Sorry, no presents! But Merry Christmas anyway!

Having an aspiring minimalist for a mother can’t be easy. My children (being under 40) are still in the process of increasing their possessions, but I, on the other hand (over 40) am trying to reverse this process. These two opposing world views are bound to collide at times.

I know my little brood will adjust to my new religion eventually, and one day maybe even embrace minimalism themselves. I am trying hard not to be too evangelical; I am hoping it will rub off on them automatically. They do seem to like the fact that the house is under control – for the first time in their lives, really. It is presentable! People can come and visit! They like the fact that they can find things because we know where they live.

My youngest, a little hoarder of note, flew into a sorting and cleaning and tidying frenzy just before bedtime last night, and would not go to bed before she had achieved what she had set out to achieve. And when she finally finished, with a slightly manic flourish, I knew that she’s starting to see the light. “Haaaahhh!” she sighed, twirling around on the newly discovered floor like Maria in The Sound of Music. “I can breathe again!”

When it comes to birthdays and Christmas, we face a serious challenge. I’ve often sidestepped the issue by giving the children practical gifts like pillows or underpants, when I know that these things need replacing anyway, and I’ve been getting away with it sometimes. But not always. Last year, I took it a step further: I gave them each the following: an “inbox” for papers, a few small baskets for storing odds and ends, a roll of ziplocs, a couple of cable ties, a few hooks to hang stuff from, three black bags and a few rubbish bin liners. Who on earth gives their child bin liners for Christmas?! OK, I also gave them each a gift voucher for having their rooms “made over”, which included replacing the smelly and stained carpets with laminated floor and painting the walls. We managed to do the girls’ rooms during the December holidays, but then I totally ran out of steam and my poor long-suffering eldest son never got his promised make-over. And to add insult to injury, his birthday is the day before Christmas, so he missed out double. I have vowed to make amends this year. Twice. (I have a plan, and it fits both world views: I am giving him something of mine.)

The previous year (you see, this minimalist thinking is not that new in my life), I wanted to give them each AN EXPERIENCE for Christmas – collecting memories in stead of things: For my son, a trip up Table Mountain; for my eldest daughter, a horse ride on Noordhoek beach and for the youngest, a visit to the Oceanarium. Sadly, AFTER handing over the home-made gift certificates, I realised how much these experiences would cost. The horse ride alone(for me and my daughter) would set me back almost a thousand bucks. The cable car ride wasn’t so bad, but being peak season, it was still a lot of money, and we never could seem to find a suitable day to go after the holidays. The trip to the Oceanarium was the only one that materialised. So I owe the other two. That’s three I owe to Eldest, and one to the Secondeldest. I console myself that I do give them plenty of other “gifts” throughout the year, such as cellphone contracts, internet access, running water, food…

If you have children, you will know that they get invited to birthday parties on a regular basis. If, like me, you have  a limited budget for other children’s birthday gifts, you need to think carefully. Inevitably, we end up buying some cheap Chinese toy which will either be broken or forgotten before the end of the party. With the recession and all, the birthday boy/girl might end up with 20 cheap and cheerful disposable, forgettable toys.


Which is why I give cash. We don’t buy cards either, because they cost as much as the gift, and end up at the bottom of a pile anyway. So, we decorate a plain envelope with some stickers (every little girl has hundreds of stickers), write our message on the front, put the money in and off we go. We save time and parking money by not trawling through the mall looking for something that IS cheap but doesn’t LOOK cheap. The birthday kid can now go and choose their own gift. It makes sense all round. And it is a greener option, and for the smaller children, we have the added bonus of avoiding that big melt-down because the birthday girl is getting a gift that my child has always wanted for herself.

It’s November December now, which means that time of the year is approaching yet again. Will I buy gifts for anyone this year? The answer is “Probably not.” I might consider giving everyone a chocolate. Along with their 12 hours of labour to “minimalise” their rooms. Again.

And if you were wondering what to get me for Christmas, please don’t. Really. Don’t. I have more than I need. Your gift to me can be to donate a box of things you don’t need anymore to the charity of your choice. If anyone does give me a gift, I may say, “Oh… wow… thank you! But… really, you shouldn’t have!”


Erica Neser (c) 2011



4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Rob Rubin
    Dec 20, 2011 @ 15:56:59

    Unfortunately we seem to be the opposite and have become devout maximists. There’s nothing better than the annual Christmas obstacle course of doom through the living room.


  2. ericanexpress
    Dec 20, 2011 @ 19:17:42

    Devout maximist! That’s a good one. We can still be friends, though, I’m pretty open minded 🙂


  3. mj monaghan
    Dec 20, 2011 @ 20:54:23

    Very interesting concept, Erica. Even if I wanted to minimalize (is that a word?), my wife would have a different idea. She is a gift-giver. Andmarriage is about compromise 🙂

    I do understand your thoughts, though.


  4. ericanexpress
    Dec 20, 2011 @ 21:39:57

    Very true MJ. I am just not a gift giver and not very good at receiving them either. Didn’t do too badly with the diamond ring that I was given yesterday, though! 😉


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