Five steps to embracing holiday minimalism

Does preparing for the holidays fill you with stress? Are you dreading finding something for everyone on your list? Are you fearing for the barrage of STUFF that will soon descend upon your household? Wouldn’t it be nice to replace these feelings of stress and dread with feelings of calm and joy?

Here are five tips to cut down on holiday stress.

1. Reduce extended family gift giving.

If you have a small family, finding something for everyone may be possible without turning the month of December into a stressful shopping extravaganza. I grew up in a family of four: two parents and two kids. Our extended family is all overseas, so we get together for the holidays it’s a small crew. Getting a gift for each person or couple means buying 2-4 gifts. Manageable. 

On the other hand, my husband is one of five siblings, all now grown up with families of their own. Buying gifts for everyone would be a consumerist nightmare. Receiving gifts from everyone would be a minimalist disaster.

The last time we all got together for the holidays we did two “Secret Santa” gift exchanges. Each adult drew the name of one other adult and each kid drew the name of one other kid. Everyone gives one gift; everyone receives one gift. You can use a website like to set it up. It’s fun seeing who drew whose name this year, and it allows for a more personalized and thoughtful approach to gift giving when you are only shopping for one person, not twenty. 

2. Don’t feel pressured to give a gift because you receive one.

Do you have friends who never fail to show up with a thoughtful and beautifully wrapped gift for you or someone in your family during the holidays? I have a couple of friends like this. They always see to choose an amazing, personalized gift while I’m standing there like, how many more days do I have to order something online before it won’t get here in time?

 Eventually I realized that it’s ok for them to do the holidays their way and me to do them my way. Of course it’s important for friendships to be a two-way street, but that can happen in lots of different ways. Accept that giving gifts is this friend’s love language. They are showing you that they care about you and appreciate your friendship. Accept the gesture with a warm thank you. It’s ok if you speak a different love language. Maybe you cooked them a meal when their new baby was born. Maybe you were there to watch their kids in a crisis. Maybe they know you are always available to be a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on during a crisis. Maybe you prioritize time together. There are lots of ways to be a good friend. Giving a gift is not required, even if you receive one.

3. Embrace minimalist decorating.

Do you love to deck the halls and have every corner of your home glowing with light and sparkling with cheer? If so, great! A part of me would love to create a magical wonderland at our house, but I am realistic enough to know that it isn’t who I am. We buy a Christmas tree every year and decorate it. Some years we put up lights outside. My husband usually makes a wreath with the kids. That’s plenty for us.

4. Stay away from malls and stores.

I spent a few years joining other shoppers in perusing store after store in search of just the right gift for a family member or friend. Now that I have kids in tow during most of my free time, I want to show them that the holidays are about slowing down, enjoying time with loved ones, eating good food, and exchanging wishes of good cheer, not about battling rush hour traffic while hurrying from store to store in a commercial frenzy. I buy a few carefully selected presents online and stay out of physical stores until January (or beyond). If I do have to duck into a store, I try to do it solo. Nothing ignites kids’ consumerist desires like seeing a bunch of shiny new things in a store. Kids are very similar to adults that way. 

5. Choose events carefully & be present.

Between office parties, family gatherings, end-of-semester celebrations at school, Nutcracker performances, holiday light displays, caroling, cookie baking exchanges, and more, December calendars can fill up quickly. Needless to say, you don’t have to attend everything, but keep in mind that social connections are important for your health and wellbeing. Invest your time in the events you’ll enjoy and prioritize the relationships that are important to you. 


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