The Zen of Santa – A Minimalist Guide to Giving
I love the crap out of the holiday season. I love the decorations, singing carols, the chilly weather, and the warming of hearts as so many of us reconnect with what really matters.
But being a minimalist during the holidays is hard.
For starters, what do you ask for if you don’t really want a lot of stuff? I don’t mind a few nice items, but I don’t want a bunch of new possessions every year. What’s even harder is knowing what to give other people who may already have more then they need.
My family is a great example. Both my parents, as well as my sister and brother in law have enough money to buy almost anything they want. (Except for maybe a yacht and that’s a little out of my price range.)
On top of that, they already have many possessions to organize, store, and move. Every year I find myself taxed to think of a gift that wouldn’t add to that stress.
So this time of year I’m find myself asking: How can I practice minimalism in my Holiday shopping? So I decided I would create gift guide for anyone that is shopping for a minimalist or just doesn’t want to add to familial clutter.
Toku’s 2013 Minimalist Guide to Giving
1. Air –
Minimalists love air so this is a great gift. You can buy a carbon offset from the nature conservancy for as little as $15 per metric ton. You can’t get much more minimal than that!
2. Give to Charity –
Giving to charity is a great gift especially if the person you are giving to can buy almost anything they need. One of my favorite gifts ever was a gift certificate to Kiva.
Kiva is a micro-lending charity. This means that they loan money to people to start businesses. These businesses provide people with a job and an opportunity to improve their communities.
Best of all you get to choose who your money goes to. You can lend to a small family in Peru who is selling sweaters or you can lend money to a Palestinian music storeowner.
This gift creates a unique level engagement. Every time I make another Kiva loan, I feel generous and that feeling makes me warm and happy. It also reminds me of the people who gave me the gift. (Thanks Uncle Rich and Aunt Monica!)
3. Give a Membership –
If your family or friends like going to the Zoo or the museum a membership can be a great gift. It offers them the chance to do something they love without having to pay a fee.
The trick with this one is to not give a membership to something you want to go to, but they don’t. This time of year isn’t about imposing your tastes on others. It’s about celebrating everyone’s unique way of being in the world.
4. An Electronic Gift Card –
I don’t recommend giving physical gift cards to people and here is why: Many people lose these cards or never use them.
I love music and every year I get an I-tunes gift card from my family. But I usually end up waiting almost six months before I cash it in. And during that time, I misplace it at least twice.
On the other hand, I cashed in the Amazon digital gift card I got last year right away. The money sat in my account and I could use it for whatever I wanted.
That’s why I recommend buying a digital gift card, wrapping up an old CD (just for show) with a nice note inside, and then sending them an email post holiday.
Also, pick a gift card for something they are going to use within the next month. The longer a gift card goes unused the less likely it is to be used at all.
5. Cash –
Some people don’t think it’s creative but it does have universal value. If you really aren’t sure what to get someone, get them cash.
It gives them the freedom to use it for rent or bills if they don’t want more stuff. Again, the trick to giving cash is to give it in a creative package. Perhaps you could make some origami out of the bills.
6. Food –
Last year for I made special cookies for my whole family. My girlfriend and I made Voodoo doughnut cookies topped with real Voodoo doughnuts, peppermint cookies, and a few other kinds.
It was a lot of hard work but it turned out great. They enjoyed the treats and I was able to create a gift with a personal touch. Best of all once they were eaten or a few weeks had past I knew they would be gone.
(Note: Cookies may not be the best gift if you or the recipient is trying to lose weight. I found I ate many slightly off cookies for the sake of quality.)
7. A Handmade Book or Awesome List –
Two years ago, I made everyone in my family a handmade book. They were short books that contained pictures of my family and me; along with a list of the top 10 reasons why I thought they were awesome. Everyone in my family enjoyed the books and my dad said it was one of the nicest things he had gotten in years.
If you aren’t crafty, you could design and order a book online from a sight like blurb. Or you could just write the list and forgo the book.
This small gift can brighten people’s day and doesn’t add a lot of weight to their moving boxes.
8. A Kindle or Other E- reader –
A kindle is a great gift for any readers you know, who are drowning in books. Though it may not stop their bibliomania, it will likely decrease the number of books they buy.
I use my E-reader almost exclusively and because of this, I’ve been able to reduce the books I own to a couple of shelves. If I need a physical copy of something, that’s what the library is for.
9. Nothing –
This is the last one even though it’s probably the most minimal. I don’t recommend that you do this without talking to the person, but sometime nothing is a great gift. One way to do this is to call up your recipient. Tell them that you want to cut down on the gifts you are getting this year, because you are so grateful for all you have.
Then ask them if they would be willing to forgo gifts this year and instead each of you could agree to go do something nice for yourself and then send a thank you card to each other. This way you both get what you want, but still have the experience of gratitude.
Finally, remember that a minimalist holiday isn’t an all or nothing affair. You could try giving a few of these kinds of gifts this year and see how it goes. It may be easier then you thought.
The Gift of Time and Love
The practice of giving gifts is really about love and understanding. Every year we exchange our time via work for money. And then use that money to buy gifts as a way to express love. Often our gifts are judged, not just on value, but also on how well we understood what to give.
Instead of going through this whole process, we could cut out the middlemen, and just offer our love and understanding directly. Because the truth is that, an open heart and an open ear are far more valuable then anything you can get at a Big Box store.
This is what minimalism is really all about. Letting go of what you don’t need so you can focus on what really matters.
2 thoughts on “The Zen of Santa – A Minimalist Guide to Giving”
One of the wonderful (and minimalist) gifts I’ve both given and received (and not just during the holidays, but as get-well, birthday, condolences, etc.) is a small box or jar/tin full of small slips of paper that offer them the gift of time – usually my time (“I’ll pick up and vac your place 3 times at mutually agreed dates/hours”; “A homemade cake – let me know!”; “Let’s go grocery-shopping together!”; “Lunch out – my treat and I’ll drive!” (for someone in a nursing home who can’t otherwise get out, perhaps); help addressing thank-you note envelopes after a funeral; 3 hours of free babysitting (which has gotten insanely expensive, apparently!); a lawn-mowing or car-washing … whatever works for you and them… Half-hour of one-on-one basketball…
I like, too, that kids can adapt this for their own use with friends/relatives. And I like that you can perhaps use it other ways – going to an assisted living residence when it’s NOT a holiday (and people are sometimes lonelier) to lead a sing-along or play the piano or such…); working a soup kitchen in someone’s honor or memory…
I know how creative most people can be – and these give so much and yet are pretty darned minimalist, too… and usually very sincere. For me, it’s not so much about letting go of what I don’t need, as it is offering others what they may either need, prefer or get joy from — and that’s usually time and personal attention.
Beautiful! I swore this would be the minimalist year and suddenly my DIY ideas became crazier than anything I could have bought. This post is one of the few things I’ve seen that reinforces the idea of truly keeping it simple!
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