Mindful Holiday Giving: Lessons from Burning Man

Think Big, Shop Small & Give Joyfully

'Tis the season to shop. For us, tiny space dwellers and minimalists, 'tis the season of focusing more of our energy on the things that matter, those we care about and the joy of holiday experiences. Just the thought of walking through elaborate light displays with family and watching fresh falling snow makes my heart so happy.

As a recovering pack-rat, the hunt for excess amounts of meaningless stuff lacks the allure that it once had. My impulsive shopping habits are gone and replaced with a surprisingly enjoyable, intentional shopping practice — the hunt for the just-right something, always guaranteed to be a meaningful experience and a stress-free bargain.

Read more about intentional shopping in this post.

Shopping with a purpose is truly rewarding, especially when you know you are making an impact; like shopping local or supporting a cause close to your heart.

Tiny Christmas tree

The joy of giving too often gets bogged down in stressful shopping practices or seasonal guilt. The heaving feeling of Christmas-time guilt has plagued me for many years. It's the dread of not having enough money to buy nice gifts for all my loved ones, or creating home-made gifts but still feeling lacking.

Over time I have embraced the idea that it's not about how great the physical item is on its own, or in comparison to what you're receiving in return. It is truly about demonstrating love. And a gift can be anything, from spending extra quality time with friends or family to making a donation in a loved one's name, sharing a favorite poem, snagging the so-them thrift store find or baking them a delicious treat.

Our experience at Burning Man this year perfectly demonstrated the beauty of giving. Burning Man, admittedly is not holiday season related. It is an annual event where the participants build a temporary city in the middle of the Black Rock Desert, dedicated to creativity, community, art, self-expression, and self-reliance. One of their ten core principles is gifting. It is not about receiving anything in return; it's about being happy by making someone else happy.

“8) Gifting opens up the world.
Making a habit of gifting allows you to see every interaction as an opportunity for increased Joy – even if there is no benefit to you specifically. If I have something (a bite of food, a word of support, a warm hat) that can make your life better, then I can make MY life better by helping YOU. That means there are billions of opportunities in every moment to make the planet more joyful. On the other hand, if the only way to increase joy is by helping out my specific individual self, then the opportunities are few.

9) Gifting is never required.
A feeling of obligation cancels out the Gift. (This type of “Barter” exchange is often confused as gifting.) But if you expect anything in return – even the elimination of guilt – then the magic of Gifting has been compromised.”

— from the Burning Man (non-official) 10 Commandments of Gifting

While there, we were gifted food, drinks, hugs, art, ideas, and experiences. One of my favorite gift-receiving experiences happened while I was waiting for a port-a-potty of all things. I had been out in the hot desert all day and was a bit out of it. A friendly, smiling face turned to me and said, "you look like you can use a gift." My face lit up. Her sincere and merry manner lifted my spirits. Then she handed me beautifully hand-painted prayer flags. Why the gift was amazing; the warm human connection we made was the best part.


We gifted others sweet snacks, a home-cooked meal, flowers, and kind acts. Giving freely, mostly to those I didn't know at all, was delightful and so much fun. It was a genuinely joyful giving experience. Completely guilt free. That is how all holiday giving should feel.

Let's make this the season of giving love.

Happy Holidays from our home to yours! Merry Christmas!

Please consider donating to help fund Living Tiny Legally, Parts 2 and 3. 

Give a donation in someone else's name and his or her name will be included in the credits. Thank you!


-Alexis & Christian, cofounders of Tiny House Expedition

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