Minimal

It’s finally time for us to embrace the season and throw off the side-eye from our neighbors with strict rules about decorating before Thanksgiving! The Christmas season is officially here, whether it’s secular or religious for you and your family, because if you don’t celebrate the birth of Jesus, you can celebrate the birth of ME. My birthday is December twenty-fourth and I am here to tell you please do not procreate in March or else your child will share their birthday season with The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year.

Having a birthday close to Christmas is unnatural for several reasons. The first? No one can hang out on my birthday. I never saw friends on my real birthday until I went to college and my new best friend was Jewish and thus available on Christmas Eve. It was a revelation! She even came to my in-laws’ Christmas Eve bash to be with me because she is truly a wonderful person. When I choose my birthday cake, I get pushback because “not everyone likes cheesecake and the whole family will be there!” My gifts are sometimes an afterthought (“oh shit, it’s your birthday, too!”) and wrapped in leftover Christmas paper. I have a friend whose birthday is Boxing Day — which is definitely worse because everyone has a Christmas hangover — and a friend whose birthday is New Years Eve, when everyone is drunk, so December twenty-fourth is not necessarily the very worst case scenario. You could be born on the anniversary of another family member’s death, in which case it’s really rude to be celebratory at all. But still, it’s not ideal.

The second reason it’s bad planning to have your birthday crammed up against Christmas? Gifts. My love languages are mostly tied between everything except gifts. Every year I am asked to make list of gift ideas so my family knows what I want, and every year it’s a struggle. It’s not that I don’t like to buy things, or that I don’t need anything (I begged and pleaded for a carpet cleaner last year) but I don’t necessarily need two days worth of gifts all at the same time. We all naturally come up with items throughout the year that we need or want, seen in commercials or from emergencies that come up organically. Someone broke into a house in our neighborhood…maybe I want a Ring doorbell. Lady Gaga is selling makeup? I’m putting that on my wish list for sure. Kid threw a ball at my face and broke my glasses. I need a Warby Parker gift card! But to come up with a double list all at once? That’s pretty hard, unless the thing I need is a new refrigerator which would count as all my gifts from everyone I know, possibly including the following anniversary and Valentine’s Day.

My family asks for a wish list because I don’t like a lot of things. If I receive a gift I don’t need, I donate it. I used to keep things around that I’d gotten as gifts in case the giver stopped by and asked to see the box set of Scrubs DVDs they’d once sent me on my birthday, but I don’t do that anymore. The purpose of a gift is to bring joy to another person and to show you care. I feel that a person cares for me when they give me a gift, but if it doesn’t happen to bring me joy, I might post it on our neighborhood social media or drop it off at a second hand store so it can bring joy to someone else. I have packed up and moved so many times in my life that I just don’t see the need to keep things around that I don’t absolutely love, apart from things that I don’t like but are required, like W2s and dental floss. If I wouldn’t want to wrap it, pack it, move it, and unpack it, in the donation bin it goes.

Minimal surrounded in maximal

When it comes to minimalism, I’m somewhere between Marie Kondo and a hardcore minimalist who lives in an apartment with one cast iron skillet and a mattress on the floor. I do live with four other people who are absolutely not minimalists at all, so if you walk into my house you probably won’t notice anything different about my home. I’m not a perfect minimalist, but my brand of minimalism doesn’t mean living with as little as possible. My philosophy is to live with that you need, and also what you really want, but nothing else. I like to cook, so I have a lot of kitchen stuff. I do not like angel food cake, so last year I donated my pan because its too sweet and fussy (don’t write me letters, I’m sorry I just don’t like it). I do not like to wear slacks, so I got rid of all my office/church pants. There are certain clothing items I agree everyone needs, but mostly you should own what you like. “Every woman needs a tailored blazer” was in some magazine I read a hundred years ago, and I always made sure I had at least one blazer in my closet. It turns out I think blazers look bad on me and never wear them, so finally I gave them away. I am a stay at home mom, so if your work environment requires covered arms and you have a blazer burning ceremony tonight, you’ll be in a tight spot come tomorrow morning. Those blazers fall under the same category as W2s and dental floss. But if you’re not into something you “must” have, look for an acceptable alternative.

Have you ever wondered why it’s so relaxing to stay in a hotel? There’s no clutter. A hotel room has only what you need which makes it easier to relax. No visual disturbances like piles of laundry or shelves of knickknacks to poke at your brain when you need to power down and recharge. Minimalism is looking in your suitcase at the end of your vacation and taking inventory of the items you didn’t use. When you realize you didn’t need 4 bathing suits for two days at the beach, you make a mental note not to bring the excess next time. Dragging excess around with you is literally cumbersome but also mentally so — when searching your suitcase for what you actually need, you have to sift through the items you didn’t need to pack. Minimalism isn’t a contest to see who can live with the least, it’s scaling down to honor the things you love. Your beloved black dress crammed into a bag with six different shoe options is not being honored. Extra stuff suffocates your essential stuff.

Now, I am married with three children, so my house is not a monochrome shell with one plate, one fork, and combo shampoo-conditioner bottle in the shower. And I do like things, just not all things, and recently not extra things. The reason I put myself between Marie Kondo and true minimalist, is because I don’t share the KonMari emotional connection to all my possessions. The KonMari Method recommends not storing your socks one inside the other because it’s unkind and disrespectful, where I’m satisfied with the suggestion that having one sock stretched over another long-term creates lopsided elastic. But, I’m also not able to throw away the belongings of the other people in my home, and there are things I keep around that I know others enjoy, like whimsical Christmas décor and a silicone pan that makes baked donuts. If I had my way, those items and so many more would be bringing other people joy right now rather than crowding the items in my home that bring me joy, but Marie Kondo has a whole chapter explaining that it’s not okay to throw away other people’s things, so I am stuck.

When it comes to the holidays, I find that I value hard earned money and it bothers me when people spend their own to buy me things that I don’t need. This also makes me a terrible gift giver, because I am a bit too cold when selecting something practical and end up sending some random Amazon find when I panic at the last minute. Unfortunately for my husband, his main love language is gifts. One of the first gifts I got him was a really nice tie. It was from a nice store so it would presumably last, and was minimally patterned to go with more shirts and suits. We still talk about what a bad gift that was, because I didn’t speak his language. He had started an internship where he wore ties, so it was something he needed, but not something he wanted. He didn’t feel spoiled by my “nice” gift, he probably felt like I’d given him the equivalent of a dental exam: necessary, but does not spark joy.

For me, Christmas is a time to ask for things I need but wouldn’t buy for myself because they are too pricey or a luxury-need, like a carpet cleaner. I don’t want to clean carpets, but it would be nice to have clean carpets and shampooing them is the luxury version of spot cleaning when you have kids and moderate OCD. I ask for gift cards so that when I decide I want something, I can buy it. Then, I often report back to the gift-giver that I have found something that brings me joy and used their gift card to purchase it, so they know I appreciate their gift. You can’t force joy, and quantity doesn’t provide it either. Taking stock of my wants gives me clarity so that when I decide I want something I put in research to make sure it is worth the physical and mental space it takes up in my home, because all the rest of that real estate is covered in LEGOs and video games I am apparently not allowed to donate without permission.

If you need to buy a gift for someone with minimal requests, I’d go with versatile gift card. Even if they use that gift card to buy diapers or pay a bill, that still frees up their own funds for a future want down the road. I’m a person who doesn’t easily accept or give gifts, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to be celebrated! Just because I can’t imagine keeping a perfume that someone else chose for me (such a personal decision!) doesn’t mean I want to ignore my birthday altogether. I want to feel loved and acknowledged, but without feeling burdened by stuff that doesn’t suit my life. In non-pandemic times, I like to visit with family and share meals with friends. I like perishable gifts, like nice flowers (but, true to form, I would rather have one unique and beautiful flower than 300 carnations or daisies), or a special dessert to share with my family. That makes your gift an experience rather than an item to store. And I absolutely don’t judge folks who do like stuff. I certainly remember being excited by a stack of gifts as a kid! My husband is a collector, and that brings him joy, so every person’s love language is valid and I now happily choose from his list of requests for Christmas so that he feels cared for and seen. And someday I will buy myself a wall to seal up all his collections so I don’t get hives when I walk past his office.

4 thoughts on “Minimal

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  1. 1.I once saw an exercise for high schoolers. They made a list of all the things they thought they needed. Then they went back through and had to decide whether they wanted or needed each item. Enlightening!
    2. You nailed it! 100% agree.

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  2. Kat, I met you long ago when you were very tiny and living in Geneva! I am a “collector” of memories thus I have alot of sentimental items I can’t bear to part with! A friend of mine sensing my anxiety, suggested I take a photo of the item and keep the photo and give away the item to someone who could use and care for it. I have remembered that for years now and I have purged alot of things and have a nice picture of it if I want to relive a memory! Wonderful article! Hi to your Mom & Dad for me!

    Like

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