The Celebration Jar: An Alternative to Meaningless Gift-Giving

I splurged and went shopping recently. Like, real shopping–whatever “real” means. (Isn’t the act of spending a day inside of a privately-owned mall slightly strange?)

I did things I hadn’t done in years. Wandered through big-box stores, large crowds, jingly Santa Clauses, screaming children, and wafting Cinnabon flavorings fuming into the crowded halls to make parents miserable. (I lasted about two hours– the smell and the onslaught of horrible stimulation gave me a headache within a few hours).

And I bought stuff. It was kind of delicious, scrumptious, and wonderful.

Warm winter jacket for New York? Check. It’s down, its fluffy, it’s got zippers, it’s got pockets, and it keeps me warm every day in this snowy season. Neon running outfit? Check. Running in the snow. Yes, yes, yes.  

While I’m not one for huge purchases or shopping–I’d rather scrounge in Goodwill for some third-hand shirts I can mend up and call my own– sometimes it’s nice to buy a thing or two.

But when is the right time to buy, and when is the right time to remember that you already have everything you need?   

1. For me, minimalism isn’t about restriction or restraint. It’s about freedom and joy.

It’s about not drowning in stuff—and knowing what you need. It’s about remembering that shopping isn’t the answer to your sadness, and that gifts don’t replace love.

One of my favorite quotes of all time reminds me of what I strive for:

Twitter-Bird Social_Media_Icons_CtrlAltDesign_V2-19“The antidote to consumerism isn’t minimalism–it’s art.”

So as you’re winding through your December journey into the advertising-laden world of spending and celebrating, consider how you’re spending and what you really intend behind your season of gifts. Is it made with love? Is it sent with love? And, if it’s coming into your house, is it ART?–is it something you will cherish, love, and adore? Then yes.

But it’s not even about gifts or things. One of my favorite ways to celebrate the holidays–beyond the delicious new coat that I got–is to remember what I already have that I love.

And, as a gift from me to you, here are ways I love thrifting–and putting a twist on–the season of gifts:

2. The celebration jar: wrapping up all your celebrations.


We’ve been talking a lot about presents in my house, mostly because I’ve got so much stuff and I don’t need more of it–I need less of it. But I adore celebrating the seasons and celebrating each other. I also love gifting.

So we pulled out a jar–a vase. We wrapped a bow on it. I ripped up some old paper bags and we started scrawling things we’re happy for and grateful for. Each item gets its own note.

We fill up the jar for two weeks. We’ll open it on Christmas. (You can do this Christmas week, if you’d like, or pick a day to fill the jar and pick a day to empty the jar.

On our Christmas day, we’ll unwrap things we love–things like:

I love that you make the bed every morning.
My new warm jacket keeps me warm and toasty during New York winters.
Being able to see my family.
Morning snuggles on weekend days (and some weekdays, too!).
Knowing my neighbors.
A reading nook to read early in the mornings. 

What are you grateful for?

What can you celebrate this holiday–that you already own?

3. Things you can do and ways you can love–beyond traditional gifts: 

  • A card of all the things you love about someone.
  • A hand-written letter or gratitude card.
  • Date night and a home-cooked meal (also great for friends!).
  • Sauna night or gym night–pick a friday, go to the gym, soak in the baths, have conversations.
  • Movie night. Even cheesy or terrible movies.
  • Coupons or gift certificates for services, even of your own doing. (I used to give my mom coupon books for cleaning the kitchen and vacuuming the house all the time).
  • Books (see my list, below).
  • A reservation for a night away in a cabin for New Year’s.
  • A celebration ceremony with a gratitude jar.
  • A date for visioning, journaling, and planning during the new year.
  • A massage or a back rub for friends that are working hard.
  • A buddy yoga class–head there with your friend.
  • Donating food to those in need.
  • Spending time or volunteering at a homeless shelter
  • Volunteer for youth. (I’m donating time to my yoga studio’s Lineage Project–a volunteer project that serves incarcerated youth in New York City.

4. But gifting is fun! (You bet it is!) That’s why I also made a short list of alternative gifts for the loves on your list.

Gift-giving can also be wonderful. Want some great ideas for gifts? Here are my favorite ideas of things to get–if you’re a thing-getter. Perhaps an investment in your self, your soul, your brain, your body, or your well-being is the best way to go. Some ideas to fuel your inspiration:

  • The Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte: Start with the book ($22) and a workbook if you’re the kind of person who hates writing in books ($12). Grab a day planner if you’re feeling like you want to re-invent 2014. Write all. over. it. Dedicate January to revealing your feelings and starting the year with a bang.
  • The January Joy-Up with Hannah Marcotti ($29). A magic-making mastermind with daily collage and journal prompts. It’s $29. I’m already signed up and I’ve ordered a set of extra-large moleskines precisely for the act of visioning in January. I’m stacking up books, glue, and scissors (and a cutting mat!) so I can dream, dream, dream. I want to dream of speeches, books, essays, weird multi-media projects, business dreams, life dreams, and all of the other beautiful things we can manifest in our lives. Because thinking makes it possible.
  • The Joy Up Equation with Molly Mahar of Stratejoy ($149). This woman is gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. So many women I know are. I am grateful to the internet for connecting me to them. With her, you’ll listen to your soul, journal for a month, discover more of who you are, figure out what brings you joy. (Pick one of the above and get INTO it already! Your life is waiting!)
  • The Writer’s Workshop: The January Edition. (My course, of course!) Our third cycle starts January 13th. A four-week course with our own private community, video lessons, weekly writing assignments, and heaping doses of honesty and inspiration. The course is $400 if you register before December 28th–$500 for regular registration. Take a class as your holiday gift. (PSST: Watch for a wicked sale coming out Friday, December 20th.)
  • The Content Strategy Course: A new course I’m teaching this February 17th–how to develop content and storylines for thought-leaders. Jam-packed with marketing wizardry, communication templates, and ways to get your voice heard. It’s also $400 as early-bird registration ($500 regular). (OH: And I’m announcing some CRAZY discounts Friday for the rest of 2013 if you’ve been itching to take courses with me. Pay attention.)
  • The Holstee Reclaim Frame ($44) and Art Subscription or Mindful Living Calendar — a new card each month that you slide into the frame, pulling out the previous one as a reminder to send a note to someone. (A great way to practice gratitude!).
  • Inquiry Cards ($25). A new form of meditation–in the form of questions for you to ponder and consider. Great for spiritual healers, coaches, visionaries, or anyone with an inkling to look… inwards.
  • YOUR version of freedom–whatever that means to you. Maybe it means nothing, maybe it means something, maybe it means savings. It’s your money. You choose. Do what’s right for you. These are just ideas.

A note of love, too: spend money consciously. Choose wisely. Whenever I purchase something, I also plan for the amount of time I’m committing to doing the project. Sometimes I know I don’t have enough time, but I sign up anyways because I want the taste of a few days. Other times I’m gunning for financial freedom and bigger goals, so it’s “nope, not this time.”

Do what’s best for you.

The point isn’t about just having to give something (or get something). It’s about giving with love, nurturing yourself, and remembering the spirit of the holidays.

Choose wisely, spend lovingly.

5. And…I’ll probably never be minimalist about books:

You caught me. I love books so much. (This is my current Amazon Book Wish List, and yes, you can totally buy me a book — I’d be honored).

I’ve read several books this year and last year that have been absolutely phenomenal, and I’m working on a master list that you can reference. Right now, I’ll whittle it down to my favorites, a sneak peak:

Philosophy and Spirituality:

  • When Things Fall Apart
  • The Untethered Soul
  • The Gifts of Imperfection
  • The Four Desires


  • Jab Jab Jab Jab Right Hook
  • The Small Business LifeCycle
  • Body of Work
  • Leaders Eat Last
  • The Sketchnote Handbook
  • The Year Without Pants
  • Growth Hacker Marketing
  • 99U: Maximize Your Potential

Fiction (or Narrative Non-Fiction):

  • Cuckoo’s Calling
  • The Fault in Our Stars
  • The Glass Castle
  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers
  • The Longest Way Home
  • Bend, Not Break
  • Ender’s Game

See more of my book list here: Sarah’s big beautiful book list of joy.

5. Even though I’m fairly minimalist when it comes to some things–I still love everything about gifting, celebration, and surprises of kindness.

So, par for the course: free book giveaways for the holidays!

I love giving things away. Actually, I love giving YOU things. There’s surprise and delight in gifting and telling people that you have a present for them.

Here’s what I have this month to give away to three of YOU:

  • The Sketchnote Handbook, by Mike Rohde (print version).
  • The Untethered Soul, by Michael Singer (kindle version).
  • The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg (kindle version).

What should you do to win one of these books?

Leave a note in the comments–and do it by December 28th, midnight, EST. Tell me what you’re grateful for this holiday season. Surprise me.

With big holiday love,

sarah signature





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42 Responses to The Celebration Jar: An Alternative to Meaningless Gift-Giving

  1. Patti says:

    I am grateful that I’ve learned to be a kinder and gentler person by watching my husband be one. I am grateful that this has filled me with such hope and optimism for the new year and that I feel a more powerful connection with something greater than myself.

    • Sarah says:

      Thank you, Patti! I love how much our relationships and partnerships can inspire us to be better people. It’s wonderful.

  2. Sophia says:

    I am grateful for our first Christmas in our new house!

  3. Leticia says:

    I didn’t think I had anything to be grateful for. Break-up, heart break, new job, having to move, feeling lost, feeling alone…how can I be grateful when all I want is to hold on to my bitterness?! But the holidays have come with a slap in the face, friends have lost spouses, parents, and children. That is heart break you never recover from. Healing is coming slowly and the same things that I have to be bitter for are the same things I have to be grateful for…new job was a better move for me, new place had twice the closet space! Yes just seeing the light at the end of the tunnel that I can find small things to be grateful and thankful for is GRATEFUL enough for me.

    • Sarah says:

      Congrats, Leticia–it’s so hard to be grateful during the worst of times. But when you find a way to do it, happiness and abundance aren’t too far behind. You got this.

  4. Ali Shapiro says:

    Sarah – I loved that you said “The antidote to consumerism isn’t minimalism–it’s art” Yes.

    This holiday season, I am grateful for so much. First, my husband is done with his MFA (he’s a fiction writer). We spent two years long-distance as he attended the University of Iowa and I’m so thankful that he had that opportunity AND we are done with that!

    I’m grateful for all the wonderful people who have come into my life. The people who have always been there. Amazing clients. I’m grateful I’m done with my own Masters degree. I’m grateful I really “got” the past two years, how important rest and sitting in my humanity (i.e. uncomfortable feelings) is, even when it feels like the world tells you being positive or anyway other than you are feeling is wrong.

    And always, my health. It’s amazing to me what the body can go through and still meet us each day.

    • Sarah says:

      I love this list, Ali. It’s beautiful. Congrats to your husband and congrats on making it out the other end of long-distance! Big hugs to you–so nice to see you around the web.

  5. Kelli says:

    I am grateful that I finally was honest with myself and re-prioritized my life. It was a difficult conversation to have with my boss, and I feel like income/job situation is very much up in the air, but I feel like I can finally breathe. It’s time I put my Husband and our marriage first. I’m grateful that I will not be traveling 150+ days next year, instead I’ll be home with my loving Hubby!

    • Sarah says:

      OOOH. That’s a big one. Honesty is always a wonderful thing–but it’s difficult sometimes! Good job. You deserve it!

  6. Lonnie says:

    I’m grateful for the way my sister laughs more near Christmas. I’m grateful for the way my mom lights up surrounded by hugging arms of her granddaughters …no matter how much she pretends she doesn’t like it. The laughter and resistance are music to my ears. I’m grateful for the way my youngest – she’s 2 – shouts, “Wook, Daddy!” The smallest things delight her little heart. Sarah, I’m grateful for the course with you that recently reminded me to open my heart to the grace of love. Thank you!

  7. I recently moved to New York, and I’m grateful to find moments of grace, gentleness and beauty here. New York has quite the reputation – and clearly, baggage from its iconic status. But I’m finding my New York to be filled with unexpected delights and unpredictable moments of kindness both seen and received.

    • Sarah says:

      Meghan, I know exactly how you feel! I actually find New York to be very different than it’s reputation, and I love it more than I expected. Happy New Years to you!

  8. Mabelle Ortiz says:

    I am grateful for life after death. My favourite aunt and second-mom to me died unexpectedly on Dec.14th, yet through my tears we all remember her zest for life and the way she was so full of laughter. I have been crying mostly, but today, sunny day and I felt like my aunt was telling me as I looked out the window, celebrate life. I immediately listed 5 things I am grateful for off the top of my head: pets, they provide such joy and comfort in good and bad times
    2. the gift of life and being able to say “I am alive and living fully”
    3. healthy food on my table
    4. a roof over my head
    5. friends and family that support me with unconditional love in all my endeavours; even when they don’t agree with them.
    (Vancouver, Dec.19.2013)

  9. Nicola Dent says:

    I am grateful for my son and his cuddles which lift my spirits when I am struggling. I am grateful for my home where I feel safe. I am grateful for wonderful online communities full of amazing women who support each other in the most amazing way. I am grateful for life. Happy Hoidays to everyone xx

    • Sarah says:

      Happy Holidays to you, Nicola! Cuddles are the perfect thing to lift your spirits. Thanks for being here!

  10. Kim H says:

    I am grateful for all my new artist friends from all over the world that I have met on Facebook. They support and offer guidance with wisdom and love. I am grateful for the community I have found and look forward to meeting more In person and in workshops. Thank you ladies :)

    • Sarah says:

      Thank you for being here, Kim! The internet is a magical place and there are beautiful people out there. It’s great to connect over wisdom, love + workshops. Big hugs!

  11. Bob says:

    I’m grateful for my college-age children coming home for the holidays. I’m grateful for my daughter being able to go to Paris in the spring. I’m grateful for my son’s ankle being completely healed after a season-ending football injury. I’m grateful for a loving and supportive wife. I’m grateful for my sister-in-law’s successful cancer surgery. I’m grateful for my brother-in-law’s business venture going so well. But most of all, I’m grateful to be loved by so many extraordinary people. What a Christmas gift! And I’m grateful for someone who gives so willingly her gifts of experience, intelligence and caring to so many others. So, thank you, Sarah. Here’s to hoping that Santa gives you a nice warm pair of boots…

    • Sarah says:

      Hi Bob,
      Thanks for this beautiful list. I remember heading home (I still do it!) to my parent’s houses and loving the ability to go home. Thanks for being here and commenting on the blog — and yes, I got a pair of boots to go with my coat for the holidays!

  12. I am grateful for all the things my painful, frozen shoulder is teaching me: it’s time to soften, surrender, relax, and receive.

    • Sarah says:

      Amen. I’ve got one, too. Pain is such a teacher. It’s here to teach us something… (and when it finally goes away, WOW).

  13. Loran Hills says:

    I’m grateful that my two daughters will be home for Christmas! As they move through young adulthood, I can’t take this for granted any longer.

    I’m grateful for the new Kaleidoscope app on my iphone that lets me play like a kid. I need more play time!

    • Sarah says:

      Yay Play! And wonderful for kids who are growing up. It’s bittersweet and gorgeous, I’ll bet.

    • Sarah says:

      Yay play time! I hope you’ve had a chance to play a lot this holiday ~ and may 2014 bring you lots of joy. Thanks for being here, Loran!

  14. Kyra says:

    Love some of these ideas! Especially the celebration jar! I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to stay at home with our daughter instead of living a hectic two-parents-working-full-time life. Is it easy? Nope! And we struggle with money BUT I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

  15. Sarah says:


    I just discovered your website with this post, and I adore it. I too am a minimalist, but adore the gifting, celebration and surprises of kindness of the holidays – and everyday. I used to feel that the two were at odds with each other, but I’ grateful that I’ve been able to realize that they can both co-exist within me. It’s not about volume or mass, but about quality and care. I can show that and share that with everyone I love.
    Thanks you.

    • Sarah says:

      Welcome, Sarah! Thanks for stopping by and saying hi! I’m a strange minimalist–I have lots of things, but I don’t like living with things I don’t love, adore, want, or need. Then life gets cluttered and messy.

      There’s a sweet spot in between gifting and love — and consumerism and junk. And I think the words ART and LOVE are really important in figuring out the difference. Love in the whole-world sense, too–noting whether or not the clothes were made with love (in Bangladesh?), or from a local artisan you can support.

      It’s a dance. We learn. XO.

  16. Jillian R says:

    I am grateful for the ability to learn everyday. Gotta keep the mind sharp!

  17. doniree says:

    Ah! I just learned of The Untethered Soul and it’s quickly made my reading list. I’m grateful for friends and family who’ve proven to be the most amazing and wonderful human beings. <3

  18. Jenni Crowley says:

    Sarah– thank you for the lovely post! I’m so grateful this season for:
    – the gift of my good health post knee surgery (I will never take for granted the ability to stand, walk, run, and dance)
    – the health and haapiness of my precious little boy, Logan. I’m not sure I deserve such a wonderful little guy in my life… what did I do to deserve him?!
    – a new chapter in my professional life as I assume a new leadership role at work. I now oversee 50+ people across 5 offices; it is a daunting task that is forcing me to improve my communication and management skills. I’m learning to listen more than I speak and lead by example.
    – the ability to ‘give back’ and ‘pay it forward’ due to my accomplishments and abilities. I feel like I’m now in an even better position to help others in many different ways
    – so many blessings that I couldn’t begin to count them all!

  19. Anna says:

    I am so grateful for my love and our new apartment. We’re throwing our first (housewarming) party tonight and have out so much work into it. I’m deeply grateful to have a true partner and so many wonderful, loving friends. I’m grateful for the joy that was in the preparing. I’m deeply grateful for my own courage to quit a job that was terrible for me, and grateful for my learning about when to ask for help. I could go on and on, but mostly it’s all about love, and joy, and space making. I thank the universe for all of it <3

  20. Chelsey says:

    I’m grateful for a new job that lets me use my creativity, a new relationship, and for my family because no matter what – family will always love you.

  21. Eugene says:

    Echoing Jillian above, I too am thankful for the ability to learn something new every day.

    Also thankful for meeting new and wonderful people in Portland at the third annual #WDS.

    Happy Holidays, Sarah!

  22. Kelly Scotti says:

    I am grateful for time and space, to listen to my heart and my hurt, and let it teach me, ease me into me. I am grateful for good friends, and those friends that aren’t so good (and who will be let go of), because they remind me that I have a choice of whom I spend my time with, and I can say no. I am grateful for cyber places such as yours that inspire me and guide me and bring me deeper into myself with reflection and poetry.

    Thank you for sharing Sarah, and happiest of holidays to you and your family.

  23. Eileen says:

    I too am grateful for the wonderful world of creative women I’ve interacted with and befriended over the internet- such a world I would love to be a part of more!!

  24. amy says:

    I’m feeling grateful this season in a poignant and emotional way. We have so much to be grateful for — where to begin and end? Connection, community, open hearts, extreme kindness, tenacity, allies, the gifts freely given and received every day like smiles and thoughtful gestures and courtesies and space. All of it! Thank you for asking, Sarah. Happy holidays to you!

  25. Danielle says:

    Thank you so much! i’m grateful for my husband, family and that I get to spend the holidays surrounded by the people I love.

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