minimalist – rather on the road to life simplification – there is no right or wrong way to do any of this – just what works for you and your family. This year I will be trying and testing my version of a Simple Christmas (primary aim a happy and stress free experience) and undoubtedly learn lessons on the way. I’m hoping that this Christmas will be my family’s simplest and happiest yet! Jo (simplybeingmum – family life simply done)

    • Faith Janes says

      I love the sound of your simple Christmas and your pledge. It’s been my goal every year for things to be simple and calm, but I’m determined that this will finally be the year that it really happens.

  4. Faith,
    It is odd how your outlook does change. Last Christmas I had plenty of money and no time. I spent lots of money in a rush to fulfill my obligations of buying presents for my family. I did think about what to get them, bit I didn’t think hard, because I could buy just about whatever they would want (within reason!)
    Fast forward to this year. I am not working anymore and have spent the past 6 months healing emotionally and mentally. I have also began decluttering and purging belongings. I am enjoying the space I have been able to create in all areas of my life. I am a little nervous about decorating. We are hosting a party this weekend, so I will be decorating Saturday. I am just going to be very choosy about what I put out. I don’t have to have every inch covered, lol!
    I haven’t done much shopping yet, as I am waiting on a bonus check to come in, but we pretty well have it all planned out, and it won’t take much shopping to purchase what we want to get our family.
    Now as far as myself goes, there are a few things I ‘think’ I want, but I don’t want to add much to my new space. One thing I helped my hubby pick out was nice tea kettle to sit on the stove. I recently gave up most caffeine and began drinking more tea, so I wanted a kettle.
    Hubby? He’s impossible. On one hand, he doesn’t want or need anything. On the other, there are tools or parts for his car (classic mustang) that he always need, but I have no clue what to buy, lol! He is always SO hard!

    • Faith Janes says

      That sounds a lot like us. Last year we had a lot more income and this year lots of things have changed for us. A good kind of change though we never have thought that a few months ago.

      I’m with you on the decorating too. So far only a tree is up and i KNOW there are so many potential decorations now that we’ve combined houses with my parents. Secretly I can’t wait to chunk most of it in the dumpster, but we’ll see how my plan unfolds.

  5. I would have to say that buying meaningful, useful, apprecated gifts is def. more difficult. Santa has always given our kids just three gifts. One for the body. one for the soul and one for the mind. It takes some thinking, not just going out to a store and buying a bunch of gifts. Some years it is acutally difficult. Santa also gives the gift of the 5 senses in our stockings. One gift to represent each of the 5 senses. For example one year for taste my daughter got apricots because she loves them. I too have a problem coming up with a gift list, as I really don’t need anything and what I want no one wants to buy for me. Good luck with your mimalist Christmas.

    • Faith Janes says

      I like the plan for the stockings. I’m definitely thinking we need more consumable things in the stockings. When I was going through a box of storage stuff I found a plastic grocery bag that I recognized as the entire contents of a stocking from a previous year. It was total junk…got dumped in a bag…and then we paid to store the junk for a couple years. Definitely NOT going down that road again!

  6. I appreciate the insight into your thoughts Faith!

    Your minimalist Christmas should be exactly how you want to make it. I myself am not ready to go absolutely gift free either, especially with a new baby in the house.

    My parents never really loaded us kids up with gifts each Christmas, but I still remember two gifts that really stood out and completely made my Christmas awesome. 1.) Tony Hawk skateboard 2.) my Huffy bike. I think kids get overwhelmed with too many gifts, but just a few really good gifts can change their life. I’m 34 and those 2 still stick with me to this day and I know my parents felt great knowing I was so happy! I want to experience that feeling with my son too.

    So you go girl- Christmas is still all about giving (whatever form that is) and if that makes you happy then you’re doing exactly what you should be doing.


    • Faith Janes says

      Thanks, Eric. Yes, memorable Christmases are what I’m going for with our kids. I knew we were in need of a change when (as a test) I asked my boys what they got for Christmas LAST year and they couldn’t remember a single thing. Talk about a wake up call!

  7. Excellent post, Faith.
    I’m using the more extreme posts on Christmas/gift giving to stay motivated and a post like this as a guide to making it work for our family. We’ve certainly reduced our buying this year but there will still be gifts under the tree. I have a few toys I am looking for for my son but I’m trying to buy them pre-loved at a toy swap. Hopefully we can set a norm in our family that new just means new to us.

    • Faith Janes says

      Pre-loved gifts are great! We got a lot of great gifts at the used book store I mentioned in my Books to Bucks post. It was like Christmas shopping for free. 🙂

  8. Great post. Minimalism is always relative so whatever is minimalist for you is, well, minimalist for you! I always ask for things that I would be replacing when they are worn out/used up anyway-socks, shirts, dish towels, olive oil, fancy foods etc. and that makes me extremely happy! I also tend to give very practical gifts that have broad appeal–cookbooks, reference books, cooking gear, etc.. We decided to forgo gifts this year between my BIL & SIL and their kiddos and use that money to buy some animals for the Heifer Project. Lord knows the Grandparents will provide more than enough presents to open!

  9. CONFESSION: I’m already a little stressed out about the potential Christmas gift clutter we’ll be receiving.

    Yes, this ^^ exactly! I get so anxious about it and my husband gets annoyed with me for going on and on about it. The inlaws just don’t get it though – 10 gifts times 4 kids is just too much stuff! And it’s all useless junk just so “they will have something to open” (a $40 stuffed monkey!!! Do you know what I could do with $40?!?!?!). With 3 sets of grandparents and 3 great-grandparents, I can assure you they will have plenty to open!

    Now I’m getting anxious again. *praying the kids do not rip open all the packages so some things can be returned*

    • Faith Janes says

      Oh I feel your pain! I try to do another declutter run right before Christmas in preparation of the incoming gifts. Then things are a little more manageable. But I really don’t understand why annoying noisy toys seem to be what grandparents pick for our kids. I just pay close attention to what gets played with and what doesn’t and if after a few months it’s just taking up space then it has to go.

  10. Confession: I hate buying for adults. They don’t need anything. I don’t need anything. But I don’t yet have the guts to ‘just say no’. Also, I buy a bunch of crap for myself that I don’t really want or need, wrap it, and then open it in front of our daughter on Christmas morning, just so that she can see that it is not ‘all about her’ (she is 6); that we all get gifts. The same for my husband. We used to just buy eachother pajamas and slippers! I also buy too much for our daughter, because I, MYSELF, love all of the toys out there, and seem to want her to have them all; like I am buying for my own inner child and not my real live child!! I recently hauled a ton of toys to the consignment shop (many from last Christmas) just to make room for the new motherload on it’s way. I over-buy for her. I love (too much) seeing her open the gifts and getting what she wants and then some; I want so much for Christmas to be wonderful for her, and I equate that with gifts. I don’t know how to get comfortable paring that down. I guess I just need to DO IT and deal with the uncomfortable feelings that come up. I am becoming aware that my own gift-craziness directed at her could turn her into a ‘thing-aholic’. I AM trying. I have resisted buying baby-doll after baby-doll, because she actually told me that she already has enough. And I am trying to stick to her list, which really wasn’t even all that large. Also, I am trying to stear clear of dollar store trinkets that will end up in a pile in an hour, and just buck-up and pay for longer-lasting items with more potential for long-term fun (like wii games that we can all play as a family).

    • Faith Janes says

      I think you’re right. It sounds like you already know what to do, it’s just a matter of doing it. I was realizing that our kids aren’t born with the expectations of needing lots of presents….we did that to them. It’s always more difficult to unlearn a habit but it’s not impossible. We sat our boys down and just explained to them our plan. They took it as no big deal at all. We were more worried about it than they were.

      Maybe it would help to set a firm budget. When you consider if it would be better to buy a few nice things instead of using it up on dollar store trinkets, it might change your decisions. Best of luck…you can do it! 🙂

  11. Great confessions. It’s refreshing to read, I’ve actually grown a little tired of the “no-gift” Christmas posts. We will still be giving gifts also. For my daughter we will still by buying toys.

    For extended family though, we are moving to experience based gifts. We just purchased tickets to a local event for the 13 family members on my wife’s side. The event was $17 per ticket, and I’m so excited. It will be fun to treat the family to an evening of fun, and I’m sure it will create great memories. We actually did something similar last year, but was also purchased gifts. I feel so much better this year. Shopping was a breeze with a single phone call to place the order.

    With this new plan to buy experience gifts, I’m actually excited about Christmas this year.

  12. Faith you always get points in my book! Awesome post. Awesome.

    If you love those little bows keep doing it! If you love doing the gift exchange keep doing it! Everyone’s experience is different. For me now that our family is “all grown up” I was still exchanging presents with them like I was 8 years old. We’d buy 10 things for each person and spend tons of bucks on it all. When everyone already had everything they needed it turned into gift clutter.

    It was the year I took everything I’d gotten for Christmas and donated it all on December 26th that I knew I needed to switch out. But hey, you’ve got kids in the house. They want those presents!

    I still send gifts to my niece and nephew because they’re little un’s and love opening up gifts. I say do it your way and do it the way you want! Thanks for posting this one, it’s hitting my top holiday post line-up for sure.


  13. A few years ago, we started a homemade gift idea among the extended family on my husbands side. It’s not a rule, but if possible, home made is preferred. We make frozen dinners for the grandparent set, homemade jelly and bread… I think that this year we’re cutting down a skinny cedar tree and turning them into closet cedar disks. Minimalism and fiscal responsibility do not preclude gift giving – only creative gift ideas. We do still buy a few things – gift cards for books for the niece, a few well thought out toys for our own daughter. And, when we do buy gifts for others, we try to stick to locally made small (ok tiny) businesses who need the business. My favorite two gifts between hubby and I are the lifetime of homemade granola/power bars that I gave him last year and this year his gift to me of work on my chicken coop!

    Back when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer (15 years ago!) I had Christmas in a local village with other American friends. We didn’t exchange gifts but we did cook a big meal of boiled crab, beans and rice together… hung out on the beach and listened to holiday music on a radio. It was quiet and peaceful and we celebrated what truly mattered most to us – being with friends. Our local neighbors didn’t do much in the way of gifting either, except for the kids, and I remember commenting on that even then. Along with peace came lack of stress and as a result more room to be happy. It was and is still one of the most perfect holidays that I have ever had.

  14. One guideline I’m using for buying gifts for my children this year is things that they will all enjoy. Things like books and a CD I know they will love. And each will get a stuffed sock monkey that I can make. They will have so much fun with those, and they’ll be a keepsake for years to come!
    Due to finances, our Christmas gifts can’t be much. Teachers and babysitters will be getting a tube of lotion and chapstick from Avon, something practicaly every girl uses. Most of my shopping is being done online or via phone/mail. No need to go out and trudge through stores!!! Some people will be getting a homebaked treat.
    My biggest problem is all the candy that is already coming into our home. Most of the sticky sugery stuff goes into the trash. The rest gets metered out over the next weeks and months.
    We will never go gift-free, but certainly will be more careful of what we buy.

  15. You are right! Your blog stated – “CONFESSION: I am not ready for a Christmas with zero gifts.” Nor am I! I agree! My wife and I have made radical changes in what we buy for others – we like to buy experiences or moments that will remembered for a life life time. This season we have purchased theater tickets, concert passes and gift certificates for dinners out as apposed to useless material items they will never use.

    Great Post!


  16. I wrote this post for Mothers’ Day and haven’t really kept my blog up this year, but maybe it will help you with your list of what you want… http://minimalish.blogspot.com/2011/05/perfect-gift-for-your-minimalist-mom.html

  17. The holidays were recent on my mind as well and I wrote a post about my Minimalist Holiday plans/ideas the other day.

    Since this is our first “Minimalist Christmas”, I’ve been easing the kids into the idea of less toys. I’ve also made peace with the fact that their grands will probably go overboard with the toys. However, my parents aren’t going too crazy because they’re getting my two eldest a big ticket item (a gaming system) that they’ve wanted for a year (since last Xmas when I nixed it).

    Is it bad that I almost break out into hives when I see all of the wrapping paper strewn all over the floor. I try and scoop it up as soon as they open a gift, but there’s SO MUCH!


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