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A Minimalist’s Guide to Gracefully Receiving Gifts

It’s been nine months since I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and took my naturally minimalist tendencies up a notch. The book doesn’t advocate for minimalism necessarily, but it does say that the KonMari method is to surround yourself with only the things that bring you joy. For me, that meant shedding many truckloads of belongings and even my house in the quest for a more relaxed, simple life.

As I’m spending the holidays in a cozy temporary apartment with my husband and two children, I am hyper-aware of the amount of stuff we have and new gifts we’ll receive from Santa and our extended family. In my perfect world, my children would have all classic, wooden toys and wonderful Waldorf or Montessori-inspired playthings and while I’m tempted to want to control the amount and type of gifts we receive this year, I hesitate when I see others doing it.

I belong to several online groups focused on the KonMari method or simple parenting or minimalism, and I’ve noticed there seems to be an almost frantic quest to put together wish lists, especially for children, that include nothing that could clutter up a room. I’ve seen lists with detailed requirements for gifts that include things like no plastic toys or nothing with batteries or no characters. Some may ask for only educational toys, but others go as far as specifying brand names or asking for only specific items or even cash.

I’ve seen some excellent lists of non-toy gifts and experiences that make great gifts and each year as I shop for birthday gifts or Christmas gifts, I lean toward giving meaningful gifts that don’t add clutter or annoy anyone with blinking lights or loud music. I love giving magazine subscriptions, memberships to local attractions, tickets to theater performances and educational classes.

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So what’s on my family’s Christmas lists this year? Nothing. We are not a family who needs anything. We are financially stable and don’t need to wait for a holiday to buy things we need or even want. My children have more than plenty of everything they could ever need. They have a closet full of clothes to wear, bins full of toys, shelves filled with books, memberships to area attractions and so much more.

When I was little, Christmas gifts filled a need. My mom was a single mom raising three kids on her own in a city with no family and no support. With the help of government assistance, the food bank and charities, we were taken care of, especially during the holidays. I remember the joy of getting holiday boxes of food and what a treat it was. We would have things like orange juice and Stove Top and squeal with delight.

I remember going to community Christmas parties where we received gifts from the angel tree, usually a brand new outfit and a brand new toy. Twenty-five years later, I can still remember the Gund stuffed pig I received from a kind and generous family when I was six years old. That’s what Christmas is all about.

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In “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” Marie Kondo says that we should never keep gifts out of guilt because the giver’s joy happens the moment the gift is given. I know there are some who would argue this…I can imagine an overbearing mother in law who gives gifts to her grandchildren expecting to see the gifts when she visits or in pictures, but I’d argue that those situations have less to do with the gifts and more to do with challenging relationships that need work.

When I give a gift, the process of shopping and selecting a gift is the best part. After that, it brings me great joy seeing the recipient accept the gift or receiving a thank you card knowing that they enjoyed receiving it. While I know that not every gift I give is going to be a most cherished possession, I have to be confident in the fact that I carefully chose a gift and offered the gift as a tangible symbol of my love, affection or friendship.

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While many of the gifts my children have received over the years don’t fit my self-imposed standards for things that I would buy, some of them have become beloved toys and bring our whole family joy. Some gifts we have received have been donated gone on to bring other people joy. Either way, I can appreciate the thoughtfulness and generosity of the gift giver, regardless of what the actual gift is. If someone is willing to give a gift to my family, I am so thankful. I know what it is like to not have the ability to give or the opportunity to receive gifts, and I can never take a gift for granted.

Columnist Gordon Keith writes about “The Gift of Receiving Gracefully” and says accepting gifts graciously is as important as giving them. It’s the completion of the heart’s transaction. I couldn’t agree more.

While I fight every day to escape the culture of abundance and excess that creeps into every aspect of our lives, I have to remember what I’m fighting for. I’m fighting for connections and relationships with those closest to me and a life filled with purpose and giving. Maybe you’re struggling with me? Let’s help each other out when we’re on the receiving end and accept gifts gracefully with a smile and a simple thank you.

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  • This is SO good! I’ve had to read it a few times these past couple of weeks as I prepare for the onslaught of gifts. After spending hours going through the Konmari process and finally giving myself “permission” to let go of gifts from the past, I almost dread the thought of more stuff coming into our home. I love this perspective and the understanding that the gift is about the person and the act of giving and receiving –not necessarily “the thing” in and of itself. For me, it brings new meaning to gifts and helps me think about giving back to the giver –with a genuine smile and a grateful heart. Thank you for sharing.

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