A friend recently lent me a book called Hundred Dollar Holiday by Bill McKibben. I’ll admit, the title did not thrill me.
“Hundred dollar holiday?” I thought. “How could I spend just $100 on Christmas? And really, why would I want to?”
Sure, I’m a minimalist, but the thought of spending the equivalent of a week’s worth of groceries on Christmas just didn’t seem feasible… or fun.
But then I read the book. And cried. And became a believer.
Let’s get one thing straight, though… the title is very, very deceiving. The author actually doesn’t propose spending just $100 on Christmas. (Even he admits that he chose the title mostly because it sounded good.) The book is actually about finding more joy at Christmas, which, he argues quite reasonably, happens best when you take the focus off buying stuff and put it on spending time with your loved ones.
I know, I know… you’ve heard all this before: the reason for the season, the season of giving, the season of peace and joy. These are all things we’ve heard and probably said ourselves.
But the thing is, most of us don’t follow it. Not one bit. I’m as guilty as anyone.
When I think about Christmas, I immediately start fretting about gifts. Now, of course, it’s not surprising that gifts can cause me, an anti-clutter activist, some serious stress. But reading this book made me realize that the clutter itself is not the reason gifts make me feel crazy. The real reason is because most gifts are not fulfilling. Giving and getting tons of presents does not make me feel happy, or fulfilled, or joyful, or… Christmas-like. Not at all.
When I think back to my childhood, I have a hard time recalling any particular gifts I got for Christmas. For some reason, the only specific thing I can remember getting that I truly loved was a brown suede leather jacket. Besides that, I can remember a “soooooo not cool” sweater my aunt and uncle gave me in high school. (Note to that aunt and uncle: I love you and you were very brave to buy your teenage niece clothing and I’m really sorry if I acted like a jerk when I opened that gift.) I also recall a lavender-colored rhythmic gymnastics ribbon that my sister got when we were kids and of which I was extremely jealous.
That’s it. Those are the three gifts I remember from my childhood: one I liked, one I disliked, and one that wasn’t even for me. Just this small list of personal memories doesn’t make a strong argument for filling our trees with presents for the kiddos.
But let me tell you what I do remember:
- Playing in my grandma’s basement with my cousins, making up our own dance routines.
- The never-ending plate of Christmas cookies that my grandma and aunts would refill from the breezeway whenever it started to look the least bit bare.
- Eating anchovy spaghetti sauce on Christmas Eve.
- Being in the Christmas pageant at church, especially when we got to come in on a Saturday for practice. We ate sloppy joes in the church basement and I thought that was awesome.
- The white paper bags of peanuts and hard candy we would get after the Christmas service.
- Doing the advent wreath with my family each Sunday leading up the 25th.
- My mom sending Christmas cards. One year she designed her own cards using a nativity stamp she made from a potato. Seriously, Mom! Where is your award???
- The year my Uncle Tony received sexy red bikini underwear as a joke. He put it on over his long johns and danced around the house while my aunts slipped dollar bills into the side. I laughed and laughed and had no idea why it was funny. (Note: I wish I had some of those dollar bills to pay for the therapy bills from this memory.)
And I could GO ON.
So… what do I deduce from this listing activity?
The gifts we give don’t matter as much as the time we spend. All my best holiday memories involve TIME with family and friends. They revolve around MEMORIES, not stuff. I think I’ve always known this intuitively, but until I wrote these lists down, I didn’t realize how true this was in my own life.
In fact, I challenge you, make two lists: one of your favorite holiday gifts and one of your favorite holiday memories. Which is longer? Which can you recall with more detail? With more joy? I’d love to hear some results!
Now, I’m not against gifts, quite the contrary. I love giving gifts. But I think we would all enjoy Christmas more if we focused those gifts somehow on TIME, if we gave meaningful gifts of memories that will actually last for a lifetime.
If you want some awesome ideas for how to do that, read Bill’s book. You can also check out this blog post I wrote last year about my Top Ten Tips for Clutter-Free Christmas.
And here’s to a holiday season of peace and joy with those you love.
Rose Lounsbury is the Dayton, Ohio area’s up-and-coming professional organizer. And her Uncle Tony really did wear sexy red underwear over his long johns one Christmas. No joke. After blogging about her own journey toward a minimalist lifestyle, Rose was inspired to start Less, a minimalist-minded professional organizing company. If you’d like Rose’s help with an organizing project at your home or office, please call her at 937-626-9030, email her at [email protected], or visit her online at OrganizeWithLess.com.