holidays

What To Do If You're a Minimalist Who Loves the Holidays

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image // via

It's popular to poo-poo the holidays amongst many in the minimalist sphere.

There are the usual downer arguments about how the holidays are simply about buying stuff we don’t want with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like. 

There is the (totally valid) argument about how we are teaching our kids to equate love with stuff. There is connection between the holidays and the rampant consumerism that is destroying our planet.  

But who said that is how we have to celebrate? 

Here at New Minimalism, we have a happier take on the holidays. Now that Kyle and I are both many years into our minimalist lives, I have to say that the holidays feel less like something to rebel against and more like something to embrace. Our families and loved ones honor the simpler ways we like to celebrate, and -- in many scenarios –– have adopted a number of these rituals themselves. 

There are so many ways to celebrate the season and those you love that needn't involve credit card debt or mounds of unneeded plastic junk. There is music and sitting by the fire, there are meals to share, crafts to create, laughs to be had, and even the occasional lovely object to share.

Below are 5 of my favorite minimalist rituals for a light, joyful, and celebratory holiday season:  

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image // via

1) Light, light, everywhere.  

My favorite way to decorate for the holidays is just to use lights in fun or unexpected ways. We have a strand of globe lights that we hang over the mantle, fairie lights winding up the stems and leaves of our potted plants, and candles spread liberally throughout the house. With so much of our time at home spent with it dark outside, it makes this time feel cozy and special. Bonus? If you happen to be really busy around the holidays (like maybe you have a brand new baby at home) no one will notice that your “holiday decor” is still up as this fits for the whole dark winter season. 

Other elements that automatically make a space feel festive? Music (I’m a sucker for Holiday Jazz, The Nutcracker, and my pandora Bing Crosby/Frank Sinatra holiday radio station) and delicious smells (like simmering spices on the stove or naturally perfumed candles and incense like these).

2) Crafting.

I’m not crafty. Or I should say: I don’t craft regularly. I don't have a glue gun or spare pom-poms, let alone a craft drawer or cabinet. But every holiday I nonetheless love taking on some little craft project. This year, I decided to put together a tree decoration kit for my nieces and nephews (inspired by this post) as their holiday gift. In addition to sending these elements back home to Chicago, I bought extras and made lovely little strands of popcorn and cranberries for our tree. I also tried out making persimmon ornaments with moderate success (just baked them and ran a string through). Inspired by a group of girlfriends who I made ornaments and pinecone elves with back in the day, I realized that you don’t need to be crafty or have a ton of supplies to make something special. Certainly crafts take time and are a little frivolous, but that's a small part of what makes them so fun.  

An oldie but a goodie...

An oldie but a goodie...

3) Holiday cards.  

I. Love. Holiday. Cards. I remember racing home from my elementary school bus stop in December to open my family's mailbox and see if we received any new cards that day. Each envelope we joyfully tore open offered a snapshot into the lives of our friends near and far. There were cards from our neighbors, cards from relatives that we only got to see on occasion, and cards from families whom we kids had never met, but we nonetheless felt connected as we equated these faces with our parents stories and watched their kids grow. We’d revisit the cards well into the new year, finding names we liked and plotted to name our own children, marveling at the sweet, the cheesy, and the adventurous photos on each card. (Some of these families obtained celebrity status within our family, we could refer to them in shorthand throughout the year and know exactly what one another meant. There was my dad's co-worker whose three absurdly gorgeous, cherubic kids we dubbed "the edible children" and my mom's high school friend whose genetically gifted three sons we referred to as "the handsome guys.")

All of this is to say that I long looked forward to sending out cards of my own someday. Yes, it costs money and uses paper and is not the most minimalist of hobbies. But it is a priority, the priority, for me each holiday season. I’d be really sad if I didn’t send a card out and I honor that about myself. This year I decided to procure frames for all of our past cards to act as something of family time capsule (anyone out there happen to have my cards from 2011 or 2013?!) AND to use as decor during the holidays. It's a personal, contained collection that adds a fun bit of meaningful kitsch to our bookshelf, for just these few weeks. 

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image // via

4) Gift giving.

My favorite gift to give and receive? Books. Bookstores are my happy place; well-read, thoughtful bookstore clerks hold a place of uniquely high respect in my life. Since my family and my in-laws are all avid readers, I love getting expert advice from the clerks at my favorite local bookstores (shoutout to Books Inc. on Chestnut in San Francisco and Rediscovered Books in Boise). I get to share a few pieces of information--like my dad’s sense of humor, a classic novel he loves, and his adoration of Bruce Springsteen--and then get the perfect recommendation (Barbarian Days, in case you were wondering).

*Shameless plug: our book is available for pre-order if you've got a loved one who is interested in simplifying their lives. The book won't ship until 1/2/18, but we have a downloadable/printable certificate you can present at your gift exchange!*

Other great gifts to give and receive: things that people really need and are of high quality. For example a killer pair of SmartWool socks for a family member who recently moved to a four season climate or a hand-me-down maternity jacket for when nothing else will zip late in pregnancy. You know, just as hypothetical examples.

5) And non-gift giving.

My very favorite gift-giving tradition arose three years ago and actually didn't include the exchanging of stuff at all. My little sister and brother-in-law's wedding weekend in the fall of 2014 was so full of meaning, tradition, family, and love that it sparked an idea: why is it that we only celebrate one another, only toast to how deeply loved and appreciated our family members are at times like weddings? And so we each randomly selected the name of another family member and at a lovely holiday dinner a few weeks later, we offered up toasts and speeches in each others' honor. It was beautiful. It was sweet. It brought tears and intense snorting laughter. It accomplished all of the things we try to say with gifts: I see you, I’ve been paying attention to you, admiring you, noticing all of the ways you are special, because you are beloved by me, and even if I usually just tease you or ask you to help with family errands, I am so so so glad you are here. What could possibly be better than that? 

What are your favorite minimalist ways to celebrate the holidays?

Holiday Happiness Hack: Travel Like a Minimalist

Baby penguins, notoriously minimalist in their holiday packing.

Baby penguins, notoriously minimalist in their holiday packing.

Ahh, the holidays.  

As much as we look forward to snuggling up by the fire, meals with family, and the celebratory air that surrounds this time of year, there remains a perennial downside: travel.  Specifically plane travel on some of the busiest and most notoriously bad-weather days of the year.

For me, having not lived in the same time zone as my family since I was 18, planes, trains and automobiles are just as much a part of the holidays as reindeer cookies, holiday sweaters and The Hanukkah Song.  

After years of lost bags, aching shoulders and still not bringing the right number of socks, I got serious about packing lightly and have never looked back.  Below are seven incredible benefits to traveling lightly AND super useful tips to get you started packing light a minimalist today!

 

WHY it's so much better to travel lightly:

1. It's an inherently better travel experience.  Less to manage.  Lighter.  Faster.  Better.

2. Checking bags is expensive and a waste of time.  Standing at the baggage carousel for 30 minutes when you've finally landed in your destination is rotten.  Paying $50 for that privilege is insane. 

Bodhi's first plane flight! 

Bodhi's first plane flight! 

3. Make sure you and your stuff end up in the same place.  As anyone whose ever had a tight connection in O'Hare or LAX or Denver over the holidays can attest, the chances of your checked bag and your body ending up in the same location at the same time is highly unlikely.  Sure, it stinks to end up at your destination without your bag, even worse is to say, spend the night on the floor of LaGuardia without even a toothbrush or extra layer to keep you comfortable.

4. You have your hands free for kids (or pets).  Let's be honest, traveling as an individual is enough of a challenge over the holidays.  The added task of keeping small humans (or animals) packed, fed and generally content is made infinitely easier when you have both hands available.  This means crying kids can be soothed and butts can be wiped all without having to constantly drop and adjust the bags you'd otherwise be holding.

5. You can find everything.  No more doing the "oh shit which pocket/pouch/bag is my boarding pass in" dance.  Fewer items all contained in one organized space makes everything instantly accessible.

6. It's an instant upgrade.  Instead of paying $149 for a few more inches of legroom, you can immediately gain a foot of space by placing your small duffel or backpack in the overhead compartment, leaving your feet free to stretch out.  Or, since it is the holidays, you could even choose to be ultra-generous by easily fitting your bag under your feet, leaving space for the single parents traveling with kids or all the noobs who haven't yet figured out the joys of traveling light.

"The ease of traveling lightly is as much a psychic experience as it is a physical one."

7. You have the mental space to be present.  Holiday travel is hard: airports are full, the days are dark, expectations loom.  The ease of traveling lightly is as much a psychic experience as it is a physical one.  Time slows when you have less to manage or keep track.   

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Image // via

You're convinced?  Awesome, now let's dig into:

How to Pack Light for the Holidays

Let your container be your guide.  I've found that no matter the size of the bag I choose, I end up filling it.  So choose a small duffel or medium sized backpack and, as Tim Gunn would say, make it work.

Choose a palette of durable basics.  This is the key to any attempt at packing lightly.  Bringing a whole new outfit for everyday of a trip adds up when you're gone for longer than a night or two.  Instead, selecting a couple classic pieces with can be worn multiple times and layered with each other means you can get away with packing less.  

Be super strategic about specialty clothing.  On holiday trips it's common to have special events.  Whether that be a holiday cocktail party, family religious services or a New Year's Day brunch, these events can call for a more specific style of dress.  Pick out an outfit whose components can be worn separately and more casually or put together again for normal days.

Eliminate as many pairs of shoes as you can.  Shoes are space killers.  A pair of men's athletic shoes or women's boots can take up half a small carry-on.  Wear your bulkiest shoes on the plane and commit to bringing no more than one additional pair.  I tend to wear a comfortable pair of leather boots and use them for every single occasion.

Create a travel toiletry kit.  It surprises me just how many people opt to check their bags so that they can bring full-sized toiletries with them.  Purchasing a few refillable containers is inexpensive and quickly checking to see that their filled before each trip takes just a minute.  Invest the $5 and 10 minutes now to set up your travel systems and you'll save that time and money multiple times over on your very first non-checked bag.  

Plan on doing laundry while you're there instead of bringing multiples.  If you're staying with family or at an airbnb, chances are you'll have access to full laundry facilities -- use them!  Even if you're staying in a hotel you can easily wash socks, underwear, exercise clothes and base layers in a bathroom sink or shower.

Borrow from your hosts.  Now this might not work for everyone, but if you're lucky enough to have relatives who are your size and not afraid of cooties, this can be huge.  For me, I borrow my mom's running shoes if it turns out that I want to run in the Polar Vortex streets of Chicago or (much more likely) so I can take a class taught by one of my very talented siblings.  In the past I've borrowed a super heavy winter from my little sister (when I still lived in California and didn't own one) and pjs from my older sister.

How do you save space when you travel?  Please share below!