Throughout middle and high school, I had a close group of girlfriends. We all spread out after high school—two stayed in WA, but there’s one in Chicago, one in Philly, one in Portland, and me in KC—but we’re still there for each other when it matters. And something we enjoyed doing throughout college was a “favorite things” Christmas get-together. The basic rules were: Spend $15-$20 per person and get everyone the same thing(s). This gift should be something you really enjoyed throughout the year and want to share with others—like Oprah’s Favorite Things, see? That way we can tell anecdotes about our year, share the things we like, and best of all, it’s much easier to shop for five people when you only have to think of one gift. For example, one year I got everyone a water bottle with a compartment to store keys and money in (say, if you were going to the gym) and colorful gloves that work with smartphones.
The thing is, what other people enjoyed over the year may not fit in your life. (For example, my friend got us hand-knit coffee cup cozies in our school colors, which were adorable, but I don’t drink coffee.) And doing the same gift for everyone might have been easy on each of us, but it doesn’t show a lot of thoughtfulness about the giftee’s needs. Also, $20 isn’t a lot, but that’s $100 spent on five friends! So, last year, we made a change.
Last year was the first year that we weren’t all, or even mostly, in one place. We knew our usual gift exchange wasn’t going to happen, so someone suggested a Secret Santa. I loved the idea, but asked to take it up a notch and suggested we make the gift consumable. We set a budget of $40, making the gift exchange 60% cheaper for the givers but ensuring a valuable and personal gift for the receiver. And then we drew names.
Some people did better at requesting and giving consumable gifts than others did. I understand it’s something new to a lot of people, and I did my best to provide guidance and suggestions, but sometimes it’s a challenge. My sister drew my name (lucky duck; we exchange gifts anyway) and purchased me a large glass bottle of my favorite olive oil—score! Consumable and recyclable/reusable. On my part, I purchased one of my friends a Groupon for a night out in Philly and an online iTunes gift card—two things she wanted with exactly zero waste and zero space taken up.
Everyone loved the Secret Santa; we’re doing it again this year. So, in the upcoming month, take a look at your list of people you traditionally give gifts to. Could you try something new and minimalist with them? Here are some options:
- If all your friends are local, get together and go out for dinner and drinks (after all, time is the best gift!) instead of exchanging presents. You could each pay for another person’s meal to make it feel more like a gift, if you like!
- Agree to have a completely consumable Christmas. Give homemade bath products, cookies, gift cards, date nights, experiences, seeds, music, charitable donations, etc. You’ll all put just as much thought into each other’s gifts, without the waste! This works well for people who are far apart, especially, because who wants the hassle of shipping things?
- Suggest a Secret Santa among a group of people who know each other pretty well (like if your cousins or coworkers typically give everyone presents). You’ll all spend less, hopefully get something you need or love, and be able to give/get according to your values. This is good for spread-out groups, too.
- Host a potluck feast. Talk to your family or whoever your holiday crowd is, and agree that instead of presents, everyone brings a side dish or a bottle of wine and you’ll have a smashing holiday party. Who doesn’t love food—and saving money? No one will miss the presents!
What are your suggestions? How do you keep Christmas in line with your minimalist values?