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Minimalist Gift Giving

December 4, 2018

LISTEN ON: Anchor | iTunes | Google Play | Google Podcasts | SpotifyStitcher | Overcast | Pocket Cast

Welcome back to Tiny Bites. Can you believe it’s December? I most definitely can not. If it’s really December, that means we’ve been living in our new house for 6 months – and it still feels like we moved in like a week ago.

Before we get into this week’s episode, I want to give a major shout out to Bethany from His and Her Fi. If you’re listening to this episode on any kind of podcast platform, you’ve probably noticed my new Tiny Bites logo! I absolutely love it and have Bethany to thank for bringing my vision for Tiny Bites and Tiny Ambitions to life. I’d love to hear what you think of the new logo – let me know in the comments!

Press play below to listen to this week’s episode, use one of the links above, or keep scrolling for the episode transcript.

Tis’ The Season To Be Stressed

Anywho, since it is December, that means we’re officially in the final countdown to Christmas. I don’t know if it’s just me but everyone seems to get a little out of whack around the holidays. We’re all strung out on meeting everyone else’s expectations for gift giving and social functions and we want to be able to provide everything that our families want and desire for the holiday season.

In a lot of ways actually, I feel pretty insulated from the chaos and commotion that is the holiday season. Like, last week when we went to the mall on the Saturday after Black Friday and I was so confused why the parking lot was so full. I genuinely forget that malls and stores will be packed from now until Christmas because I don’t usually participate in that part of the holiday season.

That’s what I want to talk about today – minimalist gift giving – if such a thing exists. I just want to share how I approach the holiday season as a minimalist and “slow living” enthusiast. I don’t think what I do is particularly revolutionary but I have found that it helps to stave off a lot of the panic and anxiety that this season causes for a lot of people.

So, here we go. One minimalist gift-giving guide coming up!

Minimalist Gift Giving

Before we get too far into this, I just want to say that I am not against gift giving, and that’s not what this episode is about. If you love giving gifts to the people you care about in your life, I think that’s awesome and I won’t try and convince you to stop doing that out of some weird moral high ground (because we all know that minimalists like to pretend like they’re morally superior). So if gift giving is your jam, go make yourself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich because I think that’s great.

But, for me personally, I do not derive any pleasure from giving or to be honest, even getting gifts. I don’t enjoy the pressure I put on myself to find the ‘perfect’ gift for someone who probably already has everything they need in their life. I don’t like other people’s expectations being placed on me for how I should react when I’m given a gift. Yes, I am always incredibly grateful that people take time out of the day and money out of their wallets to purchase gifts for me, but I never ask for anything and don’t really enjoy the whole un-wrapping presents experience.

It’s because of this aversion that Mr. Tiny Ambitions and I don’t do gifts. For anything, ever. We decided very early on in our relationship that that was just not something we wanted to do – both from a consumption aspect and from a financial aspect. So we don’t do anniversary presents (that would also require us to actually know when our anniversary is, which we don’t), and we don’t do holiday gifts (like Christmas or Valentine’s Day or birthday gifts).

This probably sounds really weird, but it has been such a relief to not have to buy one person in my life any presents. I don’t have to worry that he won’t like what I spent money on, and I also don’t have to worry that he’s just pretending to like what I purchased because he doesn’t want to hurt my feelings.

But, I’m not totally gift averse. I still buy flowers for my mom and grandmother on their birthdays every year. And I will continue to do that until they ask me to stop. The reason sending them flowers every year is so important to me is that I know it brightens their day and is important to them. Some people enjoy receiving gifts more than others. In that way, gift giving becomes more about the act of giving the gift, than the actual gift itself, which is where hand-made or otherwise unique gifts can become good options.

Divide and Conquer

Mr. TA and I both come from very large, extended families and it would be so beyond our budget to buy everyone a gift. We normally pull names out of a hat as a family and every couple buys another couple a gift. I actually like this as a strategy for gift giving because it cuts down the overall number of gifts being purchased (therefore reducing our consumption and environmental impact), while also being friendlier on everyone’s wallets. So, if you’re in a family that wants to rethink its gift giving over the holidays – this can be a winner.

If you want to go a step further and make Christmas a fun game, you can play something called White Elephant – there might be other names for this but White Elephant is how I was introduced to do it. Basically, if you have a large group of people gathering for the holidays, everyone buys a generic present for $20. You then draw numbers out of a hat and take turns picking and stealing gifts from other people until everyone ends up with one gift at the end.

This type of game can reduce the pressure individual people feel to pick the perfect gift – because it just has to be fun and silly and under $20 (or whatever budget you set as a group).

Say Something

If you’re struggling with gift giving this season, I would encourage you to have a conversation about it with your friends and family. Maybe your family just wants to hang out and maybe your friends want to do a group potluck thing – no presents at all. A couple of years ago I started to ask my mom what she wanted for Christmas. She usually gives me a list of 3 or 4 books she’d really like to read but hasn’t got around to yet. I buy those books and have them shipped to her house so she can unwrap them whenever she wants (we live a two-day drive from any of our family, so it sometimes makes more sense to ship any gifts we purchase online directly to them before we arrive).

I like being upfront about gift giving because then I know the person will actually use the gifts I’m buying them. It just relieves the pressure and expectation from both sides. And knowing ahead of time what you’re giving as a gift doesn’t diminish the happy feelings that someone has when they open it (if they enjoy receiving gifts). They still get those warm fuzzies because they know you took the time to actually get them something they wanted.

Be Kind

The minimalist cliche goes that it’s not about giving during the holiday season. But I don’t know that I agree with that because it kind of is – in its traditional rendition at least. Gift giving is embedded in a lot of our family traditions and can be an emotionally charged subject to bring up. Our families work hard to be able to provide us with gifts. It can be extremely hurtful to say ‘no, family member who worked incredibly hard to save up enough money to buy me this gift, I don’t want your present.’

I don’t think I’ve ever had the ‘I’m a minimalist’ conversation with any of my family members. Instead, when my family inevitably asks me what I want for Christmas, I’m in the habit now of saying, ‘I don’t need anything, or contribute some money to your local humane society, or put a little extra money towards your RRSP (retirement account).’

Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. I’m not afraid to admit that I have sold and donated gifts in the past that I didn’t need or couldn’t make use of in some other way. I’d rather sell it or donate it to someone who can use it, than let it sit in my basement, collecting dust.

Gifts, Your Way

Your gifts also don’t have to be gifts in the traditional sense. You could buy someone a gift certificate to their favourite restaurant, giving them the gift of a nice night out. You could also offer to come over and help take care of your friend’s kids for an evening or afternoon as a gift to let their parents have some child-free time. Anything that you can volunteer to do to help someone else out is an amazing gift to give over the holidays.

My gift giving philosophy for this year is the same as every year since I started down the minimalist path – buying as few gifts as possible, while still buying gifts for people who need them. If I can afford to buy someone a gift that they want, but would never be able to buy for themselves for whatever reason, I will do everything in my power to make it happen.

I might not love gift giving, but I’m not a Grinch either.


If you’re looking for some more concrete ideas of what get someone as a gift if you don’t want to actually get them more ‘stuff’, I’ll be sharing some ideas in my holiday gift guide next week on the blog, so stay tuned for that.

How do you feel about the gift-giving part of the holidays? Are you the kind of person who starts their Christmas shopping in July? Let me know in the comments!

Until next time, keep living that tiny life.

Image Credit: Element5 Digital on Unsplash

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  • Danielle Ogilvie December 11, 2018 at 8:08 am

    Creativity goes a long way with gift giving. It doesn’t always have to be something expensive. It only has to be something that would be appreciated.

    • Britt December 11, 2018 at 8:35 am

      I agree, Danielle! I just don’t think that’s the message that we get a lot over the holidays. The messages are ‘more, bigger, better’. As someone who finds gift giving and gift getting very exhausting, I’d rather opt out of the whole experience entirely where I can.

  • […] Minimalist Gift Giving  What? Wait? Britt doesn’t give gifts?  Read on to see what she does instead of gift giving. […]

  • Moriah Joy December 4, 2018 at 11:58 am

    We draw names out of a hat, too! It’s wonderful. I have five siblings and just buying gifts for all of them can be enormously expensive, but Thanksgiving week, we do birthdays and Christmas all in one day. We start at 5Below (where everything costs $5 or less), and pick out a gift for our person. Then we go Christmas caroling, come home, eat cake, and open presents. It’s nice because for $5, you contribute to the entire family birthday, so the one gift you purchased is from the whole family to that specific person. My mom is a literal genius, because she got away with Christmas gifts for under $50 when the six of us were little, and now, as we add spouses to the mix, it keeps them from having to worry about buying for the entire family as well. It’s one of our fav family traditions!

  • Hey! I'm Britt. I write about living a tiny, simple, intentional life. Because life doesn't need to be lived big.

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