Category Archives: Frugal Christmas

Simplifying Christmas

Simple decoration

Simple decoration

Whoo Boy! For those of us in the cultural extravaganza of December in the United States, there is an overwhelming mish-mash of marketing, family sentimentality, religious holiday, social obligations, marketing, career obligations, style points, cultural obligations and oh, yeah…marketing.

Whatever stories you are telling yourself right this minute, this second day of December….I just want to point out that you can’t do it all. Not only can you not do it all….it is not desirable to even try.

If your family or work culture mandates that you celebrate with them, you have options beyond a vacation in a non-Christian country during the last month of the Roman year.

Here is your mandate: spend a quiet afternoon all by yourself (coffee shops and book stores count, when you need to get away from obligations) and reflect on what, if any, part of the holiday/cultural extravaganza you value. Write it down. This is the only part you have to participate in. Really!

Over the years, I have valued and opted out of different parts of the celebration.

  1. I have attended Christmas church services with my family.  This year I will work for hospice.
  2. I have spent $$ and time creating the perfect Christmas tree, visible from my living room and the street, via a window. I do not now.
  3. I did Secret Santa with my co-workers. I do not now.
  4. Travel through blizzard conditions for four hours to be with biological family who insulted my life choices. Won’t do that again. Ever.
  5. Purchased, addressed, mailed Christmas cards to 300+ friends and relatives when I had 2 children under the age of 2 and was so sleep deprived, that 5 of the cards came back with wrong/insufficient addresses.

Here is h0w I celebrate now:

1) Often, I work Christmas day. This allows my co-workers with small children to spend this precious time with their families.

2)  My one and only Christmas decoration this year is this wreath on my front door. $18.00 and compostable after the holiday.

3) I do love to shower my children with gifts. But I buy one generic paper wrap (any/all occasion–not birthday, not Christmas, not Valentine’s Day) and I use it till it is gone, then I buy another generic wrap. Other years, I have used the comic section of the newspaper as wrap and also, the paper grocery sacks from the store. When they had logos printed on the outside, I turned them inside out.

4) I shop all year long/ And I re-gift. If I find something that I think would be a great gift for a loved one in February or July…I nab it and put it into my secret storage site. I keep track of how much I spend on each child because….

5) I set a dollar amount that I will spend on each person that I plan to give a gift to. When the kids were very young, it was not a dollar amount, but number of gifts. That was how they counted back then, and I did not want anyone to feel slighted or less loved because of the presents. Now they are older, and a bit more sophisticated. So I set a dollar limit for each person and when I have spent that amount, I stop buying gifts for that person. Sometimes a small re-gift will fall into my lap. I do not tend to count them in the dollar amount. I might if it was something spectacular.

So what do you do to manage the excess of the season?


Perhaps you have heard the adage that home construction takes twice as much time and 30% more money that the original estimate. It has been true for this house remodel I am doing.

I haven’t started on the upstairs bathroom yet because I’m still working on the dining room and I don’t want to spread myself to thin. The dining room is almost done. I’m just waiting for the second half of the new chairs. There was a shipping error.

In the meantime, I am keeping myself busy with two other tasks particular to November: the leaf raking and Christmas.

In my town, we have free yard waste pick-up in the month of November, and my neighborhood has many large deciduous trees. I usually devote 2-3 days to the task.

As for Christmas, over the years, I have winnowed the crazy cultural frenzy that goes on here to just the parts that I love and have meaning to me. (I’ll write on the topic a little later.) One of the aspects of Christmas I love, is getting gifts for my kids.

My eldest son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter are coming here for Thanksgiving and will travel to her family for the Christmas holiday. I will send their gifts home with them when they come later this month to save the shipping fees.

Wrapped and ready to go.

Wrapped and ready to go.

Minimalist Christmas Decorations

One of my co-workers was telling us about the seven [!!!] themed Christmas trees that she puts up each year. She reports that it takes her two weeks to get them all up and three weeks, after the holidays, to get them all taken down and put away. Yikes! I can think of so many, many things I would rather do with that time.

I do decorate. I put up the stockings.

Same stockings we have used for years.

Same stockings we have used for years.

And a fresh wreath on the front door.

Compostable too!

Compostable too!

It took me one minute, fifteen seconds, [middle son timed me] and cost $15.

My kind of holiday cheer.

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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