Hands down, the most discouraging aspect of life, to me, is when we have been busy and the house gets cluttered. I have always longed to be one of those “place for everything and everything in its place” sort of people but this is more difficult the more people you have under one roof. Add to that the delight I find in reading not one but several books at one time, sticky flags and note cards piled high near a steaming cup of tea, and then include my craft projects, all on top of homeschooling mess, and, well, you get the picture.
While I have a desire to simplify my life, and have taken some pretty good steps toward doing that, the holidays bring their own set of clutter and chaos that add to holiday depression by default. Since our married children live so far away, when they are here during the holidays, I do not want to spend time doing the necessary housework when I could be playing with a grand baby. So, keeping ahead of the game is the solution that I have found works best for me. When I follow through on that plan and the house stays fairly tidy, I am not as prone to discouragement which can lead to depression.
A few things I have found that help are these:
1. I try to not allow any necessary chores to lag behind during the excitement of holiday activities. Since my laundry room is in the basement, “out of sight, out of mind” can too often rule the day. I have been trying to stay ahead of any laundry that needs to be done, being fully caught up right before company arrives. That way, if I have to go a couple days, it won’t cause anyone to be screaming “I am out of underwear” while guests are here!
2. I sit down right after Thanksgiving and plan a menu for the Christmas weeks. I start baking cookies, breakfast muffins, and quick breads and freeze them. In large disposable foil pans, I prepare family favorites like lasagna, chicken tetrazzini and homemade soups, labeling and freezing them, too. The week before Christmas, I make several cheese balls and wrap them in foil for late night snacking along with the large tray of summer sausage Aunt Ruth and Uncle Don typically send our direction! A couple days before the first company arrives, I dejunk the fridge and fill it with salad fixings, yogurt, and deli sandwich supplies, including Kosher dills and good mustards. I have large jars on my counter filled with a variety of cereals and homemade granola. I place baskets filled with a variety of teas and hot chocolate mixes on the counter next to a stack of holiday mugs, along with flavored creamers for coffee. All these things make it simple for moms to feed their little ones when they need to eat and allows for little time in the kitchen for me when I would rather spend it with my family. Since no one gets up at the same time, breakfast is also simple and easily prepared. And, of course, the cookies and quick breads are emptied from the freezer daily! Since I came upon these tricks, there is much less kitchen time for everyone.
3. In years past, we have tried to complete our Christmas shopping early, aside from my husband’s famous Christmas Eve stocking stuffer hunt, which he loves so I refrain from commenting and have learned to work around. When catalogs start arriving in September, I save ones that have interesting, educational items for kids and usually will shop from them online. They often offer days of free shipping, which is always nice if you need to buy gifts to send far away. This year we have drawn names among the children and their spouses, all of us only buying gifts for the little ones. The last few years, it took us all so long to open presents on Christmas morning that we needed to have a different plan. I am actually quite excited this year and because it gives each person just one person to consider, I think the thoughtfulness with the gifts this year will be really special. Since over spending at Christmas can lead to a lot of frustration and depression when the bills come in January, having a budget and staying within it can be a life saver.
4. Last year I did nearly all my Christmas shopping online. I like to find unique items and avoid the exhaustion that comes with shopping in malls etc. Another thing that I have done that really helps is to wrap every item the day it comes, label it, and tuck it away (if it is going to the habitual package rattlers) or put it on a festive table in my upstairs hallway, part of the fun decorating. Wrapping gifts for a big family all at once is awful. Something else I started a couple years ago that was helpful to my husband and sons (and me, by default) was to assemble a portable wrapping station. I put wrapping paper, tissue paper, scissors, tape, name tags, and pens all in plastic tub so I am not hearing a constant “where are the scissors?” etc. Of course, since I am usually the first wrapper, I get my choice of the best paper. One of the mom perks!
5. Usually Clay and I are in bed before any of the children are these days, so I use the early morning hours to tidy up the house, keeping clutter at bay, and cleaning bathrooms, etc. It feels good to greet everyone with these chores done, especially guests.
6. My husband usually saves personal days and vacation time to take during the Christmas holidays and we look forward to this all year. We do not schedule a lot of activities during December but do like to invite friends and family in for dinner and board games and we love attending a Christmas concert or two, our favorite being the Bethany Christmas concert at our church each year. The last few years, since we have added daughters-in-law to the family, I like to schedule a time to take just the girls to lunch or a girl movie with whomever is here. Clay likes to do an outing with the guys, too, and we also like to take just grandchildren somewhere so the siblings can have a great visit while we spoil the little ones! By not filling the holidays with too much stuff or too many events, we are all able to enjoy real time and real conversation, which means making real memories.
7. Family traditions can trigger many of the things that bring back memories that are painful. While I believe traditions are good, we also need to be creating new traditions. If you or your husband grew up in a difficult home, this is particularly important. As you grow together as a couple and you raise your own family, there is an organic nature to what you will do regarding Christmas. Your own traditions will come about naturally as you all serve one another. You also have to remember that one of your goals is to establish a pattern for your own children so they will do the same when they are in their own households. Clay and I spent 3 Christmases and Thanksgivings in Germany with no extended family and it was a wonderful time for us to establish our own traditions. I can remember being so blessed when I got a letter from my mom and dad one year, telling me about their trip alone to the Christmas tree farm. While it was a little bittersweet to read, it also blessed me to know that the two of them were still a family!
8. And, above all, Christmas is a time to reflect on the relationship we have with Jesus Christ. What meaning is there to family or Christmas celebrations without contemplating the wonder of the manger and the power of the cross? A few years ago I bought a Little People nativity set and placed it on the coffee table so I could have those conversations with little ones. Keeping a continual song in our hearts can be done by having continuous Christ-centered music playing in our homes during the holidays.
all content copyright Karen Campbell 2009