Now that it’s December, I think it’s time to finally address something that I’m often asked about—how to celebrate a minimalist Christmas!
I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a few years now but, to be honest, before I had kids I wasn’t sure if my perspective would interest anyone.
Whether that’s true or not, I will say that we definitely had a more extreme minimalist lifestyle before we became parents! We lived in a tiny studio apartment, everything we owned fit in the back of my hatchback, and we could easily do things like escape to a remote tropical island for Christmas.
But things have changed—we have a toddler now and our second baby will be joining us next year. We’ve upsized to a 2 bedroom apartment and we’re doing our best to navigate life (and the holidays!) with a little one in tow.
Here’s what we’ve learned so far about how to celebrate a minimalist Christmas along with some tips for a simple holiday season, no matter what you choose to celebrate.
What Does a Minimalist Christmas Look Like?
To kick things off, let’s talk about what it means to celebrate a minimalist Christmas.
If you’re a long-time reader, it probably won’t surprise you to hear that I think a minimalist Christmas means different things for different people. For example, some might choose to skip having a tree altogether and others might still value decorating but decide to give fewer gifts this year.
One way of celebrating isn’t inherently better or “more minimalist” than the other. The thing to remember is that minimalism is not a race to see who can get by with the least amount of stuff.
Instead, minimalism is about intentionality and alignment. Consider your values and priorities, decide what “enough” means to you, and then align your holiday celebration accordingly.
I’m going to tell you a bit more in this blog post about what a minimalist Christmas looks like in my home but please remember, this is just one example of how to simplify the holidays.
You should start your own holiday planning by thinking about what matters most to you and your loved ones. I know it’s hard but do your best to let go of external expectations; give yourself permission to set boundaries and create new traditions this year if your existing ones no longer feel like a good fit.
RELATED POST: What It Really Means To Be A Minimalist
Minimalist Christmas Decorations
So with that out of the way, let’s talk about minimalist Christmas decorations: how do you decide how much is too much?
I recommend that you start by paying attention to how holiday decorating makes you feel.
Are you excited and happy about it? If so, then there’s no reason to change what you’re doing just for the sake of it. If holiday decorating brings you a lot of joy, then go for it!
But … if the thought of decorating leaves you feeling stressed and overwhelmed, then it’s time to take a closer look at why you’re doing what you do. Are you decorating because:
- It’s what you’ve always done in the past?
- You’re worried your family won’t enjoy the holidays if you don’t?
- You’re afraid other people will judge you?
These might seem like valid reasons at first but I encourage you to challenge these beliefs. Talk to your loved ones and let them know how you’re feeling. Discuss the tradeoffs—decorating cost time, money and energy—and decide as a family how you want to proceed.
MY MINIMALIST CHRISTMAS DECORATIONS
Personally, we have a Christmas tree and one box of decorations. My husband and I have decided that we won’t store anything that can’t fit in that box because we have a small home. That box is what feels like “enough” for us.
This means that for my daughter’s first Christmas (which was the first year we had a tree) we bought a handful of new ornaments but decided that moving forward we would only buy additional ornaments to celebrate special milestones.
For example, we bought a new ornament when we went to Disneyworld last year and we will buy another for baby #2’s first Christmas.
I’ll be honest and admit that it’s tempting sometimes to buy more—I’ve seen SO many beautiful things around town right now—but I’m mindful what shopping now really means.
We have limited space so if I buy something today, it might mean having to say “no” to something meaningful later. We are intentionally leaving space for the glitter-covered, macaroni ornaments that I’m sure the kids will bring home in the years to come!
In addition to a tree, the only other decorations we have are a stuffed Santa doll, Christmas stockings and we occasionally use fresh greenery too.
Minimalism and Christmas Gifts
Ahh … Christmas gifts. This is where things get more complicated, right?
There are a lot of opinions about how minimalists should handle Christmas gifts but my best advice is to start with honest conversations.
Take an open, non-judgemental approach with your friends, families and even co-workers. Ask for their feedback: How does everyone feel about the way we currently exchange gifts?
Listen and then offer suggestions based on what you’re hearing. Ideas include:
- Doing a Secret Santa so that everyone buys and receives one gift each
- Setting spending limits
- Actually asking people what they want for Christmas
- Practising the 4 gift rule: one thing you want, need, wear and read
- Giving experiences, like movie tickets or annual passes to the zoo
- Choosing not to exchange gifts
There is no one right solution for everyone and you need to decide where to create boundaries.
Related Post: How to Get Your Family On Board With Minimalism
HOW WE HANDLE GIFT-GIVING IN MY FAMILY
In my family, we use a mix of almost all of the above strategies!
First, my husband and I generally don’t exchange gifts or we limit ourselves to one gift with a small budget. The reason for this is that as a family, we already spend a lot of money on travel and experiences (annual theme park passes, meals out, etc.). We’re not afraid to splurge on these things year-round so buying each other gifts just feels unnecessary.
We do buy a few gifts for my daughter but to be honest, right now it’s more for us than for her. I enjoy seeing her open things on Christmas morning but I don’t think she understands what’s going on yet. She had a birthday a few months ago and didn’t pay much attention to her gifts at all.
I honestly don’t know if that’s normal for a two-year-old, just her personality, or a consequence of living with minimalist parents! But for now, we don’t see any point in buying her lots of stuff when we know that she’d be more excited about going to the park than opening a gift.
When she gets older, I’m sure this will change. Our plan is to have an honest conversation with her and to talk to her about tradeoffs.
Maybe this is a bit optimistic and I might have to eat my words in a few years but our hope is that she will grow up learning to value quality experiences over lots of toys. We will see, haha!
Moving on to the extended family …
With my mom, I will generally only buy her a gift when I know that it’s something she will really enjoy. Sometimes it’s a small gift (like a candle), sometimes it’s something big (like a trip to Paris), and sometimes it’s just a card with a photo.
Personally, this is my favourite way of giving gifts. If I have something meaningful to offer, then I love giving—but if not, I don’t like giving gifts just for the sake of it.
My mom on the other hand always ask me what I want for Christmas so I’m not afraid to tell her exactly what I need. I hate the idea of her wasting money on things that I won’t end up keeping (and yes, with a few exceptions, I don’t keep gifts that I don’t want).
I generally don’t buy gifts for the rest of my family although I try and send a card with a photo since we’re rarely home for Christmas. (We live in Australia and my family is in the States.) When I do buy gifts, I’m a fan of practical things like gift cards unless someone has asked for something specific.
Things get a bit trickier with extended family buying gifts for my daughter. Everyone likes shopping for children, especially grandparents!
I’ve told them that she doesn’t need a lot of things but I’m mindful that shopping is a way for extended family to feel a part of her life. (Especially because we live far away.)
Having said that, as a general rule, if she receives something she won’t use then I’m not afraid to pass it on to someone else. The exception is sentimental items, which I keep for her.
Why? Because it’s not my decision to make. When she gets older she can decide what’s worth keeping or not but for now, I don’t feel comfortable making that choice.
As you can see, there is no one size fits all solution for everyone. If you feel overwhelmed with where to begin, then start small. It’s not all of nothing—have one conversation, make one change, and see what happens.
Minimalist Christmas Traditions + Reducing Holiday Stress
Finally, let’s talk about minimalist Christmas traditions and reducing holiday stress.
I think it all begins with how you manage your expectations. Go back to what Christmas really means to you, choose one or two things to focus on, and then build your traditions around that.
Accept that you won’t be able to do everything and that the “perfect” holidays you see on TV, online and in magazines don’t exist. You might have to say “no” to some fun nice-to-have opportunities so that you have the time, energy and money for the things that matter most.
It’s not easy and it doesn’t always feel great at the moment but it’s better than trying to be all things to all people and then missing out on something important.
For example, I was talking to a friend recently about our plans for Christmas Eve. She’s a great hostess and we normally go to her house the night before Christmas … but this year, with children and bedtimes … it was just going to be too complicated.
It was sad to end a tradition but at the same time, I really respect her for creating boundaries. She said “no” to something good so that she could have something better—a relaxed Christmas morning, plus more energy for her family and friends on Christmas Day.
This is the heart of what minimalist living is really all about.
More Minimalist Living Resources
If you’d like to learn more about minimalism in the new year and beyond, then here are a few resources you might enjoy.
First, I invite you to download a copy of Mindful Decluttering, my free guide to decluttering your home and life. It will teach you how to think differently about “stuff” and how to overcome some of the most common decluttering challenges.
Subscribe below to get your free copy and you’ll also get regular updates with minimalist living tips, resources, stories and more!
- 7 Simple Days – Are you looking to “kick-start” your simple and intentional living journey? 7 Simple Days is a short course that will help you clarify what matters, define your priorities and empower you to take small, practical steps towards a life you love.
- How I Became a Minimalist – Learn more about my personal journey from shopaholic to minimalist (and how you can start your own journey).
- 20 Ways I Simplified My Life – Ideas to inspire simplicity
- My Minimalist Daily Routines – Learn how to embrace slow and simple every day
Do you celebrate a minimalist Christmas? I’d love to hear your tips for simplifying the holidays—let us know your thoughts in the comments below! x