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Simplify Your Life / Elaine St. James

Endless Tasks Sap the Spirit and Add to the Christmas Clutter

November 01, 1998|ELAINE ST. JAMES

Have you started your Christmas shopping yet? Are your nerves already on edge because you haven't purchased cards, made your travel reservations, or purchased any gifts? Have you already begun to dread the impending seasonal stresses--the obligatory cards and gifts for people you barely know, the forced joviality of parties you don't want to attend, the shopping, the baking, the decorating, the expenses?

Do you love Christmas but feel that the holiday has gotten out of hand? Do you long to recapture the simple, meaningful themes of the season but feel as if you're fighting a losing battle against high expectations and commercialism?

I decided to write "Simplify Your Christmas: 100 Ways to Reduce the Stress and Recapture the Joy of the Holidays" (Andrews McMeel Publishing) after encountering numerous people who told me they were overwhelmed by the holidays but needed help getting started on making a change.

Everywhere I go I find that the idea of simplifying the holidays resonates. And it can be done. Take the family that decided last year to cut their Christmas expenses in half and discovered they didn't miss all the extras. In fact, it was a relief. This year they're cutting back even more. Or the company that decided to stop its secret-Santa gift exchange. Instead, the employees take the money they would have spent on nonsensical gifts for each other and create a meaningful Christmas for a local family in need. Or the woman who didn't send Christmas cards one year to see what would happen, and discovered that nobody noticed. She now communicates with friends and family throughout the year, and has eliminated the pressure of sending holiday cards altogether.

Just recently I spoke with an editor in Los Angeles who told me that for the last several years she has been simplifying her life and has gotten rid of a lot of the excess stuff that was cluttering her home. She realized she didn't want or need the Christmas gifts she usually received and asked her family and friends not to get her anything.

When they insisted, she came up with this idea: Instead of gifts, she asked them to send her yarn or money to buy yarn for the baby blankets she crochets and donates to a low-income prenatal health program. Everyone got into the spirit of her project, and she was soon receiving yarn and money from co-workers, friends and family. And by taking the bus to work instead of driving, she can crochet for 40 minutes each way. She donates the blankets in the names of those who provide the yarn. They each get a thank-you note from a grateful health center and know they've made a gift that is appreciated. Known as the "Afghans Lady," she has found a way to make Christmas more joyous for herself and many others.

I know there are countless stories like these to inspire people to make their holidays more meaningful. If you've found ways to recapture the spirit of the holidays, send me your ideas. I'll share them in the upcoming weeks.

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