You Can Buy Happiness This Christmas


Somewhere around December 29th last year you said, I’m not doing this again. Do you remember?

It was after exchanging a lot of gift cards with relatives, a lot of last minute fluffy throw blankets with the gift receipt stapled to the tag because you knew they would be returned for store credit. Or maybe you said it in the week leading up to Christmas when you scoured the mall for a $40 gift for someone that has all that they need and very little that they want. Perhaps it was the first week of January when the spending hangover really kicked in as you looked at bank accounts and credit card statements or you stuffed your own collection of unneeded and unwanted gifts into a box destined for re-gifting or eventually donation.

“The Christmas we now celebrate grew up at a time when Americans were mostly poor … mostly working with their hands and backs.. if we now feel burdened and unsatisfied by the piles of gifts and overconsuming, it is not because Christmas has changed all that much, it’s because we have.”

– Bill McKibben Hundred Dollar Holiday: The Case For A More Joyful Christmas

Fifteen years ago my family decided we were done with traditional gift giving at Christmas. As my five siblings and I entered adulthood we spent a few years buying each other gifts for Christmas. It became stressful and not very enjoyable. So we decided to do something different. We’d been fortunate to receive help years earlier as a single parent low-income family so it felt natural to now return that help. We sponsored a family in need through a local organization and put the money we would have spent on each other towards that. New winter jackets and warm clothes for kids, some toys and  several things for the mom and lots and lots of groceries to fill the fridge and pantry. The first year we did this kind of giving we all remarked how much more enjoyable the holidays were. No frantic mall shopping the week before Christmas. No stress over if someone liked their gift. And, of course, giving to people in our community that needed help felt great.

Yes you can buy happiness: use your money to help those in need.

Almost every year since we have found an organization that connects us to a family in our community and we find out what they need, what they want and shop for them. A few years because of logistics and distance (many of us live or have lived in far flung places) some of us just donated money to a good cause but we have made it a tradition that we give to those in need at this time of year instead of traditional gift giving.

If you felt overwhelmed last year, if you felt that the focus on gifts and buying and shopping took away from your enjoyment of the holiday season, if the ritual of exchanging gifts has become a burden rather than a joy, I urge you to start a new tradition. You likely already have a group in mind, a circle of family or friends that would appreciate a break from gift giving and a chance to instead pool your resources to help those in your community. And if you have some folks that love to shop well, they will love shopping even more when they know it’s for someone that really needs new shoes, or a family that will sleep better at night knowing the cupboards are full. And if you have people that don’t enjoy shopping – I’m one of those – let me tell you, shopping for a family that truly needs things is quite enjoyable.

Some ideas for how to broach this change in gift giving:

  • be open to no the first time you bring it up. Sometimes you need to plant the seed a year ahead of time.
  • be ready to assume the organizer role. Someone will need to quarterback the project with who will buy what, who will deliver gifts to the organization, etc.
  • start small. Perhaps for year one you move to a Secret Santa style gift exchange with one person you buy a gift for and one person you make a donation in their name.
  • if your gift exchange is your chance to meet up make sure the meet up part still happens.

If you have the means to buy frivolous gifts or gifts for people that already have everything they need and most of the stuff they want, maybe it’s time to do something different. Maybe it’s time to celebrate your friendship, your good fortunes of health and happiness, by giving together.

Anyone have a unique way that you have changed your gift giving traditions to be less focused on stuff? I would love to volunteer together as a family someday once we’re out of the baby/young toddler stage.

9 Easy & Earth Friendly Ornaments You Don’t Need To Store


I’m sharing some updated holiday themed posts from the archives over December. Hope you are gearing up for a relaxing time with your loved ones. We’re having our first big family Christmas in five years – I can’t wait!

Is there such a thing as minimalist Christmas tree ornaments? Probably not.

But there are decorations that are edible or compostable and don’t require huge craft or sewing skills to put together. Or a glue gun.

Please note: I am not making all of these decorations. This is not turning into a craft blog.

At most I’ll string popcorn and cranberries one evening while we watch Elf and make/bake cinnamon hearts or gingerbread stars with the kids. If I get a surge of energy I might take a stab at dried oranges because I love the smell of orange. This is all IF we get a tree this year.

We’re ten days away from Christmas and I’m still not sure we will have a traditional Christmas tree. Our building doesn’t allow ‘live’ Christmas trees and our storage closet fits our luggage and a few other items. Owning a reusable Christmas tree would be a huge space investment for us. I’m mulling over painting a tree onto our solarium door with acrylic paint. Is that minimalist enough? Ha!

9 Compostable or Edible Christmas Tree Decorations

Head over for a tutorial on the linked websites if you’re interested in making any of them. You’ll want to use 100% cotton thread or twine to make the item compostable. Otherwise remove ribbons and such before you send the item back to mother earth.

1. Cranberry Garland

2. Gingerbread Stars

3. Popcorn String

4. Cinnamon Apple Sauce Hearts

5. Christmas Spice Bundle

6. Dried Orange

7. Orange Pommander

8. Pine Cones

These would be compostable if you attached the ribbon by looping it under the leaves for easy removal and didn’t add sparkles.

9. Paper ornaments and Chains

Beyond my skill or motivation, but you could remove staples and brads and compost the paper from these lovely ornaments.

Photo Credit: JimmieHomeSchoolMom

Any other ideas for simple earth friendly and easy to make Christmas ornaments?

Go Zen – Instead of Frantic – for the Holidays


Confession: I’ve been thinking about and looking forward to the winter holidays since before Halloween. Our oldest has an October birthday and it feels like the kick off to a fun few months. Fun but sometimes a bit too busy. Enjoyable but sometimes stressful. Exciting but sometimes with a hint of panic.

We’re having another low-key island Christmas so I won’t have to deal with travel this year or dividing our time between family gatherings. But even quiet island life gets busy. Horse tram rides with Santa, Christmas Pantomimes, Preschool play, work holiday parties – I don’t think we have an event free  weekend until 2014.

Decide now to do less this holiday season. This is no easy feat with all those invitations, the delicious and adorable holiday items up on Pinterest and if you have kids, the already palpable excitement over the coming fun and gifts.

1. Outsource. This could mean anything from buying Christmas cookies at a bakery instead of home baking (no shame!) to letting the kids decorate the tree. You don’t have to do it all and it’s fine to get help. If you have the means hire a cleaner to blitz your home right before the festivities.

Another option is to swap services with friends. Barter and trade anything from homemade Yule log cakes to babysitting to outdoor light installation. The job you find tedious or don’t have the time for may be something your neighbor or friend deeply enjoys and vice versa.

2. Decide to do less. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and cut something from your list. Block off a weekend day between now and Christmas for doing absolutely nothing. Don’t accept invitations, don’t plan on shopping or decorating the house, just plan on having a quiet day that unfolds as you like at that moment.

3. Set a shopping cut off. I am determined to have everything done by December 1st this year. I don’t exchange gifts with a lot of people and as you might guess from the title of this blog, I don’t buy a lot of gifts. We’re focused on quality over quantity so there will be no Dollar Store runs for stocking suffers or returning an unexpected gift with more than a heartfelt thank you. Decide now when the gift buying stops so you can start enjoying the holiday season earlier.

4. Stick with your routines (or get back into them!). We’ve had a strange couple of months here with travel and some exciting but time consuming work and life events. My Crossfit attendance has been sporadic and I’ve had less than optimal sleep. We’re trying to get back to our ‘normal’ sleep and activity schedule in the lead up to the holiday break.

If your family struggles with routine during busy seasons try to keep yourself on track in the next few weeks. Late nights, excitement and too much sugar are just around the corner and they will be more enjoyable for everyone if you stick to your regular routine now.

5. Try something new. Along with doing less and sticking to routines, try something new. Try something that isn’t about buying or making but about a calming thoughtful ritual. I read about a family that lit a candle over breakfast during the holiday season and how it was a special and calming ritual for the family. We actually did that with our jack ‘o’ lantern during Halloween and I found it to be a nice ritual that our oldest son and I really enjoyed.

So light a candle, take ten minutes to meditate before bed time, commit to a long bath on Sunday evenings or find a small new way to give yourself a moment of calm during the season.

How do you keep the stress low and enjoyment high during the holiday season? Do you say no or put limits on things or do you just go with the exciting tide of events?

P.S. For anyone looking for guidance over the holiday season Marianne Elliot, yogi and author, is once again offering her Zen Peacekeeper Guide to the Holidays. What does this online course look like?

From Marianne: You’ll get a peace-offering (in the form of an email) from me every day from 26 November to 24 December. I’ll tell you the truth about the practices that support me to find peace in the midst of chaos (including what happens when I neglect them and how you can learn from my mistakes). You’ll get videos, audios and written ‘recipes’ for these simple practices (for writing, eating, yoga, walking, sleeping and meditating) to help you keep the peace in all the places peace needs to be kept over the holiday season.

This course closes on November 25th so if you are looking for more peace for yourself and those around you this holiday season head over and sign up. I’ve heard great things about this course!

Hello 2013


despite the poor quality this is my favourite photo from 2012

Reflecting on 2012 and gearing up for 2013 here. And trying to get a lot of long walks in as my due date approaches.

We grew in some areas and continued to cut back in others in 2012. Balance, right?

We moved into a bigger home. In April we moved out of our our little two bed flat, our first home on the island, and into a bigger three bed flat down the street.

Biggest reason for the move? I was struggling with the small closet like windowless kitchen in our first flat. It was challenging to safely cook while also keeping an eye on Henry.

Our new home has a modern kitchen with natural light plus an extra bedroom. We were hoping to add to our family and fortuitously the flat came furnished with a crib that converts to a toddler bed.

Adding to our family but not our stuff.

Any day now we’ll be a family of four.

Unlike my last pregnancy I have not spent this one buying random items off of daily deal sites or scouring the Internet for the perfect stroller. I’ve spent more time and energy going to prenatal yoga classes and enjoying these last months with our first born still being an only child. What little we did purchase for this baby was mostly second hand and we have been generously loaned the two most expensive items we needed: a glider/high back chair for nursing and a breast pump. I’ll need to pay it forward

Marked two years of car-free living.

November marked our second anniversary of living without a car. No car still makes sense for us and we continue to enjoy the health and financial benefits of not owning an automobile.

We’ve taken more cabs this fall because of bad weather and medical appointments that weren’t accessible by bus. Our transportation expenses have been higher but still nothing close to buying, maintaining, insuring and fueling a car. Interested to see how adding a new baby into the mix will affect our transportation wants and needs.

Continued to live debt-free and below our means.

Sometimes I wonder when or if we’ll slip up. I can’t help but think of Oprah rolling her wagon of fat on stage claiming she will never be overweight again. Will that be us ten years from now with credit cards racked up and applying for a line of credit for a vacation we obviously can’t afford?

I do know that two things help us with out finances tremendously: tracking all of our spending and trying to live with less stuff. We know where each penny or pence goes and we buy a lot less.

Simple Living Goals for 2013:

Take our budgeting to the next level. We’ve been using a reverse budget system for a year and a half. It’s worked to get us in the habit of tracking but we want to have a more in-depth budget, one that accounts for less frequent but larger expenses. We’ve laid out a plan and new system that starts this month. Wish us luck.

Avoid baby clutter. Still waiting on baby #2 but already keeping the clutter at bay. Decided against a double stroller for now. Borrowed our bigger items (thanks friends!). Bought some new to us baby clothing and nursing tops off of eBay. No nursery to decorate because the baby will room-in with us for a few months before sharing a room with Henry. So thankful we found simple living/minimalism before having a second child.

Personal Goals for 2013:

  • Run a half marathon. Last one was when Henry was 13 months.
  • Breastfeed for six months or more. This is my reminder that we will have a new small and needy person in our home and to keep my expectations and commitments realistic.
  • Read 24 books. Inspired by Natalie and her 52 books.
  • Finally learn how to crack an egg with one hand. This will be the year!
  • Self-publish a collection of non-fiction essays. Chickened out on this one in 2012.

These aren’t resolutions. I hate resolutions. They’re usually vague like “get in shape” or “spend less” and ditched by the end of January. I’ve done enough of that in my life.

Instead of resolutions I’m setting goals. Tangible goals that I can work towards and check off.

How was your 2012? What are you hoping for in this next year? If you are a blogger I’d love a link to any posts about your goals or resolutions for the coming year.

P.S. Great New Year’s ebook sale on for six more days. Five books, including titles from Tsh Oxenrider of Simple Mom and Joshua Becker from Becoming Minimalist, for $7.40 (75% off). I’ve read and can recommend Tsh and Joshua’s books and have heard good things about the other three., 5 eBooks for $7.40!

Wishing You Well


It isn’t shiny but our kinda minimalist Christmas tree is beautiful.

I’m terribly un-crafty but the gingerbread ornaments, cinnamon sticks with ribbon and strings of cranberries were easy in terms of time and skill. My attempt at popcorn strings was a fail (took too long) and I never got around to making orange slices. Maybe next time.

Our tree lights, half dozen ornaments and tree star will easily pack up into one small box; a win for keeping our small front closet in order.

Been absent from the blogging world because I am a) officially on maternity leave and b) doing my best to enjoy this holiday season in a relaxed and not too busy way.

In my mantra to keep things simple and fun we’ve been sleeping in when possible and not seeing or doing absolutely everything available to us. So we didn’t make it to the Christmas Horse Tram this year but we did go to two family holiday parties and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. It’s been a good time to do a bit less so we can enjoy more.

While I haven’t been blogging much I have read some great posts in the last week. Here are two of my favourites:

The Gift of Death George Monbiot (via Yaya Baby)

This isn’t a feel good piece but it’s an important one. As I read it I felt my heart sink a bit while at the same time I was agreeing with almost every word.

Bake them a cake, write them a poem, give them a kiss, tell them a joke, but for god’s sake stop trashing the planet to tell someone you care. All it shows is that you don’t. – George Monbiot

For something lighter with practical tips:

12 Tips for an Easier Christmas from Small Notebook

I link to Small Notebook a lot. Her posts resonate with me (and so many other readers!). The focus is on making household management easier while still having beauty, fun and joy in your life.

8. Keep family traditions flexible by asking, “What’s best for this year?” It’s okay if you need to skip a year. – Small Notebook

We’re still forming our holiday traditions as a family of three, soon to be four. This was the year of the advent calendar which has been a lot of fun for a very small investment of time and money. As our kids get older I might change up what’s in the calendar. The comments section on 24 Clutter Free Advent Calendar Gifts gave me a lot of ideas. Many thanks to everyone for sharing your wonderful traditions.

Wishing you well this holiday season.

It might be a bit quiet on this blog for the next little bit. The holidays and the impending arrival of my second child will be keeping me busy. All good reasons to step away from the screen, right?

Have a wonderful holiday season and hope there are a few great Christmas gifts for mom under the tree!


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