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.
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 haven’t posted in a while – not because I’ve been procrastinating, as I admitted in my last post, but for the exact opposite reason – I have been getting a ton of stuff done! Writing that last entry put a fire under me, and I managed to complete several things on my list, including the audiobook I was working on. It is a huge relief to have it done, and a week before the deadline. It left me with no time to write or clean house, though. And I still need to order my new head shots. But I did sneak in a few loads of laundry between chapters, so all in all, I feel pretty good.
I took Thanksgiving as my one day off, and we went down to my parent’s house and had a lovely time – probably because I didn’t have to do anything. I’ve never cooked a Thanksgiving dinner – I’ve always gone to someone else’s house for the feast, and I can’t say I feel any regret about it. I show up with a couple bottles of wine, help with some table setting, enjoy the food and the company, and then do a lot of dishes as my contribution to the event. Total win.
Thanksgiving night, while driving back home, we saw throngs of cars and a bunch of police directing traffic near a big outlet mall, hours before the stores were destined to open. I can’t think of a less pleasant way to spend a holiday night – or anything I would want badly enough to warrant sitting in a cold parking lot for five hours. I hope those people got what they wanted, but I have to say, I am glad I was not among them. I’ve never been a big Black Friday shopper – mostly, because I DETEST crowds. Especially crowds of people behaving in a competitive, greedy, myopic way.
I did consider going shopping this weekend- there are actually things I need at this point, and I would only consider buying them if they were in a really good sale. And I do have some Christmas shopping to do, though thankfully, not all that much. But here is the difference between this year and all previous years – for the most part, I actually know EXACTLY what I want this year, whether it’s for myself, or someone else. This whole lagom thing has made me excruciatingly specific, because it’s not allowing me to entertain things “I kinda sorta like.” My new rule is I have to LOVE it, because it’s going to be only one of a few things I own. I have a list of things I plan to buy when I have the finances to do so, and when I think about shopping now, I look at the items on that list, check online to see if any of those things are on sale, and if they aren’t, I take a pass. This is very, very different behavior for me.
I actually do want a new pair of shoes from Ron for Christmas, but I’m not 100% sure what I want them to be yet – I’m wavering between a pair of boots or a pair of flats. I considered going shopping for them, because I thought I might come across a great sale. But then I started thinking about it, and decided not to go. Because for me to feel good about the purchase, I would need to do a lot of research, trying on, and comparison shopping to make sure I was getting what I really wanted. And the busiest shopping weekend of the year didn’t seem like the best time to do that. I also know I only WANT the shoes, and don’t NEED them – I have plenty of others to wear even if I don’t get a new pair at all. As a result, I feel like I can take a ton of time to find some that I really love, for a reasonable price.
So I didn’t buy anything on this shop-tastic weekend. Instead, I stayed home. I saw my family. I finished the audiobook. I had a lovely coffee date with my friend Nikki. I did a second purge of my closet, where I pulled a bunch of items I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep, and set them aside to be decided on later this week. I cooked for Ron (who has been sick with a miserable cold all weekend), and I did some laundry. It was a happy, productive Thanksgiving weekend. And I don’t have any carrier bags sitting in my house making me feel guilty and uncertain. For that, I definitely give thanks.
My Mom used to make our birthdays incredibly special. She made pinatas, she decorated cakes, and she would put a big red rattan “throne” at the head of the table for the birthday girl to sit in, along with a silver crown to wear from a Halloween princess costume she had made. There was always a special birthday breakfast that morning, even if it was a school morning, and sometimes I would come downstairs to find a florist’s box next to my plate with a fluffy pink corsage to wear to school. Often I had a new dress or blouse to wear too, and at some point during the day she would bring hand decorated cupcakes to my classroom (this was before schools were concerned about the cleanliness of student’s home food handling, and in a time where you never heard a grade school kid say, “Is that gluten free?” or “I’m lactose intolerant” or “I only eat organic”). Dinner was the birthday girl’s choice (I frequently chose to go to McDonald’s, klassy!). The year I turned seven, she made me an ice cream cake roll in the shape of the number 7, covered in pink frosting roses and powdered sugar. The year I turned ten (my golden birthday, since I was 10 on the 10th) she went all out and made me a three tiered cake, like a wedding cake, with light green frosting and pale pink roses (interestingly enough, pink and green ended up being my wedding colors too). It was all very elaborate, and made my birthday my favorite day of the year.
And oh, the presents. I usually would get one big item (Barbie dolls, a bike, roller skates, a camera, a new outfit, a watch, etc.), and then tons of little surprise items as well. In addition to the gifts my family gave me, I would also have a party with school friends, and a ton of loot would come in from that as well.
I am not a person who gets all shy and humble and “Oh you shouldn’t have I can’t accept this” about presents. I love getting presents. I love giving them too. I never expect them, but when they are given, I accept them with love, gratitude, and joy, even if it turns out to be something I don’t want. For me, it’s about the exchange of energy and goodwill, and that always feels great.
In recent years though, I have found that once the receiving glow has worn off, getting a bunch of new stuff all at once, whether it happens on Christmas or my birthday, has come with an under layer of anxiety as well. I think a lot of that has to do with feeling like I have too many possessions already, so adding to the pile is really stressful (where will I put it all? Do I actually need any of it? Do I like it enough to keep it? If it’s a duplicate should I toss the one I already have even though it’s still good?).
This year I had complicated feelings around the idea of getting gifts. On one hand, I am very happy with the progress I’ve made on not bringing a lot of new stuff into my life. But I am also in a serious state of withdrawal around not having a new stuff high on a regular basis anymore. So I wanted stuff, but also kind of didn’t. And I wondered – would my birthday feel forgotten and blah without presents?
But there was one thing I really did need – a new computer. My old computer is from 2006, and its limping painfully towards its end. I’ve killed the battery (it’s a laptop), I constantly get a “memory disk is full” message, it’s glacially slow, and there is some kind of problem with the power cord that causes it to suddenly disconnect without my noticing, until it suddenly shuts itself off in the middle of a project. I have been living in fear that it will croak while I am in the middle of narrating an audio book, and I will lose all my recording. I do a lot of my work on my computer, so it is not something I could live without – if I could only rescue a couple items in a fire, it would be my computer and my phone. So it was clear to me that sooner than later, I needed to figure out how to get a new one.
I’d been saving money towards the cause since December. I’d managed to amass over half of what I needed, and I figured my birthday could help me get almost, if not all the way, to my goal. When anyone asked me what I wanted for my birthday this year, I asked for either money or a gift certificate to the Apple store. And four days after my birthday, I found the the perfect computer for my needs, and paid 95% cash for it.
It was definitely a different birthday for me – no towering stack of presents to unwrap, just a handful of cards with money in them. But I couldn’t have been happier. The one gift I got was exactly what I wanted and needed, and I absolutely love it and will use it extensively every single day. I don’t feel any anxiety around trying to figure out what to do with a bunch of new things I didn’t really need, and the lack of a bunch of gifts didn’t make things feel any less special. I had a lovely birthday lunch and a birthday dinner with some of my dearest girlfriends, as well as a birthday dinner “date” with Ron. I felt very special, loved, and celebrated.
It was, in every sense, “just right.” It was lagom. I hope to make a habit of it.