Friday, December 09, 2011

What to Give Yourself This Holiday Season

Tip of the Week, November 13, 2011

While chatting with my parents on Sunday, they asked what day I'd be flying to Virginia for our Thanksgiving celebration next week, and for a moment I was baffled by their belief that the holiday would be coming so soon. But as I've been obliged to admit so many times before, they were right.

The start of the end-of-year holiday season induces in some people a wave of glee, in some a wave of nausea, and in many a wave of something between those two. Whatever your feelings about the season, I won't try to change them. What I will do, though, before things get too crazy, is to ask you to consider making real strides to keep yourself sane, solvent, organized, and as happy as possible over the next 6 weeks.

To that end, here are 5 things I hope you'll include on your list of things to give yourself in the weeks ahead.

#1: Freedom from unrealistic expectations

The expectation that you can and should turn your home into a winter extravaganza out of the pages of a magazine, or that every inch of your living space should be perfectly orderly before guests arrive, is bound to make you crazy or miserable or both, unless you happen to have nothing else to do for the next month and a half other than decorate and organize. (I'm going to guess that's not the case.) As I urge my clients throughout the year, the trick is to find your own reasonable equilibrium and aim for that, not to try to conform to other's expectations.

#2: The right to take a pass

While there may be some holiday events that require that you at least make an appearance (the office holiday party, a close neighbor's open house, Thanksgiving dessert at an important family member's home), forcing yourself to go to others that aren't particularly meaningful or appealing may leave you exhausted and resentful. Give yourself a few Get Out of Jail Free cards for those events, perhaps mailing a simple gift or note with your regrets and your wishes for the season.

#3: Permission to pass up a bargain

Supposedly good deals crop up everywhere over the next few weeks. If you find a gift that's already on your list at a particularly good price, but all means, go for it. Be wary of buying things you hadn't intended to, though--especially if you don't have a specific recipient in mind (if they're gifts) or don't have a very solid need for them (if they're for you). As is true year-round and especially so when stores encourage us to get up before dawn for "doorbuster" deals, buying things just because they seem to be bargains often means spending more than you'd planned and winding up with clutter.

#4: The gift of help

Even if your holiday preparations and celebrations aren't elaborate, chances are they involve time, effort, and energy, especially when you're also doing everything else you normally do. Don't try to be a holiday hero and tackle it all on your own. Whether you pay for help (by ordering your Thanksgiving meal from a catering company or hiring a crafty neighbor to wrap your gifts), enlist it (by having family members pitch in with food prep or pre-celebration tidying), or simply accept it when it's offered (many guests really do mean it when they ask what they can do to lend a hand), you'll save yourself time, stress, and frustration.

#5: Your own definition of "happy holidays"

Finally, tricky though this can sometimes be, do your best to define for yourself how you want to observe the season, whether that's an all-nine-yards weeks-long celebration with all the trimmings, a few small events with especially close friends and family members, or simply a week of watching cheesy holiday movies and drinking hot chocolate. By not trying to shoehorn yourself into others' ideas of what the holidays are or should be like, you'll be more likely to make it through the end of the year with less stress, less clutter, and more happiness, however you define it.