Today is the day that starts the Holiday Season in the US. And tomorrow is Black Friday, a huge day for retailers, gift-givers, and everyone for whom Things are wildly important.
So you might think that this is a very strange Medium post in terms of timing.
Actually, it’s not.
The next five weeks are some of the most stressful of the year for countless people who feel they have to live up to all the hype — that they have to fill their lives with MORE MORE MORE in order to be part of the Holiday Spirit.
I’m here to tell you that you don’t. At the very least, you can take some of the pressure off yourself in small but telling ways.
This holiday season, put YOURSELF on the list first. And give yourself the chance to try some of these ideas to simplify your life and make room for what really matters. They will cost you nothing but a little time, a little thought, and a little re-envisioning of the life you live every day.
1. Be conscious. Doing things automatically or without thinking is the cause of more unnecessary “stuff” in your life than you can imagine. Look at anything you are considering buying and ask yourself, Can I live without it? Look at every relationship and notice, Does this relationship support me, drain me, or provide balanced energy for me? Look at your habitual thoughts and decide, Are they true for me? Are they useful? Are they healing?
2. Detach your identity from your belongings. We are not our jobs, our family titles, our sports teams, our new car, our bells-and-whistles computer, or our name-brand clothes.
Or the presents we buy for others.
These material items do not determine what we are worth! When you accept that you are not defined by what you own, getting rid of them (and not buying more) will be infinitely easier.
3. Eat slowly, without distractions. The holidays are a time when there are always cookies, or cocktails, or special meals that we’ve been taught we HAVE to try — it’s the only time of year they’re around.
Give yourself the gift of “enough.”
It’s a small change, but enjoying our food is such an important lesson in teaching ourselves what “enough” is! Savor what you have. Be conscious of what you put in your mouth without the distraction of a book, television, or other sensory diversions. And remember that the cookies were always there last year, and the year before — they are not once-in-a-lifetime unicorns.
When we are aware of what we are eating and how much we are enjoying it, we eat less.
4. Evaluate commitments and time-takers. There are so many tasks we’ve done for years, promises we made long ago where both parties have forgotten why we made them, and routines so ingrained in our schedules that we’re not even aware we’re doing them. The holidays are no different. Whether it’s “expected” get-togethers, Secret Santa exchanges for people you barely know, or events that perhaps you’ve outgrown but still feel you “have to do” — rethink them.
Look at anything that requires your participation. Ask yourself if it moves you forward or nourishes you in any way.
And after the holidays, examine what you do year-round. If volunteering at the local animal shelter or being a Big Brother or Big Sister nourishes you, as well as those you help, then keep it on your list. But if what you’re examining no longer serves you, put it in the “dump” pile.
5. Go for quality, not quantity. I learned this one from my frugal-by-nature husband. If we have a large purchase to make (a new refrigerator, a lawn tractor, a car) we spend time weighing our options, looking at consumer ratings, and finding out where we can get the best deal. Then we buy the best we can afford and it lasts for a long time.
Try paying that kind of attention to smaller purchases this Christmas. Two kitchen gadgets may be on the shelf, and the lesser one may be on sale. But if duplicates have to replace the original in the span of two years, they are no bargain if the other slightly pricier gadget gives you years of service. In that case, paying more up front may be better in the long run.
And for the holidays? Don’t think about gifts to one-up last year. Don’t think about seeing if there can be more presents under the tree or by the Menorah. Pare it down to what’s important, what would be treasured.
6. Limit your media consumption. During the holidays, the relentless BUY BUY BUY of every commercial, every screen pop-up, even the ads we’re now forced to watch at the gas pump(!) can be overwhelming.
Turn away, mute the sound, click past.
In our household, we automatically mute every single pharmaceutical commercial. Why? We don’t want to hear about diseases we don’t have or need to think about. Every other commercial is about the diabetes we are sure to develop or the heart attack waiting for us around the corner. Even normal body glitches are now touted as diseases if it will sell another drug (“Did you know you could have usedtobenormalitis or UTBNI? Ask your doctor if Fixituban is right for you!”). The fears these commercials seek to instill in us lead us to pester our doctors about yet another pill we would never have known about had Big Pharma not warned us we couldn’t live without it.
Advertising is advertising. We can live without 98 percent of what they promote, but marketing folks are good at seducing you without your being aware of it. The less you let advertising enter your consciousness, the less you will want. It’s that simple.
7. Redefine the concept of enough. The best example of not understanding enough comes from my grandmother’s ideas on food: “Eat one more bite than you want. Then you’ve had enough.”
How many pairs of shoes is enough? How many boxes of pasta is enough? How much vacation is enough? How much self-time is enough?
How many Holiday Obligations are enough? (Maybe none?)
Be conscious when it comes to what enough is. Your version may differ from someone else’s, but that’s okay. The only one who has a say in what enough means for you is you.
8. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. We’re not talking about hoarding everything just in case you need to use it later. However, it pays to remember the maxim from the Depression, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”
Figure out how you can consolidate several things into one. Find ways to turn one no-longer-used thing into a new wow-this-is-useful thing. Take the time to separate out plastics and cardboard and get them to the recycling plant. Wade through your clothes, the kids’ toys, and anything else of which you have multiples and get them to a second-hand center so others who have less can find and cherish them.
And look especially at things you got (or gave) in holidays past that are still pristine, never used, perhaps even in the original wrapping. That should give you a BIG clue as to what is no longer necessary.
9. Simplify your wardrobe. This tip is both hard and easy. Hard because we all have items we love that we only get to wear occasionally — or pull out on a special occasion to match that perfect, but rarely-donned item. We all know that when we have multiples of items, some of them never get used.
Try the old hanger-reversal trick: Put all your hangers backward on the bar. When you wear something, put the hanger back on the bar the way you would normally. After six months or a year, look at all the hangers that are still backward on the bar. Notice what never got worn. Do you really need it? Do you still love it? If not, out it goes. Do the same for shoes, jewelry, and anything clothing-related.
Find a way to see what you are and are not using. If you don’t use it, send it off to someone who will.
And really, nobody will remember the holiday outfit you wore last year. Wear it again, and I promise nobody will accuse you of being a Scrooge.
10. Stop worrying about norms or what is expected of you. The biggest advice is saved for last. So much of what we have or what we do has been dictated by what others think we should have or do — or even be. When you let go of listening to others’ judgments of you and what you surround yourself with, you will find it wonderfully easy to slow down consumption. You’ll be able to pare Stuff down to what you really love. You’ll stop looking over your shoulder for validation. Wayne Dyer said it best: “What other people think of me is none of my business.”
Finally, remember this question: If you want to create Life as a Tiny House — who lives in yours? You do. The house of your Life is yours and yours alone, even if you choose to share parts of it with others.
And you just might find that living in a Life house that’s smaller than you’ve experienced opens you up to a great big life in general.