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How To Have A More Minimalist Holiday (Physical Gifts Optional)

Written by Katie Hintz-Zambrano

Photography by Serena Mitnik-Miller photographed by NICKI SEBASTIAN

Listen, we get it. Buying gifts is fun (hence: our multiple gift guides filled with hundreds of present ideas). There’s no doubt that it can feel good to see your loved ones tear open a gift of your choosing and see their eyes light up with wonder when staring at their newest possession. Yet, we also know that so many of us are craving less things in our lives, not more. A recent Deloitte survey finds Americans are planning to spend an average of $511 on gifts this holiday, down slightly from $525 last year, and we are heartened to see that every year since 2017, people have been spending more on experiences than they have on gifts. One mom recently shared how she ditched gifts all together in favor of a big family trip. So, if you’re looking to cut back when it comes to the physical products you’re getting and giving (or just looking to save some money or add some dimension to your regular routine), we’ve pulled together some tips and tricks for a less-is-more holiday experience below.

Quality Over Quantity Gifts. The flurry of unwrapping gift after gift can be overwhelming for adults during the holiday season, not to mention it can completely overstimulate our kids. (Check out this research on how fewer toys help toddlers focus better and play more creatively). If you’re thinking of paring down this holiday season, start with the number of gifts you are giving your kids and how many you are giving them at once. We love this idea of a picture book advent calendar, that allows little kids to unwrap a new, seasonal book every day leading up to Christmas (library books count, too!).

Outsource & Get Specific With Your Wishlist. Grandparents and extended family often love to buy gifts. In order to cut down on unwanted items (but still let gift-lovers get in on the fun), let your family know you are trying to streamline your possessions, but if they insist on getting you something, you do have a list they can reference. Fill it with things you know you and your kids need or really want (new school clothes, a specific toy, a museum membership, a gift certificate to a specific restaurant, etc.) and encourage your family to only choose a few items from the overall list.

Focus On Experiences. Whether it’s hosting a holiday tea party at home, hitting a cool local observation deck, or checking out the twinkling lights and window displays all around town, giving the gift of time spent with loved ones is a great alternative to physical products, plus the memories usually last much longer. Obviously, it’s what the season is really all about.

Give Homemade Coupons. Making “coupons” might sound hokey, but gifting your friends and family some redeemable-whenever DIY coupons is a cute way to cash in experiences all year long. You can get your kids in on the fun, too, encouraging them to make coupons for other family members and helping them keep the focus on time and adventures spent together. From back-rubs and free babysitting to a hot cocoa date and a 10-book-bedtime-routine marathon, the options are endless.

Donate Money, Time, & Goods. Instead of spending money to stick another gift under the tree, try taking those same dollars and donating them to an important cause (there so many) or fulfilling a wishlist of a child or family in need. Other ways to give back include doing a big purge and donating the goods to Goodwill, the Salvation Army, or a local charity, or volunteering your services locally.

Get Out In Nature. The biggest gift is really all around us. Get out and enjoy Mother Earth by bundling up (if needed) and take a hike, check out a new vista, make snow angels, etc. Or gather leaves, sticks, and shells for a nature-based art activity once back home. Ringing in the winter solstice comes with a whole bunch of gift-free, nature-loving traditions that could be a good substitute for traditional, gift-heavy holiday fetes.

Check Out The Community Calendar. There are plenty of fun—and often free—activities set up around the holidays for all community members to enjoy. From concerts and tree-lightings to community center potlucks, cultural celebrations, and free museum days, find out what’s happening locally, peep some new faces, and save a little money along the way.

Thoughtful Regifting & Hand-me-downs. Regifting doesn’t have to be tacky. If your child has outgrown a toy or gently worn piece of clothing, wrap it up for a younger child who you know would enjoy it. Take a look at your stack of coffee table books or already-read (and loved) novels, and wrap them up along with a thoughtful note to a friend. Overall, make sure you’re giving someone something because you think they’d really like it (vs. just trying to move objects out of your home). Get your kids in on the action by figuring out which objects they are ready to part with and who might like them next.

Homemade Gifts: There’s nothing tastier than a pile of homemade cookies or a jar of homemade granola with a sweet note attached. Edible gifts are also virtually waste-free after consumption, which is a major bonus. Another homemade option is having your children create artwork as gifts—one of our favorite mediums for this is watercolor.

The Gift Of Travel. It’s certainly not cheap, but forgoing buying a bunch of new objects and saving up your dollars for more frequent trips to see family or explore a new destination is money well spent. Let your extended family in on the notion, too, letting them know that instead of more gifts, you’d love a visit from them in the spring or a contribution to your private Disneyland fund. Check out this essay from one mom who decided to ditch gifts all together in favor of a big family trip.

Embrace Hygge. We’ve written about the Danish concept of hygge (pronounced hoo-ga) before. In essence, it’s about cozy, unplugged time with the ones you love. It’s about “we-fullness” or really being together. There’s really no better time that the holidays to get hygge. Check out the steps here and try it out with your family over the holiday break.

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