Tis the Season to Overshop – Or Is It?

The holiday season is upon us once again, along with all of the associated pressures and temptations to shop.  A year ago at this time, I offered a number of tips for dealing with Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and other related holiday challenges.  As I re-read that post yesterday, I pondered what else I could write about the subject of holiday shopping – and overshopping.   I decided that I do have more to say, but I’m going to veer off in a bit of a different direction, to a topic that isn’t often discussed.

Holiday Overshopping

Do you struggle with holiday stress & overshopping?

Buying for Ourselves During the Holidays

In addition to the buying we do for our loved ones (and even some not so loved ones), many of us also purchase things for ourselves this time of year.  While some people might consider such behavior selfish, I really don’t think that’s what it’s about.   In today’s post, I’m going to explore the subject of self-nurturing during what is often a very stressful time of year.

For those of us who struggle with compulsive shopping, the buying we do is often not really about the individual items that we purchase.  There is often far more to our behavior than wanting some new shoes, a sweater, skin care product, or item for our homes.   In previous posts, I’ve explored a number of reasons why we overshop (see here, here, and here, as a few examples).   In terms of my own overshopping, I feel like I’ve been peeling an onion and gradually uncovering more and more explanations for why shopping had become such an integral part of my life.   But just when I believed I’d unearthed every possible explanation, a new one comes along.

Two Types of Holiday Stress

Back to the holidays…  Many people are often stressed beyond belief this time of year.   In addition to work and normal day-to-day tasks, they add on things like gift-buying, decorating, cooking, entertaining, family, parties, travel, traditions, and the list can go on and on.   They tend to keep going and going at breakneck speed, and the whirlwind seems to start earlier and earlier each year.   What used to begin at Thanksgiving and end on New Year’s Day can now start in mid-October, potentially wrapping us up in holiday chaos for a full two and half months!   (I got stressed out just typing that last paragraph…)

My reality used to be very much like what I just described, but it’s pretty much taken a 180 degree turn in recent years.  I now buy gifts for almost no one, have very few holiday traditions, attend no parties, and stay in town for both Thanksgiving and Christmas.   This may sound serene to some of you, but it involves stress of a different variety.   With all of the hype surrounding the holidays, those of us who don’t fit the traditional Norman Rockwell portrait can tend to feel as if there is something wrong with us.  We may feel like perhaps we’re some sort of misfits for not embracing all of the holiday hoopla.

It may seem as if the two scenarios above have very little in common and on the surface, that’s true.  But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll see that negative emotions can be aroused in either situation.  I used to experience intense stress amidst all of the holiday chaos, whereas I now feel like I’m missing out (that good old FOMO again…) and feel somewhat of a letdown this time of year.   My not attending parties, receiving gifts, or traveling to family gatherings only serves to reinforce my belief that I’m not good enough.  It also shines a large spotlight on my lack of connection and any real social network to speak of (and I’m not talking about Facebook here!).

Why the 180 Degree Shift for Me?

You may wonder what happened to change my holiday situation so dramatically, so I’ll offer the Cliff Notes version for you here.   A little while back, one side of my family suggested that we curtail gift exchanges for both Christmas and birthdays.  This may or may not have been precipitated by my tendency to go overboard in buying presents for everyone, but it wasn’t long before the rest of my relatives followed suit.   At this point, the only family members for whom I buy gifts are my husband, my mom, and my young niece and nephew (who I don’t see very often, so I’m never sure what to buy for them, which can be stress-inducing for me).

In terms of friends, geographical distance and life changes led to much of the disconnection I now feel, as well as my cutting some people out of my life by necessity.  I decided that I’d rather have fewer friends than hold on to people who weren’t good for me emotionally or spiritually.   Where the difficulty lies is that I haven’t been able to replace my former connections with new ones.  Consequently, my social network has continued to dwindle and dwindle, such that it’s now close to zero in terms of local interactions.   Now that my husband and I no longer work in an office, we mostly connect with people online these days, so gone are the party invitations and holiday gatherings we previously enjoyed.

A Lack of “Specialness” this Time of Year

Both types of holiday stress that I mentioned above can lead to a desire to nurture ourselves.  When I used to run around like a chicken with its head cut off around the holidays, I felt a lot of stress and needed some sort of respite from the bedlam.   Now that the holidays lack a real element of specialness for me, I still feel compelled to nurture myself in some way.   The type of stress may be different, but it’s still difficult for me to deal with.

Of course, there are many ways in which we can nurture ourselves, but for shopaholics, one way always seems to rise to the top – shopping.   Since this is “the season of giving” and I don’t have many people to give to anymore, I find myself wanting to give more to myself.   And the fact that there are buying opportunities around each and every corner only adds to the temptation I feel.

Being Drawn into the Holiday Shopping Vortex

I was at the mall last weekend to have lunch (my favorite restaurant is in the mall, go figure) and to return a few things.   Christmas music was already blaring loudly and decorations were hung up virtually everywhere I looked.  Santa Claus was in residence in the middle of the mall and there were 40% off signs plastered to almost every store window.  Even though my husband was with me, I still felt a powerful force drawing me into the intense sales vortex.

Of course, there are “huge sales” going on almost every other day as of late, yet I’ve done fairly well at resisting the temptation in recent months. So what’s different now?   Well, it’s the holiday season, that’s what.   I think have a cellular memory of “shopping until I dropped” for decades of Christmases. Even my greatly changed life situation hasn’t been able to override the pull which that evokes.   I still want to buy gifts even if I have scarcely anyone to buy for these days.   But I also want to buy things for myself.  I want to feel the specialness that I used to feel when I bought, gave, and received a multitude of gifts each year.

In many situations, there’s nothing wrong with treating oneself to a new piece of clothing or accessory as a means of self-nurturing.  However, for some people, the budget may have already been blown and the credit cards may already be charged up to their limit.   Still, the need is there to give to ourselves after giving so much to everyone around us.   So what do we do instead of shopping?

Cultivating Specialness & Nurturing Yourself Without Shopping

Since I’m compelled to shop for myself this time of year and believe that others likely feel the same, I want to explore a few alternate options that we all can use.  I know I’m probably not alone in feeling like the “holiday boat” has passed me by.  I’m sure others out there also feel like there is so much joy and festivity going on but somehow your invitation got lost in the mail.   Or you may simply feel as if everything has become so commercialized that it lacks any true meaning for you, especially if you’re not religious and aren’t deeply invested in spiritual traditions.

What can we do to inject some fun and magic back into this time of year?  Below are some ideas off the top of my head, but I welcome any suggestions you have as well.

Help Others

Although I always donate money and food around the holidays (and all year round), that isn’t always very fulfilling.  While I know that I am making a difference, I’m not really seeing that difference being made.   Doing something hands on would likely make me feel more like I’m contributing and it just might put me into the holiday spirit as well.  I haven’t done any holiday volunteering in a number of years, but I’m sure there are abundant opportunities to do so both in my hometown and all of yours.

Helping others is one way to make this time of year more special, but I know that some of you are far too busy and stressed to even contemplate that option.  You’re already doing and doing for everyone in your immediate circle and losing sight of your own needs in the process.  So maybe this isn’t the best option for all of us, but it’s something to consider.  If you have little time or energy for volunteering, perhaps you can donate a bag of food to a family in need or some toys to disadvantaged children via Toys for Tots or a similar charity.  Anything helps and can ignite some of that holiday spirit you may have lost along the way.

Recapture Old Traditions

Many of us used to embrace certain holiday traditions, either when we were young ourselves or when our children were young.   For example, you may have watched particular holiday movies, gone caroling, enjoyed special holiday foods, or drove around to view beautiful light displays or decorations.  How about revisiting some of those old practices?

I remember baking every year, watching “A Christmas Carol” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” and seeing the Nutcracker ballet.   I also used to wear holiday themed clothing (yes, I was one of those women who wore ugly Christmas sweaters!) and jewelry.   I even used to go to Midnight Mass with my mother some years on Christmas Eve.  Along the way, I stopped doing all of these things (well maybe I still did the baking…).  I became too practical and style-conscious to wear holiday clothing and my VHS tapes of those seasonal movies became outdated.   I also moved away from where my mother lived, so there were no more late-night church pilgrimages.   But I can always choose to revisit these old traditions to see if they might feel special to me once again.

Create New Traditions

There’s also the option of creating brand new holiday traditions.  Perhaps your practices of yesteryear feel passé to you today and no longer appeal to you.   Instead of having your holiday experience feel rote and ordinary, why not explore new options?   Maybe you’d enjoy going ice skating, seeing a holiday play or musical performance, or checking out a fun new restaurant that offers special holiday dishes.

I like the idea of revisiting a few old traditions as well as taking on some new ones.  I was planning on doing this last year, but the season kind of got away from me and I didn’t make it happen.   But this year, I plan to do things differently, as I used to absolutely adore the holidays and want to stop feel so lackluster and blasé about them.   I want to recapture my Christmas spirit while also hopefully quelling my desire to shop so much.  Perhaps if I can cultivate some specialness in other ways, I won’t feel such a strong need to buy new things for myself.

Give Yourself Different Types of Gifts

My last suggestion is to give yourself alternate types of gifts; you know the things that money just can’t buy.   I could make some recommendations here, but another blogger has done far better in this regard than I ever could.   Courtney Carver of “Be More with Less” is offering her “31 Days of Gifts You So Deserve” program for the third year in a row.   Here’s how she describes it:

31 Days is like an advent calendar in your inbox designed to deliver the meaningful gifts you so deserve. The gifts are meaningful, some are magical, and all of them remind you to fully embrace the simplicity and meaning of the holidays with purpose and intention.”

The price for this December subscription last year was $3.10 (a real bargain!), but this year Courtney set the price at “pay what you want” to ensure that anyone who wants to take part can afford it.  I just signed up for “31 Days of Gifts You So Deserve” and received three bonus gifts right away!   I look forward to receiving my other 31 gifts beginning on December first.   I love the idea of removing some of the commercialism of the holidays and tuning in to the things that really matter.  I’m not an affiliate for this program; I’m just recommending it because I think some of you might want to join me in participating.  You can also give the program to your loved ones as a gift if desired.

In Conclusion

I hope you’ve found my musings and suggestions on holiday stress, self-nurturing, and paradigm shifts helpful.   If you were looking for different types of ideas or just want more, you might want to check out a few of my previous posts from last year (and one from my former blog back in 2010):

If you have any additional tips for avoiding holiday overshopping or injecting more meaning into this time of year, I invite you to share them in the comments section of this post.  Likewise, if you have questions or concerns related to the holidays, please let us know what they are.  This is a supportive community of like-minded people who really want to grow and help others to do so as well.

I’ll be back later this week with my November useful links post.  Until then, I wish a Happy Thanksgiving to all of my readers in the U.S.   And to all who are reading this post, please know that I am very grateful for your time, attention, and support.   I feel very blessed that this blog has received a wide following and that my words have touched so many of you.

43 thoughts on “Tis the Season to Overshop – Or Is It?

  1. Ah, yes, not fitting into the traditional holiday trapping fits me to a tee. For decades I’ve worked holidays, or more recently moved 3,000 miles from the nearest relative. Beyond my long time BF and my mom, I haven’t bought a gift for someone else in forever. So, yes, it’s less stress in that sense, but the emotions of missing out do surface. We used to jokingly call Thanksgiving meal at the pub I worked “lonely hearts Thanksgiving”. I’d take a break in the middle of my shift, sit down with others who had no family meal to attend (regulars and other employees) and even have a glass of wine with my turkey dinner. It was a special feeling in the midst of feeling adrift among the holiday revelry. That tradition stopped when the business left that bldg to move across the street (2001) but I remember it well. It mattered to me.
    Similarly, stringing lights makes me feel festive when otherwise I can’t celebrate Christmas the way others do.
    I never really found shopping the basis of holiday traditions, thankfully. I did buy myself some things this week. Black pants I’ve been eyeing online for several weeks (for work uniform, not that exciting) went on 40% sale today, and an eyelash poncho sweater I bought just for FUN today at Ross. It is on next year’s list, so I cheated by a month. Already slated it in the appropriate column and it’s accounted for. We’re human. 🙂 It makes me smile, and goes fabulously with my Frye knee high boots!
    Have a wonderful holiday season, and do make special moments for yourself out of your non traditional life. It matters. You matter.

    • Your “lonely hearts Thanksgiving” experience sounds great, Mo. I often think about people who have no one to be with on holidays. In fact, my husband and I were talking about that yesterday and contemplating what we’d do. I said I’d go watch several movies in a row and he said he’d go for a long hike or do something else outdoors. Both would be great, as would what you described.

      You’re doing so well with your shopping. It can be hard to find good pants (probably not as difficult for you as for me, but still), so it’s good you found some that work well for you. The eyelash poncho sweater sounds nice. Perhaps you’ll post a photo of you in it on your blog 🙂 I like seeing your outfits as they are more in line with my life and what I could see myself wearing for the activities I do in a casual location.

      Thanks for the holiday message and letting me know that I matter. I wish you a wonderful holiday season, too. I’m really enjoying your blog and featured two of your posts in my links round-up today. You were one of the main reasons I would peruse the YLF forum, as you have always had a lot of insightful things to say. Now I subscribe to your blog and won’t miss anything!

  2. Ah, Christmas. I have Very mixed feelings about it. When I was a kid we were an “average” family with the standard Christmas celebrations, which I absolutely loved. Then when I was in my early teens my mother joined a church that rejected Christmas, and she decided to have as little to do with it as possible. Well, that really put a damper on things! I tried to keep our Christmases going by decorating the house myself (one year I had to tag along with a neighbour to the Christmas tree farm to get us a tree), but a few years later when my parents separated and the big family gatherings ended, the magic was completely gone. Even putting up a tree (by then I’d bought my own artificial one) just caused tension, so I gave up. Ever since I’ve moved out of home I’ve made a point of timing my visits such that I avoid being there at Christmas. It’s too depressing and tense.
    Now I live in a country where Christmas is more low-key. It’s good in a way because there’s no pressure to celebrate “properly”, and it has put an end to my futile efforts to recreate the Christmases of my childhood. I do find joy in watching my kids enjoy the season though, and I enjoy the small family celebration we have.
    For some reason Christmas has never pushed me to shop for myself. I think because I buy so much (less now) for myself all year round that in a sense it is (was) Christmas for me all the time anyway. I’m very glad I don’t have to buy presents for anyone but my kids, as I know I would find it very stressful. I do struggle not to buy too many toys for my kids though.

    • Sorry to hear about your difficult Christmas experiences as a child, Kayla. I’m glad you are able to enjoy the season more now that you have kids. I think it’s much easier to get into the holiday spirit with children around, as they are often so joyous about it all. Interesting what you wrote about it being like Christmas all year round in terms of buying for yourself. Of course that was true for me, too (and still is to a certain extent), but I still feel more compelled to buy around the holidays. I think it’s because I really used to like Christmas shopping and kind of had that taken away from me by everyone around me rejecting the gift giving. I hope I can find other ways to feel “in the spirit” this year so I’ll stop having to white-knuckle it in terms of buying for myself.

  3. I always enjoyed Christmas as a kid. Gifts, stockings, special meals, cookies put out for Santa, etc. As a newly married young adult I tried to do it all – extensive decorating, nice meal, great gifts. It was sooooo stressful. As a nurse I often had to work either on Christmas Eve or Day, though usually not both. It was expected by our families that we would travel home to see everyone at holiday time. I grew to hate it – who wants to drive (too poor to fly) 8-14 hours (depending on where we lived at the time) then have to go from house to house visiting the relatives. It was truly exhausting for us. Then we had to drive home. And let me not forget the arguing over whose family we’d stay with – his or mine. After many years of marriage we finally agreed to stay at a hotel. Don’t get me wrong, I love our families, but needed some just us time on holiday. These days we don’t exchange gifts with my family but my new husband still does with his. His family is quite wealthy and need. absolutely. nothing. Makes it super hard to choose gifts. I feel like we’re just swapping money and that we should stop. Maybe next year. I don’t put up a tree but I do put our stockings on the mantel and a wreath on the door. Our gifts to each other must fit in the stocking. I do like to watch Christmas movies on TV and listen to carols. There’s some really nice outdoor light displays I like to drive by. This more minimalistic way of celebrating suits us. Oh, and Debbie I do know what you mean by feeling like a misfit only we do because of our eating habits. We’re vegan with no added sugar/oil/salt. Try doing THAT at holiday time with family! Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving, Debbie!

    • I avoid added sugars too! Some of my family members panick when I come to visit. How do you deal with this? Do you bring your own food?

      • I have a large family and we all have different food lifestyles – vegan,vegetarian, gluten-free, food allergies, primal. As a group we do potlucks and bring a dish we can eat along with one someone else can eat 🙂 It helps that most of us like to cook and try new dishes. We are far from a traditional family! When I go to friends for meals I always offer to bring a dish and no one has turned me down yet – maybe it’s the panic.

    • I have some family members who are so well off and want for nothing – people are impossible to buy for if there is nothing they wouldn’t buy for themselves. And wouldn’t you know it, they’re the ones who feel like presents are essential to their Christmas experience (not because they’re greedy but because they enjoy being very generous). I hated that feeling that we were exchanging money in an irrational way (using our money to buy not-quite-right things for each other instead of just buying what we really wanted for ourselves). I’ve gotten better about giving gifts that are worth more than the money they cost – specifically photo books I make. Then if hubby wants to buy something extravagant for his family, that’s his choice.
      I can’t imagine holidays that involve so much traveling. That would be super stressful.
      And vegan holidays… a good opportunity to educate others? or just easier to show up after the food is done with and enjoy the company? 🙂

      • I really like your photo book idea, Joanna. I’ve done a few of these and they have been appreciated. Of course, they are very time-consuming to do, but I’m sure such gifts will continue to be cherished long after many others have been passed on.

        I think that there has to be a happy medium between major consumerism and lots of gift-giving stress and where I am about it now. I went from one extreme to another and am hoping to re-capture some of what I used to enjoy about the holidays, even if I still only give gifts to a few people.

    • All that traveling and gift-buying for people who need nothing does sound very stressful, Kim. When my husband and I first moved to San Diego, we drove to the Bay Area and Lake Tahoe a few times to see my mom, my brother, and my stepson. We had a car full of gifts and it was a ton of driving for just a few days. After one particularly stressful year, we vowed to stay home the next year and we’ve mostly stayed home ever since. I’m glad you have some holiday traditions that you enjoy amid all of the stress.

      We have weird eating habits, too, so we usually spend time with people in restaurants, as it’s much easier. I like Stephanie’s idea about the potluck. When I used to go to people’s houses more (back when I had more of a social network, which I hope to have again soon), I did often bring at least one dish that I could enjoy (and hopefully others would, too). I really don’t care if I only eat a portion of what’s served, but hosts/hostesses seem to feel bad about it. But the gatherings are really more about the people than the food (for me, anyway). We went to a party last year (not a sit-down event) and I didn’t eat anything (and I can’t drink alcohol, either, which is often a much bigger issue for others than it is for me) and no one even seemed to notice.

  4. I grew up in a family that didn’t emphasize holiday gift-giving (my parents seem rather miserly by today’s standards) but focused on the religiosity of the season. The “Black Friday” shopping madness is fueled by media (especially local media). I have NEVER shopped on Thanksgiving or the day after — the first is an important day to share with family and friends and the second has developed into an orgy of over-indulgence. Instead, I go for a hike or see a movie or visit a museum — a much better investment in my emotional and physical well-being than spending hours at a mall or driving around looking for a place to park. I especially like the “Small Saturday” concept pioneered by American Express — focusing on local independent stores. I generally buy or make gifts throughout the year (and have since my 20s) so I seldom even shop during these last weeks of the year. I don’t have FOMO moments because I am happy with who I am and where I am in my life. But this is probably the result of reaching an age where I no longer need to strive for acceptance and all those other issues that we often deal with in our 20s, 30s, 40s, and so on.

    • Believe it or not, I have never shopped on Black Friday, either (and definitely not on Thanksgiving), Dottie. I have bought some things online but haven’t ventured into the stores, as I really don’t like crowds. I like your ideas for alternate ways of spending the day. Today, I just stayed home and worked on my computer like I do most weekdays. The “Small Business Saturday” concept is great and I think we should all try to support local businesses whenever possible. It’s so easy to buy things online, but I really miss being able to browse bookstores when they are all around. If we don’t patronize businesses like that, they will all go the way of the bookstore and all we’ll have left is Amazon and the like. As for being happy with who we are, I’m getting there. It may be taking me a while, but hopefully I will have a lot of time left during which I can experience the type of contentment you write about.

    • Great idea, frugalscholar! I always think it’s a good idea to do the opposite of what many people are doing. We never go out to dinner on Friday and Saturday nights, for example. We always go on a weeknight, when both the service and the food are usually better. I’ll keep the zoo idea in mind for next year…

  5. We had a lot of wonderful holiday traditions in my family growing up: baking cookies, decorating the tree (AFTER Thanksgiving), shopping for, and wrapping gifts, teasing family members with hints of what they might be getting, taking part in the church Christmas pageant and music services, watching holiday movies, most especially The Nutcracker, on television.

    Things kind of spiralled over the years, to where Christmas was over-the-top. Both my mom, and my former MIL have so much STUFF that has to be set out, put out, baked, shopped, wrapped – all of it started becoming something to dread. Dread, with a big smiley face.

    Then I started doing theatre work in earnest, and realized I didn’t have time to deal with a holiday show AND an over-the-top Christmas, so I scaled back. I have one small-ish tree, about four feet tall, pre-lit. My decorations have a general theme of The Nutcracker and the Twelve Days of Christmas. Every ornament that I hang on my tree, I love (including the shrunken head ornaments). I have a few other small decorations that I set out, and then, I have time to sit and enjoy them.

    My traditions now are that I go see a couple of live shows – plays, music, and at least one ballet. I meet up with friends for food or tapas. I watch the Battle of the Nutcrackers on Ovation TV. I usually watch my favorite Christmas DVDS (omg White Christmas. Danny Kaye is the BEST). I shop for gifts, but I don’t agonize too much – if I don’t know what to buy someone, I get them an Amazon or Target gift card – which is always met with great enthusiasm. If time permits, I might bake some fancy cookies or pistachio fudge.

    If we are doing a show that bumps up close to Christmas, I don’t worry about decorating. I simply relax and enjoy everything else that is out there – and it makes me happy 🙂

    • Your holiday traditions sound really nice, MB. I like that you’ve found a way to keep things special without being over the top. I’m curious about the Battle of the Nutcrackers – I’ll have to look that one up. Thanks for the reminder about White Christmas. I’m going to make a point of watching that again this year. I went through my holiday decorations last week and donated all of the ones that don’t have personal meaning for me. They had been mostly sitting in boxes since we downsized our living situation and don’t have room for a big tree. Now we’re going to hang the special ornaments that won’t fit on our little tree around our apartment, as well as any Christmas cards we receive (the amount has been going down every year, partially because so many people are sending e-cards these days). I just did my first round of baking last night and I’m sure I will do a lot more before it’s all said and done.

      • Here is more information about The Battle of the Nutcrackers on Ovation TV’s website, and a schedule…
        http://www.ovationtv.com/news
        https://www.ovationtv.com/battle-of-the-nutcrackers/

        I found out about this when I was visiting my mom a couple of years ago. Different professional ballet companies around the world send in video. My very favorite so far has been Royal Opera House’s version. Well, I mean, aside from the Gelsey Kirkland/Mikhail Baryshnikov ABT version from the 70’s that is usually on PBS.

        I figured out something this very weekend, while home visiting family, that I think is going to make my shopping a LOT simpler. I divided up my list into several categories:

        Who wants a gift certificate (Dad, sisters, niece, nephews)
        Who wants something specific (BF gave me his wishlist)
        Who loves to have a bunch of small pretties to unwrap (Mom, Grandma, niece)

        I have been able to further discern from this list, that I can do almost all of my shopping online, except for Mom and Grandma. PHEW. That actually takes away a lot of the stress of thinking I have to get in my car and drive around to a bunch of places. It also means I can mark times off on my calendar where I can take 15 minutes, and place orders, which keeps me (hopefully) on-track, so I don’t find myself browsing for stuff I don’t need!

      • Thanks for sharing the links, MB. It will be fun to check out. Good idea about dividing your shopping list into categories, and how wonderful that most of your shopping can be done online. It seems like you have a good plan that will serve you well. Online shopping can be tempting and challenging, but it’s less stressful than braving a busy mall, that’s for sure! Best of luck to you.

  6. I think a lot more people have trouble with holidays than we realize… if so many people are stressed or depressed or struggle with other issues over the holidays maybe the perfect family gathering is just a myth that we’ve been sold by the media/people sugar coating their lives.

    I have some things in common with you Debbie. While I don’t have an overshopping problem, I do have a similar sense of emptiness at times. I think maybe it’s more common than we think (that “is this all there is?” feeling sounds a lot like stuff I’ve read about in Buddhism). But I also wonder how much is to do with not having children. I don’t regret my choice not to have kids, but many of the holiday family traditions seem to be built around children, and I think they bring a special magic to the holidays. Thank goodness for my little nephew and my friends’ kids – giving me a little dose of kid Xmas magic without all the downsides 😉

    I started doing a Christmas scrapbooking project a few years ago and it helped me focus on making an effort to do holiday things, even if they are only small. Listening to music, watching Christmas movies (even some bad ones if they were free on Prime!), scheduling outings to go see a tree lighting or drive around lit streets or visit Nordstrom in the city to see their decorations. Making a big deal about decorating with care, even if the decorations are minimal.

    Before we started a business and got broke I used to shop for an Angel Tree charity, which was just about as much shopping as I needed. I feel drawn to be part of the shopping madness, but then I realize how empty and horrible it really is. This year gifts are simple – made or ordered online. I’m occasionally going to the mall before opening time to do some mall walking. It remains to be seen whether that makes me want to shop or puts me off the whole thing, but I can enjoy the music and decorations for free.

    I’m going with friends to the Seattle Men’s Choir Xmas show “our gay apparel” (matinee cheap seats), and I’m doing a holiday fun run/walk, and with a couple of other events and movie premieres that will make my month feel quite full. And on the 20th I’m treating my SIL to an adventure to see a Bavarian Christmas Village east of Seattle on the train. Ask me later if taking 2 preschoolers and 4 women on a 10 hour roundtrip train journey to spend 4 hours in a village was a good idea…! at least we told the husbands to stay home. And we’re bringing an iPad for the kids!

    • These are some good points. I have no children by choice, and so much of what is presented through the media does not really apply. I’m also not religious, but like to celebrate that the darkest part of the year has passed, and we can now look towards spring. We need to make our own, new traditions, things that have meaning for use, and share them.

      • You’re so right, Alice. I like your point about looking toward spring. It’s hard for me during the months when it gets dark so early and I always look forward to the longer days. I know a lot of people around the world celebrate Winter Solstice. Why not?

    • I do 3-5 angel tree kids each year- it’s a great way to feel like I’m helping, you know? The first year I got to deliver the gifts to a family. The mother was just crying, she said they never could afford christmas gifts and for the first time her 4 children would have them (ages 6-6mo). It’s been my motivation to help ever since- seeing what a difference we made for that family.

    • I agree that there probably are many people who struggle around the holidays, Joanna. Although I can feel a bit empty this time of year, at least I have my wonderful husband and a small circle of other people who I feel care about me. I knew someone a few years back who had absolutely no one and spent Christmas alone each year. I can see how that could be depressing even if someone is used to being alone on other days without a problem.

      Yes, many of the holiday traditions center around kids, which can leave those of us who don’t have children feeling a bit left out. I don’t regret not having kids, either, as it wasn’t the right choice for me personally. I do like to do nice things for children this time of year, so I’m going to look into the Angel Tree project that was mentioned by a few people. When I worked at a big company, we had such trees in the lobby of each building and I always took a few gift tags and enjoyed buying the requested gifts. It does warm the hear to contribute to a happy holiday season for a needy child/family.

      I like the traditions you mentioned and need to create some like that for myself. I used to have them, but then they fell by the wayside. I think that living in a warm climate can make things more difficult, too, as it usually doesn’t FEEL like Christmas here. We DO have some cold days, but December is quite variable here and can be warm. Of course, those in the Southern hemisphere always have warm weather at Christmas, so it’s all about perspective.

      I hope your trip to the Bavarian Christmas Village goes well! Maybe everyone will be on their best behavior 🙂

  7. I want to say a word on volunteering at this time of year: everyone wants to do it! Far more people than normal are signing up for soup kitchen meals/companion visits/youth groups/ you name it. There is a lot of work to be done with nonprofits at this time of year, but much of it is not direct service but rather administrative-type work. Volunteer to be the person who goes store to store to pick up the donated turkeys, rather than the one who passes them out to families in need. You’re just as necessary to the process and will be appreciated just the same! The end.

    I grew up in a household that frequently took in coworkers of my mom’s who had no local family to celebrate with and that was one of the coolest parts of the holiday. My husband thinks that is so strange (sharing a holiday with people you aren’t related to – or more accurately, having a mixed celebration of family and people you aren’t super close to) that I wonder if it’s an unusual occurrence. I hope it’s a tradition that we carry on when we get a little older; everyone was welcome at our table and I just love that!

    • Good point about the volunteering, Sara. When I used to do a lot of volunteering, I often offered to do the administrative-type tasks, as help was usually needed in those areas and others didn’t really want to do it. The point is to help others and you’re right that it all helps.

      How great that your family took in people who didn’t have any family nearby. I think that’s a beautiful thing to do. I’ve known others who have done it, too, but it might be rare. I can only imagine how appreciated such a practice is, though, for those who would otherwise be alone.

  8. We had fun with Thanksgiving and Christmas both when I was a child and when my sons were children. Now we live across the country from family and choose not to travel during the holidays as air travel gets stressful. We are non-religious and mixed Christian/Jewish heritage so we treat it as a time to make new traditions and relax. I hardly decorate at all – if at all, we drive around to enjoy other people’s holiday lights, go to the neighborhood and book club Christmas parties and maybe a free musical experience. We are going out to eat on Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve as date nights and enjoy that and it keeps us from feeling lonely over a traditional meal. Only get gifts for the sons and DILs and one surviving parent of ours. No exchanges amongst siblings or ourselves and nieces/nephews are grown up so they have graduated from gifts too. The great-nieces live in Africa so I don’t send them anything either. I figure loving everyone year round and gifting or helping financially as needed is more important. It has taken conscious creation of new traditions to get to this point. As I never enjoyed the shopping part simply fulfilling gift wish lists via the internet and direct shipping is a relief. Long ago when I was alone for holidays I would make myself a special meal and go to a movie or something like that – it helps.

    • I like your holiday traditions, Juhli. We’ve started to go out for Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve, too, and are enjoying that. I like to go to places that are decorated beautifully, as that helps me to feel more in the spirit. I think part of going to the mall for me was about the decorations and the “holiday spirit” at least as much as it was about the shopping. You’re right that loving everyone year round is what matters most. I look forward to my husband and I creating some new traditions. I talked to him about my feelings and he’s on board, so it will be fun coming up with new ways to make the holidays special for us.

  9. We always would go up north to visit family. This is our first year not doing so. We bought presents for each other this year after so many years of not bothering or getting only one thing so I’m looking forward to that. I’m going to miss my family and friends, but I’m glad to not have to do the over 2000 mile round trip. That’s a long drive! After breakfast and presents we might go to see The Hobbit. It seems appropriate to spend Christmas with the elves :).

    • I think it’s great that you’re taking a break from all that driving this year, Tonya. I hope that you and your husband have a wonderful and relaxing celebration together. I agree that it’s appropriate to spend Christmas with the elves! We often go to the movies on Christmas, too, so I’ll think of you when I’m there 🙂

  10. Christmas means Christmas mass on the Eve, then a potluck family dinner with extended family, both sides come. It can be stressful, thinking about food and presents.
    Some years back I suggested we stopped buying presents for the adults, as we don’t need anything, instead we give donations to our favourite charities in family members’ name. So we only shop for the kids, much less stressful! So apart from my neighbour and music teachers, not so much shopping to do.
    After our dinner we sing carols, each child performs a musical number and then the gifts are exchanged. It is a lovely time of year. Mostly at our home, which is fine as hubby is great at tidying up and washing dishes. It’s become less stressful and still fun. We get together regularly throughout the year, so company and preparing the house is straightforward , it’s just the food that becomes over the top!

    • It seems like you have some great family traditions, Sew Stylish. I like the idea of giving donations to charity in the person’s name instead of buying a gift. It’s often difficult to buy for people anyway. But shopping for kids CAN be stressful, especially if one doesn’t really know the kids in question. I see my niece and nephew probably twice per year and I feel like I hardly know them. Even my mom doesn’t have many good suggestions for what to buy for them. I would feel mean not buying them anything, but perhaps I will tone it down this year. Perhaps one small gift for each and a gift card they will enjoy using. I understand about food becoming over the top. I know lots of people start preparing holiday meals days in advance. Now that sounds stressful to me, but I know it’s enjoyable for others.

  11. Last year we were in the plane over Christmas, it was strange but kinda nice not to worry about any preparation for once. Although happy to be back to routine this year…
    Yes, we have to cater to a range of food intolerances (no spices for Aunty, no onion family foods for a neighbour)

    • I would imagine it would be difficult to plan meals when there are lots of food intolerances and preferences going on. That’s why I feel bad about my own picky eating habits. I usually don’t even tell anyone if I can get away with it. I just bring a dish I know I will enjoy eating and eat whatever else is available that I like. This works well for larger gatherings or potluck, but is a bit trickier for smaller get-togethers.

  12. Hi Debbie your posts are an absolute gift to me! Not related to this post but I am still struggling with: “I love getting new clothes, but I become overwhelmed with having those same clothes. ”
    That is a quote from your post “Wanting Less and More at the Same Time” I have stemmed the bleeding but not yet been able to stop it. I think I gotta take a hard line a la Jill Chivers. I am disappointed in myself, feel like I am going in circles. Definitely better than before, not the same volume coming in but still not able to cut the cord.

    • I appreciate your kind words about my posts, Shelley. I can still relate to what I wrote in “Wanting Less and More at the Same Time.” I’ve had a lot of ups and downs and get disappointed in myself sometimes, too. We have to remember, though, that we didn’t get our shopping problems overnight, so we won’t necessarily overcome them right away just because we want to. It’s not easy to change, even when we really want to, plus there are those conflicts that I wrote about. Doing a shopping hiatus has been helpful for a lot of people, including Jill Chivers. Her year-long program offers a lot of support and helpful information, but you could start with her six week program if that feels less overwhelming. I think that if one does do a shopping hiatus, it’s important to take some time to look at the reasons for overshopping. There can be many, as I’ve written about. I’ve learned a lot about why I still struggle and what I have to fix in my life in order to truly be free of this problem. You mentioned that you’re doing better than before. You should celebrate your successes, even if you’re not where you want to be just yet. Successes build on each other and even if you take two steps forward and one step back, you’re still headed in the right direction. I wish you all the best. Keep the faith and keep taking things one day at a time.

  13. Hi Debbie,
    I absolutely had this problem on Black Friday. Since I had such a problem last year, I used this link http://smallnotebook.org/wp-content/uploads/shirt-decision-pdf.pdf and I found it was very useful to do in the moment. I have the picture saved on my phone. I also spoke with my mom about being overstressed, and we both decided to go with a plan and narrow down the stores and time spent there because of what you pointed out. We could not completely cut shopping altogether (since it is a source of great gifts), but it was very helpful for shopping for ourselves. Thanks for the great post!

    • I love the shirt decision graphic, Di. Thanks so much for sharing! What a great idea to save it on your phone. Good for you for talking to your mom about your shopping stress and formulating a better plan. I think that having a plan always helps things to go more smoothly. I’m glad you liked my post.

  14. Black Friday and holiday shopping. Indeed the two together, it’s almost like a perfect storm to overshop. This time around, I shopped before Black Friday. By shopping before the rush of sales started I didn’t feel the pressures to purchase something because it was a ‘good deal.’

    • I shopped before Black Friday, too, as the sales started earlier this year. There seem to be sales going on pretty much all the time, such that Black Friday and other such sales aren’t as big of a deal anymore. I still felt tempted over this past weekend and did place two orders (which may or may not work out), but I didn’t get as crazed about the whole thing as I did in the past. Progress…

  15. All shopping done by Dec 1st. was my goal. I don’t want to go near all the hyped up, frenzied, manufactured retail craziness! In my younger years I enjoyed the Holiday Hoopla, more than I do, now. I just feel “been there and done that” and am ready for a change up in the traditional. So, last Christmas Eve, my husband, son (home from college) and I went to a wonderful museum exhibit during the day and afterward had an early dinner at a great restaurant on Union Street in San Francisco. Oh, it was such a treat and we all so enjoyed it that we’re planning to do it again this year! Change can be, good!

    • How great that you finished your shopping so early, Renee! I used to enjoy the holiday hoopla more than I do now, too. Your Christmas last year sounds very nice and enjoyable. I’m from the SF Bay Area and love to visit San Francisco. It’s been a long time since I’ve been there and your comment has me itching to go again. Enjoy your holiday celebration!

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