Well! It's been a minute since I finally wrote a blog post. The last one I wrote was about going to the beach in July and now it's the holiday season around here! I am so grateful for how things are going, but I truly love sharing and chatting and writing about all the things conscious lifestyle and consumerism, so hopefully I can put a little more pen to paper (so to say) soon. If you're new around here, feel free to check out my highlights on Instagram where I kept up with my Sustainability Stories these past few months for more tips and thoughts!
So. The holidays.
This time of year is not always joyous and special for everyone. The older we get, the more we realize that happiness isn't a destination; it is not something guaranteed by just trying to do the right thing; and things in our past and present aren't always perfect. The juxtaposition of the way things are versus the way that they should be can be crushing at a time when many of us are receiving the message that we need to be living and creating a perfect holiday (which is usually very expensive and out of reach, but based on capitalistic marketing of always doing and being more). Time and space shift this time of year as memories are activated and amplified, and they can be in direct contrast with the holiday movies and happy twinkle lights on the street. On top of these mini traditional triggers, we can add an extra long to-do list, forced merriment, travelling, difficult family dynamics and extra cooking and baking in a packed schedule while you really just want to hibernate and avoid it all. To be perfectly honest, the holiday season can simply be more draining than it can be uplifting.
I finally came to understand over the last few years that most of the magic of Christmas is created by moms, whose plates are already too full, and this year they are extra over-flowy in the categories of mental health, bouts of illness, and the ability to make it all happen with lessened support and means and all of the recent pandemic years to make one as exhausted as can be. While this speaks to a greater issue with some gender norms and expectations (things end up just being so 'traditional' around the holidays, too, because we are running on scripts of some old traditional routines here especially), this is more about how you can manage all this a little better. If you are feeling like you need more joy, more calm, more happiness in this department, I'm going to tell you how I found it.
The secret is less. The route is authenticity.
Choose what is right for you; what speaks to your soul, and discard the rest of the expectations, traditions, expenses, travelling, stuff and anything else that isn't speaking to the meaning of what you really want this to be about.
I'm not the first person on the Internet to talk about this - less is definitely more. But I think this conversation goes hand-in-hand with sustainability. We need to reel things back a bit. We are consuming 400% more than we were 20 years ago (Foster Slow) - so the answer is definitely not in 'more.' Trying to do every tradition and take advantage of everything and do *all of the things* has become very wasteful because at some point the meaning is gone, we are just over-consuming, and that can consume you, too. When we are rushing and strapped for time, the convenience factor becomes amplified, as we scramble about. Slowing down decision making, sitting longer in moments that are meaningful, and easing off on the number of things you're participating in can be a way to reclaim the meaning this time of year.
So, here's some permission to cut out all the stuff that doesn't truly bring you joy. Hate how much that plastic garland sheds all over your house? Hate the tons of Secret Santa events that just add to the 'things' in your home that you don't really want to deal with? Dislike the way children shift from wonderment to whining "is there more?" as they come to the end of a pile of gifts and wrapping waste? Hate the emptiness that trots along behind you when you're staring at an overwhelming credit card statement in January? It's okay to admit that you don't love it all. Let's just change it.
To echo Marie Kondo, if it doesn't bring joy, you don't have to do it. This is the holidays, not grocery shopping or paying the phone bill; nothing is truly mandatory. A few years ago I realized that too many things weren't fitting with my values about the holidays and it was time to either operate as a grump that time of year or make a change. So, I learned how to say 'no.' And, if you're a bit of a people-pleaser, you're going to have to really work at that. Coming up with a way to say no (like a sentence that's already prepared) and some self compassion (it's easy to suggest rather than do, that's for sure, but you don't really have to feel badly if you're choosing to protect yourself and your family!) is a good way to start, and know that it will get easier each time you do it. That's a good first step.
It's a bit of an easier thing to start with in your home. Just start with those tons of boxes in the basement that we all tend to have. As you take things out this time of year, ask yourself if this truly brings you joy, or if you could leave it in the box this year and feel lighter. If you do not miss it, maybe it's the first to be donated when that box gets repacked in January. It's more work the first time through, but take the 'lens' or perspective upon opening those boxes to only take out the things that bring joy that you love. If you leave a good majority of it in the basement, decide what goes (and where) and if you're not sure about it, give it another year. The less you take out, the more meaningful those things will be. And if it's all joyful for you, and taking care of it is no prob, then that's great, too! This is not about deprivation, but I'll try to show you what I mean with my experience.
I have a timber frame home and for a few years, I collected bins of garland to put up and plenty of decorations to completely transform my home into this winter cabin situation. But I had to be honest with myself - I am a visual person and the clutter and visual environment of my home is my calm and peace. I hated how much more cleaning all of the plastic garland wisps and plastic glitter added to my plate. It took me hours to put up and take down and I found I actually felt resentful at how much I was putting into the holiday that my partner simply didn't. It didn't add to my life at all. So I began lovingly passing it on or selling it. If you take out the Christmas lights and just feel terrible at the thought of having to deal with putting them up and taking them down, just don't do it. Really! We no longer have any Christmas themed serving ware and plateware and tablecloths and aprons because it was just something extra right at crunch time that I had to remember, and it never added anything to the day for me. I had to wash them because they sat for the year and put them out and figure out where to keep them when they were out, and then make sure they were washed on time and then pack them all away again. I was hard on myself when I didn't get the plate out at the right time for the right person to see I had made use of their gift. I was hard on myself when I didn't have the Santa cups clean for the holiday movie, and made myself wash them, because I thought that's what moms were supposed to be doing the whole holiday (when the truth was, I could use our regular mugs and my boys could have snuggled with me during that time instead). I was hard on myself when I added something trend based and wanted to change all the other elements to match that knowing fully well that it was all costing way too much money. I wasted time and energy in holiday decor shopping when I could have been in the woods collecting branches and feeling much, much differently about the end result (compostable, free, timeless, scented naturally and the element of an outdoor walk). Some of the decorations that were passed to me actually reminded me of some not so nice memories and people, but I put them out anyway.
Once we got started on decreasing a lot of the must-dos when it came to my home, which I already struggled to keep up with, we started on gifts. We had those tough conversations about which gift exchanges could be replaced with a get together (for friends) and which ones we could pare down family-wise. We decreased the amount of clutter coming into our home, and really thought about how many gifts our sons needed. We opted to gift a few very special treasures instead, which has made it much easier to thrift and find second hand. For my partner, we decided doing some new traditions (some at-home date nights with cocktails and a board game) were much better for us to connect with than a gift for one another. We rethought our schedule and decreased some of the events we used to do, choosing the ones that made our family happiest. We created a winter solstice celebration of a winter bonfire and outdoor dinner at home, stopped going to the mall, grabbed holiday stories at the library instead of long strolls in Chapters that the kids actually hated (and we came to be frustrated by), created some holiday baking rituals and skating dates and decreased the amount of time we spent travelling away from home on their school holidays.
This doesn't mean you need to get rid of all your Christmas plates if you love those! Keep up that gift exchange with a friend if you truly love it. The whole goal of this is to find what truly brings magic for you, and to ease the guilt of not doing it all. You will find what works for you, and I promise space will be made. Space to do the meaningful things and the things that matter.
So, what types of things continue to bring joy after you get rid of what doesn't? And how do we keep heading down this path of reeling it back a bit, wasting less, and making things matter more, especially when we are going to be buying more? If you're down the path on this journey a little bit, you'll already know the quiet joy and calm it can bring to focus on a sustainable, simple home, and it can carry right through the holiday season!