By late November, toys have been relentlessly advertised for months. Long lines of children wait to meet the mall Santa, encouraged to ask for whatever they want. Letters to Santa, some asking for dozens of toys, are mailed. At school, the dominant conversation is about who wants what and whether or not their Christmas wishes will come true. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, even kindly strangers on the street greet kids with the question, “What do you want for Christmas?”
In this atmosphere, the minimalist parent can feel like a Grinch and his kids can feel cheated if the holiday haul seems inadequate.
You’ve read the latest studies confirming that children are happier with fewer toys. They’re less distracted, more creative, and more engaged in their play. They imagine and make do more effectively. With fewer toys, they’re more likely to take care of what they have, and the whole family benefits from less clutter and frustration.
So your values are clear. How do you implement those values without sacrificing fun and festivity? How can you turn your child’s focus from “I want” this season?
1. When it comes to making your children happy, time together is the most important gift of all.
Gather the kids and have a family conversation about what the holidays would be like without any presents. Would you still have fun?
Of course you would! Ask the kids to come up with specific things you could do together that everyone would enjoy.
- You could visit family.
- You could make fudge.
- You could go caroling with your friends.
- You could drive into the mountains to that tree farm you like, and spend the afternoon hunting for your favorite fir.
- You could make tree ornaments and play Christmas music while you decorate.
- You could read holiday stories aloud.
- You could make care packages for the homeless.
- You could take a drive and look at all the twinkling lights around town.
- You could build snowmen.
- You could decorate a tree for wild birds.
- You could watch a holiday movie.
- You could invite all the cousins for a sleepover in front of the Christmas tree.
There are so many enjoyable things that can be part of the holiday season even without presents. As you can see, once the ideas start rolling, the list can grow and grow. You could post the list on the refrigerator, or write them on separate strips of paper and put them in a jar. Create free time, choose an idea, and make it happen. You’ll find yourselves taking a hike to collect pine cones, baking a gingerbread house, or ice skating.
This process simply makes it clear that the best, most memorable parts of the holiday season have nothing to do with receiving gifts. They don’t need to cost a lot of money. It’s the time and togetherness that make them so valuable.
2. Establish minimalist gift-giving traditions.
This could mean one large gift plus smaller “stocking” items, or one gift for the whole family plus one gift for each child, or the semi-traditional “one thing they want, one thing they need, one thing to wear, and one thing to read.”
3. Buy fewer gifts, but ones that are strongly desired.
I’m not talking about a passing whim, but a long-term want. Get ideas by paying attention to what your kids are saying and doing on a day-to-day basis. What do they choose for their free time? Which activities would they like to try, or become more involved with? What skills are they interested in learning? What do they ask you about? If you’re noticing these things, you can pick up lots of gift ideas without ever engaging them in the “I want” mindset.
4. Don’t browse for wants.
Whether online, at the mall, or in an old-fashioned catalog, don’t go looking for things to want. Keep the TV off during the month of December to limit your kids’ exposure to toy ads. You’ll find that without TV, they’re calmer and play better together as well.
5. Ask relatives to bring requests for gift ideas to you, not the kids.
I always appreciated such requests, because it was clear that the grandpa or auntie in question really wanted to choose a gift that would be appreciated by my child. But when they ask the child directly, it encourages more and more thoughts about stuff they want. Plenty of wants come up in ordinary, ad-filled life. Why encourage it?
6. Involve your children in choosing, making or purchasing, and wrapping gifts for others.
Kids love to be generous, so foster that. Encourage them to focus on what others (such as teachers, grandparents, or cousins) might want, need, or like to have or experience.
7. Make charity an important part of your holidays.
Make sure your children know there are other kids who don’t have toys, or enough clothing or food, or even a family or a place to live. This isn’t meant to inspire guilt, but to emphasize the abundance your family has and may sometimes take for granted. Participate in a local toy or coat drive, collect canned and packaged staples for a food bank, or donate an animal through Heifer International.
About the Author: Karen Trefzger is a writer, singer, teacher, wife, mother, and grandmother. She writes about the many joys of a simple life at MaximumGratitudeMinimalStuff.