Gift-Giving for Minimalists & Downsizers

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Our Charlie Brown Christmas Tree (“All it needed was a little love…”)

Last month I wrote a post with gift-giving and other tips for the holiday season, which can present a challenge for those who want to celebrate the season and share joy with others, but who are also seeking to simplify their lives, minimize clutter, and “live with less.”

It is sad that for some, maybe even many people, the frenzy that surrounds gift-giving at the holiday season can actually destroy the joy that it is meant to inspire. In talking about this with a friend whose means are limited, another aspect of the problem was revealed. “I like to give gifts,” she said. “But I just can’t afford to give everyone the nice things I would like to. It makes me sad.” She added, “Also, sometimes you feel bad receiving gifts when you know that the person couldn’t really afford to give what they’re giving. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t feel good.”

I wondered what Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, aka “The Minimalists,” would have to say on this subject. “To stay focused, we must first focus on the right things: we must change our focus from consumption and obligation to love and support,” they wrote in one of the posts on their blog. Much of their advice is similar to advice we, and others, have given, and is fairly obvious: give gifts of time, consumables (wine, food, soaps, candles, etc.), give “experience” gifts (theatre tickets, trips, outings). But they also address the matter of how to deal with the expectations of others at holiday time, and they dig into the psychology of gift-giving in an interesting way.  “Gift-giving is, by definition, transactional,” they write. “But love is not a transaction. Love is transcendent: it transcends language and material possessions and can be demonstrated only through our thoughts, actions, and intentions.” It’s a thoughtful essay, well worth a read.

One of the challenges inherent in the alternative to  giving “stuff” for the holidays is following through on the alternative of “experience” gifts, the kind where you offer the gift of time spent in some special way with a loved one, or a favor you will do for them, or a promise you intend to keep. The easy part is making the promise: the harder part is making it really happen.

And since the holiday season conveniently includes the tradition of making New Year resolutions, maybe that’s a good resolution to make. Make sure that those promises you write down and present to a loved one during the holiday season really happen in–or even before–the New Year. Now, there’s a resolution well worth keeping!

Wishing you and yours warm, wonderful, meaningful holidays–with lots of joy, and not too much stuff!

Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor, writing coach, travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.

Living with Less…

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In a recent Op Ed article in The New York Times, Graham Hill tells the story of how he accumulated so much stuff after he sold his start-up company that he came to feel that he did not own the things he bought but they ended up owning him. Although he’s unusual in getting a windfall from the sale of a tech start-up, he’s like many of us whose life is cluttered with excess belongings.

Hill went on to create TreeHugger.com, an environmental design blog, and LifeEdited.com, a design blog for minimalist living, and now lives in 420-foot studio where his bed folds down from the wall.

“Does all this endless consumption result in measurably increased happiness?” he asks in the Op Ed piece. Studies have shown that things do not, in fact, add to our happiness.

“Intuitively, we know that the best stuff in life isn’t stuff at all,” Hill continues, “and that relationships, experiences and meaningful work are the staples of a happy life.”

He ends his piece with “My space is small. My life is big.”

Laura Bloom is also a believer in living with less. In a post on her blog Finding Walden, Bloom writes that she is a big fan of throwing away stuff because she wants her house to be a space where things can happen. “I want to walk into a room and feel a sense of possibility, and spaciousness,” she says. “I don’t want to be reminded in countless ways of the past.”

Bloom was inspired by To Have or To Be, whose author Erich Fromm says there are two essential ways of being – having or being. Although our society encourages “having” Bloom follows Fromm’s idea that by not having, you create more space for real being.

“Throwing stuff away, even precious, valuable stuff, can be lightening and liberating” she states. In a comment to the post, a reader called this “a mental spring cleaning.”

We’ve just talked about about two people who made the choice to live with less.

According to a post by Patricia Redsicker, blogs outrank social networks in influencing consumer purchasing decisions.

Perhaps blogs can influence readers NOT to make purchases, too. What do you think? Did reading this post help you to not buy something or to get rid of something you already have? If so, what was the item and why? We would love to hear your story.

Linda Hetzer is an editor and author of books on home design, crafts, and food, and author of  Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home