Five Ways to Have a (More) Minimalist Christmas Next Year

Christmas is officially over.

I’m taking a few minutes to reflect on the past month. I enjoyed the Christmas season much more than in previous years and minimalism is a huge reason for that.

I started becoming interested in minimalism a few years ago but it wasn’t until about this time last year that I decided I was, indeed, a minimalist. At that time, it was too late to have any real influence on how much we did or how many toys our children received.

But this year I was able to intentionally set boundaries on gifts and schedules. Not only that, but the decluttering I did all year made a huge difference in having time, energy, and mental space to fully enjoy the Christmas season. I realized I had gotten in the holiday spirit much earlier than in previous years and it was stronger and more consistent all the way through this month of anticipation. I also spent all of a couple hours at the mall for holiday shopping, so I got to enjoy the festive decorations and displays without the overwhelm and headache that usually accompany such a trip this time of year.

Maybe next year I’ll write a series of posts on what I’ve learned concerning having a simple, minimalist Christmas. But for now, I’d like to go through what we did and why this has been our best Christmas ever.

Five Ways to Have a (More) Minimalist Christmas:

1. Have a simply-decorated house.

We had very few decorations. It was wonderful. Everything we put up or out was meaningful and brought us joy:

  • A tree we cut down ourselves—a favorite tradition.
  • Lights, garland, a star, and a tree skirt on said tree. Nope, no ornaments. This was mostly due to an aggressive toddler who attacked the tree with a fly-swatter. But I enjoyed our simple and elegant tree and not having to stress about the boys playing with—and breaking—the ornaments.
  • A wreath on the door.
  • Lights lining the living room windows. I love being in there at night with nothing but Christmas lights to illuminate the room.
  • An advent wreath and candles—we’ve wanted to do advent as a family for years but never seemed to have the time and space. We did advent nearly every day this December. Simplifying is finally starting to pay off!
  • Stockings. I finally found a sturdy way to display them on our piano. We have a rectangular industrial basket on top of it and it had hooks that I took off and redistributed across the front to hang the stockings from. It almost looked like a fireplace mantel!
  • The Christmas cards we received I fastened across the top of the basket with mini clothespins. And inside the basket:
  • A Fontanini nativity. These are the most beautiful nativities I’ve ever seen and we started the tradition a couple years ago of adding something to it every Thanksgiving weekend when we go to Bronner’s in Michigan, the biggest Christmas store in the world. Year one we only had Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. Year two we splurged on the fanciest stable. We knew this was something we’ll have the rest of our lives and pass down to our children so we wanted it to be the best. This year, due to everyone getting the flu, we didn’t go to Bronner’s and unfortunately I couldn’t find a place locally or online to purchase a new figure.
  • Other than that, just a couple candles that made their way around the house according to my mood.

2. Say no to holiday commitments that aren’t joy-giving.

The hardest situation to navigate was the decision not to go up north to my mom’s extended family Christmas. In past years, the timing of that and other Christmas obligations had us scurrying from one Christmas to the next to the next, with no time left over to have our own family Christmas at home. It left us stressed and exhausted. So early on, we kindly but firmly explained our reasons for not coming this year.

We did have one dud: my new place of work’s Christmas party. It turned out that almost no one from the store I worked at attended and the most outgoing person there was the roommate of an employee. And since we didn’t participate in the white elephant gift game, there really wasn’t much for us to do other than snack and stand around awkwardly. Oh well, lessons learned!

Other than the above, we went to three Christmas parties and they were all wonderful.

For Christmas weekend, we divided our time pretty equally with a day with my family, a day with Wes’s family, and a day with just us at home. It was still exhausting, but in a good way. I cannot fathom how we did it in past years, cramming even more things in. Seriously, four Christmases in two days?! Three in three days was quite enough, thank you!

3. Make gift-giving expectations known early.

Asking for less toys for your kids is not something to do in November. It’s something to do in February—not January, as this could be interpreted as a negative reaction to December generosity from well-meaning family. Plant the seeds, water them, and don’t expect too much from family the first year, or even the second. For some, love is expressed in large piles of wrapped boxes under the tree and they can’t fathom another way of doing things. They might even be afraid your children will love them less if they don’t bombard them with bright, plastic playthings every December! Be sensitive to others’ sensitivities.

Compile wish lists for your children—and yourself—with gift ideas for experiences, consumables, and yes, some stuff. But stuff that will actually add value to your life. Have a variety of price points and include detailed instructions for how to gift specific experiences. It can be difficult for people—myself included!—to figure out how to buy or give or find a way of “wrapping” an experience under the tree. Make it as easy on them as possible!

Make some realistic boundaries for family, such as one toy for each child from the grandparents. Even this may be too much to expect the first year. Just think long term. In a few years, they will come around.

4. Practice being present.

It’s true, the best present is presence. And you don’t have to wait for December 25th to give it. In fact, you shouldn’t!

Unplug more. Don’t always have the tv on or your phone in your pocket. Make “do not disturb” the default on your phone. I started doing this almost accidentally this past month. I found it greatly reduced my stress and I was able to connect more with my family. Now I only turn off the little moon icon on my iPhone if I’m expecting a time-sensitive communication.

Meditate. Just ten minutes a day of sitting still with your thoughts helps tremendously in not being enslaved to your emotions—great for when tense situations arise. And practicing being present as a daily exercise will, with time, help you be more present in your day-to-day activities. I highly recommend the Headspace app. The first ten sessions are free and if you don’t want to pay for a subscription, you can just play those on loop. However, a Headspace subscription was one of the things that has added the most value to my life in 2016.

5. Enjoy the little things.

There’s a small window of opportunity to listen to Christmas music. Start as early as possible. I used to be a Scrooge about Christmas music and got mad when my sister started playing it in early November. Then I realized something—all that other music has 11 months of the year to be heard! Now I consider the first day of fall to be the inauguration of the Christmas music-listening season. Hey, they start putting out Christmas stuff for sale by then. Why should consumerists get all the fun?

Burn Christmas candles as an everyday luxury. I used to save candles indefinitely but now I go through one in a month or less. The enjoyment of stuff is in their use, not their sitting on a cabinet shelf gathering dust! One unexpected benefit of minimalism has been that I now actually use things I didn’t used to. It took getting rid of a whole lot of stuff that didn’t add value or bring joy to discover that some of that other stuff I wasn’t using actually could bring me immense joy.

Build anticipation in your children about the upcoming holiday. Milk that childlike wonder for all it’s worth! Talk about all the wonderful things there are to look forward to. The Christmas light displays, the Christmas movies, the parties, the treats, the gifts… Yep, it’s alright for your children to be excited about presents. After all, they’re kids! But also encourage generosity and involve them in choosing meaningful gifts for friends and relatives. My brother-in-law took my oldest son to put together a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child. He even got to drop it off and we talked about the little boy in another country who was going to be blessed by his generosity. He learned some great lessons through that experience.

Did you attempt a more simple Christmas season? What were the successes and failures? I’d love to hear about others’ experiences as I plan how to make next Christmas even more simple and wonderful!

Small Changes

This is a woefully short post.

Or perhaps wonderfully short.

I had the beautiful experience last night of rocking my two boys to sleep, one after the other, and feeling fully present. I wasn’t trying to hurry and get it over with. Just a few months ago though, it would’ve been a different story, reading blog posts on my phone to try to pass the time.

Minimalism and meditation have been the two biggest catalysts towards this shift.

When you’re constantly analyzing the stuff in your life—physical, mental, and emotional—and shedding the things that don’t add value, you have more time for the most valuable things—which aren’t things at all.

When you practice being fully present in the moment on a daily basis, it starts to become a habit.

Don’t underestimate the power of small changes. It may feel like nothing’s changing, but when you look back in six months, you’ll be able to see just how much can come from the smallest positive changes.

Letting Go of a Hobby

I knew I needed to move on. I made the decision. I made it a half dozen times over the past year. But this time I really meant it.

I started making jewelry when I was 15, as a 4-H project. My mom thought I should make more and sell it. So I did. I saw success on and off, but was never able to stick with it long enough at a time to build a successful business.

And then I read something from Choosing the Simply Luxurious Life by Shannon Ables that really made me stop and question my motives. She asked her readers what they were passionate about. What they enjoyed doing so much that hours could pass by without them looking at the clock. And I realized that that was never me with jewelry making. My eyes were always going to the clock. Sure, I needed to know how long it took to make a certain piece so I could put a monetary value on my time, but it was more than that.

It was then that I realized that it was never my passion. I had listened to other voices telling me I was good at it and should pursue it, and was allured by the thought of making money at it. But in truth, I invested far more money in it than I ever made back. Not only that, but I wasted over seven years alternating between throwing myself into making and trying to sell jewelry, and being sick of it, and then feeling guilty when I wasn’t devoting time to it.

As soon as I made the decision to break up with my hobby though, I felt free of that guilt!

Even though all the jewelry making things I accumulated have yet to be liquidated, I don’t feel the weight of them anymore.

So now I find my mind turning to other failed hobbies:

The bass guitar I never got lessons to learn to play, but that is signed by my one-time-favorite band.

The sewing machine I used for two dresses–actually one, because the first one I did mostly on my friend’s heavy-duty one.

Sports equipment I haven’t even used, but acquired because “everyone should have a set of these lying around just in case.”

Says who?

I don’t even know.

So tell me, have you ever let go of a hobby? I’d love to hear about how you were able to make the decision, or what better things you were able to devote your time, finances, and energy towards as a result.

 

I’m Having a Moving Sale!

Allison Garage Sale Cover

Banner designed by Sadie Desaulniers of The Redemptionist

If you’re in the Des Moines area this Friday and Saturday, I’m having a gigantic yard sale in preparation for moving next week!

My amazing friend and sister-in-law Sadie designed the banner you see at the top as well as a poster with a QR CODE!! linking to my FaceBook event! I wish I could show it to you guys, but it’s a PDF and I can’t figure out how to upload it here as a photo!

Check out the FaceBook event page for my moving sale. Keep up to date as I post new details as well as photos of the larger/best items that I’ll be selling!

As the banner suggests, there will be oodles of books and clothes.

In addition, there will be tons of Baby Stuff, Furniture, Kitchen Equipment, Women’s Clothing Sizes 2-8, Men’s Clothing, and Baby and Toddler Boys’ Clothing.

The sale will take place:

Friday, April 15th 7am-6pm
Saturday, April 16th 7am-12pm

1904 SE 32nd St. Grimes, IA
Parkview Village–on the south corner

Directions from I80/35:
Take exit 127
Turn right onto Highway 141
Turn right onto SE 37th St. (first stoplight in Grimes, between Quick Trip and BP)
Take first left onto SE Crossroads Dr.
Turn left at the end of SE Crossroads Dr.
Moving Sale is on your left.

We will have signs posted to guide you!

Priced to sell. . . Will make deals!

Saturday everything half off!

Local kids will have drinks and baked goods for sale Friday afternoon!

Seriously, guys, there’s a ton of great stuff. See you there!

 

The Well-Made Bed

images

We recently put our house on the market, and as anyone who’s ever tried to sell their residence knows, it’s a tremendous amount of work. It takes seemingly countless hours to get a home whipped into house-showing shape. Throw a toddler and a baby who’s recently started crawling into the mix, and I’m amazed we were able to get the house ready at all.

But I do appreciate the good kick-in-the-pants motivation it gave me to really get the house in order—not to mention sparkly clean!

And the best part of it was that every night, I got to crawl into a beautifully made bed. Before, I had gotten in the habit of not making the bed at all. Or at best, pulling the sheet and comforter up over the pillows.

It looked neat.

But hardly inviting.

But when I started to look at all the aspects of the house with the eyes of a potential buyer, I started researching tips for making every room look more inviting.

One of the main things I found I could do without spending a cent was change up the way I was styling the bed. I started with actually making it the right way every morning—what a concept!—and carefully folded back the comforter and sheet so that you could see a few inches of each layer. I had an extra pillow in storage so I threw a pretty pillow sham on it and added it to the stack of our normal sleeping pillows. To top the look off, I added the cozy touch of a hand-crocheted blanket that was a cherished wedding gift. I spread it across the lower half of the bed. Voila! Texture!

But then our house sold. Now what? Would I fall back into the habit of letting the bed’s appearance be an afterthought? It’s true, the goal was accomplished. But I had enjoyed coming to the serene invitation of a beautifully made bed every night. I nearly think I slept more restfully in it. And why should I only make the bed presentable for those who weren’t even using it? Wasn’t it far more important for it to be a welcoming sight for those who actually sleep in it?

So I’ve decided to become disciplined in this one small habit. It may not seem like a big deal for some, but I believe it’s the little details of life that make the everyday a little more elevated.

Choosing Joy

Yesterday our water heater broke.

Wes tried to fix it before he had to go to work, but it looked like it was just dead. After a frigid shower, he left. We were both feeling discouraged. This was just the latest in a string of challenges that life had thrown our way.

It left me pondering everything I’ve been learning about true happiness and joy recently.

As a Christian, I’m told I’m supposed to have joy despite my circumstances, as if it’s as easy as just making a decision to be happy. But it’s not that simple. Or is it?

If we allow every good or bad thing that happens in our lives to send us on a rollercoaster of ecstasy and despair, we are completely governed by our circumstances. Sure, it may feel good to ride the emotional rollercoaster on that exhilarating skyward climb, but every uphill has a downhill. And for me, that ride is way too much to deal with day after day. If only there was a way to tame that rollercoaster beast and turn it into a bunny hill.

The more I’ve read and contemplated these things, the more it has been reinforced to me that the secret to true, lasting happiness and contentedness lies not in what happens to us, but in how we respond to it. We can, indeed, choose joy despite our circumstances, but this requires constant, vigilant effort, and many conscious choices that add up to happiness in our lives on the larger scale.

It’s not easy. And I’ve by no means mastered it. But I’m trying, and by the grace of God, I’m not failing as much as I used to. I’d like to be able to someday say that I succeed more than I fail. But for now, it is enough that slowly I am making progress towards finding contentment in this crazy, finite thing called life.

I believe that God is in control of every detail of our lives—not only that, but he cares about every detail of our lives! This is a monumental revelation. But it doesn’t give us license to just sit back and ask God to shower blessings and happiness down on us. Yes, He delights in giving His children good gifts, but He also is wise enough to know that even though we don’t like it, the hardships in our lives truly are His “blessings in disguise.” They are what teach us strength, and that life is precious, and that the most important things in life are intangible.

So what are we to do with the good and bad in our lives? Rejoice! Yep. It’s that simple. And that hard.

I was a fencer in high school, and my coach had a saying about the weapon I fenced: “Saber is simple, but it’s not easy.” And I think that’s true of all the most worthwhile things in life. We look around for some secret, or some magic formula, or for divine revelation to rain down on us, but deep inside, we really know the answers. We’ve known them all along. The problem isn’t knowing what to do, it’s applying what we know to do, day after day, moment by moment.

For instance, I know that even though I view doing the dishes as a mundane, rather unpleasant duty, that God wants me to choose to have joy in doing the task. I can elevate it by doing it for Him. It suddenly becomes, not a Sisyphean drudgery, but something transcendent—something holy.

Maybe that sounds a little over the top, but think about it: how would your attitude be effected if you took that dreaded task and decided, not only to tackle it, but to find some small speck of joy in it?

Hey, I have nice dishes to eat off of. Not everyone has those. Some people in the world don’t have to wash dishes. You know why? Cause they don’t own any! I bet they’d love to have a kitchen as nice as mine with running water to wash dishes so they could eat wholesome food off of clean plates.

See? A little gratitude and perspective can go a long way towards developing a sense of joy, even in the mundane.

I guess joy is sort of like a muscle. You have to exercise it regularly to make it stronger. And if you neglect it, it atrophies and withers away to nothing.

So for me right now, my “workout” is finding joy in having a broken water heater.

What about you? What circumstances in your life today are giving you the chance to exercise your joy muscle?

What is this blog about?

I started this blog as a way to market myself as a writer. It was a very focused thing. But I found it hard to focus on writing about writing, specifically about MY writing. I’d come up with these great ideas for posts, but they had nothing to do with writing fantasy novels! AGH! How could I write about minimalism, or style, or parenting, or travel, or that cool non-fiction book I was reading, on a blog that was supposed to be about my fiction writing?

I reached a decision the other day though. It was partially inspired by Nike Women’s Better For It mini series, Margot vs. Lily, as I watched Margot upload video after video of her horrible failures at starting a YouTube workout channel. I thought, if she could humiliate herself and put herself out there for the end goal of having a successful workout channel, what was stopping me from posting whatever it was I wanted to write about, no matter how random? It suddenly didn’t seem quite as embarrassing a prospect compared to Margot.

I’ve been guilty of thinking that the line about everybody having something worth sharing applied to everyone BUT me. I could hypocritically preach to someone that they have a unique voice that needs to be heard, but couldn’t believe that same truth of myself. I’m putting an end to that way of thinking. I’m not going to overthink before I click “publish.” If I was inspired to write about it, I’m going to put it out there. I’m gonna be like Nike, and just do it!

I’m also done overthinking what this or that person might think about me if I write about my views on such and such a topic. I resolve to stay true to what I believe, who I am, and what I love. Unashamedly. Will you disagree with me sometimes? Absolutely. Maybe even a lot. But if everybody thought exactly the way I do, I’d have no need to write about it. And what fun is preaching to the choir anyway?

So maybe this is more of a lifestyle blog than anything else. And I love lifestyle blogs. But don’t expect to see tons of photos of me modeling every outfit I put together. While I actually enjoy (too much) looking at such posts from women whose style I admire, I don’t think that’s really my niche. My focus is far more on the writing side of blogging. Besides, I don’t have a personal photographer to follow me around and document my life in pictures!

Though that would be kind of fun… Sometimes…

So what can you expect on this blog? That’s a good question. One that I’m going to answer by actions, not words. Will I post about books and writing? I can safely say, yes. Will I also post about minimalism, or my love of French style? There is a distinct possibility. Might there be the occasional random recipe or pictures of two impossibly adorable little boys? Probably. And if I feel inspired to write about the Des Moines art scene, or write a review of some restaurant I just went to? Well, you’ll hear about that here too!

I’m hoping that as I just put my writing out there, a pattern will emerge. I’ll find my “niche,” my unique voice. I’m done waiting for it to come to me as an epiphany in the shower. I’m done waiting to craft the perfect posting schedule (and working up the discipline to stick with it!). Although eventually, as I see a pattern emerge, I will adopt a posting schedule that works for me, and gives me the room I need to speak on the topics I am passionate about. Maybe I’ll even start a podcast.

Some miracles you have to chase after in order to make them yours.

As they say in one of my favorite movies, Facing the Giants (I’m paraphrasing): When you pray for rain, you also have to plant the seed.

And I hope that for my most loyal readers, the ones who stick with me through the randomness, it will be well worth it in the end. Stay with me, guys! I know that wherever we’re going, its going to be amazing!

Sorry for the lengthy manifesto. But that’s the last apology for what I write that you’re going to hear from me. It’s time to start letting my voice be heard.

And if I can inspire just one other person to do the same, it will be worth it.

…though I wouldn’t mind having a thousand followers eventually. #honesty