A Minimalist Christmas: Our Before and After Story

Inside: There are a lot of expectations when it comes to what a minimalist Christmas is supposed to look like. Here’s a look at how minimalism transformed Christmas in our home and 3 strategies to help you fill this season with intentionality rather than accumulation.

 A few evenings ago my husband announced that he was googling, “best toys for three-year-olds.”

Picture me, jumping off my couch, diving across the room and smacking the phone out of his hands before his eyes were compromised. Okay, so I didn’t actually do that because it was nine o’clock at night which is basically midnight when you’re over thirty. Instead I scolded him from a distance until he promised not to browse online for gift ideas we’d never heard of.

As the requests from family for gift wish lists roll in, it’s easy to feel pressured to come up with something our kids might need or may enjoy for Christmas this year.

But unless someone is giving out a love of vegetables, there is absolutely nothing my three-year-old needs this holiday season. Not even from me. However, nobody wants to hear that, and quite honestly I don’t blame them. “No gifts please” isn’t a responses anyone will take seriously.

In this real life of mine we adore the holiday season with all it’s giving and receiving. While our shift toward a minimalist mindset has certainly decreased the quantity, it’s also improved the quality and intentionality with which we give gifts.

minimalist gift ideas
Give more experiences with these free coupon templates.        Photo credit Jamie Lynn Photography

My kids have even grown to appreciate our minimalist Christmas. I’m not the least bit worried that they’ll be disappointed this year.

Last year though, was a different story. I was a nervous wreck.

Our First Minimalist Christmas

2017 was our first holiday season as self-declared minimalists. As Christmas approached, my worry increased. Would my newly minimalist kids feel slighted?

While my confidence in our decision to embrace minimalism never wavered, I didn’t want to be met with disappointed little faces on Christmas morning.

After all, it wasn’t their fault we’d let Christmas gifting get so out of hand.

Pre-minimalism Christmas morning:

Christmas 2016, just one month prior to becoming minimalist. (Full discloser, that giant bear still has a home here).


Despite my nerves, our first minimalist-ish Christmas went shockingly well. Like almost too well. I thought maybe I had landed myself on an episode of The Truman Show. Where are the hidden cameras?

Our first minimalist-ish Christmas, 2017.

That year, we had intentionally and carefully selected gifts for each of our kids. We gave fewer items, while trusting each would be cherished. It  worked. The kids were thrilled and they didn’t seem to notice a difference at  all.

Because we went minimalist the January prior, our extended family had a full year to watch us handle material possessions differently. We lead by example and they slowly but surely came around. They had our backs during our first minimalist Christmas and gave gifts more intentionally as well. We were so grateful.

The  Best Part About a Minimalist Christmas

For as long as I can remember Christmas evening has felt like a game of Tetris. Scrambling while exhausted, searching for any open nook or cranny to store our new items.

When we had exhausted all our storage options, we moved what was left into the basement. There, sat an unopened pile of toys for us to distribute to our kids throughout the year. You know, whenever they needed something “new” to play with.

That first minimalist Christmas was completely different though.  Everything had a place. No piles, no storing, no shoving, no stressing.

Instead, that evening my husband and I sat by the fire with a glass of wine talking about the day and reveling in the new life we gave our home by opting to own less.

It was one of those pivotal moments of confirmation that imprints on your heart and whispers, “Keep going. You’re on the right path.”

Start Today

While it may be a little late in the game to get your extended family totally on board, you can still affect change in your home this holiday season. You are the editor and protector of peace in your home. You are the decider of what stays and what goes.

Choose today, to fill this holiday season with intentionality instead of accumulation by:

1. Purchasing with Purpose

Don’t just buy stuff for the sake of buying stuff. If you are at a loss for what to give this year, choose gift cards, consumables or give to a charity on their behalf.

Below are a few articles filled with ideas to help you give more intentionally this year.

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

Grinch Agreement

20 Experience Gift Ideas for Grandparents to Give This Christmas

Is There Such a Thing as a “Minimalist” Toy?

2. Choose Experiences Over Things

Gifting experiences allows us to curb the clutter, cut back on the excess and raise our kids to value adventure and time together over possessions.

Download these FREE Printable Holiday Gift Coupon Templates to give your experiences in style.

Edited for 2020: This will be much more difficult this year. It’s going to take more creativity to give experiences during a seasons when almost  everything is cancelled. 

Photo Credit Jamie Lynn Photography

3. Give Yourself Permission to Let Go of Traditions

I used to feel like it was my job to make sure traditions were executed perfectly, down to every last detail. It was exhausting and unsustainable. Loosening my grip on traditions has helped me pick up a giant cup of grace and enjoy each season for what it is, not what it’s supposed to be. 

Have Yourself and Intentional Christmas

A New Tradition of Less

Make this year the start of a new Christmas tradition. A tradition of less. Not for the sake of owning less, but for the chance to let how you spend your days deeply align with what matters most to you.

I don’t look back on my many not so minimalist Christmases with shame or regret. Not at all. It was a necessary part of my story. Not just the story of me becoming a minimalist, but the story of me growing into who I was made to be. 

“Without weariness, there is no thrill of hope.” -Shannon Martin, Ministry of Ordinary Places

Instead, I look back and see the very reason for the season. I see new life, relentless grace and hope.

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6 thoughts on “A Minimalist Christmas: Our Before and After Story

  1. When I was growing up, we were very poor. Every Christmas, we got just ONE nice gift that was something we could use for years. There might be another small gift or not. One year, it was a bicycle, one year a card table that we could put up in our tiny house to study on, and when real young, it was a new doll. It has always seemed to me this is the way it SHOULD be. Each of these gifts was greatly appreciated and well used throughout the year and for years to come.
    Congratulations to you on being brave enough to go the opposite direction of most. I am 66 now, and have minimalized to NO gift exchanges and only a tiny bit of decor. The joy is getting together with family for a meal. It is amazing how the stress and expectations of the holiday are removed!!

  2. Brenda, I enjoyed your comments, growing up with less helped you to truly appreciate your special gift/s. I too am 66 and I’ve cut way back on spending too much $ on gifts that aren’t needed, partly out of necessity. I’m also working on decluttering my home & life so I can step back & smell the roses. MERRY PEACEFUL CHRISTMAS TO ALL!

  3. Thank you so much for a beautiful post. We have been doing quite well in the minimalist regard for the last several months but with Christmas coming up, it’s easy to get swayed in the wrong direction. Can you talk more about your first minimalist Christmas? How did your kids react? How many gifts did they receive? Was it more about experiences or some material things, as well? Thank you so much again for your beautiful post and for being such an inspiration.

  4. Yes! My kids reacted as if absolutely nothing had changed! They each received around 4 gifts and a stocking. The stocking was pretty much all consumables or small items they needed replaced. The gifts were more hobby items. My son received his first bow and arrows and a Shutterfly calendar I make him every year. My daughter got a fishing pole, fun bike helmet and I made her a photo book on Shutterfly. They also each received a coupon I made for a fun outing to use during the year…”fancy dinner” “laser tag with dad” “family ice-cream outing.”
    These gifts were less flashy and more practical, but they encourage family, outdoor time and hobbies that will last forever.
    So not nothing, just fewer and much more intentional ❤️

  5. Thank you for posting your pre & post-minimalism Christmas photos and stories. I imagine you were questioning your decision most of Dec. 2017. Or maybe you were trying to figure how to make an exception just at Christmas… I admire your determination of last year as well as your honesty this year. Through recent years, my husband & I have cut back, but this year we are not even putting up a tree as a way (experiment?) of trying to find how best to honor Jesus. I am definitely out of my traditional zone here, but it’s very odd feeling…

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