A Minimalist’s Anxiety Over Christmas Gifts

I’ve never really thought of myself as a minimalist until I discovered the blog Becoming Minimalist. Every post just seemed to resonate with me: I’m the girl who won’t buy another bottle of shampoo until I use up the one I already have. If something in my house doesn’t have a purpose I’ll give it away. I even get a bit nervous when I have one too many unused apps on my iPhone.

I guess if we’re going to use labels I am a minimalist through and through.

The funny thing is, my greatest challenge is not living with a limited number of material items. It’s dealing with people who aren’t minimalists. And when the holidays roll around it’s hard to see eye to eye.

My mom is a woman who loves to make others happy, so when the chance to gift her loved ones comes up she’s all over it.  She’ll come up with any excuse to give presents. I love her generosity but it bugs me that she’s wasting her hard-earned money to buy me things I don’t need or want. My parents aren’t well off by any means so I know they just don’t have money to throw around.

Preventing my family from needless gift giving

A couple of times I’ve told my family to not get me anything for Christmas and you could imagine the uproar that came from that. They feel like I’m trying to “save” them from spending or that I have gift recipient guilt.

So I tell them to get me something like a wool mittens or movie tickets (basically something under a modest budget) and they’ll add on other items because for some reason they didn’t feel getting me what I wanted was enough. Clearly the value of the gift here matters more than how much the gift would be valued by me.

Finally, the third and latest tactic I’ve tried – I told them to pool whatever money they were planning to spend and donate to a bigger cause known as my student debt. If there’s anything I want most in this world is to pay off my student loans and finally be debt-free. Then came the eye rolls. They thought I was a total prude and my sister suggested that I “live a little”.

Seriously, what does it take for a girl to get what she NEEDS for Christmas?

Finding a happy medium

I appreciate that my family enjoys giving gifts. I know that feeling; as a hostess when I have friends over, I love to cook for them and see them enjoy my food. It’s a great thing to know you can do something so small to make others happy.

We’ve settled on this: I would supply a wishlist of things that I want and they can’t include lame things like a can opener or flashlight. My family will then be able to gift me something and not on anything wasteful or unwanted.

It can be difficult for non-minimalists to understand my “less is more” motto. We live in a consuming society so it feels almost counter-intuitive to live with as little material items as possible.

Sometimes my minimalist ideals come off as self-righteous in that maybe the things I’m gifted don’t meet my standards. Obviously we need a certain level of material items to get by in today’s modern society and anytime I do need something I will usually go out and buy it. It’s not that I have high standards but I like to know everything in my home serves a purpose. Anything else is just clutter.

Give the gift of experiences

A gift can sometimes tap into a need I had no idea I had or make my life easier in some way. I usually have a good sense of what I need so when this happens it’s great! But if you ask any minimalist, the best gifts are experiences, not things.

Examples of experiences are:

  • Tickets to a concert or event
  • A creative outlet like a cooking or painting class
  • An educational exhibit or lecture
  • Going out for coffee so you can catch up and spend time together
  • Foster an endangered animal under their name
  • Homemade gift certificates for snow shoveling or your cooking services

Experiences are not wasteful. They don’t clutter your life but add to it, whether it be a positive or negative one. Most minimalists believe that experiences are what adds the most value to your life so this kind of gift is the most cherished of them all.

Do you have any minimalists in your life? What are you getting them for Christmas?

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  • Reply kay ~ December 18, 2014 at 10:37 am

    People don’t understand us minimalists, just like I don’t understand hoarders. One of my sisters is a hoarder, and the two of us together never goes well. I just can’t stand visual chaos and I feel very claustrophobic when there are too many “things” around me. She can’t stand “barren” rooms. My son is also a minimalist, and a few years back requested that we no longer give him anything for Christmas OR birthdays. It felt weird, but I understood, because I’ve always felt the same way. But try convincing Grandma or Aunts of this. Total nightmare. They treat you like you’re an alien or the Grinch. It sounds like you’re getting a really good hold on this thing. Other people are definitely hard to deal with on this issue. Best Wishes! 🙂
    kay ~ recently posted…I Did The Math! 🙂My Profile

  • Reply Chonce December 18, 2014 at 10:47 am

    I don’t really consider myself a minimalist but I might be somewhere in between and I can definitely understand your struggle of trying to communicate your values or experiences over things especially during the holidays. My personal experience is that some people will simply do what they want and buy you gifts regardless of what you say so I love that you have created a wish list of needs and wants so that you don’t wind up with a minimalist’s nightmare, a bunch of useless gadgets lol. Asking your family to donate to your student loan payments is also a great idea that I might try myself.
    Chonce recently posted…Life Update & 5 Things I’m Looking Forward to on ChristmasMy Profile

  • Reply Jacquie December 18, 2014 at 1:43 pm


    I’m not *really* a minimalist, but I’m pretty picky even when it comes to things like chocolate, candles, and body wash. Also, I have way way WAY more disposable income than my family members. My mum usually says “what do you want that costs $80?” (her budget). And I know this sounds snobby, but honestly if there was something in that price range that I really wanted, I’ve probably already bought it. And no one wants to give gift cards (why not? I LOVE SHOPPING). When it comes to extended family they try to set a limit like $15. Honestly I’d rather just do zero gifts than a $15 budget because all that buys is crap that you really don’t need, sort of like the gifts you say your family members tack on to your main present.

    This year my bf and I are escaping to LA for the holiday and I can’t wait. But I have a “pre-Christmas’ gathering tomorrow so we’ll see how that goes.

    LOVEEEEEEEEE the idea of asking for money for your student loans! Sucks that your family isn’t on board. Actually sometimes I ask people to donate to SPCA in my name as a gift 🙂 Love saving the animals 😀

    • Reply Christine December 18, 2014 at 4:42 pm

      We really need to get on a gift card movement! A lot of people have issues with giving gift cards but I think they can definitely be personalized. A friend of mine was moving to the U.S. and realizing the last thing he wanted was more stuff to pack, we gave him a Home Outfitters gift card. He was so grateful for it!

      Enjoy L.A. 🙂 Post-trip report when you get back!!
      Christine recently posted…A Minimalist’s Anxiety Over Christmas GiftsMy Profile

  • Reply Melanie @ Dear Debt December 18, 2014 at 4:31 pm

    OMG, I’ve been dealing with the same thing. I’ve told my mom I don’t want gifts for years, yet she still gets me things. Now, I just ask for necessities, like grocery gift certificates! Something practical is nice, but I really don’t need anything, but she really does get bugged by it, lol.
    Melanie @ Dear Debt recently posted…Month in Review: Debt UpdateMy Profile

  • Reply Liz December 19, 2014 at 10:59 am

    For the most part, I would consider myself a minimalist. I would much rather spend on experiences than things. I do stock up on groceries and toiletries when they are on sale but I try to keep the “stuff” to a minimum in my life. My husband actually loves reading the Becoming Minimalist blog and always sends me articles from there to read.
    Liz recently posted…My Big Goal for 2015My Profile

    • Reply Christine December 19, 2014 at 3:37 pm

      It’s a great blog! Helps keep me in check.

  • Reply Tawcan December 19, 2014 at 5:03 pm

    I’m a minimalist as well, I prefer experience over things most of the time. Sometimes experience can add to things too, for example a creative outlet like a cooking or painting class triggers the need to buy something specific.
    Tawcan recently posted…Weekend Reading – Holiday editionMy Profile

    • Reply Christine December 22, 2014 at 9:03 am

      You’ll definitely want to test out your new found knowledge at home!

  • Reply Mrs. Frugalwoods December 21, 2014 at 10:59 am

    We’ve gone through the same “don’t get us anything” loop with our families, which never works out. So, since I’m a quasi-minimalist and hate clutter, I’ve started keeping a list of things we genuinely need. I kept a list all year this year and shared it with our families for Christmas and they were most appreciative. It’s filled with all the practical, household stuff we actually do need, so I think it’s a win for everyone. Giving experiences is another fabulous idea!
    Mrs. Frugalwoods recently posted…Weekly Woot & Grumble: Mom’s On Email and My Hands Are DryMy Profile

    • Reply Christine December 22, 2014 at 9:04 am

      Practical gifts are right up there with experiences. Getting stuff you actually need = WIN!!

  • Reply Chela December 23, 2014 at 10:22 am

    I love giving and receiving experiences. You’ve said it all. It’s hard to convince family to not get me stuff I don’t want or need, and I especially feel guilty about the money they’re spending, that could be better spent on practically anything else. So, I try to emphasize how much I love tickets to things, and hope for that. They’re starting to get the picture 🙂
    Chela recently posted…What I Learned in Sales, Pt. 1: Getting to Know The JonesesMy Profile

  • Reply Tarynkay December 23, 2014 at 10:13 pm

    Have you ever heard of love languages? The idea is that people have different ways to feel loved and to express love. Some people feel and/or express love through material gifts. Other people feel and/or express love through physical affection or acts of service or praise. There is a book about it and honestly I thought it was kind of a slog to read, like most books of this type. But it really was eye-opening.

    I am not a gift person. I don’t like owning lots of stuff and I am constantly donating things to make more space and reduce clutter. But once I accepted that many of my loved ones ARE gift people, Christmas started being a lot more enjoyable. The gifts might not be the specific things I would have bought, but that’s okay. It’s not like I am entitled to X amount of money in goods, services, or gift cards each year. That doesn’t mean I have to keep all of the gifts. The purpose of a gift is to express love, not to engender years of guilt and/or dust.

  • Reply Lisa December 30, 2014 at 4:33 pm

    My mom sounds just like your mom! I love her, but man it’s hard to tell her that I don’t need more STUFF. As far as gifts, my favorite so far is movie tickets! The gift of an experience is just as good, if not better, than a material gift.
    Lisa recently posted…I’ve Stopped Saving Money For My WeddingMy Profile

  • Reply Mel July 15, 2016 at 2:39 pm

    I know this is old but I couldn’t help not make a comment! I need to vent! My problem is with my in laws and as you can imagine, I don’t feel comfortable telling them this kind of stuff but my husband who is their son gets a bit uncomfrotable sometimes too!
    Last Christmas was perfect because we moved to England and you have to pay to retrieve any package sent from abroad above a certain value. I know someone who payed £40 for a small box full of make up!
    We straight told his family not to send us anything and they didn’t. I’m already a bit aprehensive about this upcoming Christmas because we’ll be returning to the USA and starting from scratch again. My MIL has the bad habit of giving us stuff that “matches with our house” and I can see herself trying to help us decorate our future new barren apartment.
    Like someone already mentioned, families usually set a very low budget which means they will buy you useless crap that will be donated right away. In their mind it’s the gesture that matters. My SIL is extremely Christmas fanatic and she causes me anxiety. My PIL are not that bad really in respecting or wishes with the “no gift please” but she’s a nightmare. She even once emailed my husband a list of presents for her pre teen kids and I found it beyond rude.
    I like the idea of more useful gifts such as museum pass, movie theater tickets and so on, but I think people get frustrated by such requests because they don’t get to choose what to buy for you. So in short, it alsmot feels like they are buying stuff to make them feel better. If the were really concerned about meeting your needs they would be okay with giving money towards your student loans for example (wonderful idea by the way).
    Consumerism made me hate Christmas and I’m a pra finch inn Christian. So sad.
    I stopped receiving gifts from my parents once I was maybe about 16yrs old or so and it was never a problem for me. This also causes some internal chaos because I can’t believe grown ups are expecting gifts from others!!

    • Reply Christine July 18, 2016 at 9:55 am

      Hey Mel! I know how frustrating it can be when people don’t respect your wishes but I’d just let your MIL do her thing. You’re right in that people think it’s the gesture that matters and there’s another comment in this post that suggested the idea that some people give gifts because that’s their way of showing that they care about you. Other giftaholics may use giving gifts as an excuse to shop. If they want to give you gifts, graciously receive them and give your family that satisfaction. What you do with the gift afterwards is up to you.

      I’d reiterate your need for more practical gifts, maybe suggesting something like an experience that you can share with your husband. Make it ambiguous so they still feel like they have a say in what to buy for you. This way they get to gift you something and you don’t end up with stuff that you don’t want or need.

  • Reply Andrea Thorn January 18, 2017 at 12:57 pm

    OK, OK! I am a guilty Mama! haha! Though my hubby & I have minimalist tendencies, I have insisted our adult kiddos tell us what they need. (Of course, they are guilty too as they ‘gift’ us for birthdays & Christmas!)This year I was the one short on time! My own mother in law did something through the years that I didn’t exactly ‘like’, and this year, I adopted her plan. She would buy other gifts, but gave each of her children/spouse/grandchildren a set budget. She told us to spend it on something we wanted, give it to her, and she would wrap it. This year, I purchased Amazon gift cards for select folks. I set a budget for our adult kiddos & told them to deliver their items by certain date, and I would wrap them. I added ‘happies’ that I know they use & appreciate (new toothbrushes, something ‘sweet’, writing journals, etc). We honestly enjoyed our Christmas together, and we all got what we needed/wanted/read/would wear! I ran across this 4 gift ‘rule of thumb’ awhile ago…something they need, want, read, & wear. I’m new to your blog, and I think it’s great. Thanks! AT 😉

  • Reply Fixit Man December 24, 2017 at 1:57 pm

    Actually, it’s not a problem just for minimalists, but for hoarders as well! You should see our house, we DO take out the trash by the way, but that broken VCR from 1988? Still there. We really don’t NEED anything, and anything someone gives us is just bound to be put in a closet or stacked on a dresser and never used or thought of again. My wife, unfortunately, likes to give presents… the grandkids had more toys by age two than I had all my life…and receive presents she’ll never use. Oh and forget food, she’s on a 1500 calorie a day diet with set food items.
    So when she asks me what I want for Christmas, I’ll say something like “tires for my truck” or “shirts” (because yes I wear out a lot of shirts) or, occasionally, a replacement for an item that has broken (not that the old one will get tossed out, but does need replaced.)
    This year, thank goodness, all she wanted was Google play gift cards! It’s usually some crap I know she’ll never use, and winds up stacked up in the spare bathroom!
    I tell everyone, really, if you want to give me something, forget it, because you don’t want to visit my house in 10 years and find 10 years worth of unused gifts sitting on the couch when you go to sit down. People understand.
    And I don’t give gifts, myself. It’s not a matter of being cheap. It’s a matter of protesting our throw-away society, where people just have way too much “stuff” they don’t need, and those who aren’t hoarders just throw away perfectly good items and fill up the dumps.
    Things like gas cards, for those who drive a lot, or those Google play gift cards for the Grandma who’s addicted to Candy Crush, do make sense.

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