Orin Zebest’s work on Flickr
Who isn’t busy all the time? But around the holidays we’re crazy busy. At least women are, and those lights in our lives we call children make the pace even more frantic.
Sure we make all sorts of efforts to simplify and de-stress but for most of us the joys of holiday shopping, gifting, cooking, decorating, visiting, hosting, and merrymaking have to fit right into our regular (overburdened) schedules.
It’s not like we can make more time where there is none. Well, maybe we can. Or at least use our time differently. I confess to the Crazy Busy Syndrome but I fight back with these tactics.
Renounce the How-Does-She-Do-It-All Disease. You know the symptoms. You show excessive responsible because you’re sure no one else will do it (or do it right). You uphold traditions your family counts on. You pay close attention to get just the right gifts. You worry about money more than usual. You try to keep the focus on intangibles like faith and togetherness. When the frenzy is over you end up with an empty feeling. I’m the first to stand and admit that I’m still in recovery from this disease.
The cure? Talk to your loved ones about what means the most to them, then slice away the rest. If there’s disagreement, slice anyway.
Shun Those Voices. They’re everywhere around the holidays. They seem so genuine and alluring but their sole aim is to make you feel insufficient. They speak to you from TV, magazines, websites, blogs, store displays— let’s admit they’re ubiquitous. These voices tell you that you’re not enough. To compensate you must do more. Dress beautifully, make elaborate meals, buy lavish gifts and wrap them more ingeniously.
This is the only diet you need to go on. Don’t watch a single cooking show, don’t open one slick women’s magazine, stay away from Pinterest, and avoid stores as much as possible. You’ll have a lot more time, plus you won’t have to reassemble what’s left of your self esteem.
Screw Tradition. No, I don’t mean avoiding your house of worship or shunning Grandma’s house. I do mean it’s possible to celebrate the season without so much of the heavy Gotta Do It weight hanging over you.
Some of my most memorable holidays have actually been those that veered wildly from tradition. My family will not forget a holiday dinner at Rebecca’s house complete with walls of wet paint, an oven on fire, and a dog getting sick everywhere. The zinger, she was eager to show foreign guests how we celebrate here in the U.S!
If you’ve always gone to the movie theater to see the newest holiday releases after a day of shopping, skip both and go to a play at your community theater. If you’ve accepted every holiday invitation despite the costs of babysitters and lost sleep, limit your yes RSVPs to those events that are the most warm and wonderful. If you’ve always accommodated your kids’ requests for gifts because it’s Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, put new limits on materialism —try emphasizing non-toy gifts or give four gifts in the categories of Want, Need, Wear, Read. If you’ve always driven around to see the holiday lights, instead go outside on a frosty night to sing together (even if only to a lone tree lit by moonlight). You’ll not only save time and money, you’ll also create new traditions.
Rethink Gift-Giving. Things have gotten out of hand. Children in this country once looked forward to a fresh orange, maybe a piece of candy and if they were lucky a toy or useful gift like a pocketknife or sewing kit. Historian Howard Chudacoff writes in Children at Play: An American History that most toys co-opt and control a child’s play. They’re better off with free time and objects they can use to fuel their imaginations (yes, a cardboard box).
I admit things got out of hand in my own house. In a quest for meaning (let’s rephrase that to my quest for meaning) we’ve always had handmade holidays. Yes, I’m one of those annoying people….. Meals from scratch, homemade organic cookies, handmade gifts. Each of my four children made gifts for everyone every year, gifts that took substantial effort such as woodworking, felting, and ceramics. My teens still make some of the gifts they give although thankfully I’m not the one coming up with the ideas and supervising the process. The last few years economic realities have made hand made gifts ever more necessary, for other gifts I turn to non-profit and artisan sources. Try products offered by non-profits you support, works of art sold at local galleries, and these resources for simple holiday giving.
Last Resort. This tactic is heavy duty, the one I bring out when I start to feel sorry for myself. Because we’re not crazy busy in comparison to women throughout history. We think we’re stressed? Our foremothers hauled water; carded, spun and sewed clothes; chopped firewood and maintained the stove they cooked on; ground grain and made bread each day; planted and weeded gardens, then canned or dried the harvest; stretched limited food reserves with careful planning to last until the next harvest; cared for babies, children and the elderly with no professional help; treated the sick, stitched wounds and prepared the dead for burial; well, you get the idea.
Worse, many many women in the world still do this sort of grinding labor each day. Typically, women in developing countries work 17 hours a day. Our sisters receive a tenth of the world’s income while performing two-thirds of the world’s work. These harsh realities put any concept of busy or stressed right out of my head. For more information and ways to help, check out the wonderful book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.
So fight the Crazy Busy Syndrome with all you’ve got. Remember to count your blessings, including the joy of not eating my homemade buckwheat cookies!