I can feel my inner Scrooge bubbling up as Christmas approaches. He threatens to emerge periodically throughout the year, but never so forcefully as during the holidays when surrounded by the ubiquitous pressure to buy.
Christmas has become a season of acquisition – of gifts and goods, to excess, in my humble opinion. My eighth grade algebra teacher’s old saying, “my presence is your present” doesn’t cut it any more. I look around the stores, all proclaiming deep discounts on the range of goods they have stocked for harried buyers – gadgets, gizmos, cheap things made in China to fill stockings, and large electronics that will quickly be superseded by the next generation. Just stuff. And more stuff.
And funny how the things your people really want – e.g., Under Armour for my son – never seem to fall within the scope of the sale. My husband wants a new winter jacket. Luckily, he doesn’t care what brand. I was reeled to an online site that was advertising 20% off winter jackets – but turns out the discount applied to only one brand. I ended up paying full-price because the sale brand was sold out of his size.
OK, so I make some meaningful purchases during the season. But I don’t like to buy under pressure. And yet I do – succumbing to the expectations of gifts and gift-giving at this time of year. I want to select gifts that are meaningful, useful, beautiful, and well-made (which usually means not made in China, handcrafted or artisanal is a plus). It’s virtually impossible to meet these standards when playing Santa to one’s entire family, immediate and extended, and family friends galore, unless you shop year-round, which I lack the discipline to do.
Year after year, I entertain a fantasy of saying to my family, “How about we forgo all presents this year in lieu of one big present that the whole family can enjoy? Like a pool table? Or a major donation to a charity we all agree upon?”
If only. I don’t do it because I can only imagine the uproar. My husband will say, “That’s no fun. Stop being like your mother.” And the kids want what they want. I tried years ago to get a fake tree, one that we take down from the attic and is ready to go – no shedding pine needles or sap or dirt in the house. Nixed by the family. Same thing with the live trees I saw at Home Depot. They’re way cheaper than the Christmas tree lots. “Home Depot has trees for $19.99,” I volunteered one year. My husband looked at me disdainfully. “You don’t get a Christmas tree at Home Depot!” “People obviously do,” I countered. “I saw a whole lot full of them.” As I’m never the one to actually go get the tree, I lost that one, too.
My nine-year-old daughter’s list to Santa had only four things this year. I considered it a positive development that she could only think of four things to ask for. Until I saw the list: an iPad mini, a cover for the iPad mini, a live chinchilla, and puzzles. Puzzles – but of course! But the rest? Hmmmm. I feel trapped. I don’t want a live chinchilla in the house, with all of the requisite accoutrements, including a tall steel tower-cage because they like to climb. Nor do I want her to have her own handheld device because, despite being addicted to mine, I want to stave that off for my kids as long as possible, to foster quality family time, so they don’t burrow away in their holes, like the rodents and other pets they so desire.
So I’m left with my jumble of philosophical BS to contend with. Unlike Halloween or Thanksgiving, Christmas forces me to confront my lofty standards and philosophies, most of them idealized in some corner of my head but rarely adhered to, or at least, with any kind of consistency – if you judge by the array of things I buy throughout the year.
And, Christmas defeats my goal to declutter. Throughout the year, I sort through piles and clumps of stuff that accumulate in nanoseconds in our house – on the wedge-shaped table in our front foyer, on the corner of the kitchen island next to the stainless steel pillar, on the family room coffee table, on the formal dining table.
I sort with some measure of resignation mixed with annoyance (didn’t I just clear out this pile yesterday??) and at times outright anger (kids nowadays have too much stuff!). I have occasionally wondered what would happen if I swept all of the piles into the trash without sorting them first. Part of me feels that nothing would happen – there might be a few “where is my this” and “where is my that” – but so what? The piles regenerate so quickly I can’t imagine any drastic consequence would ensue.
It’s really not all their fault. It is my stuff, too. And my husband’s. The stuff jangles my nerves – no one else’s, apparently – and it is for this reason that I am the Chief Sorter and Declutterer. Over the years, the stuff has morphed in nature, from little animal erasers, glitter glue, glow sticks and bouncy balls to pens, earphones, Swiss Army knives, speakers. The stuff tells its own story, of kids who are growing up quickly. Too quickly.
I decided that Santa should bring Lila a Kindle. Not a Kindle Fire, which has all the capabilities of the iPad, but a plain old Kindle, which is just for reading books. It was the best compromise I could come up with without feeling like I’d totally sold out – she gets her own personal handheld electronic device, albeit for reading books only. I anticipate some disappointment on her part, but I rationalized that 1) she’ll get over it, and 2) she will read more, hopefully, and 3) I can live with my choice.
So I continue to muddle through, declutter, and try to keep my inner Scrooge in check. One highlight of the Kindle? Fewer books lying around.