Give

A story so sweet I had to share…

This morning my husband was heading out to work, and put a bag of unwrapped presents (meant for a charity that serves underprivileged children) by the front door. Plumblossom, our always-curious almost-2-year-old, made a beeline for the bag.

“No,” my husband said. “Those gifts are for other kids—kids who don’t have any toys to play with.” I sensed he was bracing for a toddler-style protest.

Instead, Plumblossom took off for her room without a word. She returned a few minutes later, and dropped an armful of toys and an empty bag of seaweed salad at my husband’s feet. Puzzled, he asked her, “What’s this for?”

“Gift bag,” she said, pointing to the seaweed salad (that’s her favorite food, and she’d made off with the packaging the last time we had it—I guess it was the only “bag” she could find). She then pointed to her toys, and the bag at the door, and said, “Give gifts to other kids.”

(Proud mama that I am, I couldn’t help tearing up…)

If only we could all exhibit a child’s sense of generosity this holiday season! To spring into action the moment we hear of someone in need. To give freely of our resources, no matter how limited they may be. To give not because of guilt, or obligation, or tax breaks, but just because.

To know we have enough, and be willing to share that abundance–beautifully and spontaneously–with those who don’t.

Warm wishes to you and yours for a serene and joyful holiday, and I’ll see you (more often) next year!

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

A Minimalist Mother’s Day

Fortunately, my Plumblossom is too young to shower me with knick knacks or other gifts this Mother’s Day—she’ll be sticking with some sweet smiles and little coos (all I could ask for!).

But infants aren’t the only ones who can honor their mothers in minimalist fashion; so for the rest of us, I’ve put together a list of no-clutter ways to show our love:

1. Cook your mom a delicious meal. You can put together breakfast-in-bed, an elegant brunch, or a special dinner (even if you’re not a culinary whiz, she’ll appreciate your efforts!)

2. Take your mom to the park, or local horticultural center, to admire the spring blooms. This time of year, public gardens are planted with a gorgeous array of flowers, including tulips, lilies, and daffodils. Enjoying live flowers is more environmentally-friendly than purchasing cut ones.

3. Dig through your family photographs, and select pictures of you (and your siblings) from your childhood years through the present. Scan them into your computer, create a digital slideshow, and burn a DVD (or put on a USB drive) to give to your (tech-savvy) mom.

4. Write your mom a poem or a personal letter. Words from your heart are far more touching than a greeting card or store-bought gift.

5. Give your mom the gift of your time. Offer to do household chores or maintenance tasks, or share your skills and expertise. For a formal flourish, present her with handmade coupons for your “services”—like washing the windows, waxing the floor, or installing software on her computer.

6. Wash your mom’s car. In addition to a good soap and rinse, vacuum and wipe down the interior.

7. Put together a “gourmet basket” for your mom. Pick a theme, obtain items inexpensively from the grocery store, arrange them artfully in a basket or box, and top it off with a decorative ribbon. Some themes include a pancake breakfast (gourmet pancake mix, maple syrup, preserves, and coffee beans), high tea (a selection of gourmet teas, crackers, scones, and preserves) or a chocolate lover’s dream (various bars of chocolate, and chocolate-dipped items, like pretzels, espresso beans, and dried fruit).

8. Take your mom out for a Mother’s Day picnic. Prepare salads and sandwiches, and pick a lovely setting where you can enjoy the fresh air and spring flowers. It’s a wonderful way to spend quality time with your mom, free of restaurant crowds and other distractions.

9. Instead of a buying a bouquet, include a packet of seeds in her Mother’s Day card and help her plant them in her garden.

10. Take your mom out for a cultural experience: like the ballet, opera, outdoor concert, or art exhibition.

Above all, be creative! When I was living in England, I used to photograph the blooms I encountered on my countryside walks—I then gathered them together into a Mother’s Day email for my mom, explaining what they were and where I came across them. Creating this digital bouquet was a great way to share this unique experience with her and include her in my “travels.”

I hope you all enjoy this beautiful day, and I’d love to hear how you plan to spend it!

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

Minimalist Holiday: Give Hope

(Photo: Trostle)

As we gather with friends and family this holiday week, many of us will find that despite the hardships of this economy, we are truly blessed. If you’re reading this blog, it’s pretty likely you have a roof over your head, a warm place to sleep, and plenty of food on the table.

We must remember, however, that others may not be so lucky. Too many homeless are sleeping on streets tonight; too many children are going to bed hungry; and too many people are losing their struggle for survival due to a lack of basic medical care and supplies.

Minimalism isn’t just about decluttering our closets and living with less; it’s determining when we have enough, so we can do something good with the excess. It makes no sense to hoard every last possession (or every last dollar) for ourselves, when just a few of them could make a significant difference in someone else’s life.

Take a little time this week, and consider how you can incorporate charity into your minimalist lifestyle. Donate some of your stuff, or some of your money to a good cause. Whether you decide to help someone down the street, or halfway across the world, help someone.

The impact goes far beyond the items you give, or the check you write. Because when someone is down on their luck, out of resources, or with nowhere else to turn, your act of kindness gives them hope. Just knowing that someone out there cares can give them the strength to carry on, the feeling that they’re not alone, the hope that tomorrow will be a brighter day. It’s the greatest minimalist gift you can give.

Wishing all of you a serene and beautiful holiday!

Minimalist Holiday: Declutter-Gifts

(Photo: spjwebster)

For many aspiring minimalists, a certain temptation arises at this time of year. On the one hand, you have the urge to purge your household of unwanted things; and on the other, you may be expected to produce gifts for friends and family. It seems like the perfect opportunity to kill two birds with one stone; but can declutter-gifting really be pulled off with panache?

It’s tricky, but I think it can be done—as long as the declutter-gift meets one of the following standards:

It’s an heirloom. And by heirloom, I don’t mean the velvet Elvis that’s been sitting in your basement for the last twenty years. It must be something that a family member would actually want: like a special piece of jewelry, an ancestor’s (interesting) journal, or that antique Tiffany lamp.

It’s an extravagance. Your teenage nephew is not going to appreciate old sweaters or socks. But if you’ve been inspired to go TV-free, it’s a good bet your 52-inch flat screen will make his holiday. Similarly, a friend or relative may be overjoyed to receive the old iPod, laptop, or other electronic device you’ve recently replaced.

It’s a rarity. If it’s a desirable item you can’t find in a store—an out-of-print book, a work of art, a vintage Gibson guitar—it’s certainly appropriate for gift-giving. It doesn’t even have to be particularly valuable; a vintage purse, for example, may make the perfect present for a niece with a unique sense of style.

It matches their interests. If you have something to give that matches the interests of the recipient—whether it’s a set of Kung Fu DVDs, a collection of architecture books, or a stash of knitting supplies—it’s sure to be appreciated.

It fills a true need. If you have a young adult on your gift list who’s trying to furnish an apartment on the cheap, it’s a great opportunity to declutter-gift a hand-me-down couch, old set of cookware, or other household necessities.

That’s not to say that you can’t declutter-gift more generic items, like a scarf, candleholder, or picture frame. In fact, they can make fine presents for acquaintances or co-workers—as long as the item looks brand new, and is similar to what you would have bought them in a store.

The most important point to remember: declutter-gifting isn’t an excuse to dump your junk on someone else. Rather, think of it as an opportunity to pass on special (or valuable) items that you know the recipient would want, and you’d have difficulty parting with otherwise. Sometimes it makes all the difference knowing they’re going to a good home, and the presentation of such a “treasure” can make the occasion all the more memorable.

(Note: don’t try this for the minimalist or fellow declutterer on your gift list; it’s only appropriate for those who want, or expect, a physical gift!)

What do you think of declutter-gifting? Do you have any other tips for doing it with style?

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

Minimalist Holiday Decor

One thing I’ve never liked about the holiday season is the proliferation of store-bought décor. Plastic trees, mass-manufactured ornaments, and objects emblazoned with Santas, elves, and reindeer are not only a drain on our planet’s resources; they’re also extra things that must be stored, unused, for eleven months of the year.

I’m certainly not against decorating for the holidays; I simply think we can do it in a lighter, more elegant, and more environmentally-friendly way. Here’s some ideas:

Decorate with nature. Spread evergreen branches across your mantle, or spruce up your table with sprigs of holly. Gather pine cones into a bowl, or place a few poinsettias around your home. Natural items give us a true appreciation of the beauty, and bounty, of the season.

Decorate with food. A garland of popcorn or cranberries is a lovely way to adorn your tree or mantel, and a plate of festive Christmas cookies (not to mention the divine smell of them baking!) is enough to put anyone in a holiday spirit.

Decorate with photos. The holidays are all about family—so what better way to add warmth to your home than with a special display of family photos? Dig out those dusty prints from yesteryear’s celebrations, or make a slideshow of digital ones on your TV, computer monitor, or digital frame. Reminisce over your family history, or simply laugh at your hairstyles and fashions from decades past.

Decorate with color. An item doesn’t have to be holiday-themed to qualify for display. Any object in a seasonal color—like a red throw, green vase, silver candleholder, or gold-rimmed plate—can just as effectively set the mood.

Decorate with handmade items. The holidays are a perfect time to showcase the creativity of your household. For a particularly delightful effect, ask children in the family to create special artwork for you to display. Their Santa drawings and paper chains are infinitely more charming than department store baubles.

Decorate with recycled materials. If you’re crafty, the cards, ribbons, and wrapping paper of Christmases past can make simple seasonal touches around your home. (How about some gift wrap origami?)

Decorate with candles. Some strategically-placed tea light, votive, or pillar candles lend a warm, magical feel to a holiday gathering. (Of course, make sure to take all appropriate safety precautions!)

Decorate with music. The sounds of Bing Crosby crooning classic holiday tunes—or your twelve-year-old playing them on the piano—creates just as wonderful a seasonal ambience as any visual display.

And for the die-hard minimalists: admire other people’s décor. Go on a holiday house tour, visit a botanical garden, or explore your hometown (or a neighboring one) for festive seasonal displays. It’s a great way to get your holiday fix with no stuff, no fuss, and no clean-up!

Do you keep it simple when it comes to holiday decor? I’d love to hear your strategies for a festive (yet clutter-free) look!

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

Minimalist Holiday: The Gift of Time

(Photo: Horia Varlan)

There’s one gift that’s more valuable than anything bought in a shop; more appreciated by its recipient than anything wrapped in pretty paper; and sure to be remembered for years to come. The best part: giving it won’t require a trip to the store, harm the environment, violate workers’ rights, contribute to the commercialization of our holidays, or clutter the recipient’s home.

What is this fabulous gift? Your time.

This holiday, offer your presence—instead of presents—to friends and family. You can even make it formal by giving the recipient a handmade certificate for specific services, such as the following:

* Provide a free night of babysitting for a friend’s kids

* Help an elderly relative with household chores or repairs

* Spend an afternoon (chatting, having coffee, or walking through the park) with someone special

* Teach someone something you know—like how to cook, do yoga, or speak a foreign language

* Offer your expertise with a task, be it fixing someone’s computer, doing their taxes, or hemming a garment

* Take a niece or nephew on a cultural excursion, such as a trip to a local museum

* Help someone declutter their closet, basement, attic, or garage

* Cook someone a delicious meal, like breakfast-in-bed, an elegant brunch, or a special dinner

* Help with a home improvement project, like painting, tiling, or planting a garden

* Offer to run errands for someone who has trouble getting around

* Take a day off from work, to spend exclusively with your spouse or child (let them pick the day’s activities)

* Offer your creativity—help someone design a web page, redecorate their living room, or put together a scrapbook or slideshow of their favorite photos

If your cup of generosity runneth over, go a step beyond and offer your time to someone you don’t know—by participating in a volunteer project. The possibilities are endless: you can serve meals at a soup kitchen, walk dogs at an animal shelter, build houses for low-income families, mentor inner-city youth, etc. To find out how you can help, contact national nonprofits or community organizations. Alternatively, use an online service like VolunteerMatch.org: input your location and interests, and you’ll receive information on opportunities in your area.

Even if you don’t offer your time in a specific way, simply being there for your loved ones—instead of being at the mall, the market, or doing a million holiday prep tasks—can make the season infinitely more special. Rather than shopping, spend these December days at home with your family: bake cookies, make cocoa, sing carols, and enjoy some classic holiday books or movies together.

Sure, it’s easy to run to the mall and buy presents for those on your gift list; but all too often, they’re stashed away, quickly forgotten, or surreptitiously returned, donated, or re-gifted. The gift of your time, on the other hand, is priceless—and much more likely to have a positive impact on the recipient’s life.

I’d love to hear your ideas on giving your time this holiday season!

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

One Less Gift – A Holiday Gift Exemption Certificate

Tired of holiday consumerism?

Give a “One Less Gift” Certificate to someone special.

Instead of exchanging presents, you’ll both have one less gift to worry about, saving time, money, and the planet’s resources.

Click here for the full-size certificate in PDF format: print it off, or email it to friends and family!

One Less Gift - Holiday Gift Exemption CertificateConsider these less-material ways to celebrate the holiday with your loved ones:

1. Spend time together. Schedule a lunch, walk, or coffee together. Plan it around a holiday activity—like strolling through town to admire the shop windows and Christmas lights—for a particularly festive atmosphere.

2. Make charitable donations. The money we spend buying each other gadgets, knickknacks, and tchotchkes can do a world of good for those less fortunate. The key is to make it fun: spend an afternoon with loved ones choosing favorite charities together. Selecting a sheep, goat, or water buffalo to donate through Heifer International, for example, can be a lot more fun (and certainly more fulfilling) than fighting crowds at the mall.

3. Exchange good deeds. Exchange services, like babysitting, snow shoveling, a car wash, or computer assistance instead of store-bought gifts. Give each other “coupons” for specific tasks, which can be redeemed when needed. Such help can be far more valuable, and appreciated, than another scarf or kitchen gadget.

4. Protect the environment. Every gift we give up is a gift to our planet: our air will be a little cleaner, our water a little clearer, and our landfills a little emptier. Alternatively, adopt a tree, coral reef, acre of rainforest, or natural habitat in the recipient’s name — see The Nature Conservancy’s gift guide for ideas.

5. Volunteer. Give the gift of your time, and help out those in need; volunteering with friends and family creates meaningful memories that’ll last a lifetime. To find opportunities, contact national nonprofits, community organizations, or an online service like VolunteerMatch.org. It’s a wonderful way to spread the love and spirit of the holiday season!

6. Enjoy nature. Gather holly for your table, pinecones for your mantelpiece, or simply go for a long, quiet walk in the snow. String up some popcorn and cranberries, and decorate a Christmas tree in its native environment.

7. Have a holiday potluck. Share a fun, no-stress feast together! Ask attendees to bring their favorite seasonal dishes-such as childhood treats, secret family recipes, or traditional holiday foods from their cultural backgrounds. Serve buffet style, so guests can mingle while they sample the offerings.

8. Admire holiday decor. Make it a tradition to walk around your hometown, or drive to a neighboring one, to admire the seasonal decorations. Seek out particularly festive streets and decked-out homes for your outing; ask around your community, or check local papers, for prime locations.

9. Join in community celebrations. Attend the tree lighting in your town’s main square at the start of the season. Then take your pick of the parades, parties, pageants and holiday concerts that follow.

10. Celebrate simple pleasures. Instead of going to the mall, gather your family around the hearth: cozy up in blankets, make hot cocoa and enjoy the flicker of a fire. Revive some old-fashioned traditions: like singing carols, roasting chestnuts, and reading classic holiday tales to the little ones.

Minimalist Holiday: White Friday

(Photo: Muffet)

As you might guess, I’m not a fan of Black Friday. I don’t like crowds, shopping, excess consumerism, or stores that make their employees work late night, early morning, or—worst of all—Thanksgiving hours in service to corporate profits.

That lovely little Friday, so wonderfully placed between a holiday and weekend, deserves better. And so, in the spirit of minsumerism and consumer disobedience, I propose we turn Black Friday on its head and embrace the opposite of everything it represents: please join me in celebrating White Friday instead.

Rather than a day of consumer frenzy, White Friday will be a day of clarity, peace, and reflection. (Think of the calm, contemplative effect of a white-walled room, versus one stacked top-to-bottom with shelves of mass-produced goods.) We’ll buy nothing, and continue our Thanksgiving gratitude for the abundance already in our lives.

Here’s some other ways to turn a Black day of consumerism into a White day of serenity:

Clear the clutter. Instead of bringing more stuff into your home, clear stuff out. Take the day to tackle a decluttering project, like your closet, basement, or attic. It feels a lot better to send a carload to charity, than stash away a carload of shopping.

Clear the dirt. Do a deep house-cleaning in preparation for the holidays. Get into those dusty corners you ignore during the year, and scrub them spotless. Such a top-to-bottom cleansing is an important purification rite in many cultures, and is good for the spirit as well as the home.

Clear your schedule. Instead of getting up at the crack of dawn to jostle crowds for bargains, sleep in, slow down, and spend the day with loved ones. Alternatively, free up your day to volunteer for a good cause.

Clear your debts. Rather than increase your credit card balance, take steps to pay it off. Review your finances, and plan how you can start the new year on more fiscally-sound footing. Propose a no-gift holiday to your friends and family, and emphasize spending time together over spending money.

Clear your mind. Instead of stressing about the upcoming holiday season, take a long bath or leisurely walk to clear your mind. Turn off the TV, skip the newspaper, don’t go online—anything to avoid being bombarded with advertisements and marketing.

Clear your soul. Reconnect with your spiritual side: meditate, attend a religious service, enjoy the gifts of nature. Spend the day not in pursuit of discounts, but in pursuit of truth, beauty, and meaning.

This Friday, let’s forget about keeping corporations in the black. Rather than go down the dark road of debt, delusion, and environmental destruction that goes hand-in-hand with consumerism, let’s do the opposite. Let’s make it a day to live lightly, act serenely, and make the world a little brighter for ourselves and others.

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

Happy Holidays!

This year, I’ve decided to give myself a very special Christmas gift. Don’t worry: it wasn’t bought at the mall, and it won’t clutter my closet – in fact, it doesn’t take up any space at all.

I’m giving myself a digital sabbatical.

From now until January 10, I’ll be completely unplugged from the internet: no blogging, no Twitter, no email. I also won’t be logging in to moderate comments. If you’ve commented in the past, your new comments should be published automatically. Otherwise, your comments will stay in the queue and be published as soon as I’m back (I apologize for the delay, but it’s necessary to keep things spam-free!).

I’ll miss you all dearly, but I’m looking forward to some time offline – to reflect on the past year, rejuvenate for the next, and look at the world around me instead of a computer screen.

But before I sign off, I just wanted to thank you for a wonderful year. I never imagined my little minimalist blog, which started 2010 with 500 subscribers, would start 2011 with nearly 5000 (and 50,000+ monthly readers). I’m thrilled beyond words that so many of you are interested in living with less!

Thank you for inspiring me, encouraging me, reading my posts, writing fabulous comments, and helping my book land on Amazon’s Home & Garden Top 10 list.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I couldn’t have done it without you, and I’m incredibly grateful for your support.

I wish you all a very happy holiday, and look forward to continuing our minimalist journey in 2011!

Minimalist Holiday: Gifting Kindle Books

kindlegiftGood news for minimalists this holiday season: you can now gift Kindle books on Amazon.com. Woo-hoo!

As most of you know, I’m a huge fan of ebooks. They save trees, they save energy, and they save space in our homes.

You can imagine, then, how excited I was to learn about this feature. I come from a family of readers, and we’ve always enjoyed giving each other books. However, most of us have given up physical books in favor of digital ones, so our book gifting days had drawn to a close…until now. :-)

Here’s how it works:

1. Click the “Give as a Gift” button (pictured above) on the book’s Kindle page.

2. Enter the email address of the recipient. (You can also include a gift message, if you’d like.)

3. Click the “Place your order” button to pay.

The recipient will receive a gift notification at the email address you provide, and instructions on how to accept the book.

The best part: no Kindle device is needed to give or receive books. If you send a book to someone without a Kindle, they’ll simply be prompted to download one of the free Kindle reading apps.

Another nice feature: if the person already owns (or doesn’t want) the book you gifted, they can exchange it for a gift credit to purchase something else. I love the fact that this happens with the click of a button – no worries about packaging up a physical book, shipping it back, and hoping you’ll actually receive a credit.

Sure, a no-gift holiday may be the minimalist ideal; but if that doesn’t fly with your loved ones, this is a great alternative to physical presents. People can even gift you Kindle books directly from your Amazon Wish List – so be sure to add The Joy of Less, Kindle Edition if you haven’t done so already. ;-)

So there you have it: one more way to make it through the holidays, unscathed by extra stuff. Technology is making it easier to be a minimalist every day!