Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Home (made) for the holidays

I am not a "stuff" kind of gal.  There are some things I absolutely WANT to have, but as a general rule those "things" are museum memberships or mp3s or concert tickets.  I have never been a person who craves shoes, or clothes, nick-knacks, status-cars or gadgets.  For me to really, truly want something, I have to feel like that item will fill some kind of need in my life.  A perfect example would be my bread machine.  I wanted to switch to homemade bread full-time to avoid the preservatives and additives that are in most commercially produced bread.  However, I didn't want this switch to tie me to my kitchen for four hours a day - covered in flour in the wee hours of the morning.  The bread machine was the perfect answer because it enabled me to avoid the preservatives without also giving up my freedom! Other items I have wanted in the past would be things like a camera to document my boys' childhood, a tea pot for serving company, couches for my friends and family to sit on when they visit my home, a winter coat to keep me from freezing, etc.

This mind set has done a couple of things for me over the years.  First - It has enabled me to feel satisfied with the "stuff" I already have.  With the exception of items that have broken or stopped functioning in some way, I have had a very easy time making do with the same jacket I have been wearing since I was in high school, making the most of my one solitary sauce pan, and finding creative ways to re-purpose my gardening tools to help in all outdoor tasks. Being disconnected from that desire for "things" has been very freeing. I have never felt driven to over-spend, or accumulate debt, which has made it easy for our family to stay on budget (which consequently makes it possible for me to stay at home with the kids.)   On the down side - this mentality also causes me to forget entirely about fashion.  I routinely let my wardrobe dwindle down to a ridiculously small showing of worn t-shirts, jeans with holes in the knees and ripped hoodies. My poor husband!  He is always so well dressed in a shirt and tie, with his blue jeaned-pony-tailed wife at his side ;-) Because shopping for things like clothes doesn't come very natural to me (in fact I hate doing it) the only way I ever venture into a clothing store is out of sheer desperation. I'm referring to that morning when all the laundry is clean and I quite literally don't have a thing to wear.

Luckily for me, my husband shares my aversion for "stuff" accumulation. He prefers the look of a bare wall to the clutter of framed photos and nick-knacks and he thinks very long and hard before making most buying decisions. His only weaknesses would be trading in used books and occasionally purchasing a computer game here and there. Before we had children, we used to fantasize about a future home that was minimalist to the extreme.  We even had a folder going on our computer where we would tuck away photos of room designs we found online, or a stream lined sofa we wanted to remember for our future dream-house....

Then we had kids.

Kids - they accumulate so. much. stuff.  And when you have three of them (like we do!) it is stuff times three.  These kids don't wear their clothes until they are thread bare and holey like their mama.  Instead, they outgrow their clothing at a mind-boggling rate which results in a dresser over-stuffed with too-small items, items that currently fit and hand-me-downs they have yet to grow into.  I make a steady effort to weed out the too-small clothes and transfer them to the appropriate hand me down pile (or the consignment store depending) but it still manages to stay ahead of me.  But the biggest of all stuff-piles in our home is undoubtedly the toys. Toys, toys, toys.  Everywhere! Hubby and I are careful to only gift one (maybe two) toys at any occasion.  Even then, we try to choose a lot of books, or arts and craft supplies to ease the rapid expansion of the toy collection. But still, the toys multiply! And with three kids having birthdays and three kids celebrating the holidays - it adds up fast!  We are a family of five in a 1008 square foot home and there are days I worry I will be up to my eyeballs before too long.I try to weed through the kids' toy collection a couple of times a year to pull out anything that doesn't get played with.  Sometimes I will make a giant pile in the middle of the floor and ask the boys to sort the toys themselves.  "keep" in one basket "donate" in another.  That tactic actually seems to work surprisingly well :)

The other day I was sitting at my kitchen table having coffee and it just hit me in the face - I am sick of consuming.  Obviously there are some things I will continue to consume for practical reasons (toilet paper anyone?) but I just want to put a stop to all the "stuff." I decided to start with the holidays - with Easter coming up first - because these are the peak times of accumulation around here.  This year I refuse to buy the kids another basket that we will only use once and inevitably break, I will not purchase a bag of shredded plastic "grass" and I will not buy processed, packaged marshmallows rolled in sugar or giant foil wrapped chocolate bunnies. This Easter the boys and I will make their own baskets out of paper and other recyclables we have around the house. And this year the baskets will feature fruit and berries, with homemade goodies and treats.  I am in love with this idea already because, while it allows me to reduce our consumption, it has a couple of additional side-benefits.  A home-made Easter will become a tradition for our family over the years (and I am a big fan of family traditions) and it will also instantly personalize our holiday.  Instead of generic fillers - our baskets will have 100% unique content and I am loving that already.

I am not a super crafty person (I haven't been able to figure out my sewing machine and I have been trying for over five years!) but I am hoping to come up with some home made ideas for Christmas as well.  If our first home made Easter is a success, I have a feeling I will be diving into Christmas ideas immediately after :)

What are your favorite family traditions for the holidays?  Have your ever gifted or received a homemade gift you were crazy about? :)

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