I recently became a minimalist where the holidays were concerned. It wasn’t intentional. Early in November, I had a total knee replacement. Recovery from the surgery was longer than I anticipated (and truthfully, much slower than that for which my doctor prepared me.) So, when Thanksgiving rolled around, I was pretty limited in mobility. Giving up the tradition of hosting dinner wasn’t an option. My kids have very busy lives. My daughter has a small house and my son is, well, a bachelor. Besides, it was a lot easier for me to stay home, since I had not yet been cleared to drive.
We love our family traditions and we’re not willing to sacrifice them. Still, I was forced to let a lot of things go. The usual planning, shopping, cleaning and decorating was out of the question. Luckily, I had some Autumn leaves and pumpkins out, which I had done in October. It would have to suffice. I pared down the menu to include our most favorite dishes, removing things like sweet potato casserole and homemade cranberry sauce – two things that I’m pretty sure are only popular with me. Then, I assigned the more difficult menu items to the guests. Now, I am not one to accept help easily, nor do I usually ask. But one thing this recovery has taught me is that, sometimes, you have to let other people do things for you. Was it uncomfortable for me? Hell, yes. But, I had no choice.
I reserved two side dishes to prepare myself that I thought would be easiest. I bought disposable dinnerware (Sorry, environmentalist friends, but I do not have a dishwasher). Then, I farmed out the rest, including the turkey. I gave up the usual games we play between courses. I ditched the appetizers. There were no lottery tickets under everyone’s plates. It would be the most boring Thanksgiving dinner ever.
I was wrong.
My daughter came over bright and early to stuff the turkey and put it in the oven. Like magic, dishes arrived, including mashed potatoes, wine, beer, homemade desserts. From my recliner, I listened as my kitchen came alive with the most wonderful chaos and laughter. Occasionally, I’d offer direction, such as which cupboard held the serving dish required. Mostly, I gave up the most difficult thing: Control. The family heirlooms that have always graced our table might not have been used. There were no coordinated placemats. There was no centerpiece…
What was present proved much more valuable. When it was time to eat, I took my place at the table and was served the most wonderful Thanksgiving dinner I have ever tasted. Normally, I am so exhausted from the preparation and the pressure I put on myself to make it perfect that I do not actually enjoy the meal. This year was different. I savored each bite. I could actually taste the love that went into it.
After dinner, I returned to my recliner and listened again, as my kitchen remained alive with laughter. Not only was my family getting it done – They were having the most wonderful time! Leftovers were divided and wrapped. The table was cleared. Pots and pans were washed. The trash taken out. My belly was full … and my heart was bursting.
By the time Christmas arrived, I was further along in the recovery process but still not 100%. Now, I was experienced in the magic art of letting go. A friend came over to help remove the Fall decorations and put out a few Christmas things: My Nana’s ceramic tree, the wreath for my door, our stockings and, of course, some Christmas music. Honestly, she was willing to do much more. However, I was completely overwhelmed by the amount of Christmas “stuff” I own. It was actually kind of repulsive and made me feel gluttonous. There were bins of things that have not been displayed for years. I silently asked myself, “What’s the point?”
The most amazing thing happened. The sparse decorations that I did put out became the subject of my undying adoration. They were not dwarfed by a million other “things” but stood on their own. There was beauty in the simplistic nature of having less.
Eventually, I accepted the offer of a friend to take me to get a real tree. In the past, tree selection has been quite a lengthy process during which I visit tree farms and walk the entire acreage in search of the perfect tree. Not this year. We pulled into a roadside stand that had some trees left (it was getting close to Christmas). I began to examine the selection when my friend said, “How about this one?” The owner was holding out the most amazing tree – it was the exact size and shape that I am always hunting for when hiking through rows of still-planted trees. Five minutes later, it was trimmed, baled and loaded into our vehicle.
My daughter and grandson came to help decorate the tree, placing several strands of white lights and the star on top. Once again, the “less is more” philosophy prevailed. I felt no desire to sort through the huge bin of ornaments – an emotional task that I simultaneously loathe and treasure. It was not necessary. The sparse, unadulterated tree was beautiful. We added some ribbon and stood back to admire it: The perfect Christmas tree.
Santa left a few less gifts under the tree this year. Shopping had to be done online. There was less wrapping too, and more gift bags, including some reusable ones (perhaps making up for the disposable dinnerware). Instead of giving “things” and “stuff,” I tried to give the gift of experiences: Gift cards for activities to expand or challenge personal growth as well as things to do together throughout the year. Everyone was genuinely pleased with their presents. Clean up was much easier. There was no excess. I felt lighter.
When you remove overindulgence, it makes room for that which really matters. Less clutter means more room for joy. Abundance is not kept in a Rubbermaid bin. Things that are packed away in the basement bring no happiness. Instead, they weigh us down by their silent demands. Next year, there will be less in storage. That which remains will be relished. Things, like unused ornaments, will be replaced by experiences, such as stringing up the lights together. Perfection is no longer my goal. Instead, I will strive for shared efforts and adventures. Memories take up no room in the house. Instead, they fill our hearts and enhance our lives by enriching our relationships.
And That, my friends, is what really matters.