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.
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.
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.
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):
- “The Holidays and Shopping: The Not-So-Perfect Storm”
- “Useful Links on the Holidays and Shopping”
- “Step Away from the Computer” (on online shopping)
- “Holidays and Appreciation” (I re-read this and today learned some powerful lessons from my former self!)
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.