A Very Minimalist Christmas, Part I: A Homework Assignment

I have a homework assignment for you. It’s minimalist Christmas homework, so it’s fun; I promise.

But first, an explanation: I have a love/hate relationship with Christmas. I could huff the scent of pine trees until I passed out, and I have been known to drink way, way more than the Recommended Daily Allowance of egg nog. (Always freshly grated nutmeg on top. Always.)

But for minimalists, Christmas also makes us feel somewhat like we’ve woken up from a rough night in a gift wrap-and-tinsel-filled dumpster, covered with flecked trees, broken ornaments and credit card bills.

As The Finn and I settle into our new ‘tiny home’ (a 670-square-foot high-rise convertible studio), we’re weighing what to bring into our lives this Christmas. After my house fire and two international moves, we’ve pared down enough to have the rare experience of practically starting over in mid-adulthood. As I slowly figure out what minimalism means to me (is it living with less stuff? being mindful of what I do choose to own?), I do know I don’t want to participate in an over-commercialized tinsel-fest that generates about five million extra tons of garbage every season. What I do want from Christmas, and what I suspect you want from the holidays, is … Well, we’re going to get to that next week.

My most popular blog post on my blog Like a House ever, by far, has been 60 Minimalist Gift Ideas. I have a theory: today, ‘stuff’ is like the overly cheap and plentiful sugars and fats were within the past two generations. We’re not used to being able to acquire so much of it so quickly and easily, and as a society, we haven’t yet evolved to recognize that hoarding any of the above can be as detrimental to our health as not having enough. In some cases, above a socioeconomic line in the sand, it can be much more detrimental to have too much of a necessary thing.

Like with eating too much fat or sugar, we now need to create a new, more mindful relationship to stuff. Look around your house. It might not be exactly what you want, but you could replace most basic items from stores like Ikea or Target, or even for free or outlandishly cheap from Craigslist or a charity shop. Throw a notice on Facebook you just moved, and you’ll undoubtedly get offers of pots and pans or extra glasses from friends. After my house fire and two international moves, The Finn and I just started over in the US with almost nothing. We just outfitted our entire tiny house for around $2500, from kitchenware to couches and a bed.

I’m going to post a similar list next week about ways to celebrate Christmas on a minimalist scale, but in the meantime, your assignment.

Write down no less than 20 and up to 50 things you associate with Christmas or the holiday season. Good, bad, joyful, annoying, whatever; just write it all down. After you’ve written down your list, rate each item. Then, (this is the fun part, I swear): Write down a few archetypal words that symbolizes each item on your list. Your words will probably change as you get started on your list, so don’t worry about writing down more than one archetypal word on your first round. For example:


Thing or Activity Rated Archetypal Word Archetypal Word 2 Archetypal Word 3
Baking 9 Homemade Sharing
Parties 8 Socializing Dressing up
Tree ornaments 6 Traditions Homemade Nostalgia
Gift giving 5 Sharing Traditions
Christmas music -7 Santa Baby Santa Baby Santa Baby


Could you listen to Christmas music 24/7? Give it a 9 or 10. Do you love the traditional Christmas meal and cookies? Ditto. But maybe socializing gets overwhelming. Give that a 5 or 6.

At the end of your list of 20-50 Christmas-y items, circle the 7s, 8s, 9s and 10s. Are there any archetypal words that keep coming up in the high numbers? How about the middle or lower numbers? Any recurring words there? Give the list to your partner and kids. What are their archetypal words? Are you surprised by each other’s?

Next Tuesday, I’ll talk about how to use your lists to plan your very own minimalist Christmas. It’s not about austerity or suffering or vegan, gluten-free stuffing, either. For me, a minimalist Christmas is knowing which 20% of your holiday activities give you 80% of your joy, and focusing your energies on those.

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