Putting The Holidays In Perspective

Every year, from Thanksgiving until New Year’s, the business pages of the newspaper are filled with prognistications of whether holiday retail sales will meet expectations.  In 2011, holiday sales represented 20% of total retail industry sales.  For some retailers, holiday purchases represent 40% of annual sales.

Those people are allowed to stress out about the holidays.  But why are the rest of us so stressed out?

The holidays are about celebrating and tradition and family.   The month of December is filled with parties and gifts and eating special foods and seeing loved ones.  It sounds like so much fun – so why isn’t it?

Just like the retailers with high hopes for their holiday sales, I think we set our expectations too high.   We let the holidays capture a disproportionate amount of our attention, compared to the rest of the year.

I organize people who live in homes with inadequate storage space – in other words, New York City.  I am often surprised to see how much of this valuable storage space is taken up by holiday decorations.  If you only have, say, four closets, should all the shelves in one closet be devoted to holiday-themed items that only get used one month a year?  Perhaps you should pare down your holiday decorations to more appropriately match your space.   Not only will you free up important space, but you’ll feel more relaxed during the holidays because you won’t be surrounded by so much festive clutter.

I help people decide which of their possessions are worth keeping, and help them to dispose of the rest.  Some of these items are gifts that they don’t need or like or even have room for, but which they are reluctant to part with because of guilt.  Think about that before you purchase your holiday gifts this year.  Are you imposing your tastes — and visions of your ample storage space — on someone who shares neither?

I urge my clients to give experiences, not physical gifts.  Most people have too much stuff already.  Take a loved one to the theatre, to a restaurant, to a lecture, to an ice skating lesson.  They will appreciate the time spent with you more than something that adds to clutter.  Or consider making a donation in someone’s name instead of buying more stuff.  You can see some ideas in my previous organizing tip, Clutter-Free Gift Ideas.

If you are rushing to get everything done in time for the holidays, take a look at your to-do list.  Are you doing things every year that you no longer enjoy, but that have become a tradition?  Perhaps there are things you have been doing since your children were small, but they are no longer small.  Or some activities that you are doing because you always did them growing up, but they make less sense at this stage of your life.  Consider cutting some of them out.  Maybe start a new tradition!

Once you have pared down your holiday to-do list to more accurately reflect who you are now, think about what activities can be put off until the new year.  January can be pretty dreary.  Save some of your festivities until then, to brighten things up when all the decorations have been taken down.

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