A few years ago, my family (my parents, myself and my partner, my two brothers and their families) decided that we would cut down on our Christmas spending to alleviate some of the cost, clutter and stress of this holiday season. We tried a variety of different things. One year, we made donations to charities. One year, we exchanged recycled gifts. This year, with many of us trying to de-clutter our houses of stuff, we collectively agreed that we wouldn’t exchange gifts at all. Of course, my parents still get gifts (usually a gift card to somewhere they enjoy) and the kids still get gifts to unwrap but my generation and our spouses have realized that this aspect of Christmas is one we can happily do without.
I haven’t bought gifts for anyone else this year either. I have a couple of friends who I regularly exchange gifts with but we are also quite happy to recycle, reuse, scavenge, or create useful and inexpensive gifts. This year I gave one friend an unopened, bright yellow, cycling safety vest, a book of travelling quotes I found while decluttering, a thermos (I actually bought this but it was on sale and it’s extremely useful on our winter hikes) and I told her I would make her a tablet case like mine (which cost about $4 to make). She gave me vintage snowshoes that she found in her mother’s basement so I can put them up as décor at the cabin. Perfect.
Christmas so quickly becomes a time of excess. Of food and drink, of course (that’s the fun part!) but also of stress, spending, emotions, waste, and time spent doing things that don’t bring any meaning to one’s life.
When living the Tiny Life, Christmas might be one of the most difficult things to keep intentional and mindful. Even though in my family, giving has been very mindful for the past several years, I can feel an overpowering cultural atmosphere of pressure to give and to give big. Which is not the same as giving well.
Many people give to make up for something – not enough time spent with a person or for making bad choices. Some people give in order to outdo the previous year. Some people give out of tradition and not out of love. Some give things they like with very little mind for what the receiver actually wants. In past years, I have given for all these reasons. But having learned more about mindfulness, intentional living, and trying to unclutter all aspects of my life, I see not only no purpose in so many acts of giving but also no joy. And isn’t joy the whole point of giving? To make others happy?
And will that coffee maker really make us happy? (Well, maybe that’s a bad example because coffee doesn’t just make me happy, it makes me not kill anyone.) But of the vast majority of “things” we could buy for someone, how many are then tossed, recycled or donated? Probably far more than you care to consider and far sooner that you would hope.
When Soldier Boy asked me for a Christmas list this year, I was honestly perplexed. I have everything I need. I am truly blessed. I am healthy, I have a job that I enjoy most days and I am fortunate enough that this job also provides me with a good salary, great benefits and job security. I have family that is healthy in body and spirit and friends who accept me for who I am. I live in Canada; that in itself is a blessing in this broken, broken world. Not to mention having people around me who also feel the same way as I do about having physical and emotional clutter.
So this year, I’m not going to feel guilty about not buying gifts. And instead of giving at only one time of the year, I will joyously give of my time and talent throughout the year, whenever and to whomever I can. This year, at Christmas, without the clutter of boxes and bags and tags and wrapping paper, I will be present and treasure time with family and friends, fulfilling conversation, delicious food, and time to rest and rejuvenate my spirit.