Minimalist Gift Ideas: Toss Stressful Traditions

The holidays are exciting and fun with all the festivities and gathering of loved ones, but the stress of gift giving can also put a damper on the holiday spirit. Before I adopted my version of a minimalist lifestyle, planning and purchasing gifts Stressed. Me. Out. Not only was budgeting for mass gift giving an issue, but planning individual gifts for A LOT of friends and family gave me so much unnecessary anxiety (on top of my normal level of anxiety).

Something magical happened when I started absorbing everything I could from other minimalists...this idea that you don't have to do anything. If holiday traditions bring you more stress than happiness, it's time to re-think your traditions and maybe even toss them for new ones.

Donate Instead:

For several years, I included a little note in my Christmas cards with something along the lines of, "We are so grateful to have you in our lives and for the blessings we all have. Instead of exchanging gifts this year, we've adopted a local child in need to gift their Christmas wish list. Please donate what you would have spent on us to the cause of your choice."

This removed ALL the stress of picking out gifts and budgeting for each one. We reached out to a local organization to 'adopt' a local child in need. I was able to tell them what my budget could provide and they helped choose a child. You are provided with a list of items and clothing sizes for each child, which simplifies the process even further. It was so much fun to shop for our kid and take the haul to the organization for wrapping! Not only are you relieving stress for yourself, but you're also helping someone who isn't as blessed.

Invest Instead:

This approach can be applied across birthdays as well as Christmas. When my niece and nephew were born, I decided to open an investment account for each of them. For every birthday and Christmas, I make deposits into their accounts in the amount I would have spent on a gift. By the time they are out of high school (or whenever I decide to gift it to them), it will have compounded into a nice sum. It may even be a good learning experience for them regarding compound interest! I set their accounts up through Betterment. I already had prior experience with Betterment and knew their accounts are easy to set up. *please note: for every three referrals through this link, I receive a year of free management fees* This has been easy so far since the oldest is about to turn four; however, it may become more challenging when they start asking 'why Auntie doesn't bring gifts'.

Give an Experience:

One of my favorite gifts to give is an experience. Giving experiences is not only exciting when initially opened, but gives them (and you if it's a group experience) something to look forward to. Another plus with giving experiences: you're not cluttering up their homes with things they don't really need!

This past Christmas, I wrapped little toy ocean animals for our family and told them I got tickets for a family trip to the GA Aquarium. We had so much fun on that trip and made memories together as a family!

My gift to Keith last year was tickets to see our favorite band together in Nashville. Once again, we had a blast and now have the memory of hearing our song live.

I also gave my mom and sister tickets to Christmas Village for their birthdays. We love going to this event together each year! And yes, this year we wore Christmas themed shirts like all those folks I previously made fun of.

My best friend and I buy each other dinner and margaritas for our birthdays! Then we get to spend time together laughing and talking over food and drinks.

Some more ideas are:

  • Spa or Nail Salon Certificate

  • Movie Tickets

  • Homemade gift certificates for a foot massage, hiking trip, cleaning the house, etc.

Well Thought Out Gifts:

However stress-free the above ideas are, I do still enjoy the act of tangible gift giving at times. I like to gift things I know they actually want/need and will be functional for them. You know those moments when you think of or find a gift that is absolutely perfect for someone. For instance, we recently got my dad new headlights for his car because he had mentioned replacing them a while back; he was totally surprised!


We are invited to so many festivities during the holidays! In fact, there are so many that fall on the same days and times we have to compromise and carefully spend our time where it makes the most sense and brings the most happiness. While trying to spend time with both our families, we've had to alter our traditions a bit. For instance, we have two Christmas Eve dinners at the same time, one on my side and one on his. Since we see the folks on my side during the Christmas family reunion, we have decided not to include that one in our yearly traditions. We also could not fit three gatherings into Christmas Day, and have kindly asked one group if we can get together on another day before Christmas.

Altering traditions will be a touchy subject for a lot of family members, and there will probably be some push back, feelings hurt, or words exchanged; however, your holiday experience is up to you. If it makes more sense for your family and makes you happy, they will eventually get over it. My best advice it to tactfully think out how to deliver the news while also expressing you want to spend time with them or how grateful you are to have been invited.

Similarly along those lines, if you choose a new gift giving method expect to get feedback about it (even if you didn't ask for it). Going against the social norm of making the holidays all about presents will most likely earn you some kind of feedback, positive or negative. If you go into it expecting feedback and knowing this decision is best for your family's holiday experience, who really cares what others think? Having a tactful response ready is so helpful!

Whatever your gift giving process is, I hope you enjoy it to the fullest!

Comment below if you have other unique gift ideas or traditions! Also, let me know if you plan to try out something new!

A collage of photos for Heather Corinne's blog: Warm cup of coffee, yarn and gold scissors.