Minimalism – Letting Go of Gifts

Love people, not stuff.

Are you trying to minimize the amount stuff you own? Is dealing with gifts making you feel guilty and stressed out? I got over the guilt and you can, too.

The first time I placed a gift item someone had given me into my minimalism donation box I was surprised by the crushing guilt I felt. That gave me pause. I was putting a thing in the box, not a person. I remember thinking, “Wow, getting rid of stuff other people have given me is going to be way more complicated and emotional than I had anticipated.”

If you are serious about living happily with fewer material goods, you are probably going to have to address the gifts you own now and evaluate your philosophy about exchanging gifts in the future. This is not easy, but once you have done it you may be pleasantly surprised by feelings of relief and freedom.

Do not get me wrong, I do enjoy giving and receiving gifts, occasionally. What bothers me, a lot, is the rampant consumerism and the sense of obligation that surrounds exchanging gifts in our society (in my opinion). To me, a gift is something that one person gives to another freely and with no strings attached.

Why Do You Need To Let Go of Gifts?

A reasonable question to ask is “Why do I need to divest myself of gifts I already own?” This is a very personal question that only you can answer. I will share my reasons for letting go of gifts. Then you can ponder your own reasons and decide what you want to do.

Footprint on Earth Globe - Carbon FootprintMinimizing my possessions is a way for me to say no to consumerism and to live more lightly on Earth.

I believe that the constant push for economic growth in the United States and the ever-present message that we need to acquire more stuff to be happy is harming people and Earth.

I want my children, your children, and everyone else’s children to have a habitable planet to live on so I think we need to stop making and buying stuff at our current level. That includes gifts.

For me, an essential part of transforming my relationship with possessions and learning to live happily with less stuff was divesting myself of things that I already owned but that I did not need, use, or want anymore. Items I had received as gifts or inherited were belongings so I decided not to exclude them from evaluation.

Traipsing Down Memory Lane

A gift could be almost anything. A few possible gifts that immediately come to mind are clothes, jewelry, handmade goods, kitchenware, electronics, tools, decorative items, souvenirs, toys, heirlooms, furniture, and books.

A question for minimalists or for anyone for that matter is which gifts contribute the most to your happiness? It could be many things or a just a few. If you say all, then you probably need to revisit the reason you are trying to minimize your possessions.

Different gifts will elicit different feelings. Be prepared for emotional encounters with some or possibly all of your gift items. I tried to keep three thoughts foremost in my mind while I was traipsing down memory lane, “I want to live more lightly on Earth with fewer material belongings.” “These are my things so it is my decision whether to retain them or not.” and “I can keep whatever I want.”

Chances are that handmade gifts and heirlooms will be the most emotionally charged gifts. If you are a “tackle the hard job first” type of person, then start here and the process will get easier and easier. I am a momentum kind of gal, meaning that once I get started I am more apt to continue so I started with the easier stuff first.

How do you define easy? You will know by your willingness to put the item aside without spending a lot of time thinking about it. It could be an ugly coffee mug a coworker gave you for a secret Santa gift exchange, an extra second-hand skillet a friend gave you, or an unused crystal bowl you received as a wedding present. If you find yourself agonizing over a crocheted scarf that you never wore because you just do not like it but you kept it because it was made by your grandmother, then move on and come back to it later.

Take as long as you need to complete this portion of minimizing your possessions. I am fourteen months into my quest to live happily with less stuff and I still have a few gift items awaiting a “keep” or “no keep” decision.

Once you have set aside gift items that you will not be keeping, I suggest removing them from your home sooner rather than later by donating, selling, re-gifting, and in some cases putting them in the trash or recycle bin.

Dealing with Guilt

A person gives you a gift because they like or love you and think you will enjoy it, right? I think so.

Green Christmas Gift Box with Red Ribbon and BowDoes that obligate you to keep the gift even if you do not like it, do not need it, or will not use it? If it was just what you wanted at the time, do you have to keep it forever? If you choose to let go of a gift, regardless of whether you liked it or not, does that mean you do not care about the other person or their feelings?

These are just a few of the feelings I grappled with while evaluating gifts. I kept reminding myself of my reasons for living with less stuff and that a thing is not a person.

This helped me push back on feelings of guilt.

Also, it is likely that my gift givers are probably in the same boat as me having received gifts that they do not like or no longer want, perhaps including gifts I have given them. I believe they are free to do want they want with gifts they have received so that should apply to me, too.

My love and friendship for people in my life do not require exchanging gifts or keeping them.

Every once in a while I still feel a twinge guilt or find myself wanting to justify my actions, but then I remember why I am doing this and I feel at peace.

Future Gift Exchanging

Once you complete your initial divestment of stuff, or even during this time, you will embark on the life-long minimalism phase of living happily with fewer possessions. That means you will need to minimize acquiring stuff in the future. This may or may not mean you need to change your gift exchanging philosophy. It is up to you.

Fortunately, at least for me, I got a head start on minimizing gifts several years ago when my spouse and I decided to opt out of exchanging Christmas gifts and shared our feelings with our family and friends. Happily, I now receive very few material gifts. This feels right for me.

Featured Image at Top: Earth Globe in a Red Gift Box with Gold Ribbon – Photo Credit iStock/adventtr

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Eco-Friendly Christmas Decorations

Eco-friendly Christmas decorators choose carefully.

Is decorating for Christmas a highlight of the season for you? It is for me. I think holiday decorating can be environmentally friendly and fun.

If you read last week’s post, Free Yourself from Christmas Consumerism, you might be surprised by this one. One week I am urging readers to consider opting out of exchanging Christmas gifts and the next week I am promoting Christmas decorations. What is up with that?

I Would Rather Decorate than Exchange Christmas Gifts

From a purely environmental perspective, buying Christmas decorations and displaying them year after year is substantially less harmful to the planet than buying and exchanging gifts every year. In addition, exchanging Christmas gifts can be a stressful, exasperating, and expensive activity so opting out might be the best gift you can give yourself and everyone else on your list.

Decorating for Christmas is an activity that you can enjoy doing on your own or with other people. Be kind to the planet by shopping for decorations thoughtfully and buying minimally.

To some people it may seem like environmentalists are always trying to ruin everyone else’s fun by getting things stopped, banned, and prohibited. Others may think that environmentalists want everyone to deprive themselves of the things they find beautiful, delicious, or fun just to save some polar bears in a far distant icy land. Well, polar bears are cool and deserving of our consideration but so is every other living being, including people.

Everyone needs and deserves beauty and joy in their lives, even environmentalists. For some people, like me, decorating for Christmas fulfills that need in some small way.

December is a dark and cold month. In our small town, we do not have streetlights except on the main streets so when it gets dark just after 5:00 p.m. it is indeed dark. At this time of year, it seems like my hands are almost always cold so I often wear fingerless gloves inside. Getting out of bed on cold winter mornings is an act of fortitude. I am already yearning for spring, longer days, and wildflowers.

One way I cheer myself up and renew my spirit is by bringing some color and sparkle into our home in the form of Christmas decorations and a tree (which is the topic of another post). I think taking care of your own well-being is a gift to the people you love.

When January rolls around, I am refreshed and ready to begin a new year.

Below is my take on eco-friendly Christmas decorations. Please feel free to share your own ideas with other readers in the comments section.

Eco-Friendly Christmas Decorating Suggestions

Every time you reuse a Christmas decoration its carbon footprint becomes a little smaller because unlike manufacturing a new decoration, it requires no additional resources or energy and does not create waste. You can find these eco-friendly Christmas decorations in your own garage, antique stores, second-hand shops, and family attics.

Ceramic Santa Claus, Snowman, and Christmas Tree Figurines
Ceramic Santa Claus, Snowman, and Christmas Tree Figurines – Photo Credit iStock/PK6289

Making your own decorations is an environmentally sound and creative endeavor. Give yourself extra eco-credit if you make the decorations using things you already have on hand, recycled components, or foraged natural materials.

There are other ways that you can make your Christmas decorating more eco-friendly even if it involves buying new items that are made mostly with non-renewable materials such as plastic, metal, glass, ceramic, and synthetic fabric.

Minimize First

Unless you are in your first year of buying your own Christmas decorations, you probably already have a collection stashed in your garage or a closet. This month, evaluate what you already own, set aside the items you really, really love, and give away or sell everything else.

Over the past couple of holiday seasons, we have been paring down our Christmas decorations. Divesting ourselves of items that family members and friends have given us has been an agonizing and emotional process. At first, I felt guilty for considering getting rid of things that someone had given me; it was as if I was rejecting that person, which of course is not the case. In the end, I decided that things are just things and that it is okay for me to make decisions about my own belongings.

After you reduce your decoration collection, some vigilance is probably required or you might end up back where you started.

Be Prepared

To me, one of the most dangerous activities this time of year is to go shopping in a store or online unprepared. With so much stuff to buy everywhere, you can easily find yourself putting things in your real or virtual shopping cart that you did not even know you wanted until right then.

Christmas Tree in a Snow Globe
Christmas Tree in a Snow Globe – Photo Credit iStock/Wavebreakmedia

Deciding what you want to buy before you hit the stores or log onto the Internet may help you stay focused on that item, which could save you time and money, too. For instance, if you have decided to buy a snow globe, there is no need to be browsing in the wreath section of the store.

I grant you that it is not easy to walk by all the gaily-colored Christmas decorations calling your name, but you increase your odds of ignoring those voices if you are prepared and know what you want.

Be Choosy

Eco-friendly Christmas decorating involves doing it with as little environmental impact as possible, while still enjoying yourself. The more stuff the more impact.

Nutcracker Toy Soldier Christmas Decoration
Nutcracker Toy Soldier Christmas Decoration – Photo Credit iStock/Wavebreakmedia

Be very choosy about what you buy. Only purchase items that you really, really like and can envision yourself happily un-boxing and displaying for many years to come. Try to buy quality items that will last.

Beware of decoration churning, which is routinely getting rid of items you own so you can buy new decorations. I am not advocating never getting anything new just suggesting being mindful of what you buy.

Even though I am committed to minimizing the amount of stuff I own, including Christmas decorations, I admit it is challenging.

For instance, I just purchased items to add to my Dickens Village, which is a collection of small buildings, trees, and figurines that I arrange in our dining room bay window each December.

Fortunately, I had decided to buy a new building for my village before I left my house and of the more than fifty on display all saying, “pick me” I selected just one, the honey shop.

If I had walked to the checkout counter at that point, I could be all self-righteous about my shopping self-control, but that is not what happened.

Of course, the honey shop had a companion beekeeper figurine that was sold separately so I had to grab that. Then I noticed a set of four furry animal figurines that would look wonderful gracing my village’s forest so I picked up a box. My self-restraint finally kicked in and I put down the battery-powered streetlights I had been eying.

Why would I share this story of my own not so successful attempt at eco-friendly Christmas decorating? To point out that we are all human. Sometimes we make environmentally sound choices and sometimes we do not.

This holiday season, I hope you will consider minimizing your decorations, preparing before you go shopping, and choosing new decorations carefully.

Merry Christmas!

Featured Image at Top: Christmas Gnomes Wearing Knitted Sweaters and Hats – Photo Credit iStock/amerto4ka

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