i adore the holiday season – i’m lucky in that for me it means lots of time with family, warm and cozy homes, and so much delicious food. but the six months between thanksgiving and new years also take a lot out of me, and i suspect others feel similarly. the rush to get all the gifts and foods together and perfect. the gatherings and people to visit and catch up with. the over-consumption of sweet and rich foods, as well as material items. today i’m sharing how i best recover from the holidays, and welcoming suggestions from readers.
when i first started exploring the path of decommodification, i worried about how to handle christmas. i’ve always loved christmas and look forward to it every year – the traditions (including gift-giving) are deep-rooted in my family and my culture, and not something i necessarily want to give up. of course, there are plenty of ways to frugalize the holidays (i make most of my gifts), but if you live in america you cannot avoid the mass consumerism that occurs during the month of decemeber. it seems like everywhere we go and with everything we take in (tv, internet, radio), we are inundated with advertising and imagery of a holiday centered around buying things. even if we choose not to participate in the hysteria of black friday or waiting in lines for trendy items or spending one thousand dollars, it’s still part of our culture we are exposed to it through family, coworkers, and friends.
the holidays are consumptive in other ways, too. think about the abundance of food. it’s fine (and fun!) to eat special, rich foods this one time of year. but i know personally always overeat throughout this time, and usually feel pretty crappy for it. it’s fine (and fun!) to eat special, rich foods this one time of year. then there’s the travel. nowadays, many of us live far from our families and must travel via car or plane to reach them. i recognize that all this travel consumes a great deal of fossil fuels, impacting the planet.
finally, there’s so much social stimulation throughout these six weeks. i love this and am grateful i get to see most of the humans i care about during this time. however as an introvert, someone who struggles with anxiety, and someone who just plain needs alone time, i get over-stimulated and exhausted – even if i’m just hanging around the house with loved ones. many of us leave our homes too, and being away from our homes and routines can rightly wear us out.
for these reasons, i usually return home after the holiday season feeling depleted. i’ve recognized this feeling as – general irritability, the desire to lay in bed all day, not wanting to leave my house, and a feeling of being disconnected with myself. i worry about all the consumption and stimulation that just occurred. and i’m ready to get back to my normal life. here’s some things that help me during this time of year.
deep cleaning our home – a nesting ritual
most of us decorate this time of year, and when the decorations come down its a good excuse to really clean our home – to get behind and under furniture, to sweep corners, and to clean the surfaces we use for productivity. i enjoy the act of cleaning and find it meditative — you may not agree, so i would challenge you to not frantically rush through it. put on music you like. make yourself a cooling drink (i like sparkling water with citrus, or a more seasonally appropriate sprig of mint/ rosemary/ pine). light candles or incense (you could even smudge with sage or cedar). move methodically and with purpose. for me, deep cleaning the house isn’t just about getting up the dirt – it’s about moving around the stagnant energy and bringing a freshness to my home.
part two of this nesting ritual is clearing out items that no longer serve us. our homes accumulate a lot of miscellany, especially around the holidays. we usually receive many gifts, so in order to accommodate them i sort through our possessions category by category.
starting in the kitchen, go through your appliances and evaluate them by use. donate (through freecycle or craigslist free) duplicates or things you no longer use. before you toss broken or non-working appliances, see if you can send them back to the manufacturer to be repaired or look into ordering replacement parts. our food processor bowl was broken, and i was able to order a replacement through the company. it’s always more economical to re-purpose and repair items than to donate and buy new. go through your pantry, fridge, and freezer. donate non-perishable goods you will never use to a homeless shelter. combine all those half-full boxes of pasta. make note of any staples you need to re-supply. i also like to make a list of items that have been sitting in the pantry/ fridge/ freezer for a while, and find a way to incorporate them into meals throughout the month to ensure nothing expires or goes to waste. i often buy things on discount/ in bulk, then bury them at the back of the pantry. i like working through what i already have because it saves money and conserves resources.
in the bedroom, i go through my closet and dresser and turn clothes that are no longer wearable/ threadbare into rags. i pull out anything i haven’t worn in the last year and donate it. this helps make room for new clothes we usually receive as gifts. but it also helps me reconnect to my sense of self and style. i prefer to keep my wardrobe small, but full of clothes i love wearing. it makes choosing outfits every day easier, and eliminates the need to constantly be buying clothing to maintain a large and diverse wardrobe.
in our living spaces, i go through decor and simplify. i take down items i no longer enjoy looking at. over the last year, our mantle accumulated tons of rocks, feathers, bones, and knick nacks from adventures … and just looked cluttered. when i looked at it, i didn’t see memories – saw an annoying mess. i removed everything and pared our display down to a few things i love. i also take this time to go through our files – recycling papers and bills that are no longer needed and compiling the documents we will need for our upcoming tax filings. this year, i even went through and tested pens and markers and threw away everything that was dried up.
the ritual of starting the year with a de-cluttered, clean home makes me feel welcome here. after the holiday months of being inundated with “stuff,” surrounding myself with a streamlined home is very grounding.
going outdoors – moving the body
so often holiday time is spent indoors, gathered around a warm fireplace or decorated tree or a full table or a televised sport. the activities of the holidays – eating, drinking, and merrymaking – involve sitting down for long periods of time. and the over-exposure to advertising and new movies and new material things can make us feel far away from our natural environment. yes, it’s cold outside. but with enough clothing, you can brave the cold and be comfortable, and i promise you will feel better for it. even if the payoff is the coming back inside to a warm house and blanket to snuggle under.
after spending a month consumer by bright and elaborate holiday decorations, i find returned to the empty, dull, and gray woods to be a much-needed contrast. the quiet of the outdoors in wintertime is a gift that can help us recover from the holiday season. go outside and listen to the crunch of snow or leaves under foot and the one lonely bird calling. i went for a walk last week and emptied myself of thoughts. as i walked, i focused on how cold my face felt and how my feet sounded as they moved along the trail. i was so reluctant to go because of the cold, but just 15 minutes of walking in the woods changed my attitude for the next couple days.
something else i like to do that’s very simple – a couple times a day, step outside. stand there in the cold for just five or ten breathes. breathe as deep as you can. then go back inside.
it also helps to move the body this time of year. to stir the energy. but not in a punishment-for-over-eating-at-the-holidays or a new-years-resolution-new-body way. acknowledge that you are ok just the way you are (this is a constant struggle for me). and realize you are moving your body because the days are shorter and colder and we spent more time indoors and sedentary this time of year. i struggle with poor circulation, so moving my body assists with not being so darn cold all the time! my body-moving practice of choice is home yoga – yoga with adriene does a 30 day program every january that is gentle and kind. other practices could be weight lifting, walking or running, cycling, swimming, dancing – anything really that gets you up off the chair and moving around for 15-30 minutes a day.
asking for time alone – a mini-retreat
last year, i made a conscious decision to forgo new years eve celebrations so that i could have a couple full days alone at our home. serendipity would have it that my phone was not working at this time and i did not have access to a computer. i turned the whole situation into a mini-retreat in which i spent time alone, without social media or the internet. it was one of the best things i’ve ever done for myself, and i would highly encourage others to try it, even if just for a day or a few hours.
the hardest part was asking for the time to be totally alone. most of us have obligations to family or partners or children, and it can be difficult to even take an hour for ourselves. logistically it may also be impossible, if we share our home with others. but i would encourage you to find a way to make it work. you could spend a day alone at a local park by bringing a picnic lunch and books to read. you could close off your bedroom and create a personal space for relaxation. many mentors of mine have pointed out that when we take the time needed to tend to ourselves, it makes us more available to be better partners and mothers and sisters and colleagues.
during my alone time, i made a list of the things i like to do that make me happy – and then i did as many of them as possible! this included going for hikes/ walks, practicing yoga, taking a bath, watching a feel-good movie, journaling, reading books, and holding a little spiritual ritual for new beginnings.
eating feel good foods – without deprivation
it’s so tempting to want to start a new diet and try to become a ‘new self’ at the beginning of the year. we are taught through the media and diet culture that now’s the time to swear off ‘bad foods’ in favor of restricted and ‘clean’ eating. first, there is no such thing as bad food or clean food or dirty food – this is an affirmation i grapple with every day. all food is good food if it sustains our body in performing its daily function.
so instead of changing your diet based on the assumption that how you look or feel isn’t good enough, recommit to eating foods that feel good. only you know what food feels good to eat, and this knowing is something that is cultivated over a lifetime and changes as our realities change and we gain new experiences. it starts with listening and observation. pay attention to how certain foods make you feel, physically as well as emotionally.
defy the culture of new years resolutions and dieting. how about instead committing to trying something new? your local library has tons of cookbooks, surely one or two will appeal to you. we get stuck in the rut of cooking from the same three cookbooks over and over and it can make mealtime a boring drag. some of my favorite cookbooks/ authors include – the america’s test kitchen series; the forest feast; and the moosewood collective. all of these books are suitable for beginners and do not include food-shaming or diet culture vocabulary.
making january a resourceful month – conserving resources
in addition to working through what we have in our pantry to conserve food resources, i also like to work through everything else we have in our home. watch movies you’ve owned and never seen or old favorites you haven’t seen in years. pick up that book you never finished. get back to the knitting or art project that fell to the wayside.
like i pointed out at the beginning of this post, december is a heavily consumptive month. this can leave us feeling bad about our financial situation and feeling disconnected from the idea that our finances reflect our life force. in january, commit to not buying anything new for the whole month outside of food and other consumables/ necessities. not only will this help you save money, but it will also kickstart your year with a sense of resourcefulness. check out the frugalwoods uber-frugal month challenge for inspiration!
how do you like to start your year? please share any suggestions you have for coping with and recovering from the holidays!