We spent some of yesterday taking down the Christmas tree and putting all the holiday decorations away. I love decorating and being festive and in the Christmas spirit, but I am also always relieved to have my normal house back, and to not be vacuuming up stray pine needles all the time.
I started my lagom project after Christmas of 2012 (on Jan. 11th, 2013 to be precise), so as we pulled out all the decorations this year, I realized that I hadn’t done any paring down where that stuff was concerned. We don’t have a ton of decorations to start with, and the majority of the stuff we do have were either gifts we’ve received or things from my childhood – I’ve personally bought very little Christmas decor over the years. The good news about that is there isn’t a tremendous amount of stuff on which to make decisions. The bad news is that there IS a tremendous amount of sentimentality attached to it all for me.
One thing I knew we needed to declutter was Christmas tree ornaments. Lord those things are easy to collect! The first gift I ever gave Ron was two Christmas tree ornaments, because we met each other in person for the first time a couple days before Christmas Eve, so we had planned to decorate my Christmas tree together. That started a tradition between us of giving each other a new ornament every year on the day we decorated our tree. We’ve been together for eleven Christmases now, so that is a substantial amount of ornaments to add to our collection – though we have forgone the tradition a couple times because either one of us forgot, or we were broke. Here is one of the first ornaments I gave him (the biker), and the one he gave me the Christmas after we got married, along with one I gave him to commemorate his love of Stella:
My mom has given me and my sister a new ornament every year on our “Santa” gifts – usually one that matches the theme of the paper she chose that year. She now does ornaments for Ron and my sister’s boyfriend as well, so we come home from her house with two new ornaments every year. Here is a trumpet from a year the paper she wrapped the gifts in had a musical instruments and angels theme:
I also have a bunch of ornaments that my aunt gave me when she had a business that sold holiday stuff – I remember going to her house one summer and she gave me and my sister each a big beach bag full of ornaments – here are just two of them:
At one point my Mom decided she wanted to decorate her tree every year in only blue and white and silver decorations, so she let me and my sister have any of the traditional ornaments from our childhood that we wanted. I took this Santa, that a friend gave my Mom back in the 60’s, I think it was before she even knew my dad. When it was time to decorate the tree every year, I always wanted to be the one to hang it up:
And out of pure sentiment, I kept these ornaments I made in Bluebirds when I was little:
I also at some point inherited my grandmother’s collection of wooden stars – I don’t really remember hanging them on our tree growing up, but they totally make me think of her, so I love them:
And then there are ornaments we got as gifts from friends, like this little felt angel my friend Nikki gave me:
Or these Czech dough ornaments from our friends Petr and Simona, which Stella tried to pull off the tree and EAT this year:
Of the few ornaments I’ve actually bought, the birds are my favorites. I think Ron thinks they’re creepy, but I love them. It’s a TREE, for heaven’s sake. It needs birds:
And I have no memory where I got this one, but it’s candy, and it’s pink, so…lovelovelove:
But in the end, no tree that will fit in our living room can handle the amount of ornaments we own, so a lot weren’t maing it out of the storage box. I decided that this year, we would hang our favorites first, and anything that wasn’t an automatic yes would be under scrutiny.
It ended up being easier than I thought. I’m getting the hang of being less attached to stuff at this point, and I no longer feel that throwing an object away is the same as throwing away a relationship or my memories of a person or event. I put everything that didn’t make the cut in a bag, and let it sit in the corner until New Year’s Eve, when I suddenly remembered it was the last day to make Goodwill donations for 2013, so I grabbed the bag along with our other donations and got rid of it all before I could become sentimental and change my mind. I also got rid of it before I had a chance to photograph it, so you’ll have to take my word for it that we got rid of quite a few. I can’t remember specifically which ornaments they were at this point, which is a good sign – if I can’t recall them, they were not my favorites.
When we packed all the ornaments back up this year, it was nice to not be cramming them all in – everything fit comfortably, with room to spare. It’s nice to think that when we open the box again next year, we will only be greeted by our favorite stuff.
I hope everyone had a great Christmas/Hanukkah/Whatever You Celebrated This Year. Ours was really low key, very fun, and filled with a lot of love, but very little stuff. Progress? I think so. The only thing Ron and I missed was taking our yearly vacation, which we chose to forgo in favor of paying off more debt. We were definitely bummed, but I really look forward to NEXT Christmas when (fingers crossed) we will be debt-free, and have built up a ton of frequent flyer miles to spend. And let’s face it, with our crappy luck this year, it would not have been a surprise to go somewhere tropical and amazing and have it rain the whole time, or be hit by a freak tidal wave or something.
Oh, and speaking of luck, Ron and I both gave each other a bunch of scratch-it lottery tickets in our Christmas stockings, and one of the games was called “Lucky 7”. You scratch off your “lucky number”, and then scratch off a bunch of other numbers, and if one of them matches your lucky number you win the amount listed next to the number. I scratched off the lucky number on mine, and it was the number thirteen. I rolled my eyes and laughed and showed Ron. “Of COURSE it’s my lucky number,” I said sarcastically. “Because the year/number thirteen has proved to be so LUCKY for me.”
I ended up winning $2 on that ticket – and it was the only winning ticket I got this year.
Well played, Universe. Well played.
One of my favorite indulgences that I’ve had to forgo most of this year has been my manicure/pedicure habit. I know some people love to get a massage or facial, but for me, there is nothing quite like a mani/pedi to make me feel relaxed and happy, especially if I’m fortunate enough to go with my girlfriends.
Back in my corporate days, I had acrylic nails. This was partly because a lot of the women I worked with had them so after a while I wanted them too, but it was also because my skin is allergic to nearly every fragrance mix in soaps or detergents that’s out there, and at that point I hadn’t yet figured out exactly what was making me itch. My real nails are very sharp, and I would scratch myself so intensely in my sleep that if I didn’t wear socks over my hands when I slept, I’d wake up with bloody marks on my skin and the sheets. Acrylic nails are super thick and dull-edged and can’t really do any damage, so while I was sussing out my allergy triggers (answer: everything), having fake nails did a good job of protecting me from myself.
To maintain them, I’d have to go to the nail salon every two to three weeks to get them “filled” – a time consuming and expensive habit. I used to actually get sick of having to go to the salon so much, even though it had once been one of my favorite treats. After I finally got rid of my acrylics, I started to enjoy getting my nails done again, and would go once a month when I was working full time and had a nice steady income.
But in this year of cutting back, I’ve been doing my nails at home to save money, and I’ve even gone polish-free most of the year to give my nails a chance to get healthy again. I think I’ve had maybe two pedicures and one manicure in all of 2013. I’ve really missed that little luxury, and wished many times that I could afford to go back to the salon.
A couple months ago, I met with my friend Jane, who is an actress I’ve done stage work with. She is hoping to break into the world of voice over, so I went over to her house to help her figure out the best place to record and give her the 411 on what I know about the business. Because Jane is awesome and generous, she sent me a gift certificate for a mani/pedi as a thank you for my time. I was beyond excited, and pinned the certificate reverently to the bulletin board in my office.
Knowing how much I’ve wanted this indulgence, you might think I’d have run out the very next day and used it. But I didn’t. I knew it might be months before I would be able to go for another one, so I decided to make this one count. I carefully planned to use it during a time when I wouldn’t have any auditions that would require me to have bare nails, so I could make the manicure last as long as possible. I picked a day I wouldn’t be stressed and overbooked and might smudge my fresh polish while rushing to get to my next appointment. I thought for a ridiculously long time about what color would go with most of my wardrobe so I’d get the most bang for my buck. I dreamed and planned and pined and thought about it with the same excitement I’ve had when saving up for a big purchase, or planning a really great vacation.
And focusing all that thought, attention, and care on it made something that I had once totally taken for granted feel incredibly special and exciting again.
That has definitely been an unexpected side effect of this lagom project – the benefit of remembering what it’s like to wait for things. I am an impatient person by nature, so I’m not saying I suddenly love waiting – it still bugs me. But I have gotten so used to immediate gratification (mostly by spending money I didn’t really have) that it took me doing this exercise to realize that things that were once been a big deal had become mundane to me by their accessibility.
I finally had my appointment yesterday – two days before Christmas, when all logic should tell you that it’s unwise to venture out of your house unless it’s absolutely necessary. But a variety of factors made it the best time for me to go, so I decided to brave it, and the day did not disappoint. I found parking across the street from the salon, in one of the busiest neighborhoods in Portland, even during non-holiday times. My manicurist told me that the previous three days had been chaos, but I had fortuitously arrived in a small pocket of unexpected quiet – I was one of four customers in the whole salon. Because the staff wasn’t busy, I had one person working on my pedicure and one on my manicure at the same time, and when the lady working on my nails finished before my pedicure was done, she said, “you look like you could use a shoulder massage” and proceeded to massage my neck and shoulders while the other manicurist finished working on my toes. The gift certificate Jane gave me totally covered the cost of the mani/pedi plus a nice tip (LOVE that), but then they also gave me a $5 gift certificate before I left since it was my first visit to the salon. It had been raining when I arrived, and I was dreading sloshing back to my car in my flip flops, but when I walked outside the sun had come out for the first time that day. I made it home without any nicks or smudges in my polish, and I can’t stop admiring how nice my nails look right now. I may have had to wait, but it was totally worth it.
Thank you, Jane for the lovely gift – you couldn’t have done better.
The first Christmas that I knew Ron, I think we exchanged gifts, but I have no memory of what we gave each other. The following Christmas, we were living together, and while I don’t specifically remember what I gave him, I do remember some of his gifts to me – mostly, because I did not like them. None of the gifts were truly awful per se – in fact some of them were quite nice. The problem was that they were not really for “me.” They were items for our home – a home, I might add, that was already full of stuff since we had combined households.
For instance, he bought me a set of coffee mugs that were lovely, but our cupboards were already bursting with mugs, not only with the ones that matched our dishes, but with a dozen random ones I had bought or received as gifts over the years, along with ones Ron had brought into the relationship. He bought me a single pillow sham that was very pretty, but an odd item to have only one of, and didn’t match the bedding we already had. He spent a lot of money to have a print I already owned custom framed, without realizing the reason it wasn’t framed was because I didn’t like it anymore and was considering getting rid of it – and I definitely didn’t like the frame he had picked. It was clear to me as I opened the various items that he had honestly chosen things that HE liked and wanted to own, but I didn’t see myself in any of it, and in a weird way that hurt my feelings, because it made me feel like he didn’t really know or understand me. I don’t hide disappointment well, and I was way too blunt about not liking what he had given me – Ron is one of the most unselfish people I know, and I can guarantee his heart was in the right place. But as I continued to open packages and find things that felt more like gifts for him than me, I started to get mad – especially when he would excitedly take the item out of my hands and say, “Isn’t this cool? I really like this!” I think I finally said something really snotty like, “WHY DON’T I JUST LET YOU OPEN THEM SINCE THEY ARE CLEARLY THINGS YOU BOUGHT FOR YOURSELF?” And then I gave him a mini lecture about how you are supposed to buy the recipient something THEY want, not what YOU want.
Yep, nothing like a little Christmas morning bitchiness to make the holiday really special and memorable.
(Did I mention that I am not going to look good in this story? I’m not. It is not one of my finer moments, but I feel compelled to tell it anyway.)
When Valentine’s Day came around, I decided to circumvent any more household gifts by being very direct about what I wanted. I made him a specific list, and then very sternly said, “NO household items of any kind. NO artwork. ONLY GET THINGS THAT APPEAR ON THIS LIST.” He took the list and nodded silently.
A few days later, we were in Nordstrom’s together, and I saw a pair of shoes that I absolutely loved. They were little kitten heel sling backs – red fabric with orange leather trim, and dainty little orange leather flowers. I tried them on and went all swoony with desire. “THESE would make a great Valentine’s Day gift,” I declared, prancing around the shoe department in them while Ron sat on one of the couches and watched. I couldn’t read his expression, so I decided to hint heavily. “I LOVE these. Something like this would be GREAT. I would be SO HAPPY to receive a pair of these shoes in a size 6.5. They would just make a PERECT gift. Waiting around to buy them would probably be a mistake, because then my size might be sold out, and I would be VERY disappointed not to get them, since they are something I REALLY REALLY want. Because I LOVE THESE SHOES AND I WANT THEM FOR VALENTINE’S DAY.” Again, Ron was silent, and just nodded.
On the morning of Valentine’s Day, Ron set out some wrapped packages for me in the living room, to be opened later that night after dinner. My eyes lit up at the sight of packages, but on closer inspection, I started to seethe. I am a very good gift guesser – it drives people crazy. If I have an opportunity to touch and shake a package, I am right about what’s inside of it probably 98% of the time, unless it’s something totally random. And I could tell from the packages, that not one of them was shoes – in fact, two of them were from categories I had specifically forbid – artwork and household items. I could tell the big tissue wrapped package was a large basket full of bottles – I figured alcohol or maybe Torani syrups, and then there was a long tube that held a rolled up piece of artwork of some kind. There was also a smaller box that I knew held perfume, which was on my list, so that was fine. But I became quietly furious that a) Ron had defied me and gotten more household/artwork stuff, and b) he had ignored my blatant hints for the shoes.
I am not even going to try to defend my bad behavior in this situation, or rationalize why I was so ungracious and materialistic at this point in my life. It’s just where I was at. I’m not proud of it, and in retrospect I know it was an ugly way to behave. It’s kind of hard for me to imagine being that upset about a gift at this point in my life, but I know at the time, it felt like a big deal. And so I spent the entire day sulking and being mad at Ron. I even remember vacuuming the living room and purposely ramming the vacuum into the side of the wrapped basket with violent, vengeful jabs to make myself feel better.
When it came time to open our gifts, I was sullen and listless. “Can you tell what I got you?” Ron asked.
“I have a pretty good guess,” I snarled. “Some kind of alcohol or syrups or something in the basket, which I might add is FOR THE HOUSE, and then some piece of artwork I’ll probably hate, which is also FOR THE STUPID HOUSE. Oh, and perfume. Which I did ask for. Am I right?” Ron just shrugged and kind of smiled, but didn’t meet my eyes.
He handed me the small box to open first. I was right, it was the perfume.
Next he gave me the basket. I was right about that one too — stupid Torani syrups for making flavored coffees. I got free coffee at work at that point in my life, and was perpetually late every day with no time to make a coffee in the morning, so the sight of the bottles totally annoyed me. I muttered a lackluster thank you and shoved the basket aside.
Then he handed me the tube. I glared at him. “I TOLD you didn’t want any artwork,” I said icily, ripping off the paper. I tipped the tube to shake out whatever hateful print lay inside, and was shocked as the red and orange shoes slid neatly into my lap.
I was speechless. And embarrassed. And ashamed of myself. I peeked at Ron, who looked downright smug about the whole thing. He had totally tricked me, and I had behaved like a mean, spoiled brat. It was one of those awkward moments where you have to say, “I’m sorry” before you can say, “thank you.” Very humbling and humiliating.
But here was my real punishment – for the way I had acted, I really didn’t deserve the shoes, and I knew it. I had gotten my heart’s desire, but in such a disgraceful way, I was never able to look at the shoes without being reminded of what a bitch I can be. They came with a heavy price tag of guilt, and as a result, I never wore them as much as I should have – especially considering the fuss I made about wanting them.
That Valentine’s Day was almost ten years ago. But every day, I have seen the shoes in my closet and felt a little cringe of embarrassment. I can’t remember the last time I wore them – they don’t really go with my lifestyle anymore. So I decided to part with not only the shoes, but the feelings attached to them as well. The work I’ve done around my relationship with possessions this past year has caused me to do a lot of self-reflection and has changed me a lot, and I think it’s time to stop feeling bad about my past mistakes. I don’t need a daily reminder of what a bitch I can be – I am well aware. And any items I own that carry the stink of that phase need to be set free.
I love wrapping presents. I know a lot of people hate it , and will happily pay someone else to do it for them. But I truly enjoy the process of picking paper and ribbons I love, and putting together a present that is as fun to look at as it is to open. My mom is an expert gift wrapper, and I used to spend hours watching her wrap stuff for holidays and birthdays, and I learned a lot – everything from how to perfectly trim the paper to make tidy corners on the package to how to tie all different types of bows with actual ribbon, as opposed to relying on a bag of half-mashed stick-on bows.
When I was growing up, my dad would take me and sister with him to shop for my mom, whether it was Christmas shopping, Mother’s Day shopping, or birthday shopping. He would ask her for a list of stuff she wanted, and she would provide one, but would always hand it over saying, “Those are just some ideas, don’t get everything on the list.” My dad would agree, and then as soon as we were in the mall, he would say, “We’re getting everything on this list – your mother deserves it.” Granted, my mother was super practical and easy to please – she wasn’t asking for Louis Vuitton handbags or diamond necklaces. She actually struggled to come up with something she wanted every year. I remember getting her lots of new bathrobes, nightgowns, slippers, jigsaw puzzles, perfume, the occasional album, and sometimes things for her kitchen. We’d haul everything home, and from around the time I was in fifth or sixth grade, my Dad put me in charge of wrapping everything and putting it under the tree. Having spent so much time watching my Mom wrap, and with a big pile of gifts to practice on, I quickly became an expert wrapper myself.
Every Christmas season I’ve loved the day I go to the store to pick my holiday wrap palette, and will spend a good hour debating between different combinations of wrap, ribbon, and tags. I’m fussy about the paper I buy for sure – I hate cheap, thin paper, or the kind that feels like newsprint and tears super easy while you’re wrapping with it. I also hate that weird foil paper that slides all over the place and won’t make good corners. I hate the paper that comes on a roll but is two stupid separate sheets that you have to tape together to cover a large box, instead of a continuous roll. I tend to overbuy on paper, so there is always some left over the following year, but I never really have intentions of using it, because it’s not part of the new palette and OH MY GOD IT’S SO LAST YEAR – LITERALLY. And yet, I never throw it out either.
Ron tends to go out and buy separate paper to wrap the presents he buys for me – I think one year he used some paper I had planned to use for a present I was going to wrap, and when I discovered it was gone I was a bitch about it and now he’s afraid to touch any of it – the old stuff or the new stuff. Ron does not have my scruples around paper quality, so he will frequently come home with a roll of the newsprint or foil type stuff, or in a weird pattern I don’t like, so after he’s wrapped his stuff for me in it, whatever is left will remain unused, because he will totally forget it exists, and I will see it in the cupboard and reject it because…I have standards.
But wrapping supplies can be expensive, and we have lots of odds and ends to use up. So this year, I’m forgoing my usual paper buying indulgence and using up everything we already have before I buy more. And to be honest, we have so few gifts to wrap this year, and so many leftovers–some I like and some I hate–that we probably won’t need to buy anything new this year. It makes sense to me financially and from a clutter perspective, but it does kind of bum me out. I’ll miss my little paper buying ritual this year. And I’ll probably be disappointed in the way our gifts look. But I have promised myself that once it is all gone, I can buy this really cool wrapping paper I saw that isn’t exactly cheap, but it’s beautiful and high quality and will work for a multitude of occasions. I would rather have one small supply of really good paper and a few different colors of beautiful satin ribbon that I love and can use for anything, than the weird hodgepodge of stuff we have now.
And yes, I know it is pretty trivial to be whining about not liking my wrapping paper when a lot of people can’t afford to buy presents this year- or maybe even food or heat or shelter for that matter. I am lucky and grateful that these are my problems this holiday season.