This past month one of my dreams came true. My nerd colours are gonna shine through when I tell you about this. The colours you will see are white and red because this is a nerdy dream and a Canadian dream.
This past month I was interviewed for a little spot on our local CBC. THE CBC!!! (WAVES ARMS AROUND LIKE A MUPPET BABY). In the piece with the Wellness Column, I got to share some tidbits on what it looks like to have a minimalist Christmas and how to get started.
I realized this was something I talk about a lot on the blog, but have never laid it out for someone who is just thinking about getting into minimalism right at the time it is raining misletoe and advent chocolates. I took some of the points we talked about and rounded them out here for those of you who are interested in what a minimalist Christmas is and how you could start it in your home.
So, let’s start at the beginning
I learned about minimalism RIGHT AFTER Christmas. We had loaded the tree up with all these toys and gadgets for our three kids who were 4,3 and 1 at the time.
Once I read about minimalism it was like the floor let out underneath me. I suddenly had permission to live a different way. To NOT buy so much, to STOP accumulating, to START letting go.
I had permission to live differently than I had all of my life. I had grown up in a home with lots of ‘stuff’. Though I was determined not to let that happen, it was happening. Things were accumulating, my home was a storage facility.
I spent that year decluttering our home [I decluttered my home for a year, here is what I learned]. Eventually, a lot of the Christmas toys we bought went unloved and they were decluttered.
By the following year, our basement was empty and we were able to renovate it into a playroom. This was the Christmas gift we gave the kids that year. The following year we built a fort in the playroom for them for Christmas. [Basement before and after]
We have been able to shift our Christmases from being focussed on a tree skirt covered with ‘stuff’ and me feeling like I had to surprise and delight my kids with 16 different gifts – to one that is focussed on how we celebrate as a family, and how we love one another with thoughtful gifts.
What is minimalism
Minimalism isn’t just about decluttering stuff. That is the action you go through, but what happens is that your mindset towards stuff changes. Minimalism is a mindset [How a Minimalist Thinks]. It is being inquisitive and mindful about your relationship to ‘stuff’. Asking questions like: ‘Why do I buy this? Why do I own this? Why do I store it? What perceived need is this item meeting?’. Minimalism is knowing that you are not your stuff.
Minimalism is also about knowing yourself, what you like, and how you want to spend your time. Because in minimalism you focus on what gets to stay in your home and in your life. You let the rest go.
The rest is excess, it is clutter, it is unnecessary. And there is a lot of science out there that says clutter is a burden on our physical space and our emotional wellbeing. If I am in a cluttered environment it is overwhelming. I can’t move and think and be myself with the room to do so.
The clean slate that minimalism offers you allows you to use your home, your stuff, your time and your mental energies for the things that mean the most to you. When we focus on the things that mean the most to us, we are focussing on our own values. When we aren’t living in line with our value we feel this constant uncomfortable tension, something isn’t lining up. Living in line with our values allows us to feel passionate, purposeful and peaceful each day (this is a foundational conversation I have with my clients in life coaching).
What is a minimalist Christmas
A minimalist Christmas is approaching the season through this filter: focus on the best and let go of the rest. The great thing about this is that it will look different for every family. There is no formula or checklist to follow. There is just you and your family thinking about what Christmas you want to have, making a plan for it, and letting everything else go.
For some families, they may want to focus on baking and parties and fill their schedule and pantries accordingly. Some families might want adventure and will focus on trips to the ski hill.
There are so many good things to do at Christmas, and that saying comes to mind ‘you can do anything but you can’t do everything’. It is really saying no to the good and yes to the great. It isn’t a free pass to go all out, it still means living with some balance on what is enough and what is excessive.
Misconceptions about minimalism
On a very extreme end, minimalism can appear to be about deprivation – a challenge to live with as little as possible. While there are many reasons that someone chooses minimalism [Six Types of Minimalists], I will say, for the majority, that minimalism isn’t about deprivation – it is about decisions.
It is never our goal to have a zero-present Christmas, I love gifts, they are awesome – we just want to focus on giving gifts that will be used and loved. Our goal is not to be a hermit home and never socialize, but we will schedule in family time and protect that.
Minimalism is about making decisions that protect your budget, your space, your time and your mind. It is about choosing the things you love and value and letting the rest go.
Why it is hard to have a minimalist Christmas
Christmas feels like it should be a ‘cheat day’. There is an atmosphere of indulgence and possibility and we long to bask in this time of spoiling ourselves and one another. It can be easy to blow the budget, in the name of Christmas spirit.
We also have to challenge what our thoughts are about a tree bustling with Christmas gifts. Did we grow up with not enough? Too much? Are we just doing what we have always done without questioning it? Are we trying to ‘keep up’ with those around us? When it is a month out of Christmas and we have a blown budget and a whole lot more ‘stuff’, can we feel like it was a good investment, or was it just a feeling we were trying to experience on Christmas morning?
At all times in our life, almost daily, we need to challenge our own thinking [Is It True?]. Is it serving us to think that more is better, or that we can’t say no, or to let our budgets go out the window?
If you get to the end of Christmas feeling exhausted, frustrated and empty, then maybe a mindset shift can help you have a Christmas that is more in line with your values. New mindsets around Christmas can be closer to ‘less is more’, ‘say yes to the best and leave the rest’, and my personal favourite – ‘Christmas is something we celebrate, not something we buy’.
Moving towards a minimalist Christmas
If you have never started minimalism before it can be hard to roll in this huge lifestyle change. Without your family seeing the process of decluttering, and decision making, and the benefits of minimalism, it will be hard to sell it. Minimalism is a tool in the process of living more mindfully, it is not an end goal [Minimalism is not an end-goal. So simply start this year with conversations about how you can move towards it.
Make a plan
The first step is to do things on purpose, with intention. No more mindless spending, and saying yes to everything. Stop and write down what you want Christmas to look like and feel like and how you want to show up [Simple Saturdays Episode 5].
If possible, make this a family conversation around the experiences you want to have together, what you enjoy about Christmas and what you don’t enjoy. This vision you set will highlight the values you have as a family. What are those values you see? Adventure? Togetherness? Homemaking? Charity? Write down three values you see your family is moving towards.
Once you have an idea of what you DO want, put it to paper. Schedule events in your calendar you want to prioritize, make a to-do list, create gift lists. If you don’t take time to determine the Christmas you do want – everyone else will do it for you.
Mindful gift giving
If you want to move towards reducing the excess of gifts then consider gift exchange/name draws, more experience based gifts (subscriptions, dates, passes, etc.), and focus on quality over quantity.
You can google ‘experience gifts’ or ‘gifts that are not toys’ and find great ways to think outside the box. Here are some ideas:
- who can you agree to forgo gifts with and instead meet up and enjoy with something special like an outing or great meal
- instead of buying for each person in a family, give a family gift (board game, movie passes, sports set, tickets to an event, classes, membership, subscription, etc.)
- offer your kids a ‘choose your own adventure’ and they can pick between a few fun outings
- instead of buying gifts with your spouse or bestie, perhaps you want to book a night away together
- try a ‘favourite things’ gift swap with your friends instead of buying for everyone
Being a more mindful gift-giver can be a great way to give gifts thoughtful gifts – that let someone know you see them [9 ways to make your gifts more thoughtful]. Stick to your gift lists and avoid last minute shops that usually end in splurging.
Avoid the pressure
If there are places where you feel ‘not enough’ and that urge to buy more and do more is popping up, then avoid it.
This might mean staying out of the mall. This might mean throwing the catalogues into the recycling instead of bringing them home. Maybe you need to unsubscribe to a handful of email lists. Possibly, you want to avoid social media for a while.
Transitioning with younger kids
When your kids are young, this can be a great time to start minimalist Christmas because we, parents, are still setting up the culture of Christmas in our home. And that parenting saying applies ‘start as you mean to go’. We are still setting the tone of what to expect.
Less really is more
When it comes to toys, we can approach new ways of thinking about how much they need. We have all seen our kids get more excited by the cardboard box than they are about the toy. I think as parents, we know that they don’t need a lot of toys. Kids can really play with anything, anywhere. I remember my oldest son playing with a broom, my middle playing with a box of fabric and my youngest playing with a roll of tape. We don’t need the latest and flashiest. In fact, if we think that we are overwhelmed with ‘stuff’, then imagine how our kids are feeling too. [Becoming Minimalist: On Kid’s Toys]
I have been there where I see my kid play with a new toy at a friend’s house or Strong Start and think I should buy it for them. Then I do and they never play with it. The novelty is gone and this toy is just clutter now. It can help to notice what they play with almost daily and work from there for gift ideas. [Give Kid Gifts Without Being Overrun By Toys]
When we make it a goal to zone in on what our kids are playing with and how they are playing we get to see the unique interests our kids have and nurture them. For instance, my daughter loves to craft so I’m not going to buy her a baseball bat or a chemistry set. They would be fun gifts and she would try them, but this isn’t what she is passionate about. Kids don’t need one of everything, they just need a few of the best things. [What Happened When I Took Away Half of My Kids’ Toys] In our home, this looks like legos and craft supplies. This is what is out and played with daily and so this is what we focus on getting them.
Another way we can create a minimalist mindset with our kids at Christmas is to prioritize their wish list. There is a great 4-gift rule that lots of families love: something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read. With these kinds of guidelines, a wishlist can be made that is more focused on quality rather than quantity.
Rethink the toys
Over the past few years have also moved towards more ‘experience based’ gifts with our kids [Giving Experiences Instead of Gifts]. We have renovated bedrooms, gone bowling, gone on overnight trips, gone to the waterslides. At Christmas, we also give them stuff they need like toiletries, or winter mitts, or water bottles.
We still give them toys they will love, but overall we just reduce the ‘filler’ stuff. The stuff to fill stockings, the Christmas themed stuff that is good for a couple weeks, the toys we buy because they are cheap and ‘why not?’.
Here are some other great ideas on non-toy gifts.[Uncluttered Simplicity: Best Gift Ideas for Kids That Aren’t Toys]
Rethink the stocking
Stockings are so fun, but they can add up fast. We have this desire to overfill it with wonderful little trinkets. With smaller kids, this can sometimes run away on us.
Keep your stockings simple. Give yourself a list of things to stick to each season. This is a hard one for me because I can think of about 43 things to get each kid in their stocking, but I make myself focus on just a few great things. I stick with mostly practical things (toothbrush, hair ties, pens) some chocolate and the token orange in the toe of the stocking. Sure, my bar is low, but they are excited because I aim for things I know they will use in their favourite colours or designs. Also, because there is candy.
Transitioning with older kids
When our kids have had years of a very indulgent Christmas, this can be a very hard shift to make. As parents, we have built up traditions and expectations and a culture in our home we need to be responsible for that.
I wouldn’t recommend coming in with proposed budget cuts and rallying against how much ‘stuff’ your kids have. If we have laser eyes for the excess in our home and we start coming in like a taskmaster, telling everyone there is a new order then we will push our family away from what is supposed to be something that helps us live with more togetherness and purpose.
Instead, it might be more helpful to approach this Christmas with conversations that help you and your kids pay attention to their interests, their passions, the things you each value. Talk about what things are important for your family, what is working, what is not, what would be fun to try. Focus inward and talk about the ways you would like to celebrate Christmas together. Focus outward on how you can make it special for those around you.
This reframes the conversations from avoiding the negative (clutter, expense, exhaustion) to moving towards something positive (our values, our ideas, our passions). Moving towards something positive instead of avoiding something negative is always more motivating (and self-motivating for your kids).
Look for areas your kids are open to reducing the excess. Would they appreciate a family trip? Or a special experience-gift instead of all the stuff under the tree? Would they be interested in the four-gift guideline (something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read)?
If you have older kids, starting full-blown minimalism right at Christmas time might have more negative outcomes than positive ones. Just remember, minimalism is the long game. If minimalism is something you want for your home, then it will go beyond the Christmas season. Eventually, your family will see how it changes the way you live and they will see how it clears their living space for actually living. It is something you grow and learn together, as a family.
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