There are many principles in minimalism that hold true year-round and at any stage of the process. But there are several that I wanted to focus on in particular in regards to Christmas, which can be a tricky season with its societal emphasis on busyness and consumption. If you’re looking for a deep-dive into the mindset shifts and strategies for having a minimalist Christmas, please check out my book, “Have Yourself a Minimalist Christmas,” on ebook, audiobook or in print. But for now, let’s take a look at some principles that may help you recalibrate and prepare for a simpler, less expensive holiday:
Pare down the excess.
Decluttering–which can be a painful exercise– helps you re-examine what you really need, curbs your desire for more, and helps you hone in on what is actually a quality item. Declutter on a regular basis to help curb the desire to spend. Editing out the unnecessary reveals painfully hard things like the money wasted or the poor choices in quality or the very temporary amount of joy items bring you. Before you spend a dime on Christmas this year, be sure you do a thorough decluttering and see how much your mindset shifts towards purchases…
Less stuff equals less stress.
The holidays can be a stressful season for a variety reasons, but they don’t have to be. You are the curator of your life, so you can opt for less stuff and less busyness. The less items there are to clean, move, manage, and store, the less stress you’ll have. You’ll also have less strain on your finances as you accumulate less, so saving money is just one of the many ways minimalism lowers your anxiety levels. Striving for less is good for your mental health.
Trends are temporary. Minimalists strive for timelessness.
This naturally leads to you buying less. Every year, every season, every month, the many industries that make up our market are launching new “must-have” items with an updated look or feature. If you can keep to timeless classics, you’ll find yourself purchasing much less things and less often. For example, every season, the department stores roll out new cuts, colors and prints for trendy clothing. If you opt out of being an on-trend fashionista, and instead go for timeless pieces like a white blouse with classic blue jeans, neutral colored leather loafers or heels, then you’ll radiate chicness without having to buy anything new for the next five to ten years. The same can go for tools and tech. Invest in a beautiful classic watch and enjoy its time-keeping mechanics for decades, rather than replacing and upgrading a smartwatch every couple of years. Keep this in mind not only when you’re purchasing items for yourself, but when purchasing gifts for others. Not only will you reduce gifting clutter to them, but you may set better standards by example and find that you begin receiving more timeless pieces.
Make your purchases intentionally, and not spontaneously.
Carefully plan out what you are going to purchase. Minimalists don’t stroll through malls or aimlessly scroll online retailers hoping for inspiration to hit. They know in advance what they want and have probably considered for a month or even longer. If you happen to see something you love while out and about or while scrolling, do not add it to your cart–physically or digitally. Think about it for at least a week and then make a more intentional decision about whether you truly need that item in your life or not. At the most, add it to a Pinterest board to save the link for later. Even just spotting a potential purchase causes a rush of dopamine and adrenaline. Let that fade for a few days and then revisit your saved links and notice how few of them spark that rush again.
Replace or fix your items instead of constantly upgrading.
My husband has an iPhone5 still. He’s replaced the screen himself at least 5 times and replaced the battery at least 3 times. It works perfectly fine and still has the ability to download apps and use the internet and tools like the calculator or map and takes decent photos and videos. What more do you REALLY need? We replace buttons and patch up pants or repurpose them into new items. But how many of us rush to an excuse to upgrade or replace an item? It takes some reprogramming to get into the habit of asking “How can I fix this or replace this” first, instead of immediately getting the newer, better, upgraded item. Release the cultural pressure to always be ahead of the trend and sink into the comfort of having just enough that is just fine. You don’t need to “wow” anyone in your circle to have a fulfilling life. You don’t need the upgrade.
Borrow instead of buy.
In this instant-gratification culture we live in, we’ve been primed to to purchase anything we need–often in a frictionless one-click, free-shipping purchase just moments after we’ve had the thought or desire. Try instead to ask around with friends or family if you can borrow instead of buy. Make friends with your neighbors. Join a “Buy Nothing” Group on Facebook. In the past week, we’ve borrowed a carpet cleaner machine and a tens-unit for my husband’s hurt shoulder from a neighbor, and I asked the Buy Nothing Group if anyone had a Mac charger I could borrow (this helped me to wait on shipping of a lower priced charger, rather than paying triple the amount for a new one from the store). We’ve even asked to borrow a friend’s car for a recent road trip my husband needed to make, since we’ve downsized to one vehicle to save money. Yes, we borrowed a car! You’d be amazed at how kind and amenable people are with allowing you to borrow items. Just be mindful this holiday season of items you think you need and ask yourself if you really need to own it or could you simply borrow it temporarily. It could be a bundt pan for a holiday cake you plan to bake or a power washer to spruce up your house before company comes over. Just think outside the box and don’t rush to a store every time you need something. (p.s. If asking someone if you could borrow an item makes you feel squeamish, I recommend reading/listening to “Rejection Proof” by Jia Jiang. This book totally changed my feeling towards the fear of “No” to a question! The audiobook is currently free on most library apps.)
Mix functionality with beauty.
Often, people have utilitarian tools and necessities in their home that do not spark joy. Once you’ve decluttered the abundance of tschotskes and souvenirs and other decorative items, you’re often left with the few items that truly sparked joy and then a lot of the necessary items needed to function in life. Once you’ve decluttered down to the basics and now are poised to make future purchases, I urge people to mix functionality with beauty. For example, I just purchased a Leaf razor. Instead of purchasing plastic disposable razors that bring no aesthetic joy and instead are a recurring expense each month and then add to the landfill for thousands of years, I opted to get a stunningly beautiful stainless steel razor (no, this is not an ad). It sits on a beautiful shiny stand and looks like a sculpture. Its a necessary tool but it sparkles and looks divine as one of the few pieces sitting in the shower. I’m giddy every time I reach for it! I never associated shaving with giddiness before! Or for another example, instead of getting a plastic bucket for our compost bin, we have a lovely white, antique ceramic bucket with an elegant lid. It serves a necessary function in our household, but it looks so charming on the countertop. Look around at your necessary tools and, if you are in a financial position to do so and craving the dopamine rush of a purchase, find a way to surround yourself with beauty that sparks joy every time you have to use it. This is luxurious and perhaps frivolous, but in some cases, this can be a great way to live a minimal and joyful life. Christmas is a time where you may budget to “treat yourself” or you may have loved ones asking “What do you want/need?” If ever there were time to swap out the mundane and functional tools for luxurious versions, it would probably be during the holidays. Don’t upgrade just for the sake of upgrading (as discussed above), but opt for something high-quality and beautiful if you are in a position where you must replace an item. Slowly, you’ll be surrounded by nothing but items that delight you–even the mundane necessary items.
Quality is valued over quantity.
You can determine your own criteria for what makes an item quality, but for me, I try to make sure it is well-made and will last me five to ten years at least. It should be aesthetically pleasing and even more importantly to me, it should be made sustainably. A wooden, glass or metal object is far more superior in quality to me than anything made with plastic, for example. I don’t want a walk-in closet full of cheap, fast fashion, where the hem starts to fall apart after two washes. I want a small, curated capsule wardrobe made up of fantastic quality clothes that will not wear out in one year, that will fit well and will stand the test of time instead of falling out of fashion in one year. Keep this principle in mind when gifting to others or when creating your “Christmas wishlist.”
Set your budget like you would set your physical boundaries.
Minimalists set boundaries about how many items they will allow to enter their life. For example, you may designate one drawer for all of your tops. If you cannot close that drawer, you do not decide to designate another drawer for tops or start hanging the new tops in the closet. You stick to the parameters you’ve laid out for yourself. This applies to boxes, cabinets, closets and your home as a whole. If the lid doesn’t close, or the drawer doesn’t shut, it’s time to remove items, not to add more boxes or change your parameters. I believe minimalist author Dana K. White refers to this as the “Container Theory.”
The same can be said for your budget. Be ruthless with your financial budget. Check in each week or each month to see if you are overflowing in a certain category. Don’t change your budget to accommodate the overflow, but rather, evaluate your spending habits and change them to fit the budget you laid our for yourself. This will also keep you from adjusting to lifestyle inflation. (You can use apps such as Mint to help you categorize your purchases. Personally, I prefer the good ‘ole handmade spreadsheet because the pain of writing out each purchase helps me reign it in so much better. When I can actually type out each dollar amount and manually add up the totals, I am more likely to stay in my budget. It’s like using cash instead of a card. It just becomes more “real.”)
Here are some tips that may not necessarily count as principles, but that I think you may find helpful in cutting costs this season.
- Gift consumables instead of tchotskes. For example: Artisan chocolate, locally roasted coffee, fine cheeses or craft liquors from a local distillery. Something homemade, handmade or local will have a story and thoughtfulness behind it.
- Gift experiences instead of clutter. Pre-paid tickets to the art museum, ballet, mini-golf, spa-day or a babysitter pre-reserved + a reservation/gift card for a nice dinner would all be great ideas for experiences someone would enjoy and value. Memories are far more valuable than dust-collecting items. The gift will be even better if they will experience the event with you.
- Make items in bulk to save costs. Handmade gifts are always appreciated! Think of something you can make in bulk and spend a day creating your jars or packages for loved ones. Add a tag and some pretty ribbon and whalaa!
- Simple, classic wrapping can save costs on gift wrap. You don’t need shiny foil with reindeer prints color-coordinated with other wrappers. Buy a bulk roll of craft paper and decorate it with simple twine or ribbon and a sprig of evergreen for a pretty touch. Here’s a Pinterest Board full of ideas of simpler gift wrap that I promise will outshine any sparkly roll from the supermarket.
- Set up expectations in advance. You’ll be less likely to overspend if you know that your loved ones already know what to expect from you. Examples of boundaries or expectations you can announce or discuss in advance are: $20 or $50 max per person; or “I’m only gifting to children under 18”; or “I’m only gifting a book to each person this year”; or “We’re only purchasing for immediate family,” or “I’m giving a small homemade gift this year”; or “We’re using the 4-Gift Rule for children this year: ‘something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read.’” Once you know that they know what to expect, it releases expectations for them, too. You’ll feel the pressure lift off of you as well, once you’ve made these expectations clear. This is also the time where you can say “Please, don’t feel obligated to get me anything. We have everything we need. (But IF you insist, here’s a list of the few items or experiences we would really appreciate.)”
- Focus less on the story of Santa and building lists, and more on the traditions and experiences of togetherness. Don’t ask them to list what they want or pass them a toy catalog to circle items. It can still be magical and you can still have fun with the anticipation of it all without focusing so much on the stuff. (See Chapter 2 of my book, “Have Yourself a Minimalist Christmas” for more on this).
- Remember that companies are following you around the web and collecting data on everything you look at, search, briefly pause over, say (via microphone), text or email. They know almost everything. They know (or have a good guess) of your financial situation and budget. They know how close you are to purchasing an item and how badly you want or need it. They know your zip code and adjust prices accordingly. You are rarely seeing the same price as someone else. Digital marketing is a mad genius. It’s slick and tricky and full of people who understand human psychology better than you do. If this sounds alarmist and scary, well, it is. It’s not a conspiracy theory…marketing and Big Business–especially when online–is out to get every dollar they can. As I stated above, do not make rush decisions when purchasing online. Give it some time and compare prices on a private browser like Duck Duck Go instead of Google. (Want to learn more about this craziness? Read or listen to “All You Can Pay” by Anna Bernasek and “Dollars and Sense” by Dan Ariely. Watch “The Social Dilemma” documentary on Netflix. We can’t change how it works, but we can at least be more AWARE of what’s happening so we can better avoid falling for it.)
I hope you have found some of these tips helpful! So much of saving money and simplifying during the holidays is simply shifting your mindset, good preparation and awareness.
If you have more tips, I’d love to hear them! Let’s connect on social! I’m on Twitter and Instagram at @megnordmann or you can connect with “the book” (still me…heehee!) directly at @minimalist_christmas on Instagram. I’m super active on Pinterest and Facebook as well. I look forward to connecting with you!
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