A Grinch Agreement: What It is & Why You Need a Few This Christmas

Inside: Here you’ll learn what a Grinch Agreement is and why you should make as many as possible this holiday season.


There are two kinds of Christmas tree people, fake tree people and real tree people.

I was raised with a real tree, while my husband grew up with a fake one. Now, I had heard rumors that marriage was full of compromise, but never did I think a Christmas tree could potentially be our undoing.

When it came time to get our very first Christmas tree as newlyweds, my husband graciously, and somewhat begrudgingly, agreed to a real one. Growing up, getting a Christmas tree was a daylong event for me. We would pile in the car, meet friends for breakfast and then all drive around looking for the perfect Christmas tree. Occasionally we’d even visit multiple tree farms in search of the perfect tree for our family. I thought this is what people did and desperately wanted to replicate this tradition with my own family.

However, the very last thing my new husband wanted to do was dedicate an entire Saturday to cutting down a Christmas tree he hardly wanted in the first place. Naturally.

On the day we headed out to cut down our own Christmas tree, everything that could have possibly gone wrong did…

There was already a little tension in the truck since we weren’t really on the same page as to how this day should go. We had borrowed my dad’s work truck with a ladder on the roof to fit our tree in. Well, the ladder straps happened to break, sending the ladder flying to the side of the road. Fortunately, this occurred on a country road directly in front of the entrance to a small family tree farm.

Now, one might think that it was rather serendipitous that the ladder straps would break directly in front of a Christmas tree farm. My husband certainly did, but not me. No. I had my heart set on visiting a very specific tree farm that day. You know, the one with a Santa and overpriced hot chocolate.

When we finally arrived at my tree farm of choice, we were both in a “mood” to say the least. Paul wanted to just grab a pre-cut tree and go, while I was still hoping to replicate my sweet childhood tradition of wandering around the woods for far too long.

By the time we left with our tree, we were in a full-blown marital dispute. At one point, I may or may not have tossed our saw in my husband’s general direction, missing him by what I remember to be quite a few feet. He, however, assures me was just a few inches.

On top of that, the tree I chose was far too tall for our home. When we raised it up into our living room, it left a scratch on the ceiling that is still there to this day! To top it off, I rarely watered that real tree and by the time Christmas rolled around, over 50% of the needles were embedded into our carpet.  Talk about a fire hazard.

All that to say, we learned the hard way that we were in fact, not real tree people. We were destined for a fake one. That ended up being our very last real tree for well over a decade.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that even traditions are meant to change and bend with time. They should serve to complement our holidays, not obligate us to misery.

grinch agreement

In the words of Rachel Jonat, “We don’t have to continue holiday traditions that leave us broke, overwhelmed and tired.” 

A Minimalist Christmas

The Christmas season has the potential to be such a delightful time of year. However, year after year, we take it and turn it into a money-sucking triathlon. By the time the big day arrives, we’re often in a mood, ready to chuck a saw at the people we love.

Holidays look a lot different around here than they once did. Last year we even cut down our first real tree since that unfortunate event. There was no saw throwing involved either. #marriagegoals

Grinch Agreement

One of the fastest ways to simplify the holidays is to reinvent the way in which you give and receive gifts. Of all the things that drain me most, shopping takes the cake. I used to spend far too much money on far too many gifts. The sole reason being, that’s what I’ve always done. Becoming a minimalist changed all that. 

You can read a bit more about our before and after story here: A Minimalist Christmas.

Don’t get me wrong, I adore buying my kids unique and intentional holiday gifts each year. The ability to do so is a privilege I do not take for granted at all. It’s the swapping of gift cards and electronic devices with the adults in my life that I’m over. My guess is, many of you are as well.

With many of our friends and family members, we’ve enacted what we affectionately refer to as a Grinch Agreement.

The Year the Grinch Saved Christmas

What is a Grinch Agreement you ask? It’s an agreement between two willing parties, to forgo gifts during the holiday season.

My brother and husband coined the term after a couple years of awkwardly exchanging gifts when they’d both rather kick back and chat about life. For over a decade now, they haven’t exchanged a single gift thanks to their Grinch Agreement.

Grinch Agreement

If the excessive number of holiday gift exchanges are causing you to resent what could be a delightful season, it’s time to pause and reevaluate whether or not we care to continue them. Are we simply exchanging gifts because we’ve always done so? Is it perhaps a tradition that everyone is ready to ditch, yet also feels obligated to continue?  Does anybody even want or need something new this season?

While at first a Grinch Agreement may sound, well, a little “Grinchy,” its purpose isn’t to sabotage Christmas, it’s meant to save it. Make a few Grinch Agreements and watch how it will lighten your load.

4 Ways a “Grinch Agreement” Can Save Christmas

1. Less Stress

The holidays can be stressful enough. Between travel, scheduling events, meal planning and simply gathering with extended family, it’s already a lot to manage. Then add in curating a list of gift ideas, budgeting, buying, wrapping and transporting it all. By the time the gift exchanges arrive, we’re all so unbelievably ready for it to be done.

Why are we doing this to ourselves?

A Grinch Agreement allows you to celebrate Christmas together, knowing you both gifted each other a little more capacity, during what can be a chaotic, expensive and stressful season.

Grinch Agreements will leave you with fewer people to shop for this year. Because of that, you’ll have more in the tank when it comes time to help your children decorate sugar cookies. Perhaps this year, you’ll even have enough energy to snag the sprinkles from your toddler’s grasp before they empty the entire jar onto a single cookie.

2. Save Money

Even with a monetary limit, multiple gift exchanges add up fast. It’s very easy to end up spending more than we intend to. When we finally come across the perfect gift idea, we don’t really care what it costs. We’re just eager to check another person off of our to-buy-for list.

Giving nothing to someone you love and having them return the favor is truly the gift that keeps giving.

In many cases, exchanging gifts is simply swapping cash. I buy you something for fifty dollars, you buy me something for fifty dollars. At the end of the day we’re both out fifty bucks, and up one item we didn’t really need.

For more on the true cost of Christmas, read: Scroogenomics by Joel Waldfogel

3. More Time

With less people to buy for, you’ll spend less time buying things. It’s as simple as that. What would you spend your extra free time doing during the holidays?

4. More Meaningful Gift Exchanges

A Grinch Agreement does not apply to children. I’m not really a Grinch here.

I may be a minimalist, but it’s important to point out that minimalism isn’t about deprivation, it’s prioritization. It’s about eliminating the unnecessary so there is more space, time and capacity for the things that matter.

Gifting my kids intentional Christmas presents matters to me. I’m sure it matters to you as well.

I like to remind my kids that, if everything is special, then nothing is special.

When we partake in too many unnecessary gift exchanges, the ones that matter most to us get watered down. To my sweet Uncle Ray, Christmas is the most magical day of the entire year. He looks forward to Christmas as if it solely existed for him. Giving him a gift each year is important and special. But with dozens of other people to buy for, it feels like a chore. By eliminating the unnecessary task of gifting to people who don’t really care all that much, I can put more energy into selecting a gift with meaning for him.

The same goes for our kids, nieces and grandkids. With fewer people to buy for, we’re less likely to just add random trending toys to our carts to get it all done. We’ll have more capacity to plan and purchase with greater purpose.

What if Someone Breaks a Grinch Agreement?

A Grinch Agreement only works if both parties agree to it and follow through. I’d recommend coming up with a punishment ahead of time for anyone who decides to go rogue and bring along a surprise gift. The Grinch Agreement is a sanity saving solution founded on trust. Both parties must follow through for it to work.

Not Quite Ready to Go All in on A Grinch Agreement?

Here are some ideas to help you slowly pivot away from swapping robotic vacuums and gift cards.

  • White elephant gift
  • Opt for a girl’s night out instead
  • Sponsor a family in need
  • Go in on a gift out of the Compassion International Catalog together.
  • A book exchange
  • Freezer meal swap
  • Group lessons (ski, sewing, cooking etc.)
  • Weekend trip
  • Fancy dinner
  • In-home chef
  • Homemade gift swap (My sisters and I have done this for years. It’s fun mostly because only one of the four of us are crafty. It’s hysterical to see what the rest of us come up with.)

When to Make Your Grinch Agreements

Now is the time to start making your own Grinch Agreements this holiday season. Don’t wait until everyone else is done with their shopping to try and offload your own. It won’t likely be well received the week before Christmas.

Share this article or a screenshot of the image below with anyone you think may be interested in opting out of the Overconsumption Games this holiday season.

Make a few Grinch Agreements this year and watch as this becomes the year the Grinch saved Christmas.

Grinch Agreement


Messy Minimalism releases December 7th

Sick of the clutter, but not quite sure “minimalism” as you know it is for you? You’re probably right. Minimalism as you know it, probably isn’t for you. It wasn’t for me either.

Because of that, Messy Minimalism was born. Messy Minimalism is a doable, grace-based approach to living a clutter free life. It frees you up to embrace the mess, live with less and create an imperfectly perfect home for you.
Messy Minimalism officially releases on December 7th and is available for preorder from your favorite book retailer.

Preorder Bonus:

If you preorder Messy Minimalism before December 7th, you’ll receive a FREE digital copy of  The Messy Minimalism Companion Guide on the day it officially launches.
For more information on Messy Minimalism head to MessyMinimalism.com

4 thoughts on “A Grinch Agreement: What It is & Why You Need a Few This Christmas

  1. Rachelle- I so appreciate the cozy feeling I have from this opportunity toward mindfulness. I think my Mom is much like Uncle Ray, and she adores the day greatly. Her crafts and fun are so appreciated by everyone and frankly, I don’t remember many gifts from other folks except a typewriter, which is both a hobby and a business of mine. I hope that this post reaches more people and encourages expanding the consciousness around reducing the carbon footprint of gifts, not only getting them, but using resources from the earth to make them. Not to mention fair labor practices, etc. I’m going to speak to the organizers of our holiday gathering this year and see what we can move towards in order to support the movement of “conscious Christmas”.

  2. Found this article through the All-Star Money newsletter. I am DYING to forego Christmas gifts. Giving and receiving. It just doesn’t scream “holidays” to me. Yet I am in a family of gift-givers (my spouse included) who have an attitude that if there are no gifts, it’s not Christmas. Help!

  3. My brother and I have done “Grinch” Christmas for years. We’ve never called it that, but it is super nice to have one less person to worry about.

    Another fun thing to do is to have the agreement that gifts can only be made and not bought. My wife’s family did that once and it made for much more interesting gifts.

Comments are closed.