On Resolutions

I have never been the sort of person to try making New Year’s resolutions. Even as a teenager I knew that I’d be quick to drop the resolution as soon as I felt like it wasn’t enjoyable or practical or working for me since, after all, I’d only said I was going to do the thing based on an arbitrary date that rolls around once every calendar year.

I do make resolutions, though. I just let them happen organically. I was thinking about this as January 1 was approaching and remembered that the last resolution I made was in August, shortly after I found out I was pregnant with our second baby. I resolved to reduce stress from my life by paying close attention to how activities, habits, and goals made me feel (both emotionally and physically) and to drop and add things accordingly. My last pregnancy was a very stressful time: we bought our first home, and I was TERRIFIED about having a baby and becoming a mother. I didn’t prepare for the birth very well. I focused my mental energies on learning about purchasing real estate and getting a good mortgage rather than learning about how to have a good birth. Consequently, my birth experience was pretty horrible, but our mortgage situation turned out rather well.

I decided I wanted to have a better birth experience this time around, so I knew I needed to scrap the things in my life that would distract me from pursuing that.

Resolving to reduce stress in order to focus on having a more positive birth and pregnancy experience has made decision-making about what to say yes and no to a LOT easier.

I dropped a hobby that was crushing my spirits.

I didn’t pursue new job opportunities even when they sounded like something I might really like.

I finally started getting rid of unused electronics and instruments that were adding to my mental clutter every time I looked at them. (Not to mention taking up valuable space!)

I took up yoga and a mindfulness practice.

I’ve been more deliberate about my commitments at church.

I’ve given myself permission to care a lot less about personal relationships that give me no joy.

I’ve said no to personal interactions and situations that I knew would cause me unwarranted stress.

As I’m beginning the new year, it’s been helpful to remember my last resolution (instead of creating a new one). My August resolve really has added a lot of peacefulness to my day-to-day experience, and I intend to keep practicing this resolve at least until the new baby is born. In this January, post-holiday lull it’s good to remember that I’m aiming for peace: filling up the extra time with new hobbies and other business is NOT the way to move forward right now.

There is a time for everything.

What was your last resolution?

(Photo by Andy Rogers © 2014)

Yuletide Traditions

Recently on her podcast, Dana White talked about how holiday traditions happen without us intending them to—that our real traditions are the things we do every year without really planning on it. Since I heard her say that I’ve been paying more attention to my little family’s holiday habits. Here are some of the things that I’ve realized are our traditions:

  • We buy our Christmas tree from a local farm within two weekends of Thanksgiving. Both my husband and I grew up in families that waited until Christmas Eve to set up and decorate the Christmas tree, but when we moved in together we agreed that it’d probably make us happier to have the tree up earlier, in anticipation of Christmas. We were right! We’ve been doing it that way for the last six years.
  • We decorate the tree slowly. The day we bring it home, we give it a name. (This year’s tree is named Tiffany. I think it’s the first year we’ve had a female tree, actually!) Then we let it sit in our house naked for a few days before stringing lights on it. After we hang up the lights, we enjoy those for a few days—or even sometimes a week—before we start putting other decorations up. When we were first together we used to put the Christmas balls on the tree and let those hang out before putting up any other ornaments, but for the last few years (i.e., post-baby), we’ve decorated the whole tree in one swoop.
  • I wrap presents within days of buying them. I really enjoy wrapping gifts, so it feels like a treat to wrap them a few at a time. Plus, I’m pretty sure if I waited until just a few days before Christmas to do all the wrapping that it would feel like a huge, stressful chore instead of part of the slow Christmas build up that I like.
  • We go to a local drive-through light show. The best parts are these two tunnels of lights they have set up. We bring our car to a crawl going through the tunnels because we really want to savor the experience. The light show is one of my favorite Christmastime activities.
  • I bake a cake. My dad’s birthday is Christmas Eve, so growing up I always had cake on Christmas: For me, it just wouldn’t feel like Christmas without cake. If I see my dad for his birthday (which happened this year—hooray!), it’s his birthday cake. If not, it’s Jesus’. Either way, there’s a birth to celebrate, and we’re eating cake!
  • We have Christmas dinner at my in-laws.
  • We take down our decorations within a week of New Years’.

Here are some things I’m hoping will become traditions (meaning, we’ve only done them for a year or two, so I don’t really feel like we can call them “traditions” yet):

  • Watch Rudolph and Charlie Brown Christmas during the month of December. I’d really like to add The Grinch to that list too, but my son wept when I tried to show it to him this year—so it goes.
  • Planning the Christmas budget at the end of August. It might sound absurd to start thinking about Christmas shopping when it’s still hot outside (and if I were a “better” minimalist, I might not feel compelled to join in the Christmas consumer frenzy at all), but I’m so glad I did it this year. We’ve really up-ed the ante on attempting to be conscientious consumers over the last couple of years, and I’ve found that shopping conscientiously takes a lot more time, planning, and creativity than my old strategy of waiting until late November to even begin thinking about Christmas. Time and planning is a must!
  • Taking a nighttime drive sometime during the week before Christmas to check out our neighbors’ holiday light displays. My sister-in-law told me last year that this is one of her traditions with our niece, and I thought it was brilliant: Free light show with the price of gas!
  • Baking, baking, baking. I’d really like making and decorating sugar cookies with my son to become a tradition (it was one of my favorite things that my mom used to do with us at Christmastime growing up), but I almost didn’t do it this year because of the hassle factor. I baked a different type of cookie every weekend, though, during the month of December & the whole family enjoyed that.
  • Holiday-themed breakfast on Christmas morning. This year we’re having gingerbread pancakes. These, in themselves, may become a tradition—but I make no promises, people.

So there’s a sampling of what we do during the holiday season. And I’m pretty sure the January declutter is going to become a tradition in our house too. (Although, admittedly, I did an extensive amount of decluttering this fall too!) So now I’d love to hear from you:

What are some of your holiday traditions?

Skip the Stockings

We did most of our Christmas decorating (and decluttering) last week, but when I got to the bottom of our Xmas decoration box, our stockings were still sitting there, waiting to be hung. The empty curtain rod hangers that I’d hung them from last year have since been replaced by, well, a curtain rod and curtains, so I wasn’t sure where to put them and left them crumpled in the box, to think about later.

Then I read Joshua Becker’s post about holiday expectations and realized that there was absolutely no reason why I had had to hang up stockings. In fact, if I DID hang up stockings, I would inevitably feel the need to fill them each with something—or many somethings—even though I’ve already maxed out my Christmas budget. I realized that hanging stockings would add a burden to my heart instead of increasing the joy in my heart.

So the stockings are hanging out in the decoration box down in the basement this year, until mid-January when we bring the box back upstairs to put all the other decorations away.

I thought about getting rid of the stockings entirely, but they’re personalized, and my grandmother actually knitted my stocking for me when I was a baby. So that one, especially, has got some sentimental value, and I wasn’t quite ready to make the decision to part with any of them yet. But I think that’s all right—they don’t take up very much space.

(Photo by Ben Askew © 2007)