In Which I Become Unquantifiable

Drawing of fitness band and smartphone with statistics on it.

I’ve boxed it up. After four years of consistent and unwavering usage, I have taken off my Fitbit, unlikely to ever be used again. The level of self-awareness from this device has now reached the point of diminishing returns. It just became a habitual accessory with curious bits of information that I ignored.

I recently deleted my Goodreads account, despite having filled lists with hundreds of books. I never wrote public reviews, felt guilty using a reductionist rating system, and wondered why I was advertising a solitary habit that I had done all my life without fanfare.

One by one, I began to look at all the ways in which I was tracking and quantifying my life. Counting calories, making lists, tracking exercise, inventories, writing journal entries. I’ve done these things one way or another since I was 13, keeping a running list of flaws and excesses and not quite getting things right. It is a lifestyle geared towards being better – until the time, energy, and devices become a replacement for a life. It’s a sterile proof of life. Would you know me by my steps, my carbohydrate intake, my reading peccadilloes? Does the nebulous, contradictory shape of my being need data for definition?

Orange and red rays of streaming data.

Perhaps menopause, and all its accompanying mood swings, seismic corporeal changes, and the catching of breath before entering the final third of my life (if I am lucky) has sent me off the deep end. I do not wish to live in a data-driven world, dragging cookies with me from one internet site to the next, ads popping up to tell me just what a screw-up I really am or that despite how messed up the world is, I should be buying this device and make sure I’m getting apps that tell me that I will never, ever be good enough.

It’s frightening to leave my life up to me. Ever since I cut heel holes into leg warmers and wore collarless sweatshirts to do Jane Fonda’s ab blasters, I’ve expected services, apps, people, books to give me the magic answer that will make me good enough. I am capitalism’s most perfect mark. Got a problem? We know you do. Buy this. Listen to the guru. Download this app. Purchase these magic beans.

I’d been staring out of the window watching the birds and squirrels in the yard when my phone beeped to tell me it’s time to meditate. Wasn’t I just doing that? Perhaps if I just let myself be, I’ll be drawn inexorably to what I need. I can listen to myself or make Pavlovian choices, dropping down into a sitting pose on a beep. App deleted.

If I sound strident, I am. It’s uncomfortable – this unregulated, un-tracked being I now inhabit. At 53, I see where I have robbed myself – of joy, of adventure, of passion – in an effort to be good enough. My life feels like a succession of apologies and renovations. At times, when I thought I was reinventing myself, I was just swapping out new tracking methods, different-colored charts, but really it was the same old plan. Stop being me.

In 1982, “I’ve Never Been to Me” by Charlene was on the charts. We used to snicker at the song, saying things like Well, I’ve been to me and it wasn’t that great. Jokes as a cry for therapy. I did therapy too. But I was so concerned that the therapist would think I was a nutjob, that I processed and packaged my feelings. When I told her I was going to stop therapy, she felt satisfied with my progress. I am, when push comes to shove, a skilled liar. Mostly to myself.

Megaphone with words on it like feedback, opinion, and view.

So how does one unravel self from a world eager to define it for you? How does one stop speaking the language of critique and review and feedback? How does one disentangle what it means to be human from what it means to be a citizen, consumer, a content regurgitator?

As part of an MFA program, I am required to do workshops. I hate workshops, but not for the reasons one might assume. Feedback is nominally useful, because most workshop feedback is organized around a disparate group of readers who don’t the writer’s intent. It’s a messy process and less useful than one might imagine. I decided to no longer read with a critic’s eye and it has changed how I approach the work of others. I approach it with curiosity – what is the writer trying to do? How can I help them do that?

Keyboard with shopping cart key.

This shift in my approach is bleeding over into other areas in my life. Approach with curiosity. The adjustment period is awkward. You can’t miss how people talk or write – all the pronouncements, opinions, critiques about everything. Were we always like this? How have we been trained to see and point out the flaws in the most minor things? I heard the phrase deficit advertising to explain how we are convinced to buy, buy, buy through the calculated strategy of making us feel as if we are not enough. We are vicious critics of ourselves. That’s a problem, but there is probably an app for that.

Is the absence of planning, tracking, and logging in, a plan in and of itself? Perhaps. It feels more like scraping away the distractions to see what is there. Who am I without data? Who am I without the automatic longing for something else and the ongoing, constant data feedback from my life? Does this body still have good bones?

So here I am, a nebulous, unfocused, undefined being. I do not know if I have maintained a good carb-fat-protein ratio. I have not met any personal goals today. I’m not sure how many books I have read this month. Or if REM sleep comprised enough of my night. I do not know how many steps I have walked today. I just know that I am moving in a different direction.

Administrative Note: I have not included a recording of this post and will not for the foreseeable future. I wanted this blog to be more accessible and to provide other options for those people, of which I am one, who get way too much screen time. The problem is, I’m not very good at creating recordings. After trying a lot of different configurations for a duct-taped sort of studio and using free recording software, it still takes an inordinate amount of time and effort. It stops me from writing here, because of the work it will entail. I’m not famous or in great demand or even paid for this. When I am any of those things, I will find someone who knows what they are doing and they can record it. Until that time, I’m going back to the basics of writing.

The Season of Choices

It occurred to me in a restless hour of insomnia that most sins boil down to greed. The many ills we see plaguing our world are borne out of want – a hunger for that which we do not have, but wish to possess, whether it be money, power, material items, reputation, or other humans. Before I step up on a soap box, mount my high horse, or puff up my chest to expound, I turn a critical lens on my own life.

I’ve written before about my own sense of hunger and want. But growing up poor cannot be an excuse for greed and as we go through another consumer season, I am at once chagrined and baffled by the amount of stuff in exchange. My husband is an IT engineer for a large retailer. I am often compulsive in my shopping. I do not look at this from high moral ground. Complicity is not just for politics.

There are times when we, as individuals, get mocked for our minuscule efforts to save the world. Recycling every scrap of paper and tin can, only to see large scale pollution and waste by corporate entities. Buying different light bulbs every five years, because supposedly, the latest ones take less energy and last longer, only to discover that the expensive damned things burn out just as quickly as the old ones. Being “green” becomes its own source of want and consumerism.

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If something is small, it might be said, it may not be worth doing. It may just be a way to distract individuals from seeing the large-scale destruction and greed that so many of us benefit from in the short-term, but that consumes and kills everything in its path. Why should we spend our short time on this earth trying to be better, when the bigger picture says that ultimately, we will consume ourselves out of existence?

canstockphoto34294378It’s no coincidence that I write this post on the heels of visiting a mall. At least once a year, my daughter’s orchestra performs in the middle of a mall. Malls baffle and horrify me. Seeing an entire store devoted to pillows (and only one brand at that) or socks is a special kind of bizarre. Walking past store windows, it was hard to gauge what was even being sold, beyond contorted mannequins and maybe a purse.

We walked around the mall and I couldn’t make myself go into a store, knowing that I’d immediately become every old lady ever. Why would someone pay for THAT? Why are there holes in brand new jeans? I could get an entire wardrobe at Target for the price of that shirt. And that shirt is made in the same damn place – Cambodia or Thailand or Pakistan. I wonder what deft little fingers make our clothes and if the building might not collapse on them. Complicit.

canstockphoto33759.jpgI’ve read of people who attempt to be purists. They are inevitably wealthy and can afford to source all their clothing from sheep who live in their own personal spas. They buy $200 light bulbs made out of recycled feces and have 4,000 square feet of solar panels for their tiny house on wheels. Perhaps we mock them out of jealousy – they get to attain a little higher moral ground. But wait – where did their wealth come from? Did they sell more stuff, inherit hoarded monies, engage in unfair business practices, benefit from a system that rewards greed? Complicit.

If we are all guilty and if what we do as individuals in our own households has little effect, why do we torture ourselves trying to be better? Why not admit that we’re bipedal locusts and get on with things without guilt?

This brings me to a different type of greed. I want to be a better person than I am. I want to be respectful of the earth and thoughtful about what I choose to possess. I want to leave something of natural beauty to those who follow behind me. But mostly, I want to define my life not through constant desire and greed, but through kindness and respect and an ability to sit with what I have and be at peace.

canstockphoto16214070Greed inculcates violence. Whether it be taking something by force or getting something at the expense of others or the planet, it is an inherently violent trait. We see what kind of people use greed as their defining trait – from corrupt politicians who seek power and financial gain, to narcissistic fundamentalists of any ilk who seek to make the world in their image alone – greed for a mirror’s reflection. These people poison everything around them. Many of them have poor relationships with other humans, are detached from the true wonder and beauty of the natural world, and spend their considerable talent in pursuit of more for themselves, instead of bettering the world around them.

I don’t have the luxury or the grandiosity of those extremes, but I can see how greed and want and consumerism can be damaging to those around me, to the natural world, to my own character, to the way I spend my very short life. I’m over the halfway point at best. I’ve spent 50 years on this planet trying to earn more money, to have more freedom and choices through that money. I’ve been generous with friends and family and charities. But I’ve exchanged one sort of freedom for another. I’m more complicit than I want to be in the destruction of this planet.

So the question is, how hard do I want to try? This choice, this evaluation, is a luxury in itself. If you’re just getting by, you don’t spend a lot of time sourcing where your stuff comes from. You don’t weigh getting the $2 versus the $8 light bulb. But here I am, with the choices I’ve worked my whole life to have, in a system that rewards me for making greedy choices. It doesn’t let me off the hook to say it won’t make a difference. If I have the power and luxury of choices, I’m responsible for making better ones, even if they may not save the world.

Auntie Scrooge’s Unsolicited Advice for the Holidays

Now that the competitive shopping marathon has begun and social events designed to crush the soul are in full swing, I’ve grumbled my way through a mall, a holiday party or three, and the receipt of numerous greeting cards with pets and coordinated outfits, and sometimes pets in coordinated outfits. I’m in the mood for unsolicited advice-giving. You’re welcome – in advance of the overwhelming gratitude you will surely feel.

Let’s get the respective holiday greetings out of the way. Merry Happy Holiday Christmas, Hanukkah,  Kwanzaa, Boxing Day, Ōmisoka (大晦日), Three Kings Day, Winter Solstice, Festivus, Quaid-e-Azam Day, and fill-in-the-blank Day. And for people like me, good luck with avoiding hugging, food poisoning, and advice from well-meaning and sometimes just mean relatives, on how to be someone other than who you are.

In addition to my much-loved (by me) post on how to survive the holidays as an introvert, here are some other invaluable tips:

Shopping for Gifts

canstockphoto4907306Remember that we all die. Remember what happens to our stuff when we die. Remember what other people do with the stuff we give them – usually before they die.

One year I gave a relative a yoga set – a mat and DVD. She’d been talking about her stress and various aches and pains and was considering yoga. The next year when I went to visit her, she’d cut up the yoga mat and made treads out of the pieces to keep her from slipping on the stairs. Indeed, it likely served the purpose of reducing her stress and prevented injuries, but actual stair treads would have been cheaper.

Don’t spend a lot of money on stuff. Sure, it makes the economy go round, but after the latest tax “reform”, we’re going to be in a recession in a few years anyway. Save your money. You’re going to need it for healthcare when you lose your job.

Overindulging

canstockphoto32200781I hate going to the Y in January, because the resolution gang is there trying to work off holiday pounds, accidentally flying off treadmills, talking more than moving, taking workout tips from any random employee who will talk to them, and wandering from machine to machine without wiping any of them off after use.  I’m all for working out and for people finding their groove, but come mid-February, when my retinas will have recovered from all the neon polyester workout clothes, I’ll look around only to see me and four senior citizens.

So don’t do, eat, drink or buy anything that requires a follow-up resolution, pregnancy test or bankruptcy filing. Or at the very least, don’t go to my gym.

Mental Gymnastics

If you’re a writer, there’s a fun little exercise you can do. Find that relative that makes you want to flip a table and back into their car as you tear out of the driveway. Watch them. How would you write them? What would their death scene entail? Or less violently, which Muppet would they be? Which reminds me of a great way to enter (and exit) any gathering:

 

Practicing Gratitude. In the mirror.

Get your game face on. Someone is about to give you a really ugly, useless gift that has nothing to do with any of your interests or personality. They either a) want you to change or b) don’t remember anything about you c) received it last year or d) are viciously delighted that you’ll be forced to put it out every time they come to visit.

canstockphoto15420316There’s the nostalgia/long distance relative gift. Your aunt remembers that when you were 11, back in 1978, you used to collect porcelain hedgehogs and she just happened to see one in a souvenir shop in Nashville that says I ♥ Tennessee on it and thought of you. Smile big now. She thought of you, even though you’re 50 years old and traded that collection in for boys when you turned 13.

I joke a lot, but my favorite gifts are good pens, pictures, a cherished poem written out, any creative endeavor, books if you know me, socks if you don’t or Ghiradelli’s Limited Edition Peppermint Bark Chocolates (always be specific on which chocolate you like, or you’ll end up with spackle-filled samplers). This is all to say that I’m a cheap date and most people, with a little thought and a whole lot less money, are too. And if they’re not, make sure you give them a card that tells them you’ve donated money in their honor to some charity you know they’ll hate.

Look for the Moments

It’s an odd year. I’m not much inclined towards commercial or cyclical sentiments in the first place, but this last year has been a real test of the idea of joy and what that means. I know it doesn’t mean the holidays, which entail too many expectations, too much work, too much of everything.

canstockphoto15427711There are moments, though, that give one pause. My daughter’s orchestra performed in the middle of a busy shopping mall (hence the forced mall visit). The music swelled and drowned out the chatter, expanding up to the high ceiling. A full orchestra of kids from every background, playing this beautiful music. My eyes welled up as I listened. People slowed down, taken off guard by an orchestra in the middle of everything. I like those moments. Moments that transcend shopping.

Some moments are just unexpected. I joined a voting rights organization earlier this year and made myself attend their holiday party in spite of my inclination to hide. I ended up sitting next to the city mayor and had a great conversation. I’m a bit of a political junkie and learning about city level politics fascinates me, as well as learning about the people who are willing to enter that arena. I met quite a few interesting people. What I thought would be merely tolerable, was surprisingly enjoyable.

Those moments sometimes find us, but most of the time, we have to keep our eyes open, be willing to say yes, not burden them with our nostalgia or expectations. It’s important to find the time to give ourselves room to breathe, to slow down, to step back. And to imagine a piano falling on the head of that relative who dominates every conversation with bumper sticker politics or vivid descriptions of their fungal issues. Pass the eggnog, indeed.

Wishing you and yours an uneventful holiday season, and a whole lot of peace!

Room for Imagination

canstockphoto7052527I’ve been spending the last week doing a typical new year task – clearing my house of things. Most people who know me will tell you I’m an organized person and when I say my house is a mess, it’s not as visible to others. I’m one of those people.

Most of my cleaning and organizational habits evolved from my childhood, where cleanliness meant control and control meant less anxiety. It was, I thought, in my nature to be a creative slob, but between an OCD parent and years in the Army, my nature was suppressed, mutated and is now clearly unrecognizable from the kid who lost everything. Gone is the child who cleaned by shoving things under the bed, until the pile crept across the floor, like a slow-spreading moss.

Something was lost, even as I learned to keep track of everything. I spend a lot of time keeping things under control. De-cluttering is treatment of the symptoms, but not a cure. The cure is bringing less into one’s home in the first place. The cure is asking yourself what things represent to you and learning that they are not you. The cure is asking yourself, what problem am I trying to solve?

There’s a level of shame and fear associated with my possessions. Many things I bought so that I would never run out, a consistent fear birthed by growing up in poverty. Other canstockphoto41129839things are bought as a magic pill – looking to an outside source to fix a problem when I don’t trust myself to solve it. There are some things that bring me undiluted pleasure – books, pretty stationery, and good pens. But even then, too much of a good thing waters down one’s appreciation.

I’ve read books by a few of the gurus of organization and minimalism – Peter Walsh, Leo Babauta, and Julie Morgenstern. Now, I’m listening to the latest popular organizing book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. I downloaded it from my local library, so thankfully, not another acquisition.

canstockphoto10368894Yesterday it took several hours to go through all my clothes and to put back the ones I liked and wore. I folded the KonMari way, modifying methods to fit the space I have. I have to admit, my wardrobe looks good. The real test will be maintenance. I have a couple of bags of clothes to take to a nonprofit thrift store that benefits people with differing abilities.

Seeing what I am getting rid of will remain a stark reminder in my head moving forward. Aspirational shopping. Shopping to feel better about one’s self. Shopping because someone made a comment about what colors look good on you or hearing some offhanded, disdainful comment about casual dress. Decisions based on trying to solve a problem that might not have been a problem at all.

What I have left are the things I’ve always worn, always felt comfortable in, always appreciated – jeans, sweaters, t-shirts, blouses, and of course, fuzzy socks. I am easily seduced by color, with same items in different colors, but my wardrobe reflects my life now – not a life imagined, not a life envied, not a life to impress.

Consumerism poisons the well. Things get marketed to us to fix our flaws, including products that tell us we have too much stuff. There is an irony in the number of books and websites and products that promote minimalism. It’s as twisted as the green movement – convincing us to throw away items for more environmentally friendly wares.

I’m embarrassed to say that I’m still learning to resist the game. When we suffocate and drain this planet of its resources, I won’t be able to stand on principle, but I would be able to stand on the mountain of stuff I’ve purchased and discarded over a lifetime.

Still, recriminations are not useful. What has been useful to me is to think about the psychological impact of having this stuff around me. Thinking about where I got my ideas about possession and ownership, imagining what it would be like to not have things – what would I feel?

So much of what I own is about intent and failure to follow through. I intended to really get into Japanese ink painting. I took a class, bought the supplies, got a couple of books. Now those things sit, sulkily staring back at me everyday, reminding me of yet one more thing I will likely not master, or even practice.

The weight is there and it takes up space not just in my office closet, but in my mind. Every time I see it, I think I should…maybe when…why didn’t I… such a dilettante. It reminds me of a flaw to fix, a problem to solve, and the shame of not completing yet another task. Except it’s not the only thing. Boxes of photos unsorted. Books unread. Materials for projects never completed. So much head space filled with regret, disappointment, disgust – with all the physical reminders to prod me every day.

canstockphoto19779919I write this, as I struggle with the next phase. My books. My many, many, many books. I love books. I love reading them, touching them, being surrounded by them. I love the library and bookstores and online perusing. The presence of books makes me feel wealthy, smart, and full of potential. Their purposes, to impart information, to comfort, to entertain have been outweighed by my pathology of never-ending hunger.

I intend to read all of my books. Someday. And the weight of that intent has filled my space. There is little room for much else. For new ideas. For imagination. For the creativity borne out of time and space not filled with entertainment, impulses easily met, stuff yelling at me to stop ignoring it.

As I sort through them, I see myself bared open – all my wishes and dreams and struggles. Fitness books and cookbooks. Self-help books and books on meditation and depression. Reference books for any subject that caught my interest over the years. So many writing books, many in pristine condition.

Sending them off to the library, secondhand bookstores and Books for Africa will take the edge off. But I know this process is less about the stuff, and more about making room for my life now, making room for that creative slob.

If This Were Enough

canstockphoto1628056The yard was muddy, but the sun was out and the call of the garden undeniable. I’ve been turning our front yard into a perennial garden over the last 10 years. If a garden could have attention deficit disorder, it would look like mine. Nothing is planted by height or color or for an eye-catching display as people drive by.

There’s probably 50 different kinds of plants and flowers – things that caught my eye at a nursery or roadside stand or even better, plants that people have offered up from their own gardens. I have a high disregard for manicured lawns, because the cost of maintaining a monotone field is too high. Too much water, too many chemicals, and not enough joy. I rarely see people playing or sitting on their beautiful lawns.

canstockphoto15362073On my haunches and muddied knees, I dug around beds, cleaned out weeds. The sun was warm, but a chill spring breeze interrupted occasionally. I paused at moments to let bees pass by or notice the first of the season’s butterflies. I found cicada husks from last August and a rabbit’s burrow from where the first batch of bunnies emerged this spring (they’re now teenagers in the backyard grazing on everything).

I’ve been writing a lot of serious stuff lately, caught up in the news and politics and issues of the day. It occurred to me that it’d been a long time since I’d felt the kind of joy I feel while in the garden. I pondered why being there made joy possible. It was certainly not the end result, my potpourri of mismatched and misshapen plants. Even when my garden is in full bloom, I have the critic’s eye.

It occurred to me that when I’m in the garden, I’m not worrying about what needs to be done, what was said, what will happen. I just work. I thought “What if this was all I had to worry about? What if gardening is the only thing that I really had to do?” Now, anyone familiar with Buddhism or meditation could call this for what it is: being present.

Gardening isn’t something I just do. It is something I am part of – I am a caretaker of life that has little regard for me. I am honored to be in the presence of bugs and plants and birds and animals. I feel, sometimes, that they allow me to be there, this oafish, destructive human. And it brings with it a sense of freedom – this sense that at this moment in time, everything is enough.

canstockphoto18968974I am a grasping sort of person. I always want more – more knowledge, more books and music, more muscles, more economic freedom and better running shoes. Part of it comes from growing up poor and feeling like I was in a perpetual state of want and envy. Part of it is that we live in a society built on the very concept that success is only precipitated by want. Our economy teeters restlessly on the backs of our desires. Our politics would be earnest and lackluster without the want of power.

But always wanting is exhausting and demoralizing. It means that we are never satisfied and never feel we have enough. And the more denigrating message is that we, as humans, are not enough. I played around with this idea in my head. Not everyone is delighted by or has access to a garden. How can this idea apply for others and in different circumstances?

I thought about how to repeat that feeling, that sense of freedom throughout my day. What else relieves me of the burden of want and anxiety? If I’m deep into writing, I feel it, but it means wading through perfectionism and troubled expectations of myself. It’s a lot of work to get there. Where do I find the joy like I find in the garden? And I end up, once again, with more want. I could certainly do with less irony.

Where do you find your joy?

What keeps you in the moment?

When does it feel like this is enough, I need nothing more?

Holiday Angst Redux – Opting Out

canstockphoto4885238Ever since giving up smoking and drinking, the holidays have not been fun. Having a child was supposed to cure that, but now that the elf has developed her own brand of cynicism (and adds whatever on the end of every sentence), there’s no reason to pretend. Let the snarling begin.

For years, I’ve grumbled over the machinations of the in-laws around this time of year. I’m an introvert, so I generally look like one of the characters of Bring Me the Head of David Dixon at family gatherings. Add an eye roll or fifty, a sullen slump to the shoulders and you have me at the height of holiday gaiety.

When people guffaw, I wince. I look on disdainfully through the flying shreds of wrapping paper, thinking about consumerism and wondering if there is a recycling bag nearby. In the words of one of my favorite comedians, Maria Bamford, I’m “an anvil wrapped in a wet blanket”. A real downer.

Perhaps if retailers hadn’t started piping in “Silver Bells” shortly after I’d inhaled the leftover Halloween candy, I wouldn’t feel so entirely fed up with the holidays before they arrived. Or if I hadn’t received family email directives for where I should be and what gifts I should bring, before we’d even had Thanksgiving dinner, I wouldn’t be so resentful. Maybe.

When I begin this conversation with friends or people standing in grocery lines, everyone nods their head in agreement, muttering about lists and exhaustion. Yet nothing ever changes. This year I’ve changed, but it isn’t easy. No holiday is complete without tinsel-covered guilt and passive aggressive garlands. We’ve come to mistake obligation for celebration.

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The Holiday Sloth. Now commonly seen in North America.

For the last two years, I’ve been practicing saying “no” to a lot of things. I’ve stayed home while my husband and daughter have gone to parties. I’ve stopped doing gift bags of goodies for every passing acquaintance. Last year, I didn’t send out holiday cards. I’ve stopped donating to every cause that crosses my path. It may sound counter-intuitive to the generosity I wish to practice, but I donate more when I pick a couple of charities and do lump sums than being nickeled and dimed by cashiers and bell ringers. Retailers have jumped into the charity game, giving themselves the veneer of benevolence.

Essentially, I’ve given up the things that drain my energy to little benefit for anyone else. It’s not easy. Guilt is a constant companion as I practice saying “no”.  Sometimes I have to look outside myself for reassurance. I asked my daughter what her favorite part about the holiday was, bracing myself for the answer.

My favorite part is Christmas day, when we make cinnamon rolls and we hang out in our pajamas, open presents and have a nice day together.

So simple and profound when I look at the vast array of obligations and advertising directed at this one holiday. How easy, how joyful! Yet when we buy into (literally and figuratively) all the ideas and traditions, it becomes a joyless duty that needs to be followed by a nap and isolation.

I fully recognize that there are people who live for this holiday. They start shopping at clearance sales in January for the next holiday. They have a storage closet solely for holiday decorations. Their houses look like Santa threw up candy canes and glitter in every room. Who am I to suggest their joy is any less valid than mine? But I meet too many people who are depressed, not because of the stereotypical reasons of loneliness or poverty, but because of the peculiar first world problem of buying into a program that wrings every bit of joy out of the season.

So here is a gift from The Green Study to your corner of the world. It’s okay to say no to:

  • Holiday cards
  • Family Photos and matching sweaters
  • Holiday parties and/or driving 4 hours to see people you dislike
  • The plate of cookies Shirley brought to the office
  • Perfect place settings
  • Yule logs (aren’t the trees enough?)
  • Marriage proposals
  • BOGO deals
  • Giving your child a Burl Ives’ Christmas
  • Secret Santas, Elves on Shelves and Fruitcakes

Say yes to:

  • Things that give you pleasure and joy
  • Small comforts
  • Nourishing food
  • Spending time with people you really like
  • Making your own traditions
  • Giving to causes that really matter to you

If the no list and the yes list all apply to your holiday celebration, consider yourselves doubly blessed. For my own part, I can only testify that this has been the best holiday season ever. Enjoy yours, my friends.