Bele Masterman on keeping Christmas simple – SHP026

Gift guilt and Christmas conundrums - SHP026

To be honest, I kind of hate myself for being that person, talking about Christmas – in September. And yet, here we are.

Last week I received a Christmas-themed question on the Facebook page, from a listener named Natalie (thanks, Natalie!) and wanted to spend some time digging in to the topic before the craziness of the season hits. Because honestly, the changes we talk about in this episode aren’t going to happen overnight, and it might help to start thinking about them now, before the season is upon us.

Natalie asked:

“I would love you to discuss how you manage Christmas and all of the commercialism that surrounds it. How do you manage the expectations of what your children expect for Christmas? And how do you manage what family/friends give your children for Christmas? Because, as parents, we sometimes don’t have control over what others get for our children.”

It’s not an easy question, and it’s one I’m asked a lot, because so many of us struggle to balance the commercial aspects of the holiday season with our simple, slow living philosophy. It’s also a time when our differences can become very apparent, particularly when we have friends and family who have different ideas on gift giving. 

I have my own thoughts on this topic, naturally, but my ideas are just that – mine. There’s so many different ways to approach the holiday season, so I invited Bele Masterman back to chat about her views on giving and receiving, whether re-gifting is OK (yes), how to buy second-hand, and what to do if a gift is unwanted.

We also talk about how best to manage our kids expectations, how to deal with family and friends who love giving gifts and how to let go of the guilt that comes with a sentimental present.


PS. This episode is a bit longer than normal, and we’d love to know if the length is something you enjoy, or if you prefer the shorter episodes. Let me know in the comments below.


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Alternatively, you can listen to the show directly, simply by hitting the Play button above. Enjoy!


In This Episode You’ll Hear About:

    • The impact commercial have on our kids and their gift expectations
    • How previous generations idea of a good gift (ie. useful) is different to current generations
    • Why Ben and I still buy our kids presents and are happy to do so
    • Why we tend to stick to the notion of “Something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read”
    • How we manage expectations around Christmas, birthdays and other special occasions
    • The type of conversations we have with our kids about stuff, advertising and the environment
    • Why it’s important to understand that some people see gift-giving as a ‘love language’
    • How to deal with the guilt of unwanted gifts
    • Learn how to be a compassionate gift giver and receiver
    • Aligning buying decisions with your personal philosophy can make it a simpler process
  • Most important of all – people over things.

Things to Check Out After Today’s Episode:

    • Leetchi – a crowd-gifting platform

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16 Responses to Bele Masterman on keeping Christmas simple – SHP026

  1. Re. podcast length (since you asked): I listen to your podcast at 1.7x speed* and my commute is ~47mins. So 79.9 minutes is optimal for me :)

    More seriously, anything less than 90min is fine. Best to let the episode take as long as it needs or deserves. After all, it’s not like there are programming time slots or scheduling conflicts with a podcast. To me, podcasts tend to be either “short” (0-40min) or “long” (45min+). It’s good to know roughly how long it’ll be for continuity’s sake, but assuming you’re a “long” podcast it doesn’t matter if you’re 45, 60 or 90 min, it’s still good for extended commuting/house cleaning/running/whatever. Anything over 90 min becomes an unapproachable slog; besides, it’s hard to maintain quality over that length of time (unless you’re Martin Scorsese).

    Just my 2¢.

    *Yes, I’m aware of the irony of listening to a slow living podcast at super speed…

    • The irony, Thom! :) Thanks for the input on show length though – it’s really interesting to see the different ways people are listening and the place the show has in their weeks. I’ll make sure the next ep is bang-on 79.9 minutes! And you’re right – it would be a rare conversation that lasted 90+ minutes without losing steam. I do listen to some long form podcasts (Tim Ferris just interviewed Robert Rodriguez for almost two hours and I could have listened to that for another 3 hours, but that’s just because Rodriguez is such a cool guy) but mostly the shows I listen to range from 60-75 minutes and I like that too.

  2. Hi Brooke! I enjoy the podcast so very much, and I agree with the previous commenter – “Best to let the episode take as long as it needs or deserves.” You have such a great way of chatting with your guests that never feels as though it’s drawn out or unnecessarily long – everything that you include is meaningful and valuable to the conversation. I drive a lot for work, both short and long drives, so I don’t need a specific length – I’ll listen to part of an episode one day, and continue on with the rest the following day. The beauty of podcasts! That said, I do especially enjoy yours all in one dose. Take care, and thanks so much to you and Ben for making the podcast happen!

    • Thanks Sherrie! I’m really happy to hear that the show doesn’t feel overlong because while I never feel that way when I’m talking to people (I often have to remind myself to wrap it up!) it’s always good to hear what it sounds like on the other end. Thanks so much for listening and for your lovely words. x

  3. I enjoy podcasts the most when they are 1hr or under, I think you can keep it more intentional that way. It helps me to stay focussed as a listener as well, Cheers!

  4. I am a fan of a mix of 30-35 minute podcasts where the focus is more on you asking the interviewer questions and also the longer, 60-70 minute podcasts where it’s more a conversation between you and the listener. When there’s say 3 or 4 specific questions to be addressed, the shorter length works best, when there’s half a dozen or more topics I find the longer, conversational form between you and the guest works great!

  5. Hi, Brooke! I love, love, love your podcasts and feel that they should be as long as they need to be. An hour or even 90 minutes would be totally fine with me.

  6. Howdy! Love the podcast. Stumbled across your blog a couple months before you started the podcast…anyway, that’s the weird way commenters/listeners introduce themselves I guess! :) Anyhoo, I wanted to say two things. One, my opinion about show length is, however long it is how long it is. People are going to listen if they like an episode, no matter the length; likewise, stop listening if they’re not following, no matter the length. So yeah, let each episode be as long as it needs to be. Two, you’d said you learned a bit about when our relationship to stuff changed in history…and you weren’t sure where you’d seen/read about it. I immediately thought of “the story of stuff”, a short video I saw about 7 years ago. People should check it out. A very simple illustration, very educational in nature, of our relationship to stuff and how it got to be what it is today. Love it. It’s a big project sort of thing now…that started with their video.
    Hope you enjoy it. If someone watches that is new to the idea of living with less, it’ll really make them think!

    • PS!! The video is somewhat (?) lengthy. 20ish minutes. Not too bad. Also it’s rather political at first and mostly addresses US production and consumption issues. I’m sure the entire “Western world” has similar practices and issues but it’s a given–because of population and politics–that the US is consuming the most and thereby injuring the planet the most. So there’s a little disclaimer.
      …oh, I’m American by the way.

  7. Hi Brooke and Ben, I feel like my comments will be in the minority, but I wanted to give you my honest feedback. First, I would like to thank you for an excellent show. I have found great value in your content and have listened to all your episodes. Also I have found other excellent podcasts that I also enjoy. One of those led me here. In my opinion, the best podcasts keep their weekly episodes to 30 minutes. 30 minutes seems appropriate for depth and focus. I would prefer a weekly podcast to break up excellent material, conversations, and interviews into 30 minute bite sized pieces. For me, podcasts fit into the cracks of free time that I possess like running errands, going for a walk, or doing some mundane tasks at home (like washing dishes) or work (data entry a small percentage of my work tasks). 90 minute or even hour long podcasts don’t fit well into those cracks of my life. I also feel that 30 minute podcasts fit better into a slow life. Let me explain. If podcasts fit into my free time which often includes the time I’m around members of the family, should I take 90 minutes away from their limited time with me to listen to a podcast? It is one thing to have earbuds in for 30 minutes while washing the dishes, but if I’m enjoying the podcast, and sit down in my armchair for another 60 minutes with the earbuds in, I’ve short changed my family. I suppose we could listen together to “Slow Your Home” which I have done, but that means I have imposed my entertainment/education time on the whole family of 5 that needs to be quiet during the show. Also, even clean podcasts sometimes have material that is not offensive, but awkward. This episode, as an example, had a brief conversation about plastic boob novelty gifts. I don’t always want to share those awkward moments with my 7, 10, and 16 year old kids. I have about 10 weekly podcasts that I enjoy. If they consistently went for 60-90 minutes, would the slow community consider that a healthy way of spending 10-15 hours a week during my free time with family? I doubt that proponents of simple or slow living would encourage 10 movies per week as a positive way to spend your time with loved ones.

    Possible solutions: 1. I could eliminate podcasts. I have done this and I’m considering doing this again, and the ones I’m considering are the +60 minute ones. 2. I don’t have to listen to longer episodes. Yes, I have done this and have built up a 20+ hour queue in my podcast app. When I love a podcast like this one, I want to listen because I do appreciate the content, but when they stretch over 60 minutes every week it makes it harder get through these episodes, hence my 20+ hour queue. 3. Break up longer episode. That is how I listened to this episode, but it still leads to a longer queue.

    I would prefer to hear 30 great minutes of a weekly podcast than receive 60-90 minutes each week. I would like to see great conversations and interviews broken up into multiple weeks so we hear the whole thing but in bite sized pieces. Brook and Ben, you have a great podcast, and it is your show. I just wanted to give you my honest opinion why I believe a shorter podcast would serve the slow community well. Thanks for your hard work!

  8. Hey McAlary’s! Nup – longer is better for me. Some pogpasts I’ve thought …. they didnt get to this or that and some are the very surface and I find myself thinking ‘that was just scraping the surface telling us about their work or book or the like’ and everytime you say ‘Im just mindful of the time’ a little piece of me dies. Hahai am so glad you mentioned this topic. It is such a contentious issue in my house. I am By xmas day I am miserable and want to crawl into a hole for another 12 months! I have two girls with xmas bdays as well. I do like the four presents idea but even then they gets gifts from two sets of grandparents, some grandparents friends,great grandparents, auntys and uncles, family friends, their friends and us. And as you would know, you know yourself what you child would really like or do with. By xmas I end up putting a puzzle or game away (usually the only play item from us) because it is too much stuff. We’ve tried gently talking to family and it seems they buy more to compensate for having xmas bdays. This year we have booked a holiday literally to try and escape the madness. Each little girl gets about 4 presents from each grandparents (grandmother) and it is a couple of hundred dollars worth of things that are plastic toys which are ruined by the end of the holidays. I try to be grateful but end up annoyed by the end because come xmas day they are only excited by what they are ‘getting’ and not the spending time with family, food, giving… every which way I try to address the issue I am called a grinch or joy stealer! You’ve given me great tips. I would love to say – our girls are so lucky please dont feel you need to buy them gifts. Maybe I should but I feel like I am being rude.

  9. i’m a bit behind in podcasts and currently listening to this episode. I’m behind because I find it hard to find the time to actively listen to the longer podcasts. I enjoy to 45 minutes to 90 minute ones but they’re time consuming. I also like the short under 30 minutes podcasts but they’re more for specific subjects that can be condensed.

    Consumable gifts are great, I’m about to post off some biscuits to a friend. However I would recommend people be careful and this can be hard when you don’t know a person well. I don’t drink alcohol, I could drink it but I choose not to. Every Christmas I get one or two bottles that I try and regift however I have limited drinkers in my life (not intentionally) and having watched my mum struggle with food allergies and intolerances I’ve become aware that a lot of people have some sort of food intolerance and this can be hard to navigate if you’re not familiar with this persons dietary requirements.

    I’ve been thinking of including a card that says ‘feel free to pass this on if you feel someone else would get joy from this’ because I know I feel gift guilt.

    This year I think I’ll give 5 or 6 gifts and then donate the amount I would spend on the rest to a charity. I have a sponsor kid through the Smith Family, they have a program that assists kids (in Australia) whose families are struggling with school costs and I can give money to her case worker for a gift card, so she might be the exception along with my immediate 3 family members, the dogs lol and my friend groups secret Santa.

  10. Hey Brooke , you’ve got a good range of answers here so I thought I’d add m2c as well .
    I’m a busy home mama and absolutely crave yours and others pogpasts to give me something real to digest . So being that – I’m time poor I found this episode kept being pushed aside as I didn’t have enough time , between 30-60 mins Seams to be the best time frame for both myself and husband , and like others mentioned giving space for those incredible conversations that do deserve the longer 60 mins .
    I did enjoy most of this episode but did feel myself getting itchy feet after about 40 mins and my husband skipped it as it felt a bit different to your normal style .
    Ps I agree with Bens comments that your interviewing style has grown and developed wonderful- glad I’ve been on the ride all along you guys rock !

    Blessings and light Rox

  11. Having recently found your podcasts I’m a few years behind, catching up – SLOWLY . Some years ago we decided to stop spending lots of money exchanging expensive Christmas presents for the adults in the family. We started a system of a £2 limit for each present. It involves so much more thought, often more hilarity and definitely less wastage. It is amazing the ingenuity and variety of items we have given and received over the years. Often items come from charity shops and if they are unwanted long term, no one is offended if they are passed on. It really has become the highlight of Christmas. As the children in the family have got older, they’ve started to do the same so carrying on the tradition. Great podcast, keep up the good work!