8 Guilt-free tips to minimize Christmas spending

12-11 Christmas

I was already a few purchases into my holiday season when a friend of mine said she’d really enjoy a no-spend or buy-nothing Christmas. She envisioned swaps of artwork, clothing, and books between friends who could give freely from what they already had without adding to the stress and pressure of the holiday shopping season.

I budgeted around $400 for holiday gifts, but I probably won’t end up spending that much at all since I shifted my focus to giving experiences and artwork rather than purchased goods (though the unicorn calendar was a great buy and I stand by it).

Here are some ways you can reduce or eliminate your holiday spend without feeling like you’re downsizing the holiday cheer factor.

  1. Give your time. When I asked a friend what she wanted for Christmas this year, she thought about it and said that she’d love a day we spend together more than anything I could wrap up and give to her. Pencil a friend onto your calendar for a day of movies, hanging out, or even going out to window shop and try on the most hilarious Goodwill outfit you can find.
  2. Create something. One of my hobbies is painting, and I plan on creating art for many of the people on my list this year. It’s something that means a lot to both me and the recipient, since I create something personalized and inspired for each person on my gift list. You could also write letters or poetry, draw something, make homemade bath products, or sew something for your recipient.
  3. Cook something. So technically you’ll have to buy ingredients, but baking some cookies or cooking someone’s favorite meal for them is a great way to put your time and energy into showing your love for them.
  4. Regift. If you got some gifts last year that are still hanging around, new or barely used, give them to someone on your list who will love them and have a good home for them. And if you can’t bear to regift, then admit to yourself that you’re not using them and send them to the local charity store.
  5. Host a party. Instead of shopping for a personalized and unique gift for everyone on your list, you can opt to host a holiday party instead! You can focus your time and energy on preparing a delicious meal and ask everyone to bring their favorite dessert for a mouthwatering pot-luck of treats.

If you’re a dedicated gifter who just wants to reduce the budget instead of shoestring it entirely, try the following ideas!

  1. Try the “four things” holiday gift. Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read. This is a great way to give gifts to the kids in the family so all bases are covered, while maintaining a frugal gift budget.
  2. Shop local. Buy from local crafters and shops instead of Amazon Priming everything* or shopping big box stores. Check your city’s calendar for local craft shows, which are all over the place leading up to the holidays!
  3. Shop handmade. ETSY ALL THE THINGS*.

*Some people have no reasonable options but to purchase from large sellers like Amazon, Target, Wal-Mart, etc., due to finances, schedule constraints, physical ability, etc. Your own mental and physical wellbeing is more important than shopping local or small.

Are you planning on a “less is more” holiday this year? Tell me your gifting plans!

PS. If you’re in the Cleveland, Ohio area, don’t miss your chance to buy tickets for the Jolobokaflod fundraiser for the nonprofit Reading Room CLE on December 21! The Reading Room promotes literacy in the Cleveland area through a nonprofit bookstore that supports educational and artistic programming.

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The Holiday Obligation Bill of Rights

christmas catIt’s that time of year again. It’s only the first week of December but the flames on your holiday stress fire have been getting hotter since mid November. I’m prone to seasonal affective disorder, which starts as soon as the time change happens and the clocks roll back an hour. Suddenly it’s pitch black when I’m driving home from work, everything is gray and overcast, and the deadlines are rushing at me like something out of a Final Destination movie.

Personally, I’ve got a book deadline, three blog commitments (I have a new website and I’ve started publishing on Medium, though I may adjust the frequency so I’m not tripling my workload with a weekly piece on each platform), and social plans all vying for my attention. Luckily, the whimsy of the season and the thrill of shopping for the perfect gifts for my loved ones gets me through the first couple months of fall/winter, but after the new year starts, it’s just three more months of slush and snow and darkness and existential angst.

As I’ve been working toward a lower impact life (both physically and mentally), I’ve found that I naturally have created guidelines for how to spend my time. Ever the minimalist at heart, it’s important for me to remember that minimalism isn’t just about physical stuff and clutter. It’s also about a healthy schedule and mental clutter so that I make time for the priorities.

Since the holiday season is usually stuffed to the brim like an overfilled stocking with social and family obligations, I want to remind everyone that boundaries and taking care of yourself are still important and valid, even when it feels like your time is more necessary elsewhere.

Here are ten rights you have this holiday season.

  1. You have the right to stay home. Seriously. Even if it’s Christmas at your mom’s house. Even if you haven’t seen your second cousins in fifteen years. Only accept plans you WANT to do and have the ABILITY to do.
  2. You have the right to limit your budget. While “gift giving” is one of the five major love languages, the price tag is not a defining characteristic. Don’t go broke (or into debt) in an attempt to show people how much you care. If you’re close to your budget limits and still want to give more, consider handmade gifts or writing heartfelt notes, especially if the recipient is a “words of affirmation” love language person.
  3. You have the right to leave early. If you’re at a holiday party or family gathering and you’re tired, uncomfortable, or otherwise just don’t want to be there, it’s okay to say your goodbyes and head home early.
  4. You have the right to eat what you want. Love your body, eat a cookie, don’t punish yourself.
  5. You have the right to ask for what you really want. Nobody has to give it to you, but you have the right to create a wish list and be clear about what you want. One year, my sister asked for cash to help fund an alternative break trip she was taking with a group in college, and family members deemed it inappropriate to ask for cash. Unless it hurts somebody, it’s okay to ask for what you want.
  6. You have the right to reschedule social plans. Some of my closest humans probably won’t be able to get together until after Yule and Christmas have actually passed. It’ll still be a great time. You can literally reschedule your holiday festivities to a later date, or celebrate early!
  7. You have the right to call it whatever you want. Celebrate Yule, Christmas, Hannukah, or any other of the myriad winter holidays happening within this timeframe? Rock on and celebrate it your way. Pay no attention to the grumps arguing about the war on Christmas. That’s not a thing.
  8. You have the right to not call people you don’t want to talk to. I am estranged from my parents, and the holidays are one of the toughest times to be estranged. I still feel a little tug that says I should call or reach out. Nope. I do not have to open myself up to emotional abuse, and neither do you.
  9. You have the right to return or re-gift. If you receive a gift that isn’t up your alley for any reason, you are under no obligation to keep it. Don’t stress out by finding a place for it or worrying about what Great Aunt Edna will think if she never sees that sweater in your selfies.
  10. You have the right to not hug people. Neither children nor adults are obligated to hug or otherwise show affection to anyone if they don’t want to. This is especially important to impart to children, who are learning about bodily autonomy. If a little kid doesn’t want to hug and kiss grandma, make it clear to everyone that it’s not okay to force it.
  11. BONUS: You have the right to decorate as much or as little as you want. I hung my favorite ornaments on a potted palm tree. You make the rules!

Minimalist Resolutions

This is the time of year when my family and friends, amidst Thanksgiving feasts and Christmas cookies, declare their New Year’s Resolutions for the coming year.  And since we all survived the End of the World without a scratch, it looks like 2013 will be here before we know it, in just a few days!

The typical resolutions end up like some of those Christmas gifts we didn’t ask for but got anyway… left, forgotten, under the bed or on a shelf somewhere.  We see them in March or April and think, “Oh yeah, I should do something about that…” but eventually they just fall into the void.  Common resolutions include things like:

  • Lose weight
  • Start _______ (something you’ve had plenty of time to start already)
  • Start a vacation fund
  • Join a gym
  • Quit smoking

These are all admirable goals, but if you haven’t started already, why is January 1, 2013 going to be any easier a time to start?  When I wanted to start walking daily, I just decided that day I would take a walk every day.  It was a Saturday.  Do I still walk every day? No, it’s cold out and I have yet to get winter boots or gloves.  But I didn’t wait for Monday or the first of the month or the first of the year to start doing something I wanted to do.  In any case, here are some new resolutions that you can make that align with your minimalist ideals.  The best part is, you don’t have to wait until 2013 if you don’t want to, you can just start today!

  • Remove one thing from your space per day.  This could be old mail, or it could be a shirt you’re not wearing or a pair of earrings you got for Christmas and know you will never wear.  Declutter one item per day (or per week if one per day is overwhelming).
  • Eliminate disposable cups.  This is an idea I got from Sandra at Living Lagom.  Bring a travel mug or cup with you to coffee shops or restaurants like Chipotle that use paper cups even for eat-in customers.  Or, you can sit down at a coffee shop – they usually have proper mugs and cups for eat-in customers if you request them.  For every disposable cup you DO use in 2013, put $1 into a charity fund for an environmental organization, and/or find one disposable cup in the garbage to recycle.  I love this resolution!
  • Participate in Project 333, just once.
  • Flip your hangers, set a deadline, and honestly get rid of the items you haven’t worn after your time is up.
  • Stick to a one-in, one-out rule and eliminate one like item for every item you bring into your home in 2013.
  • Eat three (or more) vegan meals per week.  This is a non-scary way to reduce the amount of high-cholesterol meat, eggs, and dairy in your diet.  I can’t tell you how many people say to me, “I want to be vegetarian, but bacon!” or “I would love to be vegan, but cheese!”  Meat and cheese and eggs aren’t necessarily bad for you in moderation, but so few people truly do consume them in moderation.  A resolution to eat three or more vegan meals per week will increase culinary creativity, as well as help instill a sense of moderation without banning all of the bacon and cheese you crave.  Just only have bacon once a week.  (Is my boyfriend reading this?).
  • Don’t go to bed with dirty dishes in the kitchen.  This has been my kitchen motto since I moved into my apartment in June, and it’s always wonderful to have all my dishes clean to start each day.
  • Quit smoking.  Make the resolution every day.  The cravings will go away after about six months (according to my mom).  You can do it.

For 2013, I have several mini-resolutions.  I haven’t decided on their order yet, but I would like to try the following throughout the year:

  • Project 333
  • One month without a microwave
  • No disposable cups (all year)
  • Reverse 100 Things Challenge (declutter 100 items in a year)
  • Upcycle old shirts into grocery produce bags
  • One month without eating out (yeah, right)

Are you making a New Year’s Resolution?

Giving the thought that counts

With Christmas just around the corner, many people are scrambling to finish their Christmas shopping.  I don’t know if it’s my new minimalist outlook on life (I somehow doubt it), but I am finding myself very much indifferent to Christmas this year.  I have no decorations up at home (definitely minimalist of me), and even when helping my friend decorate her tree or seeing my mother’s decorated home, I have no flutter of excitement about it this year.  Maybe it’s because I’ve seen roughly 0.0005 inches of snow so far, and it’s late December.  Maybe it’s because I’m not a little kid about to get a ton of presents.  I know several people who have also said they’re just not getting into it this year.  Maybe the world will end today, who knows?  (Mayan calendar joke, not really predicting the apocalypse). I’ve even tried a marathon of all the Doctor Who Christmas specials, to no avail.  Though I am now afraid of a lot of Christmas decorations.

I do have a feeling that taking my sister to see our dad tomorrow might instill some Christmas spirit into my soul, and I definitely foresee some more excitement on Monday when my family sits down to a family meal.

What I loved about my first Christmas out of college was that I had enough money to buy everyone a REALLY AWESOME GIFT.  I spent a ton of money.  Looking back, I am mildly ashamed. For instance, I bought a Rock Band set that was played once.  Once.  There’s a hundred bucks.  I also bought “us” (I was married at the time) a Wii Fit, which I did play a lot but had to leave behind when I left.  So there’s another hundred bucks.  I bought my friend some books, and I got my sister stuff I don’t even remember but at the time I thought she would like, I got gifts for aunts and uncles and cousins and looking back, I realize that I just liked shopping.  I liked the thrill, and maybe even the stress, of needing to find a gift for someone.

Most people tend to really get into the holiday stress.  It’s almost like a badge of honor to drive yourself clinically insane trying to find gifts.  Here’s a secret: No you don’t! That is a man-made stress.  You do not have to give in to the cultural frenzy of Christmas Shopping.

This year, I’m much more purposeful in my gift-giving.

My sister is getting some of my clothes and jewelry that I don’t wear (and she’s fine with this!).  She also was supposed to get a pair of leggings I bought her in Spain, but my mother put them in her room in a fit of cleaning, not realizing they were supposed to wait for Christmas, so whoops.

My mom is getting help cooking and cleaning, for one thing!  I am also currently researching area spas to get her a gift certificate for a massage.  She loves to be pampered.

My stepdad — and I can say this on the internet because he doesn’t read my blog — is getting a gift certificate to accompany a pilot on a thirty minute flight and get to fly the plane for part of the flight!  He drives a racecar as a HOBBY, so I had to find something thrilling for him.  This was perfect.  My backup gift was going to be a wine aerator because he’s super into wine and doesn’t have one.

My best friend and her family will be receiving a gift membership to their local zoo, because we go all the time and it will be great for them to be able to get in free whenever they want to visit.

In my opinion, the more experiences you can give to people in place of things, the better — all three of these things on my list are experiences.  Mom gets to go to a spa, Stepdad gets to fly a plane, and Best Friend & Kids get to go to the zoo.

The list goes on… some people do read my blog so I can’t go into other details.  But the important thing about this year, and how it should be for people every year, is that I’m going for quality over quantity.  If I put thought into a gift, and it’s really and truly something the recipient would appreciate, I’m golden.  If I put thought into something and it is a gift for a gift’s sake, I’m stopping myself.  I would rather schedule a lunch date with the person or get them a cup of coffee and catch up than give them something they won’t need or even want.

It’s just that simple.  When it’s the thought that counts, make sure it’s thought about the person and not the compulsion to give.  There’s plenty of thought about that already.

Happy Christmas!