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Get more holiday joy by doing less
This is the time of year we see a lot of stress in our family members, friends, acquaintances, and the many people we come into contact with in our daily lives. Everywhere folks appear to be in a hurry, rushing towards that elusive goal of creating a special and memorable holiday experience, one that is drawn from childhood and the holiday ideal portrayed in all those old classics we love to watch year after year. So why is there an audible sigh of relief when January 1st comes around and we can finally exhale and thank the universe for helping us survive another year? The answer boils down to too much stress and not nearly enough time spent quietly in the moment, which is where joy is experienced.
The solution won't be found in trying to do more by going faster, being more efficient, making better lists and starting to plan in August. It's actually much easier than that because all that is required is to do less and do it differently.
Make a list of what you desire most from this year's celebration
Then think about how you can trim it down. Begin with what is both desirable and realistic, because the gap between these two may be large. Ask yourself what you both want AND have the power/ability to achieve. Some examples might include your desire to have certain family members interact in a more positive way with you or others. However you have no control over their behavior. Think instead about how you can enjoy some family members without others being present, or perhaps you can shorten or rearrange a get-together to make it more comfortable for everyone. These are things you can do and if this is a high priority, it's something worth attempting. Do you want to do less baking, cooking and cleaning? Begin with a list of what you have done in the past and go through it, eliminating anything that feels like a chore. This will leave you with the tasks you enjoy and want to hold on to.
Declutter your space before the holiday arrives
Then do it again around the New Year. One of the problems most people have at this time of year is ending up with a lot of stuff left over from their celebration. Everything from presents, leftover food, house warming gifts, decorations, knick-knacks that others thought you just had to have, etc. These and all the extra trash and recycling can quickly overwhelm your space and impact your piece of mind. Therefore if you clean out closets, throw out and recycle everything you don't need or use, and create more open space and a better flow before the celebration begins you will have more room for (at least temporarily) storing all those holiday themed items.
Pare down the decorations
Do you really need all those lights, figurines on every surface, garland and wreaths on every door, and/or sculptures and plants covering your entire entrance? Put out the things you love and that bring a smile to your face. You can put the rest aside and see how you feel next year or just decide to donate a few things so another family can enjoy them. If you haven't updated your holiday decor in years, you may be surprised to see all the new products that are so much easier to display and that do the job with much less time, work and hassle. Maybe after the holiday is over you could take advantage of the great sales and invest in some things that you can start using next year.
Set limits on the number of gifts you give and how much you will spend
Then stick to your budget. Changing your usual gift exchange tradition of purchasing a gift for everyone to a Secret Santa one where everyone buys and receives fewer (and usually much nicer) gifts has helped many families cut back on excessive spending and gift-giving. Also consider putting a price limit on gifts, and shopping online, which cuts your investment in time and energy and saves on gas and parking--especially if you are careful to look for sellers who offer free shipping. Paying with cash can help you avoid going over your budget and/or opening new credit card lines, which can hurt your credit rating.
Pace yourself and do a little at a time
Why do we often insist to ourselves and others that something has to be done all at once, by a certain time and/or in a certain way? What about breaking down your to-do list so that it extends over a couple of weeks? You can carve out an hour or two at a time to ship, wrap, decorate or bake, and then do this a few times a week until you are satisfied that it is "good enough." By taking your time, you might even have more fun along the way. This might mean that all the decorations aren't out until a day or two ahead or that you don't even get to everything you did last year. But really, who will notice or care but you--and why do you, really?
Focus on being there, fully present in the moment
Happiness is experienced in brief moments when we are truly present in an experience. When your focus is on getting there, and doing it as quickly as possible, you miss everything else along the way. What we are all chasing during the holidays is a glimpse of some long ago memory, feeling, and/or experience. We tend to be so focused on searching for it that we forget it will only come when we are not looking. If all this seems too simple, it's because it really is. Unfortunately we have all been influenced by the larger culture that equates happiness with having more, and doing more, bigger, and better than everyone else. If you want to find joy this holiday season, do less and do it with all your being.
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Toni Coleman, LCSW
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