Although Christmas has come and gone and this advice won’t be much use to you this year, I wanted to reflect on what I consider our family’s first real success at a “gift-lite” Christmas. I wasn’t able to muster the courage to go completely no-spend this holiday season, but it seems I was able to shift my family’s impulse to buy stuff specifically for the reason of “having something to unwrap” on Christmas morning.
Like all family dynamics that involve a change in the status quo, there is always the uncomfortable conversation to be had ahead of time. My mom usually starts bugging me for a Christmas list sometime in mid-November. As a lady in her mid-30’s with a small house overflowing with stuff, there is absolutely nothing I need. The exercise of drafting a Christmas list usually results in me surfing various gift guides or my extremely random Amazon wishlist (filled with odds and ends that I had considered buying throughout the year). Last year, I asked for, and received, a stack of trendy adult coloring books – most of which remain untouched after a year. (I love them and find them to be relaxing, but I don’t really sit down and work on them by myself.)
This year, our extended family’s priorities have shifted with a new baby in the mix, so that was enough of a change in the status quo to push things a little further. I didn’t necessarily lay down an ultimatum, but I told my mom at Thanksgiving that my holiday gifting would focus on stocking stuffers and consumable items – I’d buy something if it seemed cool, but I wasn’t going to go out of my way to dream up things to get them for Christmas. We also planned on giving a cash gift to my sibling to help cover medical debt from the birth of the baby. My mom said she didn’t want to “devolve into exchanging gift cards” and I agreed. Our conversation was vague enough that I didn’t completely know what to expect on Christmas morning, but judging from the lack of “I need Christmas ideas” text messages during the month of December, I was fairly certain I was heard.
Giving and Receiving-Lite
My shopping throughout December focused on consumables, local items, handmade items and a few homemade items made by me. This was a conscious decision, and in line with my goal to stay above the fray with my holiday shopping. I picked up a few pieces of glassware and a bottle of specialty brew from a local brewery. When we were at a craft fair, I picked up a pound of coffee from a local roaster. I DIY’d one gift and bought another handmade item from an artist friend. As usual, I gifted some really nice socks, and my favorite brand is made in the USA with a lifetime guarantee. Aside from a few other small items and a few more fancy beers, that was about it! My December has been stressful and busy, and the ability to spend less time shopping was a huge blessing. The only time I stepped foot in a mall this Christmas season was for Mr. G to buy himself a new winter coat, and I think I only went to Target twice. Although I ordered a few things online (the aforementioned socks and some speciality cookie ingredients) there wasn’t a package sitting on the stoop every day as has been the case in Decembers past.
Christmas morning was a pretty low key. The baby is still too little to understand gifts or toys, and most of the baby stuff skewed on the practical side. Mr. G and I walked away with a few gift cards, some consumables (fancy beers+specialty foods), and I got a few crafting books from my mom. For once, we came home with less stuff than we brought! A resounding success.
A Twinge of Sadness?
As I shared with Revanche on Twitter, I did have the smallest twinge of sadness upon seeing the cool stuff that my friends had gotten for Christmas. I think whenever you commit to a lifestyle change, it’s normal to feel some nostalgia for the way things used to be. If you’ve recently adopted a paleo lifestyle, I’m the friend clogging your social media feeds with pictures of Christmas cookies all December long. For me, a person who is taking a stab at a more minimalist lifestyle, there was a small sigh of resignation after surfing Facebook on Christmas morning. The tiniest sigh, but I’ll admit there was one.
In reality, I know I could afford most of those things, but that’s not my priority right now. In reality, I know that just like the adult coloring books, a lot of that stuff would find its way into a closet only to be white elephant gifted or donated to charity years later. Coming to terms with the realities of being an adult can suck, for sure, but it can also be very freeing to shed societal norms and “responsibilities” that are no longer meaningful.
The Blessing of Time
As I mentioned above, the true blessing in simplifying my family’s Christmas was time. It gave me more time to focus on a big, looming work project and to bake Christmas cookies for friends and family. I had a little more time just to hang out and stare at my Christmas tree. It gave my mom and sibling more time to focus on the new baby. (And less stress over the idea of hauling the baby to the mall at Christmas time.) It gave Mr. G more time to help me out around the house throughout December. It took less time for me to sift through all of our new stuff and find a place for it in our home. With a financial gift to my sibling, I think we spent about the same as in recent years, but it still felt SO MUCH SIMPLER.
Gift giving is hard and there are so many weird American perceptions about the presents under your tree representing the prosperity of your family. I know things will not be as straightforward as the new baby gets older, and this may not be as easy to accomplish in your family. But to me, this year, having a simplified Christmas was a huge priority. If simplifying your life in 2017 is also a priority, give it a try next year!
Have your holiday priorities changed in recent years?