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My Family Is Becoming a Minimalist by Christmas

Image source: Thinkstock
Image source: Thinkstock

I have never been a collector of “stuff.” Before purchasing my first home in 2008, I had a habit of moving every few years. Sometimes every few months. And with every move, I purged. I always preferred to spend my money on experiences — like travel, elaborate meals, or outings with friends — over tangible items that seemed mostly meant for collecting dust.

Then I became a mother, and the stuff just sort of started piling up. I’m not even really sure how it happened. One day I was living a clutter-free existence, and the next I was drowning in baby gear and stuffed animals.

So when I first read about the concept of minimalizing, I immediately thought, “Yes! That is so me!” Ever since then, I’ve been on a mission to cut down on the “things.” My daughter is still 2, making now the time to start this shift in our lives before she is old enough to notice the difference. I am proud to say I already have a few truckloads worth of stuff to give away to charity, and I’m not even done yet. Though, I’m close. I hope to have our house completely minimalized by Christmas.

Awkward timing, right?

Because you see, the other thing I have never been big on is gifts. I hate the obligatory gift giving that accompanies the holidays. And not because I’m selfish and dislike spending my money on others, but because I feel like the holidays bring about this “need” to give rather than a true desire. Checking people off your list often involves giving gifts with little to no thought. Lotion sets and random trinkets — the kind of things no one actually needs. The stuff that just adds to the clutter.

I hate it.

Anytime I’ve ever taken a love languages test, gift giving has always ranked last for me. It is not how I feel or show love. I’m more of a quality time or acts of services kind of girl. To me, the holidays should be about making memories with the people you love (sledding, baking cookies, playing with the nativity scene, drinking hot chocolate, etc.). Not comparing your loot to someone else’s. I get that for other people, gift-giving people, there is a true joy in giving. And I try really hard to respect that.

But this year, with the questions already coming in about what my daughter wants for Christmas, I find myself cringing. I just cleaned our entire house out. I just cut us down to only the things that bring us true joy. I just created an atmosphere where we can actually see everything we own. I don’t want to start adding to the pile again. And perhaps more importantly, I don’t want my girl growing up thinking that should be what the holidays are about.

So I’m torn. My grandmother reminded me the other day that while it is great that I want to instill a love of experiences over things in my girl, we have family members who live thousands of miles away and have limited opportunities to share those experiences with her. And I get that. I know it is neither kind nor in the holiday spirit to try to enforce my philosophy of giving on anyone else when it comes to how they express their love for my little girl. And after all, isn’t it just so special that she has so many people who love her?

Of course it is. But how to find the balance?

My Christmas shopping is already done. She is getting a trip to San Diego in January (an experience for us to share) and then a few small items that were chosen with a lot of thought and heart. And even there, I will be enforcing a one-in-one-out rule.

What’s that, you ask? When I was a little girl, I distinctly remember that after every Christmas, my parents would have us go through all our stuff and pick out a few items for charity. It was the reminder of how lucky we were to have presents to open, and an opportunity to think of others. I have always planned on engaging in the same tradition with my daughter, only now, we’ll use the one-in-one-out rule to make that happen. She can keep whatever she wants (and I can too, for that matter), but we’ll both have to select the same number of items to give to charity as we receive.

I don’t plan on dictating whether the items she chooses for charity be from the new stuff or the old. Which means that someone could give her a Christmas present that winds up in the charity pile by New Year. Is that mean? Maybe. It isn’t meant to be, but I could absolutely understand how it could potentially lead to hurt feelings. I’m just not sure how else to manage it. We live in a 780-square-foot condo. Our space has always been limited. And I can’t get to a point where we are drowning in stuff again.

I just won’t.

Ultimately, I hope my girl grows up remembering the holidays as a time spent with people we love. I hope she values the experiences over the things, and focuses on the joy of the holiday over what she acquires. I want her to take away the true meaning of Christmas, not the commercialism of it all.

I just wish there was some way to gently send that same message to our friends and family. This holiday season, we don’t need more stuff. We just need more love, more laughter, and more you.

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