Am I A Grinch For Wanting A Minimalist Christmas?

For quite a while now, I’ve struggled with my relationship to “stuff.” Deep down, I want to be a minimalist. And by minimalist, I don’t mean living in a house with only two forks and nothing but white everywhere. I think you can be a minimalist and still create a cozy, family-friendly home.

For me, the goal is to not own anything that I don’t need or love.

I don’t want to look around my house and see gadgets I haven’t used in months or years, or clothes that I feel “meh” in, or decor that’s just there to fill a space.

When I do look around and see too much stuff I don’t need or love, my anxiety goes through the roof. I go into declutter mode and feel a physical need to donate or throw things away. It’s as if clearing shelves and creating empty space in my house clears some space in my mind so I can breathe again.

It’s a constant battle to stick to my minimalist goals, though.

I still like to shop—I have less tolerance for crowds and stores now, but once in a while I still enjoy a rare night wandering around HomeGoods at a leisurely pace. And I get sucked in by Facebook and Instagram product ads more often than I’d like to admit. (Case in point: I own a Pony-O.) I have to remind myself that the perfect throw pillow or perfect diaper bag is not some magic key to happiness.

Becoming a mom made my quest for minimalism even more complicated.

Kids come with a lot of stuff, and I think parents are often sent the message that all of that stuff is must-have, instead of nice-to-have. I fall into the trap of thinking that I HAVE to get my son certain toys, otherwise he’ll be missing out on something crucial for his development. (In fact, research shows there are many benefits to having fewer toys.) And then there’s the grandparent issue—my son’s grandparents enjoy giving him toys and clothes, and I don’t want to be the Grinch and rob them of that joy.

Still, I think it’s important to make sure my son isn’t overwhelmed with gifts. This is a crucial period in his life, and I don’t want him to associate acquiring new stuff with happiness, or think that our love is somehow tied to buying him things. I want to lay a foundation for him that will encourage him to value experiences, relationships, community, nature—all those non-materialistic things that fulfill us.

child with birthday gifts
Not as minimalistic as we hoped for his second birthday.

That doesn’t mean I want to take away my son’s toys, especially his beloved cars and garbage trucks. I want to encourage him to pursue his passions, but I don’t need to buy him a hundred cars to do that. Research supports that, too: a University of Virginia study recently found that when given a choice, kids overwhelmingly prefer real activities over their pretend toy equivalents. So as much as I can, I try to give my son those real experiences, whether that’s going to Touch a Truck or walking around the neighborhood looking for the trash truck.

My desire for minimalism is especially tested around the gift-giving frenzy of the holidays.

I’ve thought about implementing the four-gift rule for my son (something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read), but it would be tough to get the grandparents on board. Part of me doesn’t want to limit gifts so strictly for fear it will put a damper on Christmas, but another part worries about my son getting overwhelmed by a deluge of gifts. He’s still really young, but in the future I want him to appreciate his gifts, instead of saying “more, more, more.”

I have taken some steps to tame the Christmas frenzy. I sent the grandparents carefully curated Amazon wish lists, with an emphasis on “experience” gifts like a membership to the Thinkery. My husband and I have bought few gifts for our son ourselves, since we know our family will be very generous. I also reiterated to them that we have limited storage space in our house and can’t accommodate a ton of toys. I even cut out an article on minimalism and kids from Real Simple and had my mom read it, so she would have some idea where I’m coming from.

After Christmas I’ll do an inventory and get rid of redundant toys or toys my son no longer plays with (this is a lot easier with a 2-year-old who doesn’t take much notice when things go missing). If we do happen to receive a toy that I don’t think is beneficial or necessary, I’ll donate it and do my best not to feel too guilty, since it’s hopefully going to someone who needs it more than we do.

My fear in writing this is that I will sound ungrateful or Grinch-y, but that’s not the case.

I love surprising my family with meaningful gifts, especially ones that let us share an experience together. I love that my son’s grandparents want to give him gifts. But the biggest gift they give us is spending time with him, and that’s all we really want at Christmastime, and all year round.

Because time spent together is what creates priceless memories, and I have infinite storage space for those.

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