For many months… maybe even years now, these thoughts have been rolling around in my head, and I’m slowly starting to move in this direction in life, rather than just in thought. I really am too caught up in stuff. This is something I’ve tried hard to avoid over the years and swore I would overcome, since it kind of runs in the family – too much stuff.
If you’re personal friends with me on Facebook, y’all know I’ve been reading the Little House series and sharing excerpts for a while now. Truthfully, I’ve read up to the 6th or 7th book right now, even though I’m still sharing bits from the 3rd book. Trying not to drive y’all crazy with those. 😉 But one of the things that has stood out to me most from those stories of simpler times is their attitudes toward Christmas and gifts. They had so little, but they gave such heartfelt gifts, and every little gift was treasured. Laura received her very first real rag doll when she was 4 or 5 years old, and she loved and treasured that doll so much that she treated it carefully so that it would not be damaged or get dirty. She kept it as she traveled with her family across the country, even up into her early teens (that’s as far as I’ve read). That little gift was so important to her, and I think one reason is because they had so little that they appreciated those little extravagances so much more because of it.
We live in a world of extravagance. As a result, we don’t treasure and appreciate things the same way. Don’t get me wrong, we love our stuff. Christmas time is a perfect example. But I remember when I was a kid, even though we didn’t have it as good as some people, my sister and I got some neat toys for Christmas and we loved them. But even though my parents worked hard to teach me to appreciate my few gifts, at birthdays and Christmas, and sometimes even Easter, there was always this underlying “what else do I get?” even if I didn’t ask it out loud. And throughout my life I knew other kids (and maybe some adults) that would blow through gift-opening and be looking for more, or would get upset because their gift wasn’t exactly what they wanted.
Joe and I aren’t expecting (*Not pregnant!*), but we often discuss in casual conversation what we would like to do or not do when/if we ever have children. I’ve been known to say to him that I want “Little House” children. Haha. If we have kids, I want to teach them to appreciate things the way Mary and Laura and Carrie did. I want them to be respectful and grateful children. And I know that’s not going to be an easy thing to accomplish when the time comes. Society is money-driven, and our family would be poised for spoiling them. But more importantly, our children would have to see me living what I’m teaching. And to be honest, right now, I’m not living it.
Confession? I have 30 different wish lists on Amazon.com. Full disclosure, that’s because of my organizational brain. I have a different wish list for yarn (of course), movies, books, music, etc. and even a wish list for favorite authors’ books, household stuff, and yep, even for the dog. (You have to understand that right now the dog is essentially my child, and my family spoils him as such. Which is why I already know they’d spoil any human children. :-p ) But the point is, I have several wish lists filled with stuff that, were I to win the lottery, I probably wouldn’t buy them all and even if I did, they certainly wouldn’t all fit in my house. I still maintain that they are largely there to offer gift ideas because for some reason Joe thinks I’m difficult to buy for. But the fact of the matter is, there are simply too many material things in the world that appeal to me. And I’m thinking, that’s got to stop.
When Joe and I got married, and especially when we moved into our first new house, we vowed we would not fill it with clutter. Fail. We frequently comment, as we move through daily life, that we have too much stuff. And it’s very, very true. We’re always looking at the things we don’t use, even if we don’t voice it, wondering why we have it if we don’t use it, and how should we get rid of it. We literally have boxes and piles of things around the house that we plan to remove from the house somehow. So why don’t we just do it? And stop buying more things to add to the clutter? I’ve started the practice of letting the clothing in my closet stay on the rack until I wear it, and then when I wear things, they go on the right side of the rack, until eventually I can look at the left side and take notice of the things I never wear. Then those things, eventually, the plan is, they will be removed. Whenever I get something new, I try to remove something old that it should theoretically be replacing. There are a lot of methods we’re trying in order to reduce our clutter and overabundance of stuff.
Yet I have 30 wishlists and at least 15 items on each. I’ll do the math for you: that’s at least 450 items. And that’s “at least!” I can tell you off the top of my head that there’s a wish list of yarn alone that has over 200 items on it. Who really needs so much stuff?! Y’all, this is a problem and it’s got to stop.
It’s too late to do much about it this year, because our family has rules about wish lists during the month of December. But starting in January, I have every intention of rectifying this situation. I’m making a serious effort to de-stuff my home and my life. I’m making serious strides toward reducing the amount of waste in our home. And I’m working hard on being less materialistic. Because I know it’s not going to be an easy transition or habit to break, and if God is ever going to bring children into our lives, I want to be ready to lead by example.
We’ve made an effort already in 2016 to get a better grip on our finances, and Joe has done an amazing job with our household budget. This year, we took a look well in advance, planned who we would purchase Christmas gifts for, and started setting money aside for those gifts. (Can I just say, by the way, how insanely difficult it is sometimes to feel like you’ve given a worthwhile gift for less than $100? And why is that a thing? How did we get here, y’all?) So at the very least, we’ve prepared ourselves to not go into debt buying gifts.
But oh man, how stressful it is to figure out the perfect gift for everyone… And the thing is, most people, truly, are just happy that you thought of them. Show of hands, though – how many of you have bought some random gift like a candle or perfume or bath sets or something for co-workers or associates for whom you felt obligated to buy something? Yeah, some people love candles, I guess, but man… how many do we all have at this point? Why are we buying thoughtless gifts just because we feel obligated? Why are we giving people impractical gifts that don’t even fit their tastes? I’m over it, y’all. I’m done.
I recently encountered this article that articulates quite well and in a lot fewer words some of my own feelings about how we’ve transformed Christmas, and even does a better job at giving some solutions and ideas as to how we can reclaim Christmas from consumerism. But as for me, here’s what I’m doing with all of this information:
In the first place, I want to remember that this is not MY birthday. This is Jesus’ birthday, and I should treat it as such. It’s not about me, and it’s not even about my gifts to others. It’s about Him. I will start giving time and gifts that honor Christ. I’m still reworking my brain to know exactly what that looks like in my life, but it’s going to happen.
Secondly, I want my gifts to reach farther than from me to the recipient. I’m planning for next year to give to charities in honor or in the name of my gift recipients. There are plenty of worthy organizations out there, and I know I would personally love to know that someone took money that they would have used to buy me more stuff, and instead gave it to sponsor a child’s education in a developing country, or to dig wells for people who have never had clean water, or even to provide meals for the local food pantry. A great Christmas gift for me, would be for someone to purchase a mosquito net through Compassion International to prevent a child or family from contracting malaria, or to give to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering to help share Jesus with the world. Gifts with purpose, with action, with benefits for more than satiating my desire for stuff. I wanted to do this with my gift giving this year, but I’m still fighting that consumerism mentality that says I must give something physical and fun and extravagant to my family members. Next year, I’ll be ready.
Third, this year I am making a serious effort to give one handmade gift to each of my gift recipients. It’s not quite the same as charitable giving, but it’s something that I’ve had to spend time thinking about and personalizing for each person. Obviously I can’t share what I’ve been making just yet, but I’ll let y’all in on that after the holidays. 🙂 I feel like this is a baby step. I’m being intentional about my gifting, and I think that will help me transition easier into purposeful giving next year. Furthermore, next year I want more of my gifts to be gifts of time and memories than material things. Not to the point of glorifying busy-ness, but to the point that we spend quality time giving each other love and laughter more than impractical house-fillers.
And finally, next year I’m doing an overhaul of my wish lists. I’m going to narrow it down to one public list, and only keep items on it that I love. I’m going to start, next year, only buying things – clothing, home goods, etc. – that I love. Rather than clothes that just fit and look okay, I’m going to choose items that I sincerely love and will always be ready and willing to wear. Rather than dust-collecting knick-knacks or figurines, or artificial plant things, or just pointless and impractical products, I’m only going to purchase items that I love and that serve a genuine purpose. If I can’t picture in my mind where it’s going to live or what it’s going to do, it doesn’t come home with me. I’m going to envision how I want my home to look and remove anything that ruins that look with its clutter-y-ness. I’m putting an end to this wasteful living and undervaluing and discontentment.
I’m going to appreciate what I have, and live intentionally, because that’s what I would want for my children (if/when there are any). Because I can’t teach what I don’t live. And why should I expect anyone else to live and value what I don’t live and value?