Guest post by Gretchen Garrison
Now that I have gotten older, I definitely do find it ironic that the most pushed shopping “holiday” of the year follows the day that we are encouraged to reflect and be thankful for all that we have been given. Many of my friends have taken to posting on Facebook daily in November all that they are thankful for, and as I mentioned, we have been trying to do that daily as a family as well. Yet yesterday when I took out the newspaper recycling, I could not believe how crammed last Sunday’s paper was with Christmas ads. Already? We were not even halfway through the month of November? Since it was cold, a friend and I met at the mall the other day to take a walk. While I am even a big fan of Christmas music, hearing it piped every where and seeing holiday displays was a bit annoying. December 12th? Sure. November 12th? Not so much.
How can we learn to be grateful with our stuff? How can we teach our kids? How can we handle this time with joy rather than with overindulgence on so many levels?
I know our house feels like it is already crammed with stuff. Yet this year, our budget is tighter. Each month we can afford the basics and not much more, so this is really the one chance that our kids can pick out stuff that they want rather than just the necessities. Although I don’t have the answers as to how solve this quandary of “stuff” and gratitude, I do have several suggestions to help with the process this holiday season.
1) November is a perfect time for a little home organizing since you are often stuck inside anyway. Take time to go through closets and get rid of clothes that don’t fit or that your child doesn’t wear. Even better, go through toys and do the same thing. Teaching our children that most “items” just are around for season helps them to recognize that letting go is okay. We still have some work to do around here on the stuffed animal collections, but hey, I guess you have to start somewhere.
2) Purposefully buy gifts for those who would not have any without your help. Our family every year participates in the program where you send shoe boxes of gifts overseas to children in poverty. One national program buys gifts for children who have parents in prisons. Many local organizations have toy drives. I appreciate the non-profit one in our area where they collect donations, then let local families “shop” for their own Christmas, selling each item at a huge discount, allowing Christmas with dignity. To have this process sink in, do have your children be a part of the purchasing. Telling my children “no, this is not about you”as we wander the toy aisles is good for all of us.
3) Lessen the amount of gifts. Ask for a present for the whole family. Add to a collection or some type of a building set that has multiple possibilities. We do have lots of legos around here, but the nice thing is that they do encourage creativity and critical thinking. If you do not need any toys, ask for memberships to nearby places. Draw names. While this may not work with grandpas and grandmas, it could work with cousins. Or others that you want to do a small exchange with. In our family this year for part of our Christmas, the adults are doing a gift card exchange. This will allow us to pick out a few fun places to shop or eat, plus we are all obviously spending about the same amount of money. For my homeschool co-operative, we will be doing a family gift exchange. Since we meet three times in December, we will bring little fun surprises (such as hot cocoa mix or cookies) at first, then bring a $15-20 gift that can be enjoyed for a family night. We loved doing this last year and added a fun sense of weekly anticipation that is fun this time of year.
4) Focus on the sentimental. While some of my stuff is just that, a few items that I have are very meaningful for me to get out each year. Although it is not good to get attached to everything that we own, having a few things be attached to memories can be good. My current display on my buffet is just that. The potholders are ones my kids created a few years ago at a fall party. The fall glass dishes used to be my Grandma’s. Although none of us have enough self control to keep them full of candy, they do look lovely on the shelf. The pumpkin was my other Grandma’s, along with the Thanksgiving salt & pepper shakers. I am not sure that I remember her actually using them, but the turkeys do make me smile when I see them. My Mom who always shows me how much she loves me in lots of little ways gave me the blessings sign. And the pumpkin mini bread pan? That was from my season of being in MOPS as a mom of just preschoolers – a reminder that time passes quickly.
5) Create the sentimental. For the past few years, we have gone to our local pottery place. The kids have painted coasters and have given them to Dad as well as grandparents. Miniature masterpieces that are almost a snapshot of the child’s interests at that age. Every year my sister-in-law creates a personalized picture calendar for her parents of memories from the year that they can enjoy the following year. In case you are not creative, check out this Pinterest board full of ideas that kids can make. I have two kids that LOVE to make crafts anyway – this year I hope to help them do just that. The goal is to have the board full of crafts that are actually possible. As opposed to the year that I decided to make coffee candles. Let’s just a blow torch ended up being involved …
6) Create memories. Avoid spending all Thanksgiving afternoon looking at Black Friday ads – instead choose to enjoy the day together. Take at least a partial sabbatical from tv as well. If the holiday season is just about presents, that is rather disheartening. Especially if you need to be less extravagant at some point. Start traditions that have nothing to do with presents. Start Thanksgiving with a turkey trot (or walk). Have a board game marathon. Serve at a homeless shelter over lunch, then have your own Thanksgiving that night. Invite others to join your celebration. Through the remaining weeks of 2014, be intentional about making memories, rather than buying them.
I am learning more and more that gratitude is an attitude that you practice, rather than one that happens automatically. In this age of commercialism, choosing to be thankful can be a challenge. I want my family to grow up grateful, in spite of the stuff, rather than because of it.