The Minimalist’s Guide to Gift-Giving

Take this advice from this minimalist who provides these minimalist gift ideas.

The holidays stress me out. It’s not just from trying to plan a Christmas gathering or juggling a crowded schedule of family events — for me, it’s all the things.

For better or worse, I am a minimalist. I prefer to have fewer things, period. Some people swear by a process of spring cleanings and donation piles; I work hard to never amass all those things in the first place. I have three pairs of shoes (running, black dress, brown dress — what else would you need?); I routinely wear articles of clothing until they really wear out; etc., etc.

Come Christmas time, my poor family and friends are left scrambling to figure me out: What the heck can I get him?! I try my best to come up with a short list of exciting items like a tape measurer and power drill for home projects; a book or two I’ve had my eye on that’s tough to get from the library; or something really wild, like a set of reusable cloth napkins.

On top of that pressure, I walk a tightrope in taking care of gifts for my family and friends. I am totally comfortable and excited to give gifts to them, but I struggle with the nature of it: Will they even like this and use it? Couldn’t we just give them some money to help with a home project? Could we chip in for a trip or tickets to a fun outing? There’s rarely neat overlap between my gift-giving thoughts and social convention.

Over the years, I’ve found a few ideals that help guide my process for giving and receiving, though I still fall way short of “fixing” it. (Meanwhile: to the gift-givers, let me just say on behalf of minimalists everywhere: We’re sorry.)

Think of places you can go and things you can do, ideally together.

A good place to start might be interests that you and your favorite minimalist have in common. Do you root for the same sports team? Buy a pair of tickets to a game. Do you like the same kinds of fine arts, like dance or symphonic music or visual arts? Get a pair of tickets to a concert or special exhibit. Do you like the same kind of music? Keep an eye out for a concert or new album that fits the bill.

Another way to pursue this path is memberships. Is there a local place you might be able to go together? Museums, zoos, gardens/arboretums, aquariums, and more offer memberships that can give you a fun destination to go together over and over again. 

Write up a personal coupon.

I know, I know — this is what elementary school students do as a classroom craft in December, writing up cute little booklets of free hug vouchers for their parents. But minimalists will appreciate the change of pace!

Is there an experience you would enjoy sharing that isn’t easily captured with a ticket? One that might feel too tacky to give through a gift card? A gift like this could be covered with cash, but you don’t want to just stuff some bills in an envelope, so hop on a graphic designer like Canva, or grab some markers and paper to customize a personal coupon. Incorporate some pictures of the place or experience, describe the activities you’d like to do, suggest a time to make it happen, and of course, add that it’s your treat for them.

In all likelihood, in the eyes of someone who fears the amassing of more things, this sort of gift will strike the right chord.

If you really want to give a thing, consider consumable things.

Even minimalists need and enjoy some things. Most of us do enjoy moderate amounts of stuff. A good direction to go is toward things that are consumed and then are gone. Maybe it’s not a great fit to buy an iPad or a fancy new outfit, but it could be a fit to provide for some more central needs.

A minimalist who enjoys a good meal, and is maybe a bit of a foodie? How about a home-cook meal kit or subscription or a gift card or coupon for a meal out. Someone who likes unusual tastes and flavors? You could special order some goods, like foreign or ethnic food items, different seasonings and spices, or personal care products. A person who enjoys a nice adult beverage? Figure out beer vs wine vs liquor, and take a spin through your local liquor store to find some intriguing new drinks your beloved minimalist may like to try.

These consumable items bear less heavily on a minimalist’s sensibilities. The ability to use a finite amount of something and then have the choice to restock or reorder fits the bill well.

Finally, a word to the minimalists: Share your gratitude.

I know. It’s hard. The whole season is swollen with the acquisition and gathering of the things. It raises my blood pressure, too. But you know what’s worse than excessive materialism? Being a Grinch.

In all likelihood, most or all of your family and friends know you’re not a big fan of stuff. The moment of receiving a gift is not the time to set up your soapbox and deliver a fresh sermon.

When you receive a gift, think about the person who gave it to you, the thought and sacrifice behind it, and the relationship with them that you value. Focusing on that, share whatever measure of authentic enthusiasm you have (don’t fake it — that might be worse). And most importantly, say thank you. 

I often get so up in my head about all the things around me that I forget these simple acts of gratitude. One of the surest ways to hurt feelings is to have a flat non-reaction (or negative reaction) when you receive a gift. If you’re worried about how you might react (or not react), at least commit yourself to writing thank you cards that carefully and intentionally spell out your appreciation to those who thought of you with gifts.

Be a headstrong minimalist if you must, but be a grateful minimalist, too!

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