December Maintenance: An Empty Tree

Mine and hubby’s lives? They’ve been pretty darned blessed. We both grew up in families that took incredible care of us, never wanting for anything (well, except a pony…but I’m still holding out for that), always donning the latest fashions (well, save for the skinny jeans, of course), and always with a car sitting in the yard waiting for us to drive (and, dare I say, a gas card to fuel it with). Indeed, at a very early age, we understood all-to-well what it was like “to have”.

Now, let’s be clear. I’m not talking gobs of stuff: diamonds, multiple cars, caviar or our own personal collections of Louis Vuitton. We weren’t that kind of privileged (not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course). We were simply well taken care of. Comfortable. Cozy, even.

And truthfully, I never thought much of it until we got out on our own and realized that our standards were high. Damn high. Like, who do we think we are, high. Combine these high standards with upwardly mobile careers, making increasingly more money every year, and we were just fanning the fire. One that would eventually suck us right into the white, hot centre.

For a long time, we lived our lives fancying about, enjoying all that comfort. Dinner parties complete with legs of lamb, endless wine and new plates and cutlery (things had to match, you know). Lovely throw pillows, smelly candles and soaps, chef’s-quality pots and pans, 3,000 jackets (each), and a few European adventures thrown in. It wasn’t an extravagant life, but it sure was a wee bit excessive. We likely could have done with a few less candles and a few more pieces of chicken (skin on and bone in, even). We were wasteful. We didn’t need all that stuff, but we sure did like to have it.

I make it sound as if all this is in the past. Let me be the first to own up to the fact that we’re not totally reformed. We still misbehave from time to time. But life caught up with us. Careers changed (and restarted), the burden of a mortgage crept in, and, well, other debt also found its way into our lives. I’m quite certain no one told me I’d pay for my wedding for the following 10 years. Consider yourself warned. Basically, we became like everyone else. Grown ups, accountable for grown up-like things. Nothing particularly different from anyone else. Just grown ups.

In response, we’ve had to reform our lives…to grown up lives. At first, we fought it. It somehow felt unfair, like a child who had a big bag of candy and the mean bully took it away. Then we (read: I) got depressed. Wasn’t I working my behind off to be able to do more, accumulate more, eat more (and better), get more? More, more more. And, then, I got determined. Determined that I would beat debt and reclaim my life. Insert the world’s evil laugh here. Wee C, that’s simply not how it works.

But recently, I’ve realized that amidst that journey, I’ve changed. We’ve changed. See, we cut back. A lot. And we didn’t die. Our lives didn’t become less meaningful or less fulfilling. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Yes, folks, it’s a Christmas miracle. In spending less, I suddenly feel like we have more. The burden of always needing something is a significant one. I don’t care whether it’s the fanciest shampoo or a new Coach purse, when you’re in the mindset of acquiring, you always need something. Break that habit, and you suddenly find that your “needs” are a lot less than what you think.

And, so, my December maintenance comes in the form of doing less. Well, spending less. Our normal Christmas? You got it, it was excessive. Multiple gifts of all shapes and sizes under the tree, stockings stuffed full, and a fridge bulging at the seams. This year? We’ve committed to simply enjoying the season, with the gifts to ourselves being a stress-free, less-is-more kind of holiday. For the first time in my adult life (and in my relationship with hubby), we’re simply filling stockings. No additional gifts under the tree, just socks filled with goodies. Now, to be perfectly transparent, there will be a few indulgent items in those socks, but it won’t look like Santa’s sleigh tipped over as he passed over our house.

Currently, I have an empty tree in my living room. There’s not a single thing wrapped and under it. A year ago, I would have been disheartened by this. Today, I’m joyful. My December maintenance represents much of what life has become for me: stripping things back and enjoying life without the gloss we so often want to put on it. Ok, so to be fair, I like me a bit of gloss. I always will. But I’m just trying to avoid living in a glass house. That somehow seems a dangerous situation.

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8 responses to “December Maintenance: An Empty Tree

  1. Well Done Wee C 😉

  2. Our family decided this year to not exchange gifts this year and just focus on the time we have with each other! Way to go Wee C!

    • Thanks Meredith! And now that it’s all over, I feel great about having spent Christmas this way. We’re no worse for the wear, and certainly no less spoiled (my bulging belly filled with turkey can attest to that!). But the stress was less, and I’m not heading into January wondering where all that money went.

      Hope you had a wonderful Christmas with your family, filled with lots of love, laughter and memories!

  3. A brave step – I think sometimes my family feels pressure to give each other THINGS at the holidays. I am hoping we can make a change… this year my sister in law asked that I come visit when I can. Done! She doesn’t get a present under the tree, she and her family just get me.

    I’ll be ambitious in your footsteps next year!

    • Thanks for your note! Next year, do it! Here’s my philosophy: you only really remember one or two highlight gifts, anyway. All the rest simply makes everyone feel as though they bought enough. I don’t think you’ll regret trying this 🙂 Merry Christmas!

  4. YAY YOU! I’m hoping that 2011 will bring this our way. Less really is more – I’ve seen it first hand. I’ve never met people as happy as some of those I met in India. They had nothing, yet they were abundantly joyful. You have inspired me to try a little harder, Wee C. Merci 🙂

  5. Peter and I were actually embarrassed at how many presents we had under our tree this year. We tried to justify it by blaming the dog (“some of those presents are his too!”) and then decided to cut back next year. I like the idea of only filling socks.

    • I’ll tell you, we didn’t suffer at all from only doing socks. In fact, they were pretty dandy socks, filled with plenty of wonderful treats. Or, you could do socks with one main gift only and set a price limit on that gift. That way you could ask for a pair of Frye’s, or something 😉

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