Even minimalists love their stuff

Minimalist HolidaysThis post is part of Minimalist Holidaysa series inspired by the idea that you can enjoy the holidays more when you do less.

I just co-wrote a book about how doing (and buying, and keeping) less stuff will make you and your family happier.

This post, even, is part of a series encouraging you to simplify the holidays.

But none of this means I don’t like gifts or stuff. Most certainly not. I love stuff.

For those of us trying to simplify, it’s all too easy to vilify stuff as silly or materialistic, or to feel guilty about wanting stuff we don’t necessarily need.

But just because we’re striving for Minimalist Holidays (or minimalist parenting in general) doesn’t mean we must foresake our love of stuff. It simply means clearing away the stuff we don’t love so there’s time and room to enjoy the the stuff we do.


In the Money chapter of Minimalist Parenting, we talk about making purchases based on the honest answers to three questions:

  • Do I need it?
  • Do I want it?
  • Do I love it?

The need vs. want distinction is an important daily tool for prioritizing your purchases. But for the purposes of Minimalist Holidays, try to focus on the third question. If you truly love an item — if, for whatever reason, it brightens or simplifies your life over the long-term — it merits the money, space and attention spent on it.

See the Ultraman mask?

For example, I love my new, “whisper-quiet” dishwasher. I love the old paperbacks crowding my bookshelves, most of which I’ll never read again. I love the Ultraman mask my son bought me for Hanukkah.

To other people, these things might qualify as overpriced luxuries or clutter. But not to me. Each, in its own way, has solved a problem in my life, or brought some level of delight that goes beyond the moment of gratification I felt when I bought or received the item.

Buy (and keep) only the gifts you love

As you’re buying gifts and opening your own, embrace the joy of the moment. Who among us doesn’t get a thrill when we present a loved one with a thoughtfully-chosen surprise, or when see a wrapped gift with our name on it?

But a few days or weeks later, when the torn wrapping is recycled and everyone’s had a moment to breathe, look over your gifts again. Which ones do you love? Which gifts will simplify your life or spark your delight, and which will eventually add to the clutter? (The answers will be different for everyone).

For the gifts you decide are clutter, make a plan to return or donate them. Most gift-givers want you to have something you’ll love, and will understand. For those who won’t, hold onto the item for a while, and make a note in your calendar to give away or return the item when those feelings fade (they usually do).

As you help your kids sort through their gifts, help them think in terms of one-in-one-out. That is, for every new gift they receive, they donate a similar toy they’ve outgrown. Not only will they enjoy their new gifts more, they’ll begin to equate getting with giving…a skill to last a lifetime.

* * * * *

A few practical thoughts:

  • Tape the gift receipt to the item before you wrap it. Your gift-ees will appreciate your thoughtfulness.
  • Open your gifts, but, if possible, save the original packaging. Some stores require the packaging (in some cases, unopened) for returns.
  • Donating items not only helps people in need, but also saves you having to wait in crowded return lines.
  • My thoughts on shortening your gift list.
  • Have you seen the Rookie Moms Clutter-Free Gift Guide?

Happy gifting, Parenthackers. Here’s to a warm and wonderful holiday season for all.

Minimalist Holidays

Christine Koh and I are sharing ideas for simplifying the holidays so you can focus on what’s important: enjoying the season with your family.

Visit the Minimalist Holidays page for links to the entire series. While you’re there, be sure to sign up for Minimalist Parenting news…we’ve got exciting things planned for after the holidays!