How to receive less this Christmas
"What do you want for Christmas?" How often do we ask this question of people in the run up to Christmas, and how often are we asked it. Too many to count I imagine.
How can we best answer this question if we are trying to be more minimalist about our consumption habits? I have found over the last few years, that no matter how I word it, people don't want to hear the answer; "nothing." It is usually mistook for being too polite to ask, and you get pressed even further about what you really want. Or you are just being unhelpful.
You see "nothing" is not an option for the gift giver. For them, if they want to get you a gift, they will get you one. If you don't tell them what to get, they will purchase a best guess. It is not the gift givers fault. They aren't ignoring your wish for nothing, they simply either do not believe you, or can not accept that as an option.
The values of our society dictate that there are certain people you must purchase gifts for at Christmas. It also dictates that if you do so then the other person is contractually obligated to purchase a gift for you too. (I jest, but that is actually how it feels, and there are definitely people who if you do not reciprocate will be deeply offended)
So how then as Minimalists can we navigate these deep rooted social customs that now run counter to what we want in our own lives?
I have found that people's motives in giving gifts, especially to children, comes from a genuine place of love and care. They want to make us happy, they want to bless us in some small way and show their affection in a tangible way. And as someone who isn't that comfortable with the "mushy love" stuff, I get it. How much easier is it to let someone know how important they are to you with a big old gift under the Christmas tree, than to have an awkward conversation about feelings?
At first I thought, it's harmless, just let them give want they want and we can "de-clutter" it later when no ones looking. But then there are a lot more issues that are important to me than just minimalism, tackling our country's epic waste problem being one of them. The unsustainable nature of our consumerist society has grave consequences for the environment. It would be a lot better for these items not to be purchased in the first place, rather than me just re-homing them later.
Not to mention the financial implications of Christmas. How many people get themselves into real financial difficulty trying to keep up with the perceived obligations of Christmas gift giving? No one wants to have the awkward money conversation, but realising that someone might be saying "nothing" because they can't afford to buy a recipricol gift for you is important to consider. By mutually agreeing to not exchange stuff you could be relieving real financial strain for someone.
Which leads us back to; how do i answer that question politely and effectively?
Well here are a few of my top tips.
For starters, you can't just answer with "nothing." You're going to need to have a bigger conversation, not just about minimalism, but about Christmas, what it means to you, and what you want from the holiday period that can't necessarily be bought in a store.
You also need to bear in mind this question is being asked because this person loves you and wants to show you that through gift giving. So maintaining a loving tone in your dialogue is important. And that being said, there's a good chance you love this person too, so why not propose an alternative kind of gift exchange?
How much better would it be instead of saying "nothing" suggesting instead you get together for a coffee, or a meal, or a day out somewhere even. Explaining that instead of buying things for each other that aren't really needed, you could instead invest some precious time in your relationship.
If there are people who aren't located locally enough for that option then maybe you can suggest a cash or voucher alternative to a gift. Minimalists aren't monks, they still buy things, albeit a lot less and a lot more considered purchases. So maybe there is something you've been saving up for and do actually need that people can contribute to.
If you really do need nothing though, then maybe there are experiences you want to have that people can buy or contribute towards. I have talked before about how we love experience gifts, and annual passes to some of our favourite local attractions are always top of our Christmas list.
Lastly, I want to cover that money problem a little more. We have had Christmas's in the past where we have had to scrimp and save for months beforehand in order to afford to buy gifts for everyone, and then spent months after Christmas paying off what we weren't able to save in time. It has been a big cause of stress, but one largely struggled with in secret because such is our culture of gift giving. To not reciprocate when you receive gifts for some would cause just as much distress as getting into debt.
I don't have a handy tip for this one i'm afraid, it has to be frank honesty. If you are struggling financially with the implications of Christmas then spend a bit of time explaining to those closest to you that this year you might need to scale back, or look into alternative gift ideas. We once baked fudge to gift to people, it's thoughtful, you put time in to it, and it's yummy. Plus the benefits of being part of such a polite society means it's unlikely anyone will bad mouth your gift; to your face at least anyway.
If you've been embracing a bit of minimalism in your life, then by now you'll know it is a counter cultural move, and you'll be used to getting mixed reactions and upsetting those societal norms a little bit. So i'm sure you can handle this Christmas "Un-Gifting" idea.
For me, when people ask me this Christmas what I want, I will annoy them all by telling them I want to see my children's eyes light up when we decorate the tree, and I want to hear them laughing as we watch Elf for the umpteenth time. I want to slow things down and take time to play games together, go for long walks, bake Christmas cookies and most of all to celebrate Jesus' birthday, not with the giving of the latest must have item to hit the shelves, but by giving time and love to all the wonderful people in my life.
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