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December 26, 2015

HOME: Quality vs. Quantity (or How Minimalism Helped Me to Have a Stress-Free Holiday)

This year was our first Christmas season as a minimalist family.

Sure, my husband and I have been making strides in the lifestyle for a while, but our children (now 15 and 10) are finally on board and have been enjoying the benefits of having easier access to the things they love while having to deal less with the chaos created by the things they don't. Hey, who wouldn't?

In the past, the winter holidays have been a source of stress and anxiety in our house. Maybe not all are quick to admit it, but we dreaded the sudden influx of Stuff and the responsibility of figuring out what to do with it when the whirlwind of December came to a close. Even getting ready for the holiday was a pain--pulling storage bins out of an overcrowded attic, rearranging the already-tight confines of our living space to accommodate a tree, and carving out a place to stash and wrap gifts were overwhelming tasks.

Our uncluttered home made decorating and wrapping easy this year, but there was still the daunting subject of the Stuff that would be showing up soon.

This time around, we delicately explained to family and friends well in advance of the traditional "shopping season" that we had been working diligently to reduce our material goods and, subsequently, our stress levels, and because of that we would prefer less. If they really wanted to give a gift, just a bit of their time to catch up and socialize was enough.

Most were very understanding.  Some were quite curious--almost fascinated--and had many questions. Overall, no one pushed us or tried to convince us that we absolutely had to take piles of Stuff in order to be accepted as normal or to feel we were still part of the family.

We didn't eliminate gift-giving, either. We thought carefully about each recipient and narrowed our gift selection for them to one almost-entirely consumable selection. Quality wines, craft beers, candles, services (certificates for dog grooming and drum lessons, for example) and yes--gift cards--were chosen.

Our kids were very happy with the idea of receiving only one or two "dream gifts" from us instead of piles of sweaters and fad toys and gadgets that would be out of season or no longer useful come March. They each made a short wish list of things they would love to have, but thought were too big or too important to be gifts.

The idea that children that young had already been conditioned to believe that gifts had to be less significant or cheap fluff blew my mind.

To try and remedy that, we included them in all of the gift-giving selection for friends and family and had them focus on quality over quantity. "What is something  that Grandma would absolutely love or that would make her life better every day, but that she might never think to buy for herself?" They really seemed to enjoy this new way of thinking about gifts for others, and I'm certain they will gladly overwrite their old idea that more fluff must be better.

Because we opted for fewer gifts of higher quality, we did more thinking and less shopping.  Less time spent in traffic and in consumer-frenzied shops and malls gave us the gift of relaxation and peace of mind during a time that's traditionally stressful.

In all, the holiday felt like a big success because, thanks to minimalist ways of living, we focused on spending time with loved ones instead of worrying about the season's traditional consumer pressures.

Your Turn: Did you make any changes to your holiday traditions that reduced the stresses of the season? How did they (positively or negatively) impact your family and friends?

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