A few years ago on Christmas morning, we were sitting in our individual piles of booty, surrounded by so much stuff we couldn’t decide what to look at first. Even the cats couldn’t decide whether to jump in boxes or pounce on the wrapping paper waving in the breeze of the fireplace fan. I looked at my glassy-eyed teenagers and thought, “This is too much.”
Sometime later that day, I think, or maybe the next, I got an e-mail. One of the gifts I’d given was on sale, and I realized how much power the retail world has over us. I understand that they’re trying to maximize profits. If someone returns an item without a receipt, they’re going to get less for it than the giver paid. Everyone knows that, so it really wasn’t rational to feel like I’d been duped.
It did change my family’s strategy, though. The next year, we kept the same budget but spent a fraction of it on buying gifts. That Christmas we opened far fewer presents. The debris was cleaned up faster. We had fewer things to haul upstairs or find homes for. We were all happier, not so much because the gifts were more thoughtfully chosen, but because we were less overwhelmed. I tucked the cash I didn’t spend on the kids in their stockings, and the next day we hit the mall to buy the things we didn’t get on sale. Surprisingly, no one spent all the cash. We each bought a couple small things, and then we went to lunch together. It bought me a few extra hours with my kids, and they didn’t even seem to mind!
It’s become tradition in our family, and I’ve purposely spent as little as possible buying gifts. Both kids are in college, and they need money more than they need another sweater. There have been times when I’ve seen something one of them would like, but I know they wouldn’t want me to spend that much of their budget. It makes things simultaneously easier and more difficult!
I can’t say having minimalist Christmases brings families together. What I am sure of is that Christmas has become a less stressful time for me. Less really is more. I have more time to enjoy the season and my family when I would have been shopping and shooing them upstairs so I could wrap everything. It’s made the holidays fun again, and how many people can say that?