Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Robin Shliakhau of Simplify and Pursue.
My journey into minimalism was initiated by my husband. His coming to America as an adult from eastern Europe was not without its challenges. If you’ve been to that part of the world you can appreciate a little bit of his backstory.
Growing up in the Former Soviet Union was not easy, he remembers waiting in queues in frigid temperatures for the most basic necessities. Fast forward twenty years and he finds himself in America—the land he had heard about his entire life. As with most things, it’s not completely as he expected. The ease and access of pretty much anything was alluring, but also deceiving.
Throughout our marriage, our different backgrounds have not always been easy. And one argument that came up repeatedly was about our stuff.
My husband would get fed up with the clutter, the piles of stuff, and the cleaning, which he was always helpful with. The amount of things we owned proved to be very overwhelming to him. Our conversations often included him getting frustrated and venting about the number of things we owned. I’d agree on the surface that we did have a lot of “junk” and that I wished things weren’t so time consuming, but little would actually change.
That was, until… the week before Christmas of 2012.
I remember the day well. The stress of the holiday season was resting squarely on both of our shoulders when Andrei and I had an argument for the millionth time about “stuff.” It always followed the same tune. Life and stuff would be hectic and cluttered and he would tolerate until he couldn’t anymore. He would explain how he doesn’t even know where most of it came from and wished our house would burn down and we could start over. Seriously. And then I would agree that it was out of hand. I completely understood his point of view (I did not agree about the house burning down). Intellectually I understood, I just didn’t know where or how to start.
But I knew, this time, something needed to change. The holiday season made the burden of excess even more apparent in our lives. Days later, with the conversation still fresh in my mind, a friend shared something on Facebook from Becoming Minimalist… the words I read that day sounded just like my husband. Shortly after, I read The Joy of Less by Francine Jay. She helped me wrap my head around how to begin and offered a detailed method for minimizing my possessions.
As I look back at my story, before minimalism, the holiday season had become something both my husband and I had begun to dread. If you dread the holidays, that’s when you most need to stop, become observant, and notice what is going on around you.
The words that should describe the holidays, such as peace, joy, family, and giving, often become replaced with stress, anxiety, debt, and “I want’s.” But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can still discover and experience our ideal holiday season.
Here are some thoughts on how we can aim for a more intentional holiday season:
1. Check to see where your heart is. Take a few moments before all the hoopla begins and ask yourself some hard questions: Is there greed in your heart? When our desires turn to greed or we seek to fill a real need with more stuff, it is important to step back and refocus. Are you worried about keeping up with expectations of families and friends? Many times the expectations that give us anxiety are self imposed. Is there pride lurking in how you go about the holidays? Along with the expectations we’re trying to meet, there may also be an unhealthy competition and pride in how we celebrate. If we’re all honest, we struggle with these in varying levels. Being aware of these gives us an opportunity to let them go.
2. Set an example to others. Have the hard conversations early in the season of letting extended family know that you are trying to get out of debt or are changing the way that you celebrate. There may be some pushback, but chances are your friends and family are struggling with the same feelings of semi-dread around the holidays. When we are bold, it gives others the courage to make similar decisions. We may inspire them to rethink the expectations they have also been struggling to meet.
3. Focus on the giving. Giving is the heart of the holiday season. Besides giving thoughtful gifts to family and friends, there are ways that you and your family can give to others. Many organizations have catalogs or campaigns for this time of year in which you can give those in impoverished areas some of the most basic of necessities. Also, look in your area for soup kitchens, shelters, or refugee centers to help those in your own city. You can also give time. Start by spending quality time together as family and then volunteer at one of your local organizations.
4. Dream of how you can do the holidays well. Rather than having unrealistic images of the holidays, take a few moments to think of what you’d like to do differently this year. Talk with your family about what they are most looking forward to this holiday season. Ask them who they would like to help during this season. I’m often pleasantly surprised of how aware my children are. Involve them in this process. Your idea of the holidays should reflect your values, beliefs, and passions.
5. Give yourself and others grace. By design, this is a season of expectation and waiting. Excitement builds with each day. Be sure to let yourself enjoy this season. If you find yourself stressed, take a breath and refocus. If others push their expectations on you or disregard your wishes, extend grace to them but remain committed to your vision for the holidays. The swim against the culture will not be easy, but it will be worth it.
Call it a hunch, but I think most of us yearn for a little less stress during the holiday season and more time to enjoy those closest to us. It was this time of year that caused me to finally put into practice the words of my husband.
Let’s fill the holidays with such good memories and new traditions that no one even gives a second thought to a smaller pile of gifts under the tree. Because this is not about giving less, it’s about adding depth and meaning to this special time of the year.