7 Ways to Avoid Christmas Clutter

In less than a week the merry making of the Christmas season will officially begin.  (Curiously, the Christmas season seems to have truly begun on the day after Halloween, but that is fodder for another blog.)  During this season of decking the halls and Yuletide carols being sung by a choir, there is an awful lot of stuff that enters our homes in preparation for the holidays.  Before we know it we have received the messiest gift of all–the gift of Christmas clutter: cards, catalogs, free calendars, holiday art projects, fruitcakes,  and gifts–as the piles grow, so often does the anxiety as well.  To avoid the overwhelming piles of stuff it is imperative to have a plan.

Avoiding Christmas Clutter: a plan

1. Go through your children’s toys and donate gently used toys–throw broken and damaged toys away or recycle them if possible*  Often local groups are taking gently used toys to bless families who may have not have resources for gifts at this time of the year.  I generally know how many gifts my children will receive during the holiday season and so our rule is one toy in one toy out–that gives me a number to aim for when discarding toys before Christmas Day.

2. Avoid excessive holiday decor*  Personal taste rules here, but if decorations are tasteful and simple it creates a beautiful landscape for holiday celebrations.  If we have too much we cannot appreciate what we have and the eye becomes overwhelmed. For myself, I enjoy decorating with perishables–a hurricane lamp with a single large candle surrounded by cranberries or nuts, a vessel of pine cones, fall branches wrapped in white twinkle lights, a mantle dressed in evergreens, an antique crockery filled with fruit, oranges embedded with the deep scents of star shaped cloves hung in windows, a simple Christmas tree or Jesse tree ornamented with only those cherished items–these are all simple and lovely decorations that will get (mostly) used up or can be composted after the holiday season.

3. Christmas cards have a “home” during and after the holiday season*  We clip our Christmas cards with clothespins onto rustic twine over an open doorway during the season–it does the job nicely of displaying our cards and looks a bit rustic and whimsical.  We’ve been known to add paper snowflakes to the mix for embellishment.  When the holidays are over the paper cards are immediately recycled to either the recycling bin or the kids’ art bin.  The photo cards are filed in a special photo bin.  Those photos in the photo bin are reexamined before the Christmas season each year so any cards that do not hold sentimental value can be thrown out.  

4. Calendars and other freebies are dealt with before they become a problem*  For those free calendars, pick the one calendar you plan to use and donate or recycle the others.  To avoid wasting an individual’s or group’s monies on calendars, cards, labels, etc. you may send a polite note requesting that they not send you anymore freebies.  Since these are small businesses this is often a better method than opting out with dmachoice.org.  Other holiday freebies may show up at work or holiday parties.   The answer to this clutter inducing condition is do not take the freebies!  If you do take something to avoid looking or feeling rude drop these items in a bag or tote to be dropped off at a thrift store after the holiday season–free unused holiday cards and calendars from charitable groups can be donated as well.

5. Pick the best of the best for a child’s artwork*  Artwork and gifts from children is often the most difficult clutter to bust.  During the season grandly display one or two of the child’s artistic expressions.  Recycle the others. (You may want to do this without the kids knowing.  I know it sounds cruel but isn’t it crueler to have a stressed out parent during the holiday season because they are overwhelmed by the mess of stuff?!)  After the holidays choose one art item to put in their portfolio.  (Portfolios at my house are kept in special file bins and are reevaluated each summer to see what still remains important to the child and myself.)

6. Don’t hang on to presents…these are different from gifts*  A gift is something that blesses your life, a present does not.  Presents we don’t or won’t cherish cannot do us any good cluttering up closets and lives.  Even more, a present that makes a person feel guilty because of lack of use is really a burden and not what the giver of that present intended.   While presents are usually given with love, the gift of clutter is no gift at all…it is a present!  Express your gratitude for the givers generosity and thoughtfulness because we are blessed when people in our lives care enough to think of us during the holiday season and then gracefully move on.  Exchange the gift if possible and get something that is truly useful and beautiful to you.  If it isn’t possible to do this then you may try to sell it on EBay, Craig’s List or a consignment shop.  Finally, if this isn’t a feasible option then donate it to someone who will find pleasure in this item.  Some may question the ethics of this, but truly the difference here is time.  Over time we let these presents sit in on shelves collecting dust until we finally put them in a garage sale or donate them.  This time you can take care of these presents much earlier and remove the guilt and burden earlier as well.

7. Frozen food saves waistlines*  There is an abundance of food during the holiday season and as a result clothes get tighter because we don’t want leftovers to go to waste…so they go to waist!  Chocolate, baked goods, meats, cheese balls, and many other bits of holiday fare can be frozen and consumed later.  When we eat everything at once we kind of lose the speciality of the food we are eating and our palate cannot identify how delectable these treats can be. If we slowly consume them and allow ourselves the chance to truly savor these morsels, we get to extend our holiday menu a little longer and find a pleasure in eating things slowly and with greater gratitude.  

The holidays are truly a blessed time of year and avoiding the frustration and confusion of holiday clutter allows for a calmer more enjoyable season.  

Do you have any ways you lessen the Christmas clutter?

The Burden that Binds the Joy

In the summer of 2000 I traveled throughout Western Europe with only a backpack (at first).  It was glorious to be responsible for only myself and the few belongings I carried with me—I was living in the moment and not living with stuff. 

However, as the trip continued I purchased trinkets to take back home: a miniature Eiffel Tower, Venetian masks, and set of Swiss knives for a friend’s wedding gift.  Eventually, I could not carry my carefully selected wares from the world and so I resorted to buying additional luggage, a small rolling suitcase.  My backpack became a burden as I had to hunch over and tilt to create balance as I rolled the suitcase behind me.  When my suitcase could hold no more I sent a couple items by mail—often the postal costs outweighed the cost of the actual items.  

When I returned to the States I doled out the gifts that I had purchased and the few items I kept for myself stayed out for a year or two and then made their way into boxes when I got married.  The items that I gave to family members as gifts slowly made their way back to me.  Items from somebody else’s vacation—no matter how exotic—are not your own memories and so they were lovingly returned and put into boxes. The time, resources, and energy extolled to collect those trinkets was truly not worth it.  I could have enjoyed another fresh squeezed blood orange juice in a warm summer day in Florence and left the Made in China fare in the overly homogenized international corner shops.  

Truly doesn’t this become the paradox of life?  We consume items to show we have arrived at our destination—to fill up our pantries, to be prepared, to have enough, or whatever other reason we may feel entitled to pose…and then we realize these items have little value to us and the become a burden that must be dragged along side of us until we find space to pack it away…living in the moment is lost in all this drudgery and a cheap useless trinket have replaced that gift.

Have you ever felt burdened by your belongings?