It’s that time of year again: the influx of toys, candy and treats into our home, and into the eager little hands of our two children, has begun. As a mixed Dutch and American family we celebrate two complete sets of traditions from Halloween through to the New Year. That is roughly one new holiday every two weeks! I love holiday traditions and the mark of the seasons, and we always take time to decorate our home for the holidays, partake in local events and make special treats, all in the spirit of experiencing the joy and excitement of the season to its fullest.
Experience-that is the key value for me. Frustratingly, though, the experience of the season is being drowned out by stuff, stuff and more stuff. This is my seventh holiday season with children, and mine can’t pass a shop or see a commercial without mentioning what they want from Sinterklaas, whose sack of toys will arrive in just a few short days. My husband and I always try to be conscious of the items we own and would rather go without in order to save up for what we really need. We have tried to instill these values in our children, yet everything about this time of year conspires to stimulate the need for more, more, more.
The problem is, I don’t want so much stuff! I’ve come to realize, through my personal and professional organizing, that the stuff is what gets in the way of the experience. Joshua Becker’s recent post “21 Surprising Statistics That Reveal How Much Stuff We Actually Own” on the blog “Becoming Minimalist” shocked me when I read number six on his list: British research found that the average 10-year-old owns 238 toys but plays with just 12 daily! That’s a lot of toys for one small child. Every year around this time I take inventory of all the toys my children own from Legos and Playmobile, to endless dress-up items, stuffed animals, puzzles, board games – the list goes on. Yet I know from experience that my kids spend most of their time role-playing; stuffed animals become “students” while playing school and blankets turn into boats or sleds when they glide over the floor. With the simplest of objects their fantasies run wild and they turn the everyday into the magical. So why do I still feel the need to fulfill their wish lists from the toy shop?
I blame Disney and motherly guilt. Earlier this year we took our daughters to Disneyland Paris for the “Princess” experience. On our last day the girls were given a budget and allowed to purchase their souvenirs before we headed home in the car that evening. I was still buzzing from our adventures and feeling the joy of parental success when my youngest woke up from a nap in the backseat. I shared with her how much I had enjoyed our days together at Disneyland, and asked, “did you have a good time, too?” My daughter, said “No, because I didn’t get the hat I wanted.” I was crushed – we had refused to purchase a Rapunzel hat with flowing hair because she had already fulfilled her Frozen obsession with an Elsa doll. But in that moment, as ridiculous as it sounds, I felt like a failure, even though logically I knew that she had indeed had a good time and the hat hadn’t ruined everything. Of course not. The experience will long remain in her memory over the non-purchased hat. But how easy it is to fall into the trap of believing that stuff will make you happy, that the stuff is what matters.
So this holiday season I have chosen to consciously overcome the “stuff trap”, and to reduce the influx of the non-essential in order to focus on the experience of the season. And here is how I am going to do it:
- There will be no “wants” this gift-giving season, only “needs”. Why can’t we gift the everyday, like new toothbrushes or a new scarf and glove set? Isn’t the mere fact that there is a wrapped package in Sint’s sack or under Santa’s tree exciting enough?
- Things must go out before they come in. I spent last Saturday afternoon with my children sifting through their toys and possessions. We discussed how we out-grow some toys or how we no longer find them fun to play with. I was amazed at the “out” pile they created and I hope they understood my message of less is more.
- We won’t accept every party invite. Sport clubs, school, work, friends and family will all host their own events. Attending every party oversaturates the holiday experience, and as much as we want to celebrate with all the people who are part of our lives, it’s not always possible in such a compressed period of time, and that’s okay. Children (and over-stressed parents) need moments to simply relax and recharge, even in the midst of this busy time.
- Less things and more experiences. Movie tickets, museum outings, ice skating, these are all things my children love to do and can take for granted that we will do. This year Sinterklaas and Santa will be giving them homemade coupons to trade for these gifts of experiences.
- We told our families. With several aunts, uncles and grandparents our children often receive a large mountain of gifts even if each relative buys just one. We’ve done our best to explain our philosophy with the extended family this season and request that they gift things our children need or can experience.
I’m sure this season won’t be perfect-there will be overstimulation, and tears, and gifts not received or not appreciated. Kids are kids, and the holidays are always messy and beautiful at the same time. But I believe it’s never too late to change and strive for a greater level of experience and understanding, to adapt a new way of “giving” or set it as a resolution to sort through and reduce the clutter in the New Year.
So whatever way you choose to “gift” during the holiday season I hope you’ll join me in taking the time to think about what truly makes your own experience of the holiday season as special and wondrous as it can be.