’Tis the season for unreasonable expectations.
Over the next several weeks, televisions, magazines, and websites will offer us countless images of the “perfect” holiday season.
Beaming faces, sparkling eyes, glistening gifts, and bountiful tables of food will be shown on media platforms of every sort. Many of these images will stand side-by-side with corporate logos and retail stores.
The turkey is from Butterball. The necklace from Kay’s. The soda is Coca-Cola. The toys were purchased at Walmart. The coffee is Folger’s. The slippers are from Kohl’s. And the new vehicle with the red bow in the driveway is a Lexus.
It would seem, from the image on the screen, these items are essential for a perfect holiday. Because obviously, the smiles are bigger, the family is happier, and the lights shine brighter—if, and only if, we buy the consumer product to make it so.
This is not a new strategy from marketers. All year long they communicate the subtle (and not-so-subtle) message that our lives will be better, happier, and more fulfilled if we buy whatever they’re selling.
But their message reaches a fever-pitch during the Holiday Season and nobody is immune to their meticulously crafted persuasion.
I assume one reason for the effectiveness of these ad campaigns is because we all desire a joyful and merry holiday season. We cherish our time with family and want it to be picture perfect. We love our kids and want them to be happy. And we all enjoy times of celebration and desire them to be memorable.
But let’s remember one important truth today: You don’t need any of those things for a perfect holiday season.
You don’t need a new car in the driveway for a perfect holiday season. You don’t need new jewelry for a perfect holiday season. You don’t need slippers. You don’t need a perfectly-decorated 10-foot tree. And you certainly don’t need a large pile of glistening presents underneath it.
You don’t need any of those things for a perfect holiday season.
The holiday season is about family, and thankfulness, and faith and love and peace. It’s about reflecting on the year that was, and looking forward to the year that can be. It’s about counting blessings. It’s about slowing down long enough to appreciate the things in life that matter most.
And too often, the consumeristic promises and fake-photos keep us from enjoying the season. Instead of slowing down, we speed up. We rush from store-to-store (or website-to-website) filling our shopping carts with all the things we think we need. We fill our schedules with increased commitments and responsibilities. We max out our credit cards.
We get so frustrated and weary chasing the perfect holiday season that we never take time to enjoy the one right in front of us.
But Melody Beattie once said, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.”
Once we slow down enough to notice our blessings, we begin to see that we already have everything we need for a perfect holiday season.
And maybe that is what worries marketers the most… that we would begin to recognize all the things we don’t need for a perfect holiday season.
With age comes wisdom. Stuff, ego and status give way to family, friends, our passions and gratitude. Experiences trump things!
I really enjoy and look forward to your newsletter, Joshua.
I so wish I had discovered minimalism years ago, at least the desire for it. I have never had much money or a lot of things but the wanting for them was there so I didn’t enjoy my life as much as I could have. It looked like a very moderate life on the outside but it wasn’t so in my heart.
Well, even though I am 72 now this has given me a whole new exciting perspective and goals for my life. My family will be so relieved not to have to deal with years of my accumulation.
Have a wonderful holiday season.
I am encouraged by these comments and just recently became a minimalist after losing our house, furnishings and most of my family memoirs & personal affects from the devastating flood this past August. I’m saddened by what happened to us and our entire town, but now realize at the ripe age of 72, that life isn’t about things & possessions but our families, friends, helping those in need; our beautiful world of nature, our precious pets and mostly, loving & trusting God. To live a life of gratitude!
Donna, I am sorry for all your losses but have faith that you’ve found the path to live the rest of your life with more peace and contentment. Good luck!
Jillian Shields says
I love this, Joshua and it has come at the perfect time today. Thanks for the timely reminder. I am off home to be grateful for all the things I do have and be grateful for all that I don’t need.
I’m 6 months into minimalism and it’s really starting to be ingrained into me now.
The biggest challenge I see with Christmas is the question “why did Santa get my friends at school loads of toys, whilst I didn’t get as much? Was I not as well behaved?” I can’t work it out.
I do quite enjoy the quizzical look on the parents and in laws face when I say I would prefer a donation to charity as a gift though.
Rohvannyn Shaw says
Here’s a potential answer: “some people are those Santa gives a lot to. Some people are Santa’s helpers. You get some toys because you are good, but we know that love is important too.” Then have them help you deliver a holiday box to a needy family in your area. Help them be proud of giving and being in on the secret magic of the season. That’s what happened to me when I was little, and it resulted in some really good memories.
When my daughter was 6, she asked a very well-thought out question-“Why are poor children bad?”
EEEK! I asked her her where on Earth she had gotten that idea-and she came up with, of course, that Santa brings lots of toys/etc if one is good. She couldn’t understand how being poor would influence Santa!
We had a LONG talk, and I finally came up with Santa as deliverer of toys-and elves the makers-but the parent/adult/etc had to PAY for the materials.
She then decided that we HAD to help some poor children’s
parents pay for gifts for their kids who had been good. And we did. She continues this kindness as an adult, as does her brother.
As a family we learned long ago that holidays are just what you make them.
As a teacher, I use the concept of winding DOWN to the holiday instead of ramping up-it keeps the kids calmer, and I have almost no discipline issues in my SpEd classes.
We meditate daily and focus on doing kind things for others. Instead of asking, “What do you want for Christmas?” I have them explore “What do you want to GIVE to others ?”
It’s awesome to read/hear what my kids write/say.
Excellent response. I love how you ask your kids what they’d like to give instead of what they want.
Lucky Diaz says
That’s a beautiful way to celebrate Christmas.
Imho, that’s a great time to tell them that Santa is imaginary!
We’ve never *done* Santa with our almost 6yo, and I am so glad. We also home school and don’t have regular tele, so he misses most of the peer pressure and marketing messages intended to make him want, want, want. He probably still has too many toys, but he isn’t constantly asking for more, and I am slowly culling as he outgrows things.
Arlene Puentes says
Amy Dacyczyn, writer of the Tightwad Gazette, makes the argument that the fewer treats (toys, etc.) children receive, the more grateful they are for their possessions.
I agree with her. Anyway, that’s the way things worked out with my son.
It’s funny but I’ve heard this said by other familes, my home, with fewer toys and no television is where all the kids hung out when my boy was a child. I know this is anecdotal evidence but it says something, I think.
Don’t we all know children with a house full of toys and gadgets that they never touch? Those houses filled with this garbage are houses filled with wasted resources.
Anyway, you know what to do with your family better than anyone else knows what to do with your family. Including me!
Be well, Arlene
Amy Dacyczyn is my hero…The Tightwad Gazette makes me happy when I read it. It really shows how creativity and frugality can create a home that is so much better than store bought.
I hurt when I see kids in my circle that have every toy imaginable and tell me they are bored…don’t play with most of them, don’t pick them up…and rooms look like a disaster. Whenever in a store they clamor for more! It’s true. They don’t appreciate what they have. It is a glut of “stuff” and it is a dime a dozen…why care for them if you can only get more and more each time you go out?
My kids only get one gift from Santa, and we’re not minimalist. I know many people who do just one Santa present, but then others say all presents are from Santa. You just have to decide on your own traditions. If your kids are used to having a lot of gifts under the tree, but you’re ready to cut back, consider buying and wrapping things you’d be buying them anyway like socks and shoes. Or if your kids are old enough explain the new rule is mommy will only buy 3 presents (or whatever number you like). Then they’ll know ahead of time.
Diane Barnett says
So true! The unrealistic expectations might be what has made National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation such a popular movie. It’s a tradition at our house. We watch it every year.
Lisa B says
Love your blog. I just had the very best Thanksgiving holiday & weekend after. I think it’s directly attributable to letting go of watching tv. No ads to buy things I don’t need, no images of what my life “should” look like, no emotional hangover from “wanting”. Very thankful!
How do you let go of watching TV…I have tried and found it very difficult…any suggestions?
Im 63, I gave up Tv when my first born was 6, shes 43 now, I realized I didnt have time to waste if I wanted a full life, TV tends to take up precious time from reading, crafts,board games and adventure, just to name a few. I gave it away and never looked back or regreted the decision.
Read a book
If you haven’t already, you could start by cutting your cable. We did over a year ago. Our replacement is a Roku and a Netflix subscription. We’ve discovered that we’re much more selective about what we watch and that the TV is on a lot less.
Put it in the trash . I ve lived without one since 2009. If I can do it, you can.
Oh, it’s not easy to find gratitude, living in deep grief as a result of the US-election. Too much fear and sorrow. What have you done?!
Keep in mind that “fear and sorrow” is also advertised so that we will go out and buy things to make us feel safe and happy. Look around you and discover how safe and happy your really are.
Bonnie, wise response. Thank you!
Oh I don’t buy a lot, only the essentials of life. I’m a mother and grandmother, and all of my children have learned early to live with less. And we live in Germany, where a new party lies and “trumpets” like your president-elect. A lot of people hear the message and spread the hate. Yes, as a family and Christians, we are really happy. But all around us is a lot of fear and worry because of the US-election. Here the people cannot understand what you have done. We are all in deep worry about that, especially the Christians, helping refugees in need – and we do have a lot of refugees. They enrich our lives her. But the elections caused a lot of deep depression. My children fear for the future and the future of their children. The Nazis here enjoy and feel triumphant and see more victories coming. Trump’s lies and the US-election make them happy – but only these people. :-(
JoAnn Birdsong says
How did an article about learning to live with less turn into grief and sadness. We still live in the greatest country in the world, we’re free, we are able to vote, and go where we want to when we want to. How easy it is to go from feeling thankful to feeling terrible.
“The greatest country in the world …” – you believe that already? Do you really think that? Incredible.
You cannot see, what the rest of the world is experiencing with your new president? Wow.
I suppose one has to go elsewhere to see how very grateful we should be living in this country of abundance. Like my ancestors I too wish to teach my grandchildren of those less fortunate. Where fresh drinking water is nonexistent (let that truth settle into your soul), where children walk hours to go to school (one way). Where some people don’t have shoes. Countries (even our own) where children go to bed hungry ,often. How rich and lovely it would be if this country and its media pursuasion would speak of giving vs getting. Of serving others vs self serving pleasures. Of a virtuous life vs a materialistic culture. I recently began to change my own culture within of wanting ,having, seeking more to simply living and being in the PRESENT????with less but truly more❤️
ruth frei says
That is beautiful and inspiring Elliott! Thanks so much .
I work at a Christmas store…and “magic” is sold there for all the trappings of Christmas “magic”…but my heart grieves when I see the $400, $600, $1000 price tags just for that reason alone. If we keep it simple…reuse those boxes we’ ve tucked away…recycle cards as gifts in frames…wrap with cloth material bought the day after Christmas last year…we can simplify and be a blessing to so many places where it is a life and death struggle, in the aftermath of war, or at a poverty level we will never relate to. Besides that, look for the lonely old person or family that is struggling here. Share our Christmas dinner with them. Thanks for this timely reminder.
Linda Pelchat says
Thanks for this very timely reminder on today of all days….BLACK FRIDAY.
In Canada, we are also gearing up for “BIG SAVINGS” & “FANATASTIC DEALS ” etc , etc., I woke up this morning to a crap load of Black Friday themed emails which I promptly deleted.
I am opting out of the crazy part of this season and staying home today…..we have what we need right here.
And I’m so very thankful :)
Thank you. Just what I needed to read at this Holiday Season time. I feel better already. I really don’t need very many items to have a wonderful time. Again thank you for the reminder.
Love this! I never have anything perfect, even have failed to get the tree up some years. (It is up already this year!) I always feel “less than” for failing to have things perfect.
Also, for myself, I prefer to buy used items. Saving, repressing and enjoying vintage things with character is what I enjoy.
Erin Disher says
I agree wholeheartedly with this blog and the simplicity it stands for. Last night, I spent over an hour researching artificial trees, trying to find the “perfect” one for our home. I don’t ask for much really, just one that’s: not made in China, 7 ft tall, realistic-looking, pre-lit with LEDs, good quality and affordable. And I discovered that the “perfect” tree just doesn’t exist. Instead, I decided to save our money. Like last year, we will forgo a Christmas tree, purchase 1 small gift for our toddler, and spend money on an experience together.