There are only a few days left to purchase candles, sweaters and toys, wrap them up and put them under the tree! All of the conversations in the salon this week have been about gift-giving and the last minute Christmas shopping that makes it possible.

I want this and so-and-so wants that. Running here and running there. Long lists and financial woes. Buy Buy Buy. Wrap Wrap Wrap. And at this point, if you haven’t purchased something for someone on your list, it doesn’t matter what you get, as long as you have a gift to give.

Wait a minute… Something feels off about all of this to me… What causes us to desire all this stuff? When did gift-giving become obligatory? Wouldn’t our limited spare time be better spent somewhere other than a mall, doing something other than consuming? Shouldn’t gifts be meaningful, intentional and useful?

Minimalism & Nomadism Impacted My Views on Gift-Giving

I am never in the same place very long. Whether it’s a few months here or a weekend there, my environment changes frequently. Because I’m always on the move, I keep my possessions to a minimum.

As I mentioned in the About Me section, my nomadic lifestyle led to minimalism. Moving every 4 to 6 months I got rid of stuff, simply to make the process of moving easier. Carrying an antique wooden dresser up a flight of stairs multiple times a year is no fun. (Just ask my friend Anthony who helped me move it twice last year- thanks again buddy 😉 ).

Every time I settle into a new place, I realize I never actually needed the things I got rid of. Living with less didn’t just lighten my physical load, it cleared space in my mind and my schedule which led to unimaginable freedom. Freedom to learn, freedom to travel, freedom to create, and freedom to live.

With a desire for less, I began to recognize the high priority placed on material gift-giving in our society. Birthdays, anniversaries, and an array of holidays pressure us to hit the mall or amazon to buy something. Anything. Whether it’s a Christmas candle for my sister’s mother-in-law or a scarf for my aunt’s birthday, the pressure to give a gift lingers over every relationship and every life event.

This article is not an objection to gift-giving or to all stuff. This is an objection to the pressure society puts on us to give gifts and to the accumulation of meaningless/useless material stuff it causes. Stuff we end up tied to that we never actually wanted it in the first place.

Do you actually even want it?

Last week, my six year old niece yelled “I want those!” every time a commercial for stackable pots and pans came on tv. Why in the actual hell would a six year old want pots and pans? Marketing. The commercial was eye catching and sleek. It made me believe, for a second, that my life would be easier if I owned those pots and pans. I don’t even have my own kitchen! When I asked her why she wanted them she couldn’t really give me an answer. She rambled on about needing them and how they’d be easier to put away when it was her turn to do the dishes. Seriously though, pots and pans?! She’s six! And I’ve never actually seen her do the dishes.

Marketing makes us desire things we not only don’t need, but don’t actually want. Marketers sell us a feeling. They make us believe if we have a certain car we’ll feel successful, if we wear certain clothes we’ll feel desirable, and if we own stackable pots and pans, life will be easier. The stuff makes us feel good for awhile but because cars don’t actually make one successful, clothes don’t actually make one desirable, and pots and pans don’t actually make life easier, the feeling is fleeting. It becomes a never ending cycle of wanting and buying and collecting.

Between the societal pressure to give gifts and the marketing that makes us desire stuff, the holidays make us vulnerable to falling into the blackhole of consumerism.

Gift-Giving Advice from The Minimalist Nomad

1. Don’t Exchange Gifts Out of Obligation

The process of going from a fully furnished three bedroom house to a backpack took me nearly two years! Even though I knew it’d be worth it in the end, letting go of personal items that once defined me was no easy task!

The hardest items to part with were things I no longer wanted but felt guilty getting rid of because so-and-so gave them to me. Former gifts constituted most of the stuff I was attached to but didn’t actually want.

Knowing I never want to be in that position again, I told my friends and family I no longer want to exchange material gifts. Gift-giving is hardwired into our society so this wasn’t an easy transition. But when the first few people I made the agreement with were relieved about having one less person to purchase a gift for, it became easier to enforce.

By eliminating the the obligatory nature of gift-giving, when I do give or receive a gift it’s authentic, intentional, and useful, not mandatory.

2. Gift Time & Experiences

The gifts I prefer to give and receive are time and experiences. These gifts are more meaningful, useful, and intentional than anything from Target. And they don’t end up in the pile of stuff I no longer want but can’t get rid of.

  • Home Cooked Meal

Plan a night to cook a meal with someone. My friend Mariah invited me over to cook a themed dinner with her. We are going to have her kids spin the globe and whatever country they land on will inspire our meal!

  • Dinner Out

Don’t just give a gift card. Pick a date and carve out time to give the recipient your company and undivided attention. I have received gift cards that float to the bottom of my purse and expire before I even get to use them. This gift should be about giving your time and sharing an experience, not giving the money to cover a meal.

  • Events, Attractions & Trips

Whether its a concert, a play, or a movie, purchase tickets and go, together! … A museum or a farmer’s market, mark your calendars and go, together!… A weekend camping trip or a Caribbean cruise, book it and go, together!

  • Salon Services

Plan a spa day or time to get a massage, manicure or pedicure with a loved one.

  • Handwritten Letter

Write a letter telling someone how you feel about them, what they mean to you, or the story of a memory you shared together. This gift idea has come in handy when thousands of miles separate me from my family and friends!

  • Babysit/Petsit

If you want to give a gift card for dinner or a salon service to someone to enjoy with their spouse, offer to babysit to ensure they enjoy your gift without difficulty. Or, simply give them the gift of baby-sitting or pet-sitting so they can engage in an experience of their choice.

  • Charitable Donations

Donate charitably in someone’s honor. Spend time with the less fortunate instead of at the mall. Better yet, spend time working at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen with a loved one.

3. Give Meaningful, Useful and Intentional Material Gifts

Even after making my no gift-exchanging proclamation, occasionally people will still ask me what I want for my birthday or Christmas. I sarcastically respond “unless I can eat it, drink it or use it everyday, please don’t give me stuff.” This response gets my point across yet allows select material gifts in. Consumables (food and drinks) and daily staples.

  • Food

Baked goods. A homemade lunch or dinner. A fruit basket. Granola bars. Smoothies. Really, anything edible, we all have to eat!

Earlier this month my sister brought Chipotle to her friends at home with a new baby. Not having to cook and not having to drag a newborn out on a winter night was far more valuable than an $20 baby gift!

  • Wine/ Liquor/ Coffee

When going to someone’s house for dinner, ask what they are making and pair a bottle of wine or a specialty cocktail with the meal. If they’re not drinkers, perhaps a fresh bag of coffee?

FYI: I’ll never turn down a good bottle of red wine, gin or fresh coffee.

  • Daily Staples

These items will differ significantly from person to person. As a minimalist and nomad there are very few items that fit in this category but I know them when I see them.

Last week my mom said “I got something for you.” My initial thought was “oh great, stuff.” Then she handed me a reusable coffee mug with the word Hustlin’ printed across the front. I take coffee or tea on the go daily and as any entrepreneur would, I love the word Hustle. This $5 gift is something I’ll use (almost) daily and because it was inexpensive I won’t feel guilty leaving it behind when I leave for Bangkok!