Less Stuff, More Satisfaction

Read any November/December issue of a lifestyle magazine, and you'll find dozens of free and low-cost ways to celebrate the holidays.  Plenty of time-saving strategies.  A lot of discussion about giving experiences rather than stuff.  But spending less, saving time, and giving fewer tangible gifts won't necessarily lead to a happy minimalist holiday.

Minimalism is about keeping only what you need and love – making space for things and activities you care about by discarding things and activities you don't.  Simply cutting costs and clutter may leave you feeling stingy and unsatisfied.  How can you create a truly meaningful holiday?

Buy and do less in order to experience more fulfillment.

Happiness comes from meeting needs and desires.  So to achieve satisfaction, you must discover what you need and want.  Take some time to ponder these three questions.

1.  Why are you celebrating this holiday?

It's easy to go through the motions, to work at a to-do list simply because it exists.  But any holiday is just a date on a calendar until you give it significance.

So why exactly are you celebrating?  

  • The religious aspects of the holiday have deep meaning for you.  
  • The lights and sparkle and upbeat atmosphere are exciting for you.  
  • You love to cook, bake, craft, or decorate, and the holidays are the perfect reason to indulge.  
  • You desire a sense of hope, peace, kindness, and goodwill.
  • The season is a great excuse to party.

Try to uncover what's essential to your celebration, then limit your purchases and activities accordingly.

2.  How can you set limits?

Leo Babauta, author of the blog Zen Habits, asks

If you have 50 things on your plate, will you really have time to eat all those things?...  Will you enjoy all of them?  What if you only limited your plate to five things?

You could choose your five favorite holiday activities, and ignore everything else.  Or if parties and get-togethers make you happy, accept only five invitations.  Five is an arbitrary number; the point is, don't wear yourself out trying to make every gathering, but choose those with your favorite people or venues.

If baking cookies is your thing, bake only five kinds to mix and match for all of your gift trays, or even pick just one kind as your signature specialty.  Or choose to spend plenty of time baking, and don't worry about decorating every last corner of the house, if it's a job rather than a joy.

If singing Christmas music is important to you, you probably won't join five choirs.  But I've sung in three choirs, with three sets of rehearsals and three sets of concerts, and I was so busy it just became a chore.  Opting for one choir would have been more enjoyable.  And by all means, quit choir or anything else if the only reason you're there is guilt or habit.  The choir is better off with members who are fulfilled and excited by the activity; you are better off doing something that thoroughly satisfies you.

To choose means to say "no."

In a culture where we're encouraged to say "yes" to everything, saying "no" can be hard.  But "no" is a word of self respect.  It's a word that sets boundaries and offers freedom.

Of course, there are some things you really must do, whether they make your heart sing or not.  Getting your child to every rehearsal so she can dance with her class in The Nutcracker may be something you can't skip.  But it was her choice, right?  She really loves it, right?  She's humming the music and practicing her moves at home with no prompting from you, right?  Because if she's not, and if ballet is just something you think is "good for her," then maybe this was a time to say "no."  Maybe the opportunity to work at something truly satisfying has been sacrificed for the sake of pride, conformity, fear of missing out, or lack of imagination.

Challenge yourself to make true choices.  As Leo cautions,

Don't just widen the floodgates because you don't want to choose.  Choose, and your life will get simpler.

3.  Who do you want to spend time with?

Family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, store clerks, strangers?  That's a lot of people.  A lot of time and energy.  Do you really want to spend Christmas Eve with one set of relatives, Christmas morning with another set, and then go to an office party Christmas night?  Maybe you do.  But make it a conscious choice, not a "command performance."  Maybe you'd rather have all of the relatives come to your house, or maybe you'll visit one set this Christmas and the others next year.  Maybe you'll say "no" to the Christmas night party, opt for caroling with your kids instead, and enjoy a night out with work friends on New Year's Eve.

Time and attention are the most valuable gifts you can give.  Choose your recipients intentionally.

During the holidays, and always, less is more.

  • Fewer decorations means less fussing and cleaning, and more relaxed time for fun with family and friends. 
  • Fewer fancy foods means less weight gain, and more to give to those who lack the basics.
  • Fewer mall-bought gifts means less debt and more creativity.
  • Fewer social and volunteer commitments means less frantic rushing, and more energy for the activities that have the most meaning for you. 

You say you want more?  How about more purpose and more quality.  Less hassle and more happiness.  Less stuff and more satisfaction.

Updated December 2022


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