Strategies To Embrace Holiday Minimalism | Stress Management For Moms

Resist Holiday Excess!  3 Smart Strategies to Embrace Holiday Minimalism

#MomsMinimizing #PureFamilyJoy #KeepTheLoveReduceTheStuff

“Last Christmas my daughter received so many presents she was actually tired of opening them. We became worried that in subsequent years she’d begin to expect so much.”  Stephanie explained she and her husband agreed to reduce the number of gifts for their children this year to four presents each.  “For our oldest, we’ll give her something she needs, something she wants, something to read, and something to do.”

I had the pleasure of meeting Stephanie and her youngest a couple of months ago.  A self-described incremental minimalist, she started a blog about simplifying life as a means of enjoying it more.  While working to curb holiday excess in her own home, she realized others are likely trying to do the same and began a ‘Holiday Challenge’ for Moms to share practical ways to minimize during holiday season.

Stuff-overload is a common parenting frustration.  From that first time traveling overnight with a baby to realizing your living space is mostly a playroom, an unsettling awareness for the volume of products that support our little people quickly overwhelms even the most organized.

More Stuff = More Housework

When over 200 Moms were asked ‘What from the mental load (the always-on, invisible to-do list) drives the most overwhelm?’ household responsibilities (cleaning, cooking, bills, household organizing) was the number one source of strain (86% of respondents).

Managing the deluge of toys and packages entering the home adds another layer of busy-ness for Moms already stretched beyond capacity.  In Laura Vanderkam’s book, ‘I Know How She Does It’ the families she surveyed reported spending an average 32 to 33 hours per week on housework.  Let’s absorb that for a moment, shall we? It’s stressful because the numbers approach that of a full-time job!

When surveyed about holiday stress, several Moms cited the obligation, cost or time spent purchasing gifts as among the most challenging aspects of the holidays.  One Mom summarized, “I don’t need anything and don’t like clutter, so I feel guilty about making good use of the things I receive.”

The concept of minimalism is appealing.  However, when almost every toy and household product comes triple-bound in plastic, where to start?

Strategies for Incremental Minimalism 

When I asked her how busy Moms can start moving towards minimalism, especially during holiday time, Stephanie wisely advised, “…Make changes based on where you are.  It’s not something that can (or needs to) happen all at once.  Starting small is better than not starting at all.”

  1. Toy Free Gifts
    Stephanie started a November sustainability challenge on her site and is crowdsourcing tips to make holidays less about the ‘stuff’.  She has many awesome toy-free gift ideas, “I’ve been steering families (interested in buying gifts) towards experiences for the kids, such as magazine subscriptions, annual passes to the zoo or local museums.”
  1. Toy Swaps
    She also described successfully swapping toys with other families to keep a stimulating batch of new toys coming in without the need to continually purchase and add to their own toy chest.  “It’s actually quite simple to enact,” Stephanie says. “Recruit a few moms with children of a similar age to your own, then choose five toys to swap, knowing that your child will eventually get his or her toys back at the end. Swap in one-week increments before passing on to the next participant. Children are continuously entertained by newish toys, yet nothing new was purchased.” A clever way to save money and reduce toy overload!
  1. Greener Shopping
    Greener is good for the planet and sustainable techniques often save money while reducing complexity.   Stephanie mentioned for the busy holiday shopping period, “Stock reusable bags in the trunk of your car for groceries and small ones in your purse or diaper bag for drugstore runs. Use reusable bags on your trips to the mall, too, and forego the paper bags and tissue paper the stores provide.”

When preparing snacks Stephanie prefers to buy in bulk and separate, versus purchasing the individual containers (such as yogurts, cheeses, granola) to reduce the amount of packaging and cost.  She even found glass containers sturdy enough to withstand falls and little hands.

Reap the True Rewards

“We are taking the money saved by buying fewer gifts this year and applying the money towards a family vacation,”  Stephanie shared with excitement in her voice.  I smiled and commented on how much my children have come to enjoy a family vacation much more than gifts.  Interestingly, there’s a lot of research that backs this up, as summarized in The Atlantic’s ‘Buy Experiences Not Things’, “Experiential purchases are also more associated with identity, connection, and social behavior. Looking back on purchases made, experiences make people happier than do possessions.”

When Moms from the holiday survey described what they love about holidays, it was overwhelmingly: dedicated time with family and friends, seeing their children bond with extended family, enjoying fabulous meals, participating in religious services, decorating the home or vacationing together.  Gifts were never mentioned!


Many thanks to Stephanie Seferian for the interview and these great tips!  She’s the author and founder of Mama Minamalist and host of the Sustainable Minimalists podcast. She’s passionate about taking steps big and small to reduce our environmental footprint and simplify daily life. Sign up for her mailing list to get access to her printable library including  a free Toy Swap worksheet with detailed instructions, toy-free holiday gift ideas.

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