We all love a good throwback… and with Easter coming up, I thought I’d share some thoughts from one of my earliest blog posts. I wrote this four months after being introduced to minimalism, when I was still figuring out the whos, whats, and whys of living with less. I hadn’t had much practice in being a minimalist at the holidays and this post shares a big learning curve. I hope it helps you–not just at Easter–but anytime you have to navigate how to “do holidays” with less stuff. I’ve included it below, with the original title. Enjoy!
The Easter Basket Conundrum
Originally published April 29, 2012
This past Easter, I faced a dilemma. Being a working mom, I had waited until the Thursday before Easter to give much thought to the contents of my kids’ Easter baskets. Thus, I found myself at my local superstore, surrounded by what I will simply refer to as “plastic crap:” wind-up bunny toys, teensy portions of Play Dough encased in plastic eggs, and bin after bin of stuffed bunnies and chicks.
None of this was stuff my kids needed. I felt suckered. Was this what Easter was reduced to? An aisle of cheaply made crap that most kids would toss within a few months? I felt frustrated, and worse yet, I had no alternatives, given my holiday procrastination.
I made the best of the situation, trying to select items that would actually be used, like sidewalk chalk and bath toys. I also guiltily added ample amounts of candy, because, although I knew that candy was in no way healthy for my kids, at least it would not end up in our trash. In the end, I caved a bit and bought Matchbox cars for my boys and a stuffed animal (yes! a stuffed animal! the worst of the clutter-causing toys!) for Mercedes. I paid for my overpriced junk, realizing that I had learned a valuable lesson:
To be a minimalist in a consumer culture, one must PLAN for holidays.
This lesson was further driven home when my kids actually opened the baskets on Easter morning. What did they do? Stuffed as much candy as possible into their little cheeks before I put the kibosh on their sugar gorge. As for the plastic crap? They ignored it entirely.
The lesson-learning continued later that day, when I set about the task of incorporating the plastic crap into our existing toy collection. Using my “One In, One Out” minimalist rule, I carefully selected two old Matchbox cars and replaced them with the two new. I then removed one old stuffed animal and replaced it with the one new.
Even I felt the ridiculousness of this gesture. To simply replace like with like, isn’t this the problem in our consumerist culture? We simply cannot stand to keep our perfectly usable older things.
We are enticed by “new” things that aren’t really all that different from what we already have. Isn’t this why landfills are overflowing? Ah, the best lessons in life are learned the hard way, are they not?
So, I have been schooled by the Easter bunny. And I have resolved to not let the Easter Basket Conundrum repeat itself at the next holiday (or birthday or Halloween or what-have-you.) Here are a few rules I plan to live by when purchasing holiday items for my kids:
1. Buy something they need.
Most kids do not need toys of the plastic crap variety. What they do need, however, are pajamas, clean toothbrushes, socks, and hairbrushes. If your kids are in need of some of these things, buy them; heck, even buy them plastered with pictures of their favorite superheros. At least they will be used!
2. Go Big.
My sister-in-law, Gabby, taught me this lesson. For Easter, she buys her kids one large toy instead of a basket full of small ones. For example, this year, her son Jonas received a new pogo stick to replace his broken one, Willah got a pair of roller skates, and Lizzie received her first big-girl bike. How much nicer than a bunch of clutter-causing toys!
3. Develop a motto.
A colleague of mine follows this motto for buying Christmas and birthday presents: Something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read. I like this motto (not only because it rhymes and is easy for my mom brain to remember!) but also because it keeps you from over-buying. Even if you found yourself stuck in a superstore the Thursday before a holiday, you could use this motto to buy simple, basic gifts for your family. And imagine if you taught your kids this motto early on; they would know exactly what to expect when the birthdays and holidays rolled around.
I’ve also heard of parents who follow a Three Wise Men rule for Christmas. (Basically, three wise men = three gifts per person.) Whatever rule or motto you want to set is fine; I just think it’s important to set one. It will dramatically decrease the amount of clutter entering your life, it will give your kids the space to appreciate the gifts they receive, and, with less clutter, you are free to celebrate what holidays and birthdays are truly about: spending time with those you love.
My sister-in-law and I made a pact for next Christmas: instead of her buying gifts for my kids, her kids will each choose a toy they no longer play with to give to their cousins. I love this for several reasons: 1) It’s easier and more economical for the adults involved; 2) It sets a limit for the amount of toys my kids receive; 3) It gives her kids an opportunity to give in a realistic, meaningful way, as opposed to going to a store and picking out a gift that their parents pay for; 4) It follows the “less is more” philosophy. Instead of feeding the consumer culture by buying three brand new gifts, it recognizes that what we already have is perfectly good and usable; and 5) At the risk of sounding like a hemp-wearing hippie, it’s friendlier for the Earth. Recycling toys means that there will be three less toys purchased that were created under questionable conditions in a third-world country. Also, those are three more toys that are getting another go-around before potentially ending up in a landfill.
Now, I realize this system works well in my situation because Gabby’s kids are all older than mine, and we both have a mixed boy/girl brood. But I think this principle could be applied in any type of gift exchange. Whether you exchange gifts with adults or children, couldn’t we all look around our homes and find something we already own to give instead of buying something new? Probably.
5. Go Martha.
By this I mean go Martha Stuart and make something yourself. I’ve made homemade Play Dough before. It’s pretty easy and my kids played with it just as much as the store-bought kind. If you have a talent for baking, make cookies. If you work with wood, make bookshelves. Are you a champion knitter? Knit a scarf! Or a sweater. (After all, you are a champion knitter, right?) Do what you do best, and I bet your loved ones will appreciate it more than another scented candle or coffee mug. (Unless, of course, you made that scented candle or coffee mug yourself; then by all means, go for it!) I know that some of the most treasured gifts I’ve given others are poems I’ve written specifically for that person. It takes time, it takes thought, but in the end, I know I’m giving the person a true gift.
6. Buy Consumables.
Now this might sounds like it goes against everything I just said, but stay put. Sometimes you simply have to buy something, right? You can’t knit scarves for your entire office and giving a set of homemade coasters to your boss might seem a bit inappropriate. By consumable, I mean things that can be used without creating a lot of waste. For kids, think paints, crayons, bubbles, or sidewalk chalk. For adults, think fancy chocolates, lotions, and candles. (Although, if you give an adult all three of those items at once, they may think you’re trying to seduce them. Perhaps stick with just one, unless of course, you are trying to seduce them, in which case go for all three. And good luck!)
7. Give experiences.
Museum memberships, pottery classes, a night at a bed-and-breakfast, massages, manicures, etc. You get the idea. Give someone the gift of an experience, and the only clutter left over is the delightful memory in their brain!
8. Gift Cards.
Yeah, yeah, I know some people say gift cards aren’t thoughtful or they’re not a real gift. But I personally LOVE to receive gift cards and I’ve rarely received a gift card that I haven’t used. Gift cards put the ball in the court of the receiver, allowing them to decide what stuff, if any, they’d like to enter their homes.
I hope I’ve shed some light on the gift-giving dilemmas faced by minimalists. I would love to hear comments and ideas for ways you reduce holiday-induced clutter!
I hope you enjoyed that trip down memory lane. I have to say, I’m rather impressed with my own advice, as such a budding baby minimalist! Nowadays this type of thinking is so ingrained in me but it’s cool to see how I was figuring out these rules way back then.
Cheers to Easter bunnies, chocolate, and giving gifts that last,
I love this! I want to do family trips as gifts when my kids are a bit older… and all potty trained! Great idea, Sarah.
My favorite thing Jake and I do is go on an outting as our gift to eachother, or a family trip somewhere as our Christmas gift to the kids. It makes holidays much more memorable for everyone. Time is the best gift you can give your family and it only takes up space in your heart!