The reason for the season

Today is Black Friday.  You may or may not have gone shopping at 4:00 this morning.  I know that my sister was at a store before the sun was up because she literally started a retail job TODAY.  Poor girl.

Anyway, today I want to bring your attention to the reason for the season.  No, it’s not (necessarily) Jesus.  It’s love and peace and giving.  Here are some ways you can embrace love and peace and giving without going to the mall:

  • Donate time, money, or gently used items to a charity, soup kitchen, or family in need during the season.  Make it a family tradition.
  • Make gifts: Make a delicious food item, put it on a pie plate from a thrift store, and include a note that the dish is theirs to keep or regift to someone else.  This is a nearly zero-waste gift. If baking or cooking isn’t your thing, consider making bath scrubs (in repurposed glass jars!), or make creative art pieces.
  • Spend time together: Spend time with your family and friends during the holidays, just catching up or doing something you enjoy like seeing a movie or treating yourself to a favorite restaurant.
  • Offer your services: Offer to do the dishes after the holiday meal, or spend some time watching your relatives’ or friends’ kids so the parents can get some time alone.  Every minute you spend helping someone else is a minute they get to themselves, and that is a wonderful gift to give.

These are just a few ideas for keeping the focus on family and love around the holidays. Share more ideas in the comments!

What are your favorite things-that-aren’t-things to get in the holiday season?

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Tis the season

It’s almost Thanksgiving.  Which, in today’s culture, means that it’s almost Black Friday Eve.  People will camp outside stores to make a mad dash for doorbuster sales and discounted prices to prepare for their holiday gift-giving traditions.

I posted a note on my Facebook and tagged my close family and friends, letting them know that they were exempt from giving me a gift this year.  Here’s what my note said:

Attention friends and family, with Black Friday approaching I wanted to let you know that you’re off the hook for me this year.  Consider yourself gift-exempt.  I would rather have a nice phone call with you to catch up (if you’re far away) or make plans to spend time together (if you’re close) than get a gift.

I know that the holiday season is a time of giving, and you may feel strongly about getting me a gift.  If you do feel compelled to give me something for the holidays, please remember that I’m vegan, I  buy organic as often as possible, and I don’t use commercial bath or beauty products with unpronounceable chemicals in them.  If you want to buy something for me, please buy something made in the USA or a Fair Trade Certified import that is not made of plastic. You could also make a charitable donation in my name to a worthy cause.

Or just ask me what I’m currently coveting, for example:

  • -A HankyBook: http://hankybook.com/ (I like the pink lotus pattern especially)
  • -White or sage green color cloth napkins (secondhand, seriously, shop at Goodwill, antique malls, and estate sales)
  • -Measuring spoons (again with the secondhand stuff from Goodwill, etc.)
  • -A nice (and smallish) bamboo cutting board, or bamboo cooking utensils
  • -Really, just ask and I will come up with something I would really appreciate as a gift! But you are not obligated.

Now that I have given you my high-maintenance hippie Christmas list, I’m sure you’ll be very relieved to go read the first part again and remember that I am giving you gift-exempt status!

I love you all, and I wish you happy holidays 🙂

I thought this was a pretty appropriate note letting people know that, as we approach the Time of Shopping, they could leave me off their lists.  This is my one-person passive protest against consumerism.  Because really, Christmastime has become more about the gifts and the sales and the stuff than the love for a lot of people.  I just want the love.  I’ve always loved Christmas, and I remember spending days going through catalogs and circling the things I wanted.  I don’t even remember what I asked for or received most years.  These are the gifts I remember the most:

  • A music box with Disney’s Aladdin and Jasmine on the flying carpet, some time around age 5 or 6.  My dad wrote a very long note about how I was not to shake the box because it was fragile, and I thought it was a joke so I shook it anyway.  It was fine, but I did lose it at some point through the years and I bought one on ebay a couple years ago because I missed it and it reminds me of my dad.  It’s on my filing cabinet at work.
  • A “Boxcar Children” book from my aunt, when I was around 5 or 6.  I remember saying “Ew, I don’t like these books,” and my mom told me to be appreciative and give it a chance.  I quickly consumed ALL THE BOXCAR CHILDREN BOOKS.  I even “left a mystery” in the house when we moved out of it.  It was not a good mystery, it was some pokemon cards stuffed into a hole in a closet wall. I am mildly ashamed of this.
  • A stuffed animal seal, around age 11.  It was donated by someone because we were part of an adopt-a-family program.  I have donated gifts to families in need since then, always remembering and being thankful for those who gave me that seal.
  • A glass chess set from my brother, age 11.  It was gorgeous and wonderful.
  • A laptop computer from both my parents when I started college (age 17).  I saved the gift tag for years because it was the first “Love, Mom and Dad” gift I had seen since they divorced when I was seven.
  • This year my mom is paying for my hotel stay in Spain as my Christmas gift, because she is awesome.

I remember how those gifts made me feel.  All of these gifts were in tune with the things I loved and appreciated, like my favorite movie (Aladdin, at the time), a favorite hobby (reading), a game I had recently learned to love (chess), and something I needed for school (the computer).  This year, mom’s picking up my hotel tab and I have no additional expectations for more gifts, because that gift of having a place to stay on my vacation is plenty, even without a tangible item.  I’m minimizing tangible items, remember?

But putting parameters on gifts like this is a little inappropriate because it’s the thought that counts, right?  My counter-argument to this is that all I want is the thought. I want my family and friends to think about me this season, to call me on the phone and catch up, to go out to lunch, or to just spend some time with me.  My “parameters” for the gifts I would like are the same parameters I set when I’m shopping for myself — I do my best to buy local, sustainable, Fair Trade, and made in America products.  I do not always succeed, but I make an effort and I am always thinking about what my dollars mean.

(My iPhone is staring at me like I’m a hypocrite right now.  Are there any ethically made cell phones?)

All I ask is that, if someone is going to get me a gift (which they are in no way obligated to do), they get me something that resonates with my personal values and beliefs.

Are you taking any particular stands on this matter for the holidays?

A minimalist by any other name…

This is a request from the Suggestion Box. Feel free to suggest a topic you would like me to write about if you are interested in seeing something appear on the Born Again Minimalist blog!

What exactly is a minimalist, and how does minimalism differ from simple living, or any other term?  Basically, we’re all doing the same thing, right?  We all want to declutter our homes, break free of consumerism and debt, focus on quality over quantity, and make room for our lives.

I’d like to invite you to watch this video, which I find very amusing.

There are blogs, Twitter feeds, Facebook groups, YouTube videos, and more, just lurking on the internet waiting to teach you how to be a minimalist.  The best part, however, is that you don’t need anyone else to tell you how to live simply, live minimally, live lagom, or live your life any way.  There are guides and advice, sure, but your simple life is how you make it.

Forgive me for citing Wikipedia, but here are some general definitions:

Simple living encompasses a number of different voluntary practices to simplify one’s lifestyle. These may include reducing one’s possessions or increasing self-sufficiency, for example. Simple living may be characterized by individuals being satisfied with what they need rather than want. Although asceticism generally promotes living simply and refraining from luxury and indulgence, not all proponents of simple living are ascetics. Simple living is distinct from those living in forced poverty, as it is a voluntary lifestyle choice.

Adherents may choose simple living for a variety of personal reasons, such as spirituality, health, increase in “quality time” for family and friends, work–life balance, personal taste, frugality, or reducing personal ecological footprint and stress. Simple living can also be a reaction to materialism and conspicuous consumption. Some cite socio-political goals aligned with the anti-consumerist or anti-war movements, including conservation, degrowth, social justice, ethnic diversity, tax resistance and sustainable development.

Okay, cool, this sounds like me.  I’m living simply.  I have reduced my number of possessions, I plan to garden to increase self-sufficiency, I am pretty satisfied with my needs vs. wants.  I live simply for health and personal balance reasons, bordering on spiritual motivations.  I am striving to be anti-consumerist and anti-disposable-items.

Wikipedia also offers the following definition of minimalism:

Minimalism describes movements in various forms of art and design, especially visual art and music, where the work is set out to expose the essence or identity of a subject through eliminating all non-essential forms, features or concepts. Minimalism is any design or style in which the simplest and fewest elements are used to create the maximum effect.

At its root, minimalism refers to music, art, architecture, writing, etc. that seeks to eliminate the superfluous and focus on the important bits.  It makes sense that the term could be applied to a lifestyle with the same basic idea: get rid of the excess and focus on what matters.

Giving a shout-out to Living Lagom, lagom is a term that basically translates to “just the right amount.”

There are as many terms to describe minimalists as there are minimalists.  And there is no one-size-fits-all definition.

Certainly I am not living as small as I could be.  I have a cat, and a compost bin, and I want to garden one day and maybe even keep chickens — these are not pack-up-and-move-your-life things to include in one’s minimalist life, but my intent is not to be able to move my life at the drop of a hat (though the thought of such a life is exhilarating!).  I only hope to live simply, decrease my dependence on corporations and consumerist culture, and be happy and as self-sufficient as possible, with a small carbon footprint.  I can call myself whatever I want, and so can you!

Be simple. Be a minimalist. Live lagom. Seek enlightenment.  Whatever you’re doing, keep it up if it brings you joy.  Remember that minimalism is not a destination — it’s a journey.  And you get to decide how it unfolds!