Merry Simplicity: 6 Ways to Embrace Minimalism Over the Holidays

by | Updated: October 13th, 2020 | Read time: 5 minutes

The parties, the lights, the people, the cheer—it’s no wonder a good portion of the population spends a large part of the year anticipating the holidays.

But with all that eating, drinking and being merry arrives tremendous excess—and not just of the health kind. From maxed-out credit cards to tossed-out food, the holidays can go from great to glut faster than you can say Happy New Year.

Minimalist Lifestyle Demonstrated by Tiny Christmas Tree Made of Three Sprigs and a Red Star on White Table |

But the holidays needn’t be about overindulging—or overkill in general. Whether you already characterize yourself as a minimalist or you’re just getting in on the trend, the practice—which goes far beyond eschewing materialism—may be your ticket to rediscovering the real meaning of the season: Enjoying time with your family and friends. Here are six smart ways to have a simple but stunning holiday:

1. Gift mindfully

It isn’t long after October that the urge to buy hits overwhelming heights—it seems that everywhere you look there’s a door buster sale, a new product or something else to add to your child’s already swollen stocking.

But giving gifts without truly thinking about them—does your brother really need another pair of socks?—presents challenges for both the giver and the recipient, primarily in the form of overspending and contributing to clutter.

This season, be mindful of your purchases instead. A friend whose closet is already packed with the newest fashions may be far more appreciative of an experiential present—say, an afternoon on a golf course, or brunch and a movie with you. Likewise, nix those little gifts that add to the clutter (and subtract from your savings), such as candy, meaningless toys, small trinkets and, yes, those socks. With each person on your list, determine both a budget and what they genuinely need or want—and stick to it, no matter how seduced you feel by those impulse buys at check-out.

2. Select a menu

To this you might say, “But I always select a menu!” That may be the case, but studying it closely may reveal that you’ve gone more maximalist than, well, just right. Do you—does anyone—really need three different types of pie, two types of potatoes, a ham, a turkey and a roast? Oftentimes, holiday meals result in heaps of leftovers, some of which (if not most) end up thrown in the rubbish or compost.

This year, think deeply about your choices, and purchase, prepare and request only what you need for a single, simple, elegant meal. (For example, grilled salmon, an arugula salad, quinoa and an apple crisp will easily wow your crowd.) And if you cook or bake to appeal to a wide group of food preferences, do know that you can’t please all of the people all of the time (although allergies and food sensitivities should be noted).

3. Pare down your social calendar

There’s rarely much fun to be had in racing from your office party to a Christmas cookie baking session with your girlfriends to a sit-down dinner with your in-laws. Yes, the holidays are all about connecting, but now—as well as always—it’s about quality over quantity. You may disappoint a friend or two when you have to turn down their invitations, but consider the toll it might take (sleepless nights, more anxiety). Examine your invites, agree to events that will bring you joy and those that you must (that dinner with your in-laws, for instance), and kindly say no to those that will likely bring you more stress than value. Also, be sure to pencil in some time alone. Finding your center (and getting some calm) is the best gift you can give yourself.

4. Relinquish tradition

You may have put up a tree every Christmas for the past twenty years, but who said you’re contractually beholden to the practice? If the thought of it prompts more angst than elation, go a year without it and see how you feel, or create a “minimalist tree” by hanging a string of white lights and a few ornaments on the potted plant you already have in the corner. The same holds true for other traditions that might cause you more pressure than pleasure, such as holiday cards (they’re costly and hardly eco-friendly), cookies for your colleagues, lights around your entire house, and gifts for every single one of your nieces, nephews and cousins. Love can be expressed in many forms—and that niece you haven’t spoken to in a year will probably be more thrilled with a meaningful phone call than another pair of earbuds.

5. Go tech-free at holiday gatherings

Hosting Christmas dinner at your house? Turn it into a tech-free zone by asking guests, as playfully or as somberly as you wish, to leave their smartphones at the entrance (and provide inexpensive disposable cameras for those who don’t want to miss out on pics). Why? We all know why: Fiddling on our phones, playing a game on our iPad, posting yet another photo on Instagram—all work against the art and act of engaging. And if you’re the one attending the gathering, leave your gadget in the car. “After all,” says Joshua Fields Millburn of The Minimalists, “the best, most loving gift you can give someone is your time and undivided attention.”

6. Pitch the old

If ever there’s a time of year to bring out the nostalgic items, it’s the holidays. Your mother’s antique ornaments, your grandma’s rusted gravy boat, even your aunt’s recipe for fruitcake—somehow, these things from the past make their way into the present, and not always to your (and your family’s) amusement. Minimalism operates by the dictum that we keep around only the things that we 1) need or 2) derive great pleasure from. If those teacups you inherited from a distant relative bring you down, do know that another person may appreciate them dearly (read: donate them to a charity). A word from the wise: “A lot of the boxes had been un-accessed for decades,” Millburn said of cleaning out his mother things. “And it made me realize that our memories are not inside our things; our memories are inside us.” And if that’s not motivation to create a simple, memorable holiday, what is?