Let’s play a quick bit of holiday trivia.
Q: What is the one question nobody wants to ask me this time of year?
a) “So, how many exams do you have left before you’re done school for the winter?”
b) “How’s that seasonal depression going?”
c) “Want to listen to nothing but Christmas mixes for a solid 8 hours?”
The answer is none of the above! No, while all of these can be stressful questions for me, none of them are stressful for the inquirer. But there is a question that causes yank-your-hair-out frustration among all my closest friends and family, without fail, every year. It’s an age-old question; it’s existed since long before I was born, and will likely persist long after I die.
People have started asking me what I want for Christmas.
Which is always a bit of a landmine.
Here’s the thing about me–I’ve been picky about presents since I was an ankle-biter. There are countless stories of gifts I received that were either a) immediately and ruthlessly regifted, sometimes in front of the very person who gave me the gift, or b) left to gather dust in my parents’ house to this very day. I make no pretense about wanting or needing something I don’t want/need, and when it comes to physical objects I often say flat-out “don’t bother, I won’t use it”. It drives Anna up the wall–being a Taurus, one of her greatest joys lies in being able to plan the perfect present for her loved ones, and the fact that I undermine her efforts with a brutally simple “yeah no” almost every time she tries to buy me something results in a lot of grumbling and whining.
But this is how it is. I make it nearly impossible to buy me material things. And to understand why, you need a bit of context: I’m a person who owns no makeup, a single suitcase’s worth of clothing, a single shelf of books (shocking, from a bookworm like me). I’m a person who thinks tchotchkes are silly and superfluous and who owns about three pieces of jewelry in total. I’m a person who doesn’t have a car–who doesn’t even have a phone.
This all serves to illustrate one point: I’m a minimalist.
And buying gifts for minimalists can get sort of counterproductive.
What Is Minimalism?
To explain this lifestyle I’m going to turn to the expert on the matter, my friend Jessica Dang of Minimal Student fame:
Minimalism is all about having enough. It’s about having only what you need, no more, and especially no less.
‘What you need’ can refer especially to your possessions, but can also include your commitments, relationships, work and lifestyle.
All our lives we’re told that we want to have more money so that we can achieve ‘our dreams’ of owning a big house with a pool in the back, a fancy sports car and expensive shoes so we can gain the label of ‘success’. We’re told to know the latest gossip, watch the latest shows, know what everyone is doing on facebook, and jump from relationship to relationship otherwise we’re labelled ‘loners’. We’re told that we should always be ‘busy’, because if we’re not busy we’re being lazy. We’re told all of these criteria and more about how we ‘should’ live our lives and what we should have so that we can be ‘happy’.
But that’s not the whole story. In real life, there are people that have and do all of these things, and yet they’re no happier than the people who don’t. And there are people who have none of these things and are very happy with their lives. Clearly this means that it can’t be the above things that make people happy. […]
Essentially, minimalism is about breaking out of the mould of always wanting more. It’s about finding happiness in what we have already, instead of chasing something that is always out of reach.
Minimalism is a growing movement amid our otherwise breakneck, materially-obsessed society, and there are plenty of people who practice varying levels of minimalism in their lives. You might know a minimalist yourself–and if you do, you might be asking, like all of my friends and fam’ are asking me now:
What do you buy a minimalist for Christmas?
Don’t Accumulate Things, Accumulate Experiences
Here’s another, much funnier way to explain the problem with consumerist culture: a hilarious skit by the late great George Carlin exemplifying the state of modern consumerist society.
It’s a great bit of comedy, but a very serious point is made: all too often in our lives, it gets to a point where instead of owning your things, your things start owning you. The point of minimalism as a lifestyle is to get away from owning and to get back to living–to having quality experiences with interesting people, and to deriving your own personal development from those myriad experiences. The point of minimalism is to reduce, refine, and simplify your life to a point where you can do everything you want with the resources you have. (Ever wonder how a largely-broke student like me can afford half a dozen trips to Boston a year? Priorities.)
Why have an expensive phone plan when you can get by with Skype and Gmail and use the resulting money to fund a trip to Peru?
Why (bear with me, bookworms,) spend hundreds of dollars on books when you can make do with a library card and invest the cash in going to a writer’s conference?
Why buy a $300 coat when you could sign up for aerial silks classes at the TSCA?
I was not born on this planet to own stuff, I was born to live life. So was everyone else. Let’s have our gift-giving reflect that mindset, hey?
Reducing Consumerism This Holiday Season: A List of Suggestions
In case your brain needs a jumpstart before it can start coming up with creative gift ideas. I’ve got three different categories based on (very vague) price ranges, but they’re all speculative–after all, you can get unbelievable deals on just about anything if you’re good at snooping them out! (Also note that some of the higher-end gifts can be accomplished through group presents–like the plane ticket. Guess who crowdfunded her trip to visit Anna this December? THIS GIRL. I’m also planning on asking a few friends and most of my family members to put together the money for the aforementioned aerial silks classes, which I’m going to take with a friend in 2016!)
- Broke Student Edition:
- yoga class gift certificate (most yoga classes go for around $15);
- freestyle painting at Paintlounge Toronto (20$ for a 12×12″ canvas);
- drop-in pottery/ceramics class at the Gardiner Museum (15$ for adults plus 5$ firing fee for your piece);
- lunch/dinner out (bonus points if you pick someplace that’s hosting a coffeehouse–near-free entertainment!);
- drop-in pole dancing lesson (it was about $20 when I went while I was in America);
- tickets to any museum;
- bonus tip: offer to teach them something you’re good at (cooking, sewing, hula dancing, piano) or to provide them with something you’re skilled in (hand massage, henna tattoo, poetry/songwriting) this costs you nothing but your own time, and doubles as a valuable bonding experience for the both of you!
- Working-a-Real-Job Edition:
- concert tickets (mileage varies depending on what you’re seeing and where);
- an expedition to one of the GTA’s Escape Rooms;
- dinner in the dark at ONoir;
- murder mystery mayhem at Mysteriously Yours;
- Ripley’s Aquarium tickets (about 30$ for express/anytime adult tickets);
- drop-in parkour lesson at The Monkey Vault
- Rich Grandparents Edition:
- salsa classes;
- violin lessons;
- circus arts classes;
- a plane ticket (or a bus ticket for that matter!);
- martial arts classes;
- tickets to this unspeakably good musical about Alexander Hamilton
- really, the list goes on with this one.
I’ll be adding more to the list as the season goes on and I come up with more cool things to go and experience in life. If you have any suggestions, please let me know and I’ll add them as well!
So for the last time, friends and fam’: DON’T BUY ME THINGS. Buy me experiences instead.
Have a happy, simple, fulfilling holiday!