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Minimalism and Gift Giving

When I decided to pursue my minimalism project this year, one of first questions I had was about giving and receiving gifts from others. As a general rule, I like to give people practical gifts – things they’ll use and enjoy. I don’t believe in dust collectors, so much so that I haven’t been able to figure out what kind of shwag to get for my law firm because I don’t believe in giving people useless crap. In terms of giving gifts, I often give people consumables like gift cards to places they like to go out to eat.

Project 365 #49: 180211 Never Too Late by comedy_nose from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Project 365 #49: 180211 Never Too Late by comedy_nose from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

When it comes to receiving gifts, I’m a big believer in writing a list. I’ve been writing a birthday list that turns into my Christmas list every year since I was probably 10. I will tell you exactly what I want – including the size, color, and a link to where you can buy it. I have a t-shirt registry at Brand X Custom T-shirts where I’ve pre-designed the shirts I want and all a person has to do is call them to execute the order. And I ask for mostly practical stuff – I’m that person who will ask Santa for underwear and postage stamps. I also like to ask for experiential gifts. I’ve regularly asked to go on adventures since I was 15 – like flying an airplane and taking a hot air balloon ride – instead of getting tangible gifts. This year I’m asking for trapeze lessons and a gift certificate for my masseur.

(Yes, for sake of full-disclosure I ask for stuff I just want. I’m pretty sure I don’t need a new Starfleet uniform, but I really want Uhura’s dress from the new Star Trek movies.)

The challenge I run into is with people who don’t shop from the list. If I didn’t put something on the list, more often than not, I’m not going to like it. I’ll appreciate the gesture, of course, but historically I’d put it on the shelf in my closet for 6 months before giving it away to charity. Something in my brain says I should hold onto it for a period of time even though I don’t want it, I’m not going to use it, and it’s only going to take space. For this holiday season I’m giving myself permission to immediately give away any gift that does not enhance my life. It can enhance someone else’s instead of collecting dust.

A friend made a good suggestion that if someone doesn’t know what I want but they want to give something, they can always give a gift to charity. I  guarantee you will make me smile by taking whatever money you were thinking about spending on me and giving it to the Arizona Basset Hound Rescue, Arizona Women in Tune, or the Phoenix Innovation Foundation.

One thing I’m not sure about is how to communicate the fact that I’m trying to be more of a minimalist to others. I think when people know that you’re not into stuff that they’ll be more likely to think about getting you’re a gift card to your favorite lunch place or coffee shop, movie or concert tickets, or asking what you would like. I’m not an ultra-100-possessions minimalist, but at the same time, I’ll tell you what’s on my list or give you suggestions if you ask me.


  1. Amy says:

    regarding shwag, reusable cups! Super useful. 🙂

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      Thanks for the suggestion! I only want to give out useful shwag.

  2. Brianna says:

    Hello Ruth~

    I just searched the web for “minimalism and gift giving” and was pleased to find a fellow Arizonian in my search results, and funny that this was posted so recently!

    It seems that experiential gifts are the way to go, though I was really hoping to find justification for my desire to just opt-out completely. 🙂 I hate the monetary obligation, even if it’s going toward something that wont pile up in someone’s house. I have approached my family numerous times about doing a “secret santa” exchange instead of everyone exchanging but nobody else wants to. For a few years the adults all agreed to only give gifts to the kids but they never kept their word so we were the only ones not giving. It’s such a tricky arena. I don’t want to be a scrooge, I love all the festivities, I just don’t want the consumption (and money spending panic) along with it.

    The Brand X tshirt site is awesome, thanks for sharing!

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      Hey Brianna! I have a friend whose family has a gifts-only-for-kids rule. Maybe if you start following it, the others will follow suit. If you feel obligated to give something, you can always give a gift to charity in their name – you’d only have to spend money once and it would be for a good cause. For my sister’s wedding, the bride and groom said they didn’t want gifts (and would donate anything they got to charity) and gave us a list of charities to donate to if people felt the urge to spend money.