Here's how I decided to implement a more minimalist Christmas with my family. I remember a few years ago at this time of year, I felt like I was standing still while the world and my loved ones spun around me.
The buying, the driving in crazy traffic, the overspending, the baking of every cookie, the hosting of all the parties, the yelling and the cleaning, the gotta get that one perfect present, the credit card maxing, the feeling of obligation—that was Christmas all around me.
My once favorite time of year was turning into a very stressful, very heavy burden. I had kids old enough to get it, I had to be an adult now—one of the stressed-out ones who yelled and drove and spent all the money to make sure my kids had a wonderful Christmas morning.
But did I? Did I really?
The toys our kids had were taking over the entire house. I was spending hours once a week reorganizing all the dolls and trucks and train tracks, only for all of it to get dumped out again. The kids weren't even benefiting from it. They'd just get overwhelmed looking for that one favorite toy, or better yet they'd get bored and wander out to whine at my feet.
The last thing my children needed was more toys, more stuff.
I realized we didn't have to do this. We could do something different—a more minimalist Christmas. We could live the Christmas season with true joy instead of putting up pretty signs that read the word while over-spending, over-obligating and over-stressing ourselves to the point of begging for January. We decided we weren't going to be like everybody else, and that's when we discovered minimalism.
What having a 'minimalist Christmas' means
To me, minimalism is about asking why before bringing a new item into my home. It's about saying no to the American way of all the things, all the money, the most expensive, the best, the newest, the biggest. It's about quieting our flesh and living in gratitude with what we need, what brings us joy, adds to our life, and teaching our children to live the same way.
We've brought minimalism into our toys, clothes, belongings, and daily life, and I've talked about it quite a bit here on my blog, but today I'm sharing how we do our minimalist Christmas.
A woman at church once told me about the idea of following the example of the wise men in giving our children gifts for Christmas. I looked into it and something clicked. This is what we should be doing, this is how we can create true joy at Christmas time and say no to stressing out.
The idea is, Jesus got three gifts at Christmas, one from each wise man. We take that and copy it: Three gifts for each child.
Maybe you think this is insane, or unfair to my kids, or sad, too extreme, or nontraditional. To that I say, we've been doing this for three years now, and my children have had some beautiful Christmas mornings. The joy on their faces proves they aren't missing a thing. And honestly, the holiday traditions in our country are extremely materialistic and self-centered, so I hope our family’s Christmas is nontraditional.
Why would I teach my kids to be grateful, to give, that Jesus is the reason, and then overload them with a ridiculous amount of things they don't need?
I feel compelled to practice what I preach, and focus on the reason for the season, so our Christmas and how we spend these precious weeks should reflect that.
Here's why we love the three wise men, three gifts practice:
1. It cultivates gratitude, and discourages a sense of entitlement and greed in a materialistic time of year.
We don't feel like we're missing anything, because who would miss stress? We get all the benefits of Christmas morning—presents, a beautiful tree, love, excitement, anticipation—there's just no stress attached to it.
2. Three gifts per kid allows us to give quality presents.
We are able to afford some pretty awesome gifts for our kids because we know we are only buying them three each. Bella wants a bike? Sure! Because we don't also have to get her 12 other things.
3. The bar is set at realistic.
Our kids don't expect a tree spewing wrapped boxes on Christmas morning. There is no previous precedent of an elaborate morning spent opening loads of presents. My dad told me that one of his biggest regrets as a parent is overdoing it on Christmas morning. He said if he could tell me to do one thing, it would be to keep Christmas about Jesus and go easy on the gifts. It's pretty heavy that, of all the things he could have said he'd change as a parent, it was that. It matters.
4. No stress for the parents.
My husband and I love Christmas time. We don't have to save a bunch of money or max out a credit card or go shopping every weekend in the crazy mall traffic. We feel like we get a new version of the Christmas joy we experienced as kids. We get to give to our kids and see their faces light up and not carry a financial burden. Christmas should be joyous, and if it isn't, maybe it's time to try something different.
This story was originally published Nov. 30, 2017. It has been updated.