As we enter the holiday season, I have consciously been trying to be more mindful of the choices that I'm making and the example I'm setting. Unfortunately, the holiday season has become part and parcel with excess--excess food, excess buying, excess debt, excess stress.
I want to do better.
The past year or two, I've been gradually shifting towards simplification and minimizing my life. My schedule has been too busy, my home too cluttered, and my life just too stressed. And if we're honest, the holidays are no exception. We are consumer-minded, we don't budget for generosity, and we are wildly selfish, but carefully disguise this as generosity to our already well-provided for families, friends, and children (global perspective, people).
I want to teach my children better. And the only way I can accomplish this is to lead by example.
I want my children to learn that Thanksgiving is a time for gratitude, not over-indulgence.
I want my kids to remember that Christmas is where we celebrate the Ultimate Sacrifice and where we receive a Gift that is ultimately precious, worth far beyond rubies, and does not wear out, break, or get lost.
I want them to spend their time and money with an eternal focus--and that only comes by emphasizing, protecting, and nurturing that what has an eternal soul: people.
None of that is buy-able. No sale, shopping trip, or checking account can purchase this. And a childhood with a tree full of presents but a character devoid of altruism and generosity, but full of selfishness and materialism, is a poor one indeed.
I challenge you: this holiday season, be counter-cultural--and raise counter-cultural kids.
As I've been learning, a key component to minimalism is clearing away distractions and choosing less, so that the important can become more.
If we're honest with ourselves, the holidays have morphed into this time of chaos with little left to allow for introspection, thankfulness, and reflection on what really matters. I have found myself so overwhelmed with cooking, cleaning, shopping, traveling, parties and all the trimmings of Christmas that I miss the whole point of the holiday itself.
If I am a slave to the clock, my pocket-book, or my or my kids' wish lists, I will never create enough space in my schedule to find peace, quiet, and still to refocus the holidays on what they are all about; I will never create enough margin in my finances to teach generosity and giving.
Am I perfect? Certainly not. Am I still learning and figuring this out? You betcha. Am I a work in progress and trying to cut the excess? Getting there.
I have been striving to be intentional--and I think it's working. It is the day before Thanksgiving. Presents are all bought and figured out. And I'm actually finishing off a RETURN because I decided that we didn't need an extra present. I am exciting about where I am this year and the breathing room that I am finally feeling and I want to share some tips.... I'll check back after the holidays are over and give you all an update on what worked, what didn't and tweaks for next year.
It takes time to learn to be counter-cultural. Give yourself grace.
Tips for Taking the Hectic Out of the Holidays
#1: Set a budget for all things finite.
The big ones us are FINANCIAL and TIME. I can't get every last new trapping and I can't attend every party, or cook a 27-course meal.
- Set a budget for each person and stick with it.
- Set expectations for how many functions you're going to and say no to the rest.
- Decide just how many sides you're going to cook for one meal and let the rest be.
#2: To make gifts meaningful and not 100% entertainment (entertainment overload!!!) buy in "categories" to spread things out.
For my kids, this is resulting in less clutter, because things are useful, consumable, wearable, and experiential. There are some cute little phrases running around, but here is a more extensive list that I've compiled and highlights what is important to our family--teaching skills.
Other categories may not apply to you, your family, or your situation--like the year some friends gave me three garbage bags of nearly-new, stylish clothes. I wouldn't need a "wear" gift because my closet was already bursting! Pick the ones that matter to your family or your kid. Opening 6 small gifts might be better for smaller kids, but two big ones for older kids would be more meaningful. Do. What.Works.
So, while following #1 above, pick out a few of these categories to inspire gifts, cut clutter, and make them meaningful. Don't feel like you need to do ALL of these categories, or that all of them need to be expensive. Some categories will overlap (my boys both need new tennis shoes, which is technically a "wear" as well.) I KNOW that several of these will be $3 gifts that are simple, but my boys will love.
For us, we're not a super artistic family, so "make" might be a birdhouse for our family, but a piece of art for another. "See" might be an outing or a hike for our family, but tickets to a play for another.
Bonus: "Hear" is an idea from a friend who wanted to do something musical for her child. Your gifts CAN and should reflect your family passions, skills, and heritage you want to pass on to your kids!
#3: Finish all your shopping by December 1st (preferably by Thanksgiving).
This one is a life-changer for me and one I am implementing THIS YEAR!!! It initially sounded like a silly rule just for the sake of a rule, but one that has several benefits after I thought about it further.
- It leaves the entire month of December free to accomplish what is important for the season-- thankfulness and time spent with family, making memories and reflecting on the season.
- It helps you avoid the marketing and craziness of the holiday consumer culture. I've started doing this and should be done pre-THANKSGIVING! The shopping has not been hectic.
- It allows you to "get in, and get out" without getting sucked in. The closer the holidays come, the more intense the commercials, sales, flyers, and ads become. It is overwhelming and very likely to entice you to buy things that no one needs under the tree!
Make Christmas your own.
Set a budget and shop WITHIN that budget.
When the money, list, or timer (December 1st) runs out, STOP and enjoy the holidays for what they are--a time for reflection, thankfulness, and family.
I hope that these three pointers will help you tame the consumerism dragon and make the holidays less about stuff and more about people.