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10 Tips for a Clutter-Free Christmas… Without Being a Scrooge!

If you’re a working mom with kids, you can preach the real meaning of the season all you want, but the reality is: gift-giving is a major part of the holiday excitement for most kids, especially when they are little. This is pretty natural, I suppose, if you live in mainstream American culture. (And anytime I can convince myself that Dayton, Ohio represents mainstream American culture, I’ll take it!)

Gifts are vehicles of love and affection, and they have always played an important part in human relationships. However, gift-giving, when combined with the crazy consumerism that often dominates Western holidays, can quickly turn a festive season into a cluttertastic tinsel-coated stuff fest.

Thus, I’ve created my Top Ten Tips for celebrating the holidays–clutter-free. 🙂

1: Minimize as you go.

As soon as you get those holiday-themed tubs out of the attic, notice which decorations no longer suit you and your family. Are there boxes of ornaments, nativity sets, or table runners that you don’t use? Why not let these items go to someone who could use them? Are you holding on to decorative memorabilia that you no longer love to display? If so, take a picture, then let them go with love and gratitude for the hands that made them.  As a general rule of thumb, the amount of decorations you display should equal the amount of decorations you have.

2. Decorate with nature. 

My daughter is a nature lover, so my typical tablescape consists of her seasonal outdoor collections. In the summer we display bunches of dandelions, wildflowers and–okay–a few buds she snatches from neighbors’ flower beds  when I’m not looking. In the fall, we display small gourds and bowls of pinecones on ever-rotating beds of collected leaves. The best part is, all of these decorations can all be composted when the season is over.

If you don’t have little hands in your home, nothing says you can’t go out and forage some natural decorations yourself! You could also support your local florist by purchasing a natural wreath instead of a silk or plastic one that both requires storage and also eventually ends up in a landfill (bad and more bad).

Or, if you’re super crafty, get yourself some pine boughs and create one yourself. As a kid, I remember my mom soaking grapevines in our bathtub, which she then formed into wreaths. For the tree, you could string popcorn instead of tinsel and then leave the strings out for birds to feast upon in January. (This is something I also remember my mom doing in my childhood… man, my mom was crafty!)

3. Limit gifts. 

Some people might consider this a Scrooge-move, but I think most Americans should limit the number of gifts they give, especially to small children. If kids receive copious amounts of presents, the season of love and giving becomes a season of gimmes, where the only reason to do well unto others is to ensure your spot at the top of Santa’s nice list. 

I don’t know any parents who want to intentionally send this message, but when we load our kids down with presents, that’s what we do.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t give gifts to children; quite the contrary. We should give them gifts, but within reasonable, transparent limits. For example, when my kids were 6, we started a “One Big, Two Small” gift system that I’d actually learned from a client. I told my kids that Santa would bring them one “big” gift and mommy and daddy will give them two “small” gifts for Christmas. (Note: definitions of “big” and “small” are entirely up to them, which resulted in me once having to buy a HUGE stuffed teddy bear for my daughter… which she still loves and keeps in her room!)

4. Give gifts of experience

Think theater tickets, season passes to an amusement park, a punch card to a yoga studio, or a gift certificate for a massage. I remember one year I requested a gift certificate for an all-women’s boot camp class that I used to attend. I’ve given up trying to do burpees at 6:00am (why did I ever think that was a good idea?) but while I was in my “boot camp” phase, I really appreciated this gift!

5. Give gifts of learning

Think cooking classes, magazine subscriptions, and museum memberships. For example, when my daughter was little and wanted to do ballet, I gave her a dance class.

6. Give consumable gifts

I used to be a wine drinker (I’ve given up alcohol in recent years, which I’ll write about on a different post!) but I remember the year my mother-in-law got me a subscription to a wine of the month club. I was so excited about that gift! Not only was it clutter-free, but it kept arriving months after the holidays were over, bringing me joy each time. If you are interested in monthly delivery clubs, check out amazingclubs.com. You could join a bacon club, a bagel club, a cake club. Or heck, join all three and enjoy some sweet cake bacon bagels! 😉 Other good consumable gifts include: beauty products, candles, fruit baskets, candy, baked goods, etc.

7. Give gifts of service

I don’t know any parents of young kids who wouldn’t love a gift of free babysitting. And I don’t know a single person–parent or not–wouldn’t appreciate gifts of lawn mowing, meal preparation, or dog walking.

8. Give gifts of memories 

When I was teaching, I always had my students write a “Gift Piece” in December. Each student chose an important person in their lives and wrote that person a poem, letter, or story during class. We then wrapped these gifts the day before winter break, to be delivered over the holidays. Each year, I received thankful letters from parents and grandparents who had received these special gifts. If you’re not a writer, picture calendars, framed photos, and video montages yield similar results.

9. Give gifts of time

During one of my classes years ago, a woman in the audience said her 13-year-old grandson asked her for one particular gift that year: a day for just him and her. I can still hear the “Awww!” from the crowd when she shared this! How could you give your time–truly, your most precious resource–to someone you love this year? One way my husband and I do this is we are each plan a date night for us to spend together. In a similar vein, when my kids were young, we gave their friends gift certificates for movie nights and sleepovers. (Note: this works for very close friends only! For newer friends, we stick with traditional gifts.)

Sleepover gift certificate my kids made for their friend Charlotte when they were six. So adorable!

Another gift certificate that the boys made for their friend Carter when they were little. I want someone to give me a gift of “wun moovee nite”!

10. Give gifts that keep on giving

I think a Seinfeld episode may have poked fun at this once, but all joking aside, charitable donations made in the name of the gift recipient are great gifts! One of my favorite charities, Food for the Poor, has a gift catalogue on their website, just for this purpose. Click on Food for the Poor Gift Catalogue to access it.

I hope I’ve convinced you that the holidays need not be a season of clutter. In fact, if we are conscious of how we decorate our homes and give to others, we can make this season truly bountiful, in all the best ways. I’d love to hear your ideas for creating clutter-free holiday celebrations in your home!

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3 Responses

  1. I always try to practice “Something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read. ” I can pick and choose which are from Santa and which are from me.

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