Read our free ebook: 16 Rules for Living with Less
The Minimalists
The Minimalists are Emmy-nominated Netflix stars and New York Times–bestselling authors Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. Alongside their podcast cohost, T.K. Coleman, this simple-living trio helps millions of people eliminate clutter and live meaningfully with less. Learn More.

Last Minute Gift Ideas

I should have known this was going to be a mistake. Even before I pulled into the parking garage, I should have known. But here I am, Saturday afternoon, several dozen cars deep, slowly slithering through the serpentine parking structure outside one of America’s largest retailers, just a few weeks before Christmas.

This is the kind of chaos I’ve warned millions of people about. Traffic in full gridlock. Horns blaring. Eyeballs lacerating windshields. I’m afraid I might get knifed for my parking spot. If I ever find one. Damn. I just wanted to buy a roll of wrapping paper and two toys for Ella.

I should have known.

I managed scores of retail stores in my corporate days, and roughly 40% of our revenue for the entire year arrived between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Every year, it was a five-week frenzy of sardined parking lots and caffeinated malls and crowds of consumers corralling through checkout lines with blank stares, more bovine than human. The sheer volume of consumption was both im- and depressive. I swore I’d never go back.


Some lessons we must relearn. Next year I’ll plan better. But, in the meantime, at least I brought home a few new lessons on this exacerbating trip. If you’d like to avoid the pandemonium this holiday season, here are three last-minute gift ideas that, ideally, will make the holiday more meaningful than a trip to the mall ever would.

Material Gifts

While The Minimalists often suggest experiences over material possessions—because presence is the best present—there are occasions when a physical gift is more appropriate, especially for kids. In these situations, I find it important to gift an item that doubles as an experience.

This year, Bex and I bought Ella a miniature cornhole game and a pair of Nerf guns, which, let’s be honest, are just as much for her parents as they are for Ella. Instead of her holing up in her room with a glowing screen as soon as our Christmas tree is emptied, we hope our gifts encourage Ella and our family to have fun together—gifts that enhance our holiday, but are not the point of it.

Budget Gifts

Santa knows you shouldn’t have to take out a loan to celebrate Christmas. Instead of going into debt this Christmas, it’s possible to agree as a family on budget-friendly gifts.

Here are a few ideas borrowed from my friend Anthony ONeal: watch a sunset or sunrise, cook a meal together (try a new recipe), host a movie night with homemade popcorn, play a board game, volunteer together. You don’t have to have much when you have the people you love.

Charitable Gifts

Nearly every adult for whom I’m Christmas shopping this year will receive a $30 donation, in their name, to my current favorite charity: Gem City Market. So far, Ryan and I have raised nearly $100,000 for Gem City to build a nonprofit grocery in one of the largest food deserts in the United States, and we’re less than $2,000 away from our goal.

So if you’d like to contribute on behalf of someone you care about this year, I’m sure they’ll be more grateful for that than another necktie or toaster oven, and so will the people of west Dayton, who will finally have access to healthy food for the first time in years. Helping others is the best way to help each of us recapture the real spirit of the season. Merry Christmas!