Treading Lightly
Treading Lightly

Minimalist Christmas

As kids we are taught to have a Christmas list where we put all of the things we even vaguely want, and they magically appear for us. We are never told about the debt many people accrue over the season or the environmental impact of all of the gifts that end up shoved in the back of our closets.

For months we are bombarded with ads that make the holidays look like some sort of shopping utopia. People often confuse the joy of the holiday season with the short excitement and anticipation they get from receiving new things and buying gifts for other people.


I want the holidays to be about spending time with my friends and family. I want sip on warm drinks under twinkling lights. I want to remember the laughs we had at the table and the time my mom made the turkey walk the plank. I want to put my feet up, grab my book, and relax during the shortest days of the year.

I feel sad when I drive past a packed mall parking lot and when I hear people talk about how stressful December is for them. The ads and the special packaging and the holiday cups and the “deals” seem to make us less and less happy with what we already have.

We’re missing the point. And it’s making us miserable.

When I first started actively pursuing less, I didn’t really know how to handle the holidays. I wanted a minimalist Christmas… but I didn’t even know what that meant. When faced with questions about what I wanted, I ended up only asking for things I needed. Which was great, but it didn’t solve the root of my problem.

I wish there wasn’t so much pressure to ask for things.

What if we don’t ask for anything? What if we don’t want anything?

My family is fully supportive of my efforts to reduce the amount of things I own and my impact on the world. They have thoughtfully given me amazing things like yoga classes or the entry fee for a race I’d like to do. They didn’t laugh at me when I asked for socks or a salad spinner. But my friends are a little less certain of what I’m doing, and I feel pressure to reciprocate with little things they probably won’t use either. At work we traditionally do a novelty t-shirt exchange, and I was torn between sitting out so no one would waste money on something I wouldn’t use and joining in on the office-wide fun. I opted to join in and instead ask for a poster that I could hang up at my desk (something that I will actually use that will have less of a carbon footprint than a t-shirt).

I’ve found that living with less is particularly challenging around the holidays. Relatives and friends are constantly asking what’s on your list. People give you funny looks or think you are being difficult when you say you don’t want anything. Really.

No one wants to be the Grinch.

But at the same time, being open and honest about what you really want (“I’d love to spend some time with you. What if we went out for coffee and a movie instead of exchanging gifts this year?”) makes everyone happier in the long run. People are buying gifts to bring joy to someone else. They aren’t trying to clutter your home or challenge your beliefs.

It’s uncomfortable at first, but the more I talk about it and the more I express what I really want, the happier I am (and hopefully my friends and family are too).

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