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How to Simplify Gifts (And Enjoy the Holidays More!)

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When I was a kid, my parents gave me an oil lamp for Christmas. I was confused by this for 3 reasons: 

1: I hadn’t asked for it. 

For a certain type of kid, an old-fashioned oil lamp would be sweet. I was not that type of kid. 

2: We weren’t Amish. 

For certain lifestyles, oil lamps are legit. While we did live in the country and had a wood stove, we also had electricity. 

3: It seemed dangerous. 

Even at 10 years old, I knew that filling a bowl with oil, inserting a wick, and lighting it on fire was not the safest activity I could partake of alone in my room. But my parents practiced a loving brand of laissez faire parenting, so this type of thing was not out of the norm. (True story: When my triplets were in kindergarten my dad taught them how to use a nail gun. #lifeskills) 

I remember the few times I lit the lamp. I first looked around my room and planned my escape in case the whole endeavor went up in literal flames. 

Would I jump from my 2nd story window? That looked like a broken ankle, at least. And to be honest, I wasn’t sure I could muster the window-jumping courage.  

What if I tied a bunch of sheets to my bedpost and rappelled down? This raised problems of time efficiency and knot-tying skills. 

In the end, I just took a deep breath and lit the dang lamp. 

Because I felt obligated to. 

It had been given to me as a gift. I needed to use it. 

And as that sucker smoked and the oil smelled weird and the glass turned suspiciously black (and most disappointingly, did not give off much light), I wondered…

Why, exactly, am I doing this?

Over the years the lamp sat on my desk, gathering dust. 

This oil lamp illustrates how many of us feel about gifts…

All of us have given and received gifts that we don’t want, don’t match our lifestyle, and that under the right conditions could destroy our lives in a blazing inferno.  

(Okay, that last one might be a stretch…) 

So what do we do? How do we deal with gifts when we’re seeking a more minimalist and simple lifestyle? 

I have two hard and fast rules about gifts: 

Rule #1: Ask for what you want

I’m sure that 10-year-old me probably made a Christmas list of some sort. And I’m guessing “oil lamp” was not on that list. That’s okay. Wish lists aren’t the holiday version of federal statutes. No one is legally required to purchase everything (or anything) on the list. 

But it’s good practice, if kind-hearted people ask what you’d like as a gift, to give an honest answer. 

Some good clutter-free options:

  • I’d like gift cards to go out to dinner. 
  • I’d like a certificate for free babysitting. 
  • I’d like you to finally admit – once and for all – that I was RIGHT about painting the kitchen tangerine yellow instead of goldfinch!

*Note: No is ever, ever going to give you the satisfaction of that last one. So if you ask for it, be ready to receive an oil lamp.  

Rule #2: Say “Thank You” for what you get

Maybe it’s just my polite Midwestern knee-jerk reaction, but when someone gives you a gift, just say “Thank you.” 

It’s the right thing to do. 

And it’s magical, because once you’ve said those two words…

You’ve fulfilled your obligation to the gift and the giver. 

It’s now yours. 

Do with it what you want. 

Want to donate it? Rock on. 

Regift it? Good luck. 

Light it and hope it doesn’t burn the house down? Keep a fire extinguisher handy, my friend.

I hope this post gives you some new ways to think about minimalist gift-giving and receiving this holiday season.  If you’d like more ideas, click here to read my top 10 tips for a clutter-free Christmas. 

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PS: If you’re a busy working mom who wants to simplify your work-mom life, but aren’t sure where to start… join me for my FREE *live* masterclass: How to Declutter Your Family’s Home Without Exhausting Yourself or Resorting to Threats.

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