Minimalist & Mindful Holidays

the-nutcracker.jpgFor the last several years my less is more mantra has never rang truer than during the holidays, and this mantra has proven particularly practical since becoming a parent. My Simplifying the Holidays guest bloggers have shared so many fantastic ideas; now here's what my family and I do during the holiday season to keep “random stuff creep” to a minimum and encourage creativity and mindfulness in giving within our family and community. Also excellent, many of these ideas can involve your kids -- this is great for bonding and saves you from spending precious alone time on errands and holiday preparation.

Make a plan. I loved Melissa Massello’s piece on prioritizing and planning holiday spending. Follow Melissa’s plan (we’re now in the final holiday stretch but the general concept remains relevant) or devise a plan that fits your family. For example, I have a large immediate family (six siblings) and a few years ago we decided to stop exchanging gifts, instead focusing on time together and optional small tokens. My holiday plan typically involves crafting some cool handmade tokens for my siblings and doing a bit of gifting for my mom and my husband’s family following the parameters below.

Shop local. While I love the convenience of online shopping, I am very committed to supporting local businesses and artisans. We’re fortunate to have a wonderful array of independent stores and galleries within reach (and don’t forget Etsy as a resource) and I love shopping with Laurel. We always marvel about handmade things and the artists who make them, and she loves helping to think about what gifts certain people would love. Taking Laurel shopping also helps her learn about money; it’s been very touching to have her offer to chip in for gifts from her piggy bank.

Gift usable items. I have a strong aversion to tchotchke so I gift people with things they can use. You can’t go wrong with food gifts such as magic salt, spice rubs, cookie or soup jars, or baked goods, and these projects are great to assemble with kids. In the past I’ve also made candles and soaps. Our go-to gift this holiday is painted pottery because it’s a fun activity for Laurel, creates usable items (e.g., plates, mugs), and supports a local art studio. And for my sibling token, I’ve already crafted these fabulous photo bookmarks.

Use what you already have. Laurel generates a lot of artwork. So one year we made holiday cards entirely using her paintings as background (I simply cut the pieces to fit our envelopes and attached a printed message and photo). Other years we have gifted her paintings in inexpensive matted frames. And for a super minimal approach, simply assemble a series of artwork in a stack (if you have a lot of variably sized items, mount on construction paper), punch 2-3 holes along one side, and fasten with ribbon. Voila! A beautiful, heartfelt art book. (Side bonus: tidies up your house.)

Encourage teaching moments. We parents are responsible for helping our children become thoughtful community members. And the holidays offer plenty of opportunities to encourage teaching moments. You can teach older kids about everyday philanthropy; for example, engaging their help to knit or crochet goods for those in need. Or your family can volunteer a few hours at a local shelter. We talk to Laurel about families in need and contributing to food, clothing, and toy drives. I take her shopping for these drives and she helps pick items to give to other families.

Give the gift of the arts. A great way to avoid playroom clutter? Give the gift of the arts. Not only is it fabulous to support local arts organizations, but these experiences are so multisensory for kids that they really stick. Laurel has incredibly strong memories of the live performances she has seen, and they need not be expensive, particularly with little ones with a limited attention span. Look into inexpensive performances by your local high school, college, church, or community arts group. And when your child gets older and can make it through a longer show, splurge on something like The Nutcracker (this was my sister Stephanie’s gift to Laurel this year and Laurel was blown away). It will be an experience your child will never forget.

Give gifts with longevity & purpose. Instead of the latest fad toy, consider giving gifts with longevity and purpose. Books are a great gift because when they can be passed on to a younger friend or donated to the local library when your child outgrows them. Art and craft supplies offer fun for play time as well as inspiration for gifts. Another great idea is a donation to Heifer International, where your child could pick the animal to gift to a community. And Jon and my gift to ourselves is that we’re in the process of signing up for a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program; it’s an investment in our community farmers and a gift to our health.

The gift of time. Finally, I wanted to remind people of a non-material gift that often is overlooked: the gift of time, even if it’s as simple as offering to spend an hour or two together. More than any one thing, Laurel often just wants to be with the people she loves. A couple of weeks ago when she decided to make a Christmas list, the first (and actually, the only) thing she wrote was, “Have Grandma Nancy move closer to us.” For a mother bent on minimalist living and who values family connection, this simple wish was the best Christmas gift Laurel could ever give me.


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Image credit: Boston Ballet's The Nutcracker