Autumn is a magical time of year, when nature reminds us of life’s cycle and reintroduces us to the promising vacancy of winter: crisp breezes, overcast skies, and that sharp scent of the cold followed by fresh wood and pumpkin spice. In Houston we don’t have the full-fledged experience; November arrived with temperatures in the 70s and what leaves have fallen are mostly brown, overlooking the rusty shades of the northern trees. During my few years in Indiana, I fell in love with autumn–the physicality of cold Octobers, bundled walks beneath gray skies and in the remnants of lake effect gales, and canvases painted with tangerine leaves that floated at my feet as I made my way from the neighborhood cafe to campus. Now, for me, what bit of that I can collect in cities on the Gulf is very welcomed–that clean smell that comes on the breeze, promising less pollen and humidity, the overcast skies between storms, and finally cool enough temperatures to warrant a jacket, jeans, and a warm mocha without being ironic.
Even though I truly love autumn, I still find the thoughts of what follows the season a little overwhelming. The hectic sensation of needing to plan, to buy, to prepare for the holidays barrels in without warning on the tails of the cooler weather. I recognized this past year that I associate a lot of stressful emotions with the holidays: the worry of finances, the obligation to find perfect gifts, the crunch of fitting trips into tight weekends and scheduling vacation for travel. That familiar tug at my heart says this is too much and not at all how the season should feel.
It’s a season of giving, not stressing, but our society has become so consumerist that being the best gift giver is often the goal of the holiday season. Already products and stores are pushing us into the wintery mood and bringing our minds to Christmas. Our most recent purchase of Sprite came with cans decked out in snowflakes. Stores have Christmas decor and lights on display. Starbucks is already serving in their colored and winter-themed cups, but at least they had the good mind to wait until after Halloween–they didn’t hand me a green cup until November 1st. Poor Thanksgiving.
It’s difficult to give us time to process autumn and not focus on Christmas for the next two months. And I think that is where a good bit of stress builds up. The long preparation for half an hour of gift giving, hoping you’ve made the right choices, bought the right gifts, and then wondering if the recipients truly will use them or like them as much as they said they would. It’s all completely unnecessary.
In a previous post I discussed how I am trying to make personalized gifts this year in an effort to simplify and avoid the consumerist paradigm that has taken over the holiday season. I understand the rush of stores to get us into the hectic shopping mood, but I am not a store. And this year I am doing everything I can to reverse that expectation, from making personalized gifts to shopping in others’ homes. Rather than walking the stores and wondering what on the shelves might be good for someone, I’m mentally walking through people’s lives and homes–their hobbies, their daily activities, their passions–and looking for ways I can improve their lifestyles or make an activity easier or more functional for them. I am being an intentional gift giver this year.
Along this thread, while having the do-you-have-any-gift-ideas conversation with my mother last week, she brought up the frustration of no one in my small immediate family needing anything. We all have little things we want–my partner and I have an ever-growing list of books we want to read–but we don’t need anything. Most of us have downsized and one is about to do so in the near future–we’ve all reached the point where we don’t want to buy just for the sake of giving gifts.
As a solution, my mom suggested that we only buy one gift for each other this year, one thing that a person either wants or that will help him or her in some way. It was such a simple solution but immediately felt right. This resolved so many issues: we no longer had to come up with lists of gift ideas for each other–just one gift that we know we will use, there will be less stress for shopping or making several gifts for each person, and it will cost much less in the long run. The idea fit perfectly with my goal of a simple, minimalist, and intentional Christmas!
Of course, we’re not requiring that everyone only gets one gift. I’ve already started on a few homemade ones, so a few people might have two or three small items that I put together for a single gift basket since some of the gifts are consumable (my favorite kind). Either way, it is such a wonderful idea that simplifies the process and allows us to focus on what matters–family and thoughtful gift giving.
Having already started on the gift-making process (some of which have turned out better than planned), I can say the simplification is a wonderful experience, pouring thoughtfulness into fewer gifts that I know my family will appreciate. It takes away some of that overwhelming pre-winter stress and replaces it with anticipation of a family-centered Christmas.
What are you doing to simplify your gift-giving or holidays this year?