A minimalist holiday season: How to simplify gift giving without being a Scrooge

TORONTO _ Rachel Jonat and her husband didn’t purchase any Christmas gifts for their three sons when they were too young to understand the tradition.

Now, she asks extended family to ease up on presents and plans to shift to a no-gift policy once Santa is out of the picture.

“I think deciding early on to … not give them the moon at Christmas will make it a lot easier to manage bigger requests,” says the Vancouverite and author of “Do Less: A Minimalist Guide to a Simplified, Organized, and Happy Life.”

While asking friends and family for a scaled-back holiday can be tricky and require laying some careful groundwork, the news may come as a relief to loved ones during what can be a stressful season.

This year, Canadians plan to spend an average of $884 on holiday gifts, up from $766 in 2015, according to a survey by the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada.

And that figure jumps when factoring in other seasonal costs. Last year, Canadians planned to spend an average of $1,551 on presents, travel, entertaining and other items, like decorations, during the holidays, a BMO survey found.

In an effort to prevent some of that potential December budget overload, some people limit their gift-giving through “Secret Santa” exchanges in which members of a family are randomly assigned a person to whom they give a gift.

For Rebecca Saha, who blogs about minimalism for the Green Moms Collective, Secret Santa exchanges with her husband and their three kids involves each person receiving four gifts: something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read.

Saha, who co-owns resale shop iSpy Clothing in Etobicoke, Ont., often looks to secondhand goods first for these gifts. She suggests bundling used items in a theme, like a book about trains with conductor overalls, for a special touch.

But if you’re attempting to negotiate a leaner Christmas with extended family expect “a tricky conversation,” say Jonat. It helps to drop hints early, she says, like talking about a preference for fewer toys in the home or for experience-based gifts that don’t take up space.

Sometimes that’s enough to influence how others give. But when the Jonats receive superfluous gifts, they’re returned, like she did with about half of her boys’ loot last year.

“(We) used the store credit when we needed it to pay for a new car seat,” she says.

It’s also okay to opt out of gift exchanges with friends, acquaintances and colleagues, Jonat and Saha say.

One year, when Saha became overwhelmed with her list of people to shop for, the family decided to sponsor a child through charity on behalf of all those they wanted to stop exchanging presents with.

They shared the information in their holiday cards.

“It soft-peddled the news,” Saha says, adding people reacted positively and she found it less awkward than stopping cold turkey.

While adults may be relieved by a leaner Christmas, Jonat says to be prepared for some disappointed kids the first time a family decides to try it out.

Still, she adds, “we’re in changing times now and the kind of excessiveness that, you know, may have been en vogue and popular is definitely waning.”

Fewer presents instead gives families more money and time to spend together, having fun or helping their community, she says.

Saha sees things the same way.

“We are big believers that traditions and experiences are more valuable _ even to kids _ than objects,” she says.