7 steps to being a merry minimalist this Christmas

How to banish those feelings of ‘not-enough-ness’ from women who’ve done it.

Alicia Brown Photography | Stocksy United

One of my favorite quotes is this one from Kurt Vonnegut: “I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.'” The holidays can become more about opulence and sparkle than family, faith and friendship if we aren’t careful. In other words, the holidays can be more about looking for more “nice” than realizing that we already have it.

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So instead of spending another year trying to keep up with the Joneses during holidays, or feeling inadequate because I don’t come close, this year I’m arming myself with tools to fight this urge. Here are a few tips that I’ve learned over the years and gleaned from others on ways to focus on the essence of the holidays.

1. Set limits on the number of gifts

By limiting the external sources of happiness, we can learn to rely on internal measures of happiness. To do this, many families use the four-gift rule: something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read. Melissa Mowry, a blogger at One Mother to Another, says that her family has used the four-gift rule since her oldest son was born. “Growing up, I always had big, overblown Christmases with piles of presents and all the latest, greatest everything,” she said. “While my parents are wonderful, generous people, I don’t want that kind of understanding of the holidays for my kids. My hope is that focusing less on gifts and more on things like family, faith, and tradition will allow my kids to realize from the beginning the things that matter most.”

2. Donate

All too often, we can take the basic comforts and pleasures of life—watching TV before bed, reading the paper in the morning, going to the movies with our family—until we realize that these “basics” are “luxuries” for some people. Ashley Austrew, a writer and mom of two, says that her family has made donating gifts, food and clothing to a local shelter part of the holidays family tradition. “I grew up very poor and often had my Christmas gifts donated to my family by strangers,” Austrew said. “I talk to my kids about that and what it means to take care of others. We take opportunities to give throughout the year, but incorporating donations into our holiday traditions keeps us focused on the ‘reason for the season,’ as they say.”

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3. Give in someone else’s name

In addition to limiting gifts, some families forego gifts all together so they can see more clearly what is already there in their lives, their relationships, their spirituality. Kristin Shaw says that every other year, her family skips buying presents for the adults and chips in to support a children’s shelter.

4. Imagine the future hassle of taking unwanted purchases to Goodwill

Jennifer Weedon of MomCave TV suggests imaging whether you will still want those purchases in a few months. “When you are about to buy some impulse purchase like Santa-themed coloring books, extra holiday decor or Christmas-y socks, fast forward in your mind to how it will feel to bag this up and take it to the Goodwill in a few months,” she says. By imagining the hassle of returning things that we don’t really want in a few months, we can instantly remind ourselves of our values and priorities.

5. Create new traditions

In order to be mindful and ensure that our values are in line with our behaviors, it’s helpful to take stock every year to see if our traditions align with our values or if they are simply traditions for traditions’ sake and no longer conform with our priorities. For instance, what starts out as simple gift-giving can quickly get out of hand as a family grows.

A few years ago, my siblings and I decided that instead of buying gifts for each other, our in-laws, and nieces and nephews, we would create one big gift exchange. Around Thanksgiving, we put all 13 names in a hat and draw names. Similarly, my cousins and I have created a white elephant gift exchange that makes gift-buying much easier and a lot more fun.

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6. Get everyone on board

Changes in the gift-giving tradition does involve some advance planning, however, to get everyone on the same page. Because the holidays aren’t just about peace within ourselves, but a sense of peace within our relationships, it is important that everyone is on board. Kim Bongiorno, mom of two and a blogger at LetMeStartBySaying, says that after realizing that she had 41 people on her holiday list, she enlisted the help of another family member to call it quits. “I pulled aside a cousin and asked if she’d help me nip that in the bud, and she did. We set a precedent that drastically cut everyone’s shopping list, and have stuck to it.”

7. Rethink decorations

After celebrating the holidays outside of the U.S., Jennifer Malia, mom to three and founder of Munchkin Treks, says that her family developed a minimalist approach to decorations. “My family only bought decorations that could be easily stored in a few boxes and that had sentimental value,” she said. “We have a family tradition where we buy a Christmas ornament in every country we visit.” By focusing on what brings us peace and happiness, and not what brings other’s peace and happiness, we have a much better chance at actually attaining that sense of peace we all crave.


Christine Organ
Christine Organ

Christine Organ is a freelance writer who lives in the Chicago area with her husband and two sons. She is a staff writer for Scary Mommy and a regular contributor to Babble. Her work has also been published online in The New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, Mamalode, Redbook, Country Living, Good Housekeeping, and Brain, Child Magazine, among others. She has also been published in print magazines, including UU World. She is the author of Open Boxes: the gifts of living a full and connected life (a collection of stories that will make you feel really freaking good), and a contributor to I Just Want to Be Perfect (the fourth book in the bestselling I Just Want to Pee Alone series). You can often find her eating cookie dough or wasting time on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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