Becoming Minimalist: Holiday Shopping

We're a family of gifters. In my pre-recession, suburban America, Father of the Bride youth, gifts were always a big part of the holiday experience.

This may sound terrible and might not even be true, but in my memory the fact that my parents were divorced helped to drive some of that gift giving. Growing up, I had elementary school classmates who would pick my brain, and eagerly ask what it was like to have divorced parents.

"It's not so bad," I'd say. "You get two Christmases and two birthdays, which means twice as many presents."

How's that for perspective?

Ever grateful, this attitude towards gifting extended into my adult years. I love giving and getting gifts, and often find the wishlists I build for myself in Gmail drafts and on Pinterest are more closely fit for a Palo Alto teenage heir rather than me, who is an adult and could just as easily buy a new pair of yoga pants herself.

In sync with both "the times" and with our natural progression of aging, life changes, etc., my family has backed off of the whole holiday gifting thing a little bit. Mainly because there are more important things than things, and because we're extremely fortunate and can say that none of us actually need anything at all. 

Maybe you've heard, but sometimes the best gifts are the smallest. Case in point – this postcard sent from Scotland by my friend Bridget. It wasn't really a gift at all and yet it made my week.

Though giving is still a part of our holiday festivities, we've slowly shifted towards gifting in smaller, more practical, intentional, and meaningful ways. If you're looking to add a minimalist slant to your holiday season and tone down the shopping, there are a few ways to give gifts intentionally without going overboard.

Here, a few tips on holiday shopping as a minimalist:

Give experiences

I'm sure you read that Atlantic article a while back that declared that experiences have been proven to give us longer lasting, more fulfilling pleasure than things, right? Use that idea and scale it according to the size of gift you want to give. It could be anything from a simple one-on-one dinner out at a new restaurant, something as a big as a trip, or something as everyday as a credit towards a gym or yoga studio – I got this for my birthday, and loved it. Whatever it is, gift experiences that require extra thought, planning, and care. You really can't go wrong.

Useful leisure

My favorite category of gifts has been coined (by me) as "useful leisure".

"What the hell does that mean?", you ask. A useful leisure gift can be defined as any item that's practical, but also carries pleasure. For example, a new pair of yoga pants could count as useful leisure. It might not seem like the most wacky, "fun" gift in the world, but the recipient might really love them and use them. Other examples: magazine subscriptions, a good sweater/fleece/something cozy, a note card set, gift card to Whole Foods, new pair of sneakers. You get the idea.

Set gift maximums

Whether in cost or quantity, setting a gift maximum is the best way to keep holiday gifting under control. As long as no one breaks the rules, this assures that everyone is getting (and giving) fewer items which means that ultimately less money is being spent, less clutter is being accumulated, and overall the gifts you are giving will be that much more memorable. Win win.


Does your family or group of friends still give gifts? Do you set maximums? What's your approach or, dare I say, strategy to holiday gift giving? This (somewhat) converted minimalist would love to hear.