When I first started my minimalist journey, I was hanging out in a lot of minimalism centered Facebook groups and one of the big conversations that would stir within these groups were frustrations with family members who would buy gifts for them or request gifts. Since we’re inching closer to Christmas time as I write this article, I felt like I needed to put in my two cents on the matter — because that’s what the internet needs, more people loudly stating their opinions. (JK) My hope is that this will give you a slightly shifted perspective on gift giving, stuff, and being patient with how others choose to live and give.
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We all make up our own rules
First and foremost, I think it’s awesome that you’ve decided to live more minimalist (that is if you are in fact a minimalist reading this and not someone who was hoping to read an article and find some good ‘ol fashioned minimalism bashing — that won’t be happening here. Sorry). My goal is to first and foremost use the internet to share positivity and hopefully encourage us to see one another in a whole new light.
If you are a practicing minimalist, I’m sure you have your reasons for choosing to live with less, and no doubt some of your reasons align perfectly with mine. In fact, one thing I have come to find is that a lot of people begin practicing minimalism after a major life event that causes them to shift away from stuff.
That being said, no one else is living your same life experience. No one is translating the world in the same way you are, so it’s really silly to think that anyone else is going to see things 100% the same way you do.
As a whole, our world has enough division happening currently and if you are one of those minimalists who aim to value people over things, I think you might agree with me when I say we shouldn’t be using our minimalist lifestyle as a way to create division amongst people we love. That defeats the purpose.
Some people like their stuff
Some of the people you love the most are walking through this world loving their things. It’s true, some may be struggling with hoarding tendencies — and if that’s the case, please consider that this is a sign of a hurt person. They believe they are getting something from their stuff and their struggle to detach is very, very real.
Beyond the world of hoarding, however, there are a shit ton of reasons why people might enjoy their stuff.
Stuff can be:
- A form of self expression and creativity
- Used to create comfort and stability
- A love language
Love Language #3
Ok, I don’t know if it’s actually Love Language #3, but Gift Giving is a way that some people feel love and connection from the people in their lives.
I have a girlfriend who has this Love Language and I just ordered her a customized mug for no reason. Shh, don’t tell.
I didn’t realize this was her Love Language (or that that was even a thing), but when she first started dating her now husband she would get mad if he didn’t get her flowers or gifts for major days of the year, like her birthday and Valentine’s Day. I would sit there stupefied listening to her complain because I personally couldn’t care less about getting flowers or chocolates on any major holiday.
At the time, all I could think was, I would rather go out to dinner at Red Lobster so I could stuff my face with biscuits and anything but seafood.
Why? Because my Love Language is Quality Time and one of my favorite ways to spend quality time is eating amazingly delicious food while talking and laughing over dinner with someone I love.
My Quality Time Love Language is closely nuzzled with the Words of Affirmation Love Language. If you’re not telling me I am beautiful and amazing every single time I have a conversation with you, I basically think you hate me. Talk about needy and yet, here I was judging my girlfriend for wanting some overpriced roses on Valentine’s Day while casually side stepping the fact that I was expecting someone to drop $100 at a seafood restaurant while I chowed down on the free biscuits and cajun chicken pasta. Drool.
Knowing one another’s Love Language
We all feel love differently, and knowing and accepting one another’s Love Languages is one of the best ways to create healthy, respectful relationships whether you are romantically involved with someone or not.
Learning this about my friend, (she’s the one who told me about the Love Language book BTW), helped me see her in a new perspective and now when her birthday rolls around, I know she will feel loved if someone plans a dinner and gives her a damn present. PS I’m terrible at remembering to get her one. I’ll blame my undiagnosed ADHD for that.
While I don’t always remember a gift, I promise I try and when I do remember, I love knowing that I am making her feel loved in a way that works for her.
Be straight forward
I just compromised on buying Secret Santa gifts this year with my family, which is what prompted me to write this post.
My mom clearly stated that she would like everyone to get a gift when my brothers and our families all join together for Thanksgiving / Christmas this year. She said this after I had suggested that we only do Secret Santa with the kids. In no uncertain terms she made it clear she wanted the adults to have gifts too.
Instead of playing my worn out mantra of, Ugh, OMG how annoying. I can’t believe they are making us buy gifts. We are all adults. I don’t need anything wah wah wah…. I thought to myself, Ok, this must be important to her. How can I make this happen in a way that works for everyone? …or at least fits better with my own boundaries because, let’s face it, there’s no pleasing everyone. Sometimes we just have to compromise.
Stating your boundaries
Because we are a family operating on a budget, I texted our group chat to request a $20 spending cap for each Secret Santa gift and I asked that we each make a list of what we want and STICK TO IT.
My texts almost stopped there, but I nudged myself a little further (because I’m working on that whole speaking my mind thing), and I felt it necessary to share the reasons behind my requests.
I texted this: I appreciate people wanting to get me gifts but I hate getting something and having it go unused. It makes me feel like terrible, like someone else threw their money away on me.
My mom agreed, we would stick to the list. (For anyone who thinks I was being kind of snotty — trust me, people don’t always stick to the list. Like hardly ever. And because I really don’t need anything new, most things would go unused.)
Let the gifts come
As much as I’m sure my mom appreciates me throwing her and our family under the bus, the truth is, we have faced gift giving issue with Tom’s family in the past as well.
His mom LOVES to buy gifts. Every Christmas Eve we would attend the annual Christmas Eve party at his grandma’s house and at the end of the night, his mom would load our car with 3 garbage bags filled with toys. Our tree would literally be overflowing with gifts that poured into the middle of our living room.
This is a hot button topic for a lot of minimalist families…they don’t want all the stuff. They try to tell their parents or in laws that they don’t want their kids to have toys. If this is you, I feel the need to tell you, this most likely just adds fuel to their “Oh my gosh, my poor deprived grandchildren,” fire.
Now, I know it’s not conventional, or easy, but here’s what we did…
We decided to be straight forward and shared the following with his family:
- We (the adults) no longer wanted gifts, not even gift cards, because we couldn’t afford to reciporicate
- Many of the toys the kids receive go unplayed with, so they don’t need as many
- The amount of toys we get caused us a lot of overwhelm having to clean up after
We laid out our truth in black and white and decided to let the chips falls where they may. The next Christmas, most of his family members stopped buying us adult gifts but continued to over-run the kids with presents.
State your case and stay calm
After this, Tom and I let go of any guilt around getting rid of unused toys, sweeping all of the little pieces of scattered, un-cared for toys into one big pile and dumping them into the garbage can. It’s true, I would have preferred this not happen, our landfills are overflowing as it is, but at least I had made it known.
We had stated our case and warned these family members that the toys were being unused and were difficult for us and the kids to manage. This was partially done in the hope that they would slow down their gift giving, but they didn’t. That’s fine, we could respect their desire to give as long as they could respect that it was now up to us how we would manage these unused toys.
Let me start by saying, we truly paused for a month or so to see what our kids were enjoying of their new slew of toys. (And we did a major declutter session in preparation for the new onslaught of gifts.) We didn’t Scrooge-up and take away anything we, as the parents, felt was excessive.
I was a kid who grew up with a lot of toys and I know they can add to a child’s creativity which is why I wanted to allow my kids the chance to enjoy anything that they were given.
Sometimes they catch on
Now, my mother and father in law opt for cash gifts instead of toys. Not because I bitched enough to make them change their ways. (Why does anyone think this will work?) Instead it was because I allowed them to show our kids love how they felt called to and a few years later, they wound up having a grandchild live with them.
Their grandson, my nephew, was constantly gifted overwhelming amounts of toys from well-meaning family members and now their home was filling up with stuff they couldn’t manage anymore. Suddenly my big-hearted mother in law understood what I was talking about.
Why be mad about love?
At the end of the day these are people who were showing up to love the children in their lives the best ways they know how…so, why be mad about it?
We are so lucky to have people who want to graciously gift our children in ways they believe will bring them joy.
True, when my in-laws were buying tons of gifts, their gift giving didn’t align with my lifestyle, but they aren’t living my lifestyle so I guess that’s the end of that. While it’s true, I have to manage my home and the toys my children bring in, the weird thing is, I have actively worked to not force minimalism on my kids either.
It’s never about the stuff
At the end of the day, all you can do is manage what you can and stop trying to control other people. Most of us minimalist started this lifestyle because we no longer wanted to make our lives about STUFF and yet, without realizing it we can easily break relationships, and destroy our own inner peace over a battle about STUFF.
Kind of backwards, right?
At the end of the day, we can secretly know that nothing is ever about the stuff. Not for the hoarder, not for the friend who loves gifts, and not for the grandparents who over-spend at Christmas.
What it boils down to is love, connection, and the longing we all have for both.