Minimalist Gifts

Not wanting her minimalism to dampen the joy of gift-giving, reader Patricia asks for some suggestions for gifts to give and receive that are not objects. Here’s a few of my favorites:

My Favorite Gift

My Favorite Gift

1) My absolute favorite gift to give and receive is time together. Consider tickets to an activity you both enjoy like a sports event, a play or a trans-continental train ride. A trip to Europe would be welcome. Once, I gifted my father tickets to the Glen Miller Orchestra (a favorite of his youth.) Mom, dad and I attended the concert together. I have seen my father cry just twice in his lifetime. On the day his mother died, and when he was thanking me for the gift of the concert.

2) Consumables: Sure, chocolate, wine and cheese are good. But how about postcards and stamps? Crossword puzzle books? Handmade soap? Firewood? Decorations made from nature that will decompose, like flowers, pumpkins, ivy, pinecones, etc. I knew a woman who loved to grow flowers. She collected vases from friends and thrift shops. All summer long she created beautiful floral arrangements and delivered them to the local nursing homes.

3) Purchase digital services like I-tunes or Shutterfly.

4) Photos (print or digital) of your loved one’s family. Preferably ones they could not easily get themselves like antique family photos that you have copied for the whole family or candid snapshots of your nieces and nephews when you have them for a sleepover.

5) A gift to a charity that you both admire. The Red Cross. The Heifer Project. Habitat for Humanity. Physicians Without Borders. You get the idea.

6) A gift of service. Cleaning out the gutters of an elderly homeowner. Babysitting for new parents. Use of your guest bedroom, if you live in  a place people like to visit. If you have a talent like photography or baking the most amazing treats, you can offer to do that for a special occasion.

We are limited only by our lack of imagination.


The Art of Re-Gifting

Every successful minimalist knows that it’s not just one big declutter and then you are done. Keeping stuff out of your dwelling space requires vigilance and multiple strategies. Donating to charities, garage sales and asking loved ones not to buy you stuff are all excellent strategies. As is re-gifting. There is to be no shame in it, if done right.

Here's some stuff I have been collecting for the past year to re-gift at Christmas.

Here’s some stuff I have been collecting for the past year to re-gift at Christmas.

Here are the rules of re-gifting:

1) Never, ever, ever give the gift back to the person who gave it to you. Ever. If you don’t trust your memory, put a note with the item reminding you who gave it to you.

2) If at all possible, leave the original packaging and tags on it.

3) The gift needs to match the person. Don’t give a Christian music CD to an atheist or a leather belt to a vegan. The goal is not to just get rid of stuff (if that is the goal, just donate the item to charity) but to find a home for the item where it will be loved and used.

4) Don’t re-gift to someone who is offended by the concept.

Now go out there and have some simple, frugal, minimalist fun.

Shhh….It’s a Secret

I’ve been working very hard on a Christmas gift for my daughter. Don’t tell her what it is.

She has a chest of drawers, that has been hers since she was about 6 months old. She never liked the color, and as a child covered it with stickers. C.O.V.E.R.E.D.

For her gift, I have refinished it. I wish I had a photo for you, before the stickers came off, but I don’t. Here’s one with most of the stickers removed.

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Then I stripped it and sanded it.

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And here it is with the darker finish that beloved daughter prefers and some new hardware.

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Close up of the new drawer pulls.

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Back Porch Remodel

I have been working like a fiend an a project that will likely become a Christmas gift. I’ll post photos on that one when I’m done. In the meantime, here is the remodel of the back porch, which was actually done this past summer.

Here is how it used to be:

The back yard at dinner

Looking toward the back yard, through the screen and support bar.

You can see the screens (not clear in this photo that most of them were torn and not doing their job.) The screens and support bars, wrapped around to the sides of the porch, enclosing it. There use to be a screen door too, but I had removed it, years ago, as it was structurally unsound.

View of back porch from yard (facing west)

View of back porch from yard (facing west)

The screens and support bars have been removed, opening the view to the back yard. Horizontal lathe was added for privacy.

View from the porch, facing north. Lovely neighbors that way...and the air conditioner.

View from the porch, facing north. Lovely neighbors that way…and the air conditioner.

The lathe on the south side.

This sad little plant is a purple clematis, which as it matures, will climb the slats, adding beauty and privacy.

This sad little plant is a purple clematis, which as it matures, will climb the slats, adding beauty and privacy.

And I changed out the light at the back door. The old one (sorry, no photo) was original to the 1936 house.

Modern, but not clashing with the style of the house. Plus, it has some fancy movement detector, so it turns itself off until you (or one of the hundreds of squirrels in the neighborhood) approaches.

Modern, but not clashing with the style of the house. Plus, it has some fancy movement detector, so it turns itself off until you (or one of the hundreds of squirrels in the neighborhood) approaches.

What I love about this remodel is the  increased openness to the yard, and the increased privacy from the neighbors.

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

I am very, very seriously considering selling my house next spring. I have been looking around with the eyes of a potential buyer, so as to be able to get top dollar when I am ready to sell.

I see that I have three main tasks to get this house to “appeal to 90% of the people 90% of the time.”

1) A few of the rooms need new, neutral paint.

2) The upstairs bath needs a new floor and sink, paint and new light fixtures.

3) I need to add decorative items in to give it a more homey feel. [I find this incredibly amusing. Usually when a house is being staged, it needs to be de-cluttered. This is truly a minimalist-only problem.]

While I have been working hard on some of the more labor intensive parts of this months long task, I needed a quick pick-me-up for motivation. So, I staged the living room. Here’s the photos.

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The couch. It’s twelve years old. I don’t think I’ll take it with me when I move. It used to have a twin, but the rough-housing Improv troupe broke it and this summer I replaced the broken couch with these two chairs.

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The small table replaces the coffee table. The cat is an attention hound, he shows up whenever I pull out the camera. The bookcase in the background I pulled out of my daughter’s room, as it has too much furniture.

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The books are borrowed. I clearly need to find some more stuff for the shelves. In a pinch, I can borrow from friends. The horse head in the window is a family piece. He used to be on top of a iron post and was planted in the front of my great-grandfather’s yard for people to tie the reins of their horses when visiting, so the horses would not wander off. He’s a hitching post. Or was.

Close up of his sweet face.

Close up of his sweet face.

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So, the count in my living room has gone from seven to sixteen. But I plan to only take three items to my new home: the two red chairs and the table. Oh, and the cat.

Peace Pilgrim

I’m adding a new category of posts. I’m going to include occasional posts about a minimalist, historical or modern, that I admire.

Peace Pilgrim is such a person.


She was an American woman who walked across the United States between 1953 and 1981 sharing her message of peace. She owned only what she carried in her pockets. You can read more about her here:

Cleaning Routines


What follows is a not-all-inclusive list of things I clean and how often I clean them.

Daily or more often: dishes, kitchen counters, cat’s litter box

Couple times per week: laundry

Weekly: sweep floors [mind you when my kids were toddlers, I mopped the kitchen floor daily] clean toilets, clean shower/tub, wash towels

Couple times per month: mop floors, dust, clean the cat hair off the sofa, clean the gunk off the stove

Couple times per year: clean windows

Yearly: clean gutters, wash curtains in basement, clean oven [I don’t roast a lot of meat-it doesn’t get that dirty]

Don’t Forget Why We Are Here

This September has been a difficult month for me, at work and in my personal life. Having it all come [almost] at the same time has knocked me off my center.

And I’ve had to remind myself [repeatedly] that I have solved more intricate and overwhelming challenges. We will make it through these too.

I’ve had so much spin in my head that it has made the most simple things complicated. Like today. Today is my youngest child’s 16th birthday and we went to the Department of Motor Vehicles so he could get his driver’s license. We went three times before we actually got there with all the documents that were required for him to take the driving test. And the employees there were all so stressed that they were snarky and snapped at other patrons, and at me when I asked for my insurance card back. Whew!

Tonight, as I drove back from taking youngest son to his dad’s house, there hung on the horizon a sliver of a moon over some trees just beginning to turn.


And I found my center.

We are here to celebrate the beauty we experience, to help our fellow travelers and grow in maturity and ability to love.

No documents required.

Minimalist at Nursing School

nursing shoes older than me

nursing shoes older than me

Reader Erin asks if minimalism would help while trying to go to nursing school while raising toddlers.

Well ……….Yeah!

As you already know, minimalism helps everything.

When I was in nursing school, I had only one child and I lived in a town far away from family. So I did not have the usual resource of relatives to help. Even my son’s father lived in a different town.

We rented a studio apartment near campus. We shared a fold-out couch for the first couple years, and later someone gave us a toddler bed. There was a table and three chairs, so we could even have company for dinner. The space was small, so it didn’t take much time to clean it. I had a set of four plate and bowls, so it was impossible for the kitchen to overrun with dirty dishes.

My son had eight outfits, and I did the laundry at a laundry-mat weekly. I had two pair of jeans, a week’s worth of tops and the all-white student nursing outfit.

The first two years, we didn’t have a car and we walked where we needed to go. I had a red Radio Flyer wagon that transported groceries and laundry. I typed papers on free typewriters available at the school.

I was able to get work on campus, both as an English tutor and as a model for the art department, so I scheduled work in between classes. Any free time during the day, I studied.

I took my son to day-care in the morning, walked to school/work, picked him up around 5pm and then we would have dinner and play and read books. After my son went to sleep, I would study for 2-3 hours before going to bed.

I didn’t date, I only went shopping when we needed something and my entire focus was on providing the things my son needed and school.

I had a friend with a son abut the same age as mine, and once a month or so, we would go to Chuck E. Cheese and nurse a beer for a couple hours while the boys played.

It was tough at times, but it has allowed the rich and abundant life I now enjoy…so very much worth it.

Don’t Be A Princess

Do you remember the story of the Princess and the Pea, in which a skeptical potential mother-in-law tests the nobility of a young girl by putting a pea under about 20 mattresses? The older woman is convinced of the young woman’s noble birth by the bruises she acquires while asleep.
I remember when, as a small child, I first heard this story and thought about the princess, “What a loser! She needs to toughen up.”

Life is going to send us all kinds of challenges. Unexpected physical demands, unforeseen money surprises, annoying people. Rather than letting these events throw us into a swoon or worse, a panic, let us plan for future challenges by training ourselves to be frugal and strong and kind now. Then when those difficult situations occur, we are prepared.

No matter where you are now, take steps to improve your health and finances and relationships. No flopping on the bed and moaning, “It’s too haaarrrd.” “I’m too buuussyyyy.” “People are meeaan.” Wah! It is hard, you are busy, people can be mean. Don’t be distracted.

I think of it as interval training. When training to build muscle, you push your body really hard for a short period, exhausting it. Then you let it rest. Then you go all-out again. This work hard-rest cycle builds strong bodies. Using a work hard-rest cycle can build emotional and financial strength as well.

Let’s go!