I ended my last shopping audit [here] by saying, “February was nuts, but I think March is going to get even crazier!”
…I had no idea.
Of course, I was referring to the sale of our home and our impending move and our apartment search in Chicago – all of which is now on indefinite hold – but it definitely was a crazy month. I think March 2020 was the craziest month of my life thus far!
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, we spent the second half of March on lockdown, and as a result, we didn’t spend much money. Mercifully [and for the first time in recorded history], all six of us were well the entire month and so we didn’t even need to pay doctor co-pays or buy medicine. We also didn’t spend money on family activities [for which we budget $50/month]. We didn’t get haircuts [$25] or buy any clothing [$50] and I even had to cancel my tattoo appointment [which saved me at least $100 of my fun money]!
We did, however, spend more money on restaurant food delivery to support local businesses and we spent more on groceries than we normally would. We brought home WAY more packaging than usual [all recyclable, but still made my heart a little sad].
We bought extra rice and canned vegetables and dry beans…you know, typical pandemic stuff. BUT, on the flip side, we went for three weeks without toilet paper because we couldn’t find any until just YESTERDAY! But, no worries, our “wee wipes” have been a big hit with everyone except my partner. The kids and I may never go back…
Anyway, we did buy some stuff though, so here is the full report:
What We Bought:
[My audit only includes physical items and does NOT include consumables, such as groceries, pet food, and toilet paper.]
Housemaintenance/yard supplies ($60) – Now that the weather is warming up, we needed to buy some things like mulch to fix up the outside of our home. Of course, the sale of our house is now on hold, but we do intend to sell eventually, so we have continued to improve the house.
Legos for Theo’s birthday ($22) – March 19th was Theo’s birthday. We already had a gift for him that we had been saving since Christmas [a used Paw Patrol Sea Patroller] but we decided to pick up a few [ok, 10] used sets of legos. We gave him some for his birthday and used the rest to entertain the kids during quarantine. [Definitely money well spent.]
Brita water dispenser and replacement filters ($40) – We had planned to buy a Brita for our move to the city anyway since we won’t be taking our Primo water dispenser with us. The coronavirus pandemic scared us into getting one early just in case stores were to shut down. I’m genuinely ashamed to admit this third world problem, but our well water tastes terrible and I have a really hard time drinking it [I’m genuinely working on this area of my born privilege].
Beats wireless earbuds ($90) Brett bought me these as a gift, using an old gift card, money from selling stuff and his own fun money. My old headphones had fallen out of my pocket in the driveway and sat in the rain until I found them – by which time they were so damaged that they would literally shock my ears when I wore them. And since our library is shut down, I have been pretty much relying on audiobooks during my outdoor walks, so this was a very helpful gift.
Lush toiletries ($40) This seems expensive, but because of a free shipping deal, I went ahead and bought four months worth of bad shampoo and two bars of deodorant for myself to try. We budget $20/month for toiletries but didn’t use any of it last month so this was still in budget.
Total spent: $252
Over budget: $0
What We Are Going to Do With It:
Some of these things, the mulch and toiletries, for example, will be used for their intended purposes and won’t need to be thrown out. Some things will stay with us for a very long time – hopefully their whole lives – until they are no longer functioning and will be recycled [the Brita and earbuds] or will be passed on to another person to enjoy [the legos].
What We Got Rid Of:
We’ve used this time to go through more of our stuff that we don’t want to take with us on the move, so now Brett’s car is entirely full of donations waiting to be dropped off once the Salvation Army and pregnancy center reopen.
Also, Brett went through his closet and set aside a huge pile of clothes to donate.
So, once again, we’ve removed more things from our home than what we’ve brought into our home.
Now that we are officially quarantined for another month, this seems like a great time to do a “no spend” month… what do you think?
It’s been almost two years since I quit buying clothes and started “minimizing” my wardrobe. Other than one purchase last December [which you can read about in my post My First Clothing Purchase in 19 Months], I have not bought any clothing since I made the commitment to simplify my wardrobe and put an end to my consumerism.
Originally, I was thinking that this would be like a victory lap where I show off how little clothes I have…
Until I actually pulled them all out and counted them. I still have 155 pieces of clothing!!!! That doesn’t sound very minimal to me, but if you look at the difference in the photo below, I’ve definitely made some progress.
Still, this is not exactly as “minimal” as I had hoped.
Here are the numbers:
In general, this is good progress – but I felt like I had WAY LESS than 155 pieces of clothing!! And now I see that I still have too many workout tops and tank tops and underwear and – why the heck do I need two bathrobes?!?!
So, since we are moving and downsizing, I’m going get rid of 55 more pieces so that I end up with an even 100.
What I Wear
I have the benefit of having a casual job and a lack of concern about what people think of my clothes which makes it very easy to get dressed.
Sure, I like to dress up sometimes. I have a few dresses I keep for summer and skirts I like to go out in on hot dates with my man…but in general, I’m a leggings and loose top over a camisole kinda gal.
I’ve already shown my favorite outfit – leggings with a camisole and a button-down flannel that I stole from my partner’s closet.
I recently stole another one – black this time – and I wear this one a lot now too.
I intentionally kept neutral pieces so that I can create as many outfits as I need – but in reality, I only need a handful.
The majority of my wardrobe still consists of workout clothes because that is my job and my passion and my hobby and the majority of what I wear.
What You Should Wear
Since I am the absolute LAST person who should be telling anyone what to wear, I’m obviously not going to make any recommendations. But if you are interested in reducing your wardrobe, here are some tips I recommend:
1. Get rid of what you NEVER WEAR.
If you have clothes that you never wear, well, chances are you don’t need those. So that’s a good place to start with decluttering your closet. And if you pay attention to what those types of things are and avoid acquiring more of them [regardless of how adorable they look on the mannequin], then you’ll be well on your way toward a less excessive wardrobe.
2. Stop buying what you don’t NEED.
Very few of us actually need new clothes, but we all buy stuff for different reasons. Mindfulness and a little self-reflection go a long way in this regard. I discovered that I liked the idea of certain clothing [wearing a certain style or looking a certain way], so I would buy it, but then never wore it because it wasn’t my thing. I also used to have a terrible problem with turning down “deals.” PSA: Just because something is cheap doesn’t mean you should buy it!
3. Find YOUR style and wear it with PRIDE.
We don’t all have to look alike. In fact, it’s kind of nice that we have the ability to choose what we like and what looks good on us, so let’s not fall into the trap of letting anyone tell us what we should like or buy or wear. Also, forget all that hogwash about not wearing the same shirt twice and don’t wear white after Labor Day and all that other nonsense. Do whatever you want and don’t worry about anyone else thinks.
Anyway, these are just the things that I’ve been learning and embracing over the past two years.
As always, if you need to know the reasons behind reducing your clothing habits, watch The True Cost documentary and/or read Overdressed by Elizabeth L. Cline.
February was a wild month. Theo had surgery [he’s made a full and fast recovery, by the way]. Brett accepted a new job in the city of Chicago and began commuting an hour and a half each way. We prepped and staged and listed our house for sale. Three days later we accepted an offer.
In order to get the house ready to sell, we made some unexpected purchases, but overall, we bought very little because we were so busy.
What We Bought:
[My audit only includes physical items and does NOT include consumables, such as groceries, pet food, and toilet paper.]
House maintenance supplies ($68) – We had to pick up some random things like paint brushes, outlet covers, and quarter round in order to get the house ready to sell. I actually consider this to be a real victory because it was tempting to spend a ton of money sprucing up the house and even adding accents or decorations to make it look better – but I stood my ground and committed to buying as little as possible.
Mason jars for Valentine’s craft ($20 gift card) – I was in charge of a craft at my daughter’s kindergarten class Valentine’s Day party. The timing could not have been worse, but I decided to make slime with the kids because I already had everything I needed, but I did need to buy something for the kids to make and take the slime in. So I bought 4 ounce mason jars with a gift card.
Medicine for Theo ($10) – After Theo’s surgery, he was on a regular schedule of pain medications for several days so we had to buy more. Poor kid.
Gift card for Brett’s Employee ($50) – I’m totally ok with the occasional obligatory gift for coworkers.
Backpack for Brett ($40) – I’m not so totally ok with this, but it was Brett’s Christmas money and he used this backpack every day…until his first day at the new job when they gave him a new one. This is a great reason to try waiting for something you need – you never know when the universe might decide to just give it to you!
Soaps and toiletries ($15) – Brett picked up three boxes of sustainable toiletries which include bar soaps, bar shampoos, and hair product because they were on clearance at his store and come package free. Man after my own heart.
Silicone muffin liners ($8 gift card) – I can’t safely bake in my muffin tin without liners anymore so when I ran out of paper liners I waited a month or so, but eventually caved and bought reusable silicone liners. Muffins and cupcakes, though not necessities, are definitely things that we would miss. Anyway, I had a gift card.
Total spent: $211
Over budget: $0
What We Are Going To Do With it:
The house maintenance supplies were either used up [paint] or will be reused [paint brushes]. The mason jars went home with the kindergarteners. The medicine and toiletries will be used obviously. Brett’s old backpack will become my new diaper bag. And I’ve already used the muffin liners at least five times since I bought them.
Nothing bound for the trash.
What We Got Rid Of:
While we brought in more stuff than I would have preferred, we got rid of WAAAAY more. In preparation for the big move coming up, I have been going through every drawer and every closet and even every bin in storage and eliminating all the excess.
Quite frankly, I thought we were already living pretty lean – but man, oh man! Turns out we still had plenty to remove. I even went through my clothing again and did an overhaul that now allows me to fit all of my clothes in three drawers in my closet.
We sold, gave to friends, donated tons of stuff. I’m actually sad that I didn’t track it or even take photos of everything to show the quantity, but I promise you that it was way more than the 30 items I committed to getting rid of every month.
Now that we have a closing date on our house, we have less than two months to find an apartment in the city and downsize enough to fit all of our stuff in it.
February was nuts, but I think March is going to get even crazier!
One of my 2020 goals is to focus on minimalism. In the past two years we have made great progress toward living a [nearly] zero waste lifestyle, but now I want to circle back and focus on cutting out unnecessary spending and eliminate all the clutter from our home and our life.
My new motto:
So, as a part of that goal, I am tracking all of our spending for the entire year and will share it with you monthly. I am not promising to stop spend money altogether but I am tracking it so that we can see where we need to improve.
Just as it is helpful to do a “trash audit” at the start of a zero waste journey, a “shopping audit” is helpful if I am trying to stop bringing junk into my home.
January Shopping Audit
Some clarifications before I begin: My audit only includes physical items [not doctor co-pays, museum entry fees, and school activity costs] and does NOT include consumables, which include food, pet food, toilet paper, and salt blocks for our water softener.
[Toiletries and laundry supplies are consumables, but I am going to share those purchases because I am trying to reduce our waste – and spending – in these areas.]
What We Bought:
So here is everything we bought this month:
Bracelet for Brett for $35 – For Christmas, I gave my partner a leather bracelet with our kids’ names engraved on little beads butthe bracelet didn’t fit [oh the joys of shopping on Amazon]. So he used his Christmas money to buy a new bracelet for the beads.
Seven used puzzles for $7 – my partner and I have started doing puzzles together instead of spending all of our alone time watching Netflix.
Medications for the kids for $20 – We ran out of children’s Tylenol [and this is a necessity when you have four kids under six] and my daughter got an infection and needed an expensive OTC cream.
Used ballet slippers for $2 – My daughter outgrew her ballet slippers for ballet class to the point where she couldn’t even put them on without being in pain, so we needed to get her a bigger pair. [We donated the old pair to her dance class instructor].
Toiletries for $20 – Brett bought another shampoo bar from Lush for $9 and also needed more deodorant and hair cream.
Total spent: $84
Over budget: $0
What We Are Going to Do With It:
The most important reason to stop bringing stuff into the home is that eventually I will [most likely] have to get rid of it. I mean, nothing lasts forever. So, I don’t want to bring anything into my home that I won’t be able to responsibly dispose of when I am done with it.
I’d like to think that Brett will keep the bracelet forever, but that is unrealistic. When he no longer wants to wear it, we will have to throw away the beads and donate the bracelet. Looking back on it, this was not the wisest gift choice on my part. In the future I will give him experience gifts like a brewery tour or something like that.
The ballet slippers and puzzles we will donate or give away to anyone who would like them. We actually only do a puzzle once, so we will be getting rid of them as we finish them. Maybe we can find a friend to swap with so that we all get new puzzles.
The medicine and toiletries will be consumed and then the bottles will be recycled. I haven’t found a way to eliminate the plastic medicine bottles from our lives – sometimes we just need medicine and I am okay with this exception to our zero waste rule until there is a better way.
The Minimalism Game
This month, I played the 30-Day Minimalism Game [which you can read about here].
If you’ve been following me on Instagram, you’ve probably already seen all the stuff that I got rid of – over 500 items!
Day 28-31 [combined into two photos]
Through this process I learned so much about being responsible for where something goes when I am done with it. I tried SO HARD to not have anything go into the trash. I listed stuff for free on OfferUp. I researched how to recycle unusual things. I even went back and forth with Contigo to try to figure out how to responsibly get rid of the kids’ chewed up water bottles [hint: there is no good way so I will never buy bottles like this again].
In a perfect world every manufacturer would be responsible for the product it is creating – either taking it back to be recycled into new products, or at the very least providing helpful information about how to best recycle a product. In a perfect world, companies wouldn’t be allowed to mass produce plastic crap that will still be on this earth when my great great great grandkids are here without at the very least having a plan for the end of its life. But, I can only do my best to avoid products like these. If I cannot responsibly rehome an item, if it cannot be recycled or repurposed or reused, then I simply should not be buying it.
Thankfully, nowadays, there are so many wonderful, easy [even FREE] alternatives for the typical plastic crap.
This month, only a handful of items [the lids to those plastic water bottles, a bag of plastic junk, and some expired vitamins] went into the trash. Everything else was donated or given to friends or recycled or repurposed.
For the rest of the year, I will be getting rid of 30 items from the house each month and continuing to report our shopping habits monthly.
After 19 months without buying any clothes, I have finally made my first purchase.
I’ll tell you what I bought and why I bought it, but first…
In May of 2018, I started this blog with a promise to not buy ANY clothing for a full year and to donate 26 items from my current wardrobe each month.
I had just finished reading the book The Year of Less by Cait Flanders and knew instantly that I had to change the way I consumed everything – starting with my clothes.
As someone who has never really been that concerned with clothes or fashion, I was shocked to discover that I had WAY TOO MUCH clothing in my closet [and dresser and storage] – 486 pieces in total. I had so much clothes that even after the year was up, I still had more than enough, so I made a new commitment to purchase clothing only when it was needed.
Seven months went by and I still didn’t need any clothes. By this time, I was so used to not buying clothes that I insisted my current stuff [socks with holes so big they barely stay on, and underwear so stretched out from pregnancy that they barely stay on as well] was “perfectly sufficient.”
My partner rolled his eyes.
Then, on Christmas morning, he gave me a gift card for a brand that I have already given a rave review in my post My Favorite Ethical Clothing Brands so that I could buy some much needed intimates.
My First Clothing Purchase
That very day, I placed an order for some new panties and a bra at Naja.co, ending my 19 month hiatus from buying clothes. But this purchase was different than any clothing purchase I have made in my entire life.
After a year and a half of reading and educating myself, reflecting on my values and ultimately setting my requirements for new clothes going forward – I made a purchase that I feel really good about.
The purchase was necessary. Undergarments are an obvious necessity – though I don’t need a big selection. Seven pairs of underwear, two comfy bras, and a selection of good sports bras are all I really need. I’m done buying clothing [or anything else for that matter] to make myself feel better [aka retail therapy]. I’m not going to buy clothing because I am out and see an advertisement that makes me want something that I don’t actually need. I’m not going to buy clothes just because they are cute or stylish or CHEAP. I am only buying clothes when I need them.
The purchase had to be new. I have a commitment to buying used whenever possible. For obvious reasons, intimates are not available used. So, I had no choice but to buy new.
As a reminder, here is the “Buyerarchy of Needs” by Sara Lazarovic.
The company is ethical and eco-conscious. If I have no choice but to buy new, then I want to purchase clothing that is made ethically and sustainably – meaning a company that prioritizes taking care of EVERY PERSON in its supply chain and making a concerted effort to protect the environment. The clothing industry is taxing on the environment no matter how it is done [but, obviously, so is just plain living], but some companies are trying to do a better job. The heart of the company is what I care about most.
When I buy something, I am essentially casting my vote for that business. I cannot say that I want companies to treat their garment workers fairly if I am not willing to stop buying from the companies that don’t.
And this leads to the final and [for me] biggest difference in my shopping habits.
The cost didn’t matter. I spent $100 for three pairs of underwear and a comfy day bra. In my previous life, I would have NEVER spent $100 on four items of clothing so small they were shipped to me in a manila envelope. I would have called this “highway robbery.” I would have said, “Why would I pay that price when I can go to Target and get a pack of five panties for $9.99?!”
Wow, have I changed.
Now I am buying based on my values – not the cost. [And of course, now I can afford to spend more money because I don’t buy more than what I actually need.]
How can I expect a company to pay a fair price for the cotton and a fair price to the garment worker and a fair price to the store employees if I am unwilling to pay a fair price for the item? Seriously, I cannot even go buy the material to make a pair of cotton panties [let alone pay myself for actually making them – which of course is a skill I absolutely do not have] for as cheap as I can buy them. How can I expect my clothing to be cheaper than the cost of the material??
We, the consumers, are the heart of this problem – even more so than the companies taking advantage of desperate and impoverished workers around the world. We have to be the ones to say that we care enough to pay MORE. Being cheap is not a virtue if it’s hurting people, and just because we don’t see the hurt doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. We live in such a global economy now that we can no longer turn a blind eye to the suffering that is literally caused by OUR demand for cheaper and cheaper goods.
The companies also have a responsibility to do the right and decent thing – I’m not letting them off the hook entirely. But we have the power to make changes by changing how we shop.
This change simply MUST HAPPEN.
[I’ve mentioned it A MILLION TIMES, but if you want more info, watch the documentary, The True Cost – or read Overdressed by Elizabeth L. Clineor Wardrobe Crisis by Clare Press.]
So, now what?
The results of my clothing ban have been amazing. I am so happy that I made this change[and I’m not just saying that].Besides supporting ethical and sustainable brands, there are other practical benefits of a minimalist wardrobe.
1. I love everything in my closet. Never again will I put on a shirt and then remember how the seam always irritates my armpit or how the top is just a little too snug or how the material is kind of itchy or whatever the problem was that caused me to never wear it.I’ve gotten rid of all that stuff. Now I only have pieces I love. They fit great. They look great. Some are even so worn that they have holes, but I love them so much I wouldn’t think of parting with them. Imagine having a wardrobefull of clotheslike that. I also love them because they fit my “style” [or do they fit my style because I love them?]
Which brings me to the next thing I love about my minimal wardrobe.
2. All of my clothes are MY style. The world of fashion is all about style: what is trending, what’s hitting the runways, what’s everyone going to be wearing next season, etc. I have taken all of the work out of being stylish by simplywearing my own style. And, quite frankly, I don’t care if anyone else likes it. Most people don’t even know what their style is because they are trying to be “in style” whatever that style may happen to be at the moment, rather than dressing for themselves. Wear whatever YOU want. Don’t let anyone else tell you what you should and shouldn’t wear. If you don’t know what your style is, get rid of every piece of clothing that you don’t absolutely love, and look at what is left. THAT is your unique style, and going forward you can bypass any other type of clothing that someone else or a clever ad tries to tell you you should be wearing. Wear your style. And wear it with pride.
My personal style is SUPER casual, mostly sporty, always comfy. I like to wear a fancy [read: sexy] cocktail dress on very rare and special occasions. I love long, flowing dresses in the summer.I love long, slouchy sweaters in the winter. I like neutralcolors.My favorite shirt is actually a blue and white checked flannel button-down that I stole from my partner’s closet. So apparently my style also includes menswear. So what?
I wear what I like and I like what I wear.
3. Gettingdressed is a breeze. With not as many choices, it is very easy to get dressedfor any occasion. It’s also super easy to pack. Over the holidays, I went on two short trips to visit family. I literally packed in three minutes and I only needed half a duffle bag for three nights. I only own one nice sweater and two pairs of jeans, so I don’t have to choose between a bunch of options.And since I love it all [see #1] and it’s all my style [see #2], then it doesn’t really matter what I choose.
4. I take better care of my stuff. My clothes have a greater value to me than they ever did before– partially because I love them so much and also because I don’t buy new stuff soI need my current clothes to last. I have completely erased the “take and toss” mentality that our society has toward clothing and replaced it with a “wear, take care, mend and repair” attitude. [I just made that up!]
5. My clothes take up less space. When I started the clothing ban, my husband and I each had a dresser and a closet full of clothes AND additionalbins of clothing in the shed. Today, all of my clothes fit in my closet. And folks, I don’t have a walk-in closet. A walk-in closet for me wouldtotally be overkill. [Side note: have you seen those families on HGTV who use the whole spare bedroom as their closet?!?!] The benefit of a smaller wardrobe is the same benefit as having fewer of anything – fewer things to take care of, less space needed to store it, less money spent to pay for the space to store it, more money to spend on things that matter like family, experiences, giving, etc.
2020 Is My Year of Less
It’s probably not a surprise that I won’t be shopping for unnecessary clothing ever again, but this year I am extending my values to all other purchases.
I have already started the 30-Day Minimalism Game this month to kickstart my year of less. I am not promising to never buy anything – but I am committing to purchase only things that we need [excluding gifts and things for the kids, of course] AND to remove unnecessary items from my home [at least 30 per month]. I will post a monthly update of what I have gotten rid of and what new things we have purchased [excluding consumables, which right now are only food and toilet paper]. I’m going to keep my zero waste goals in mind as well, which makes this tough because I can’t just throw everything I don’t want into the rubbish bin.
But I am very excited. If this year of less goes as well as my clothing ban did – it’s going to be a great year.
Every year we do our “Carlson Countdown to Christmas” with twenty-five holiday-inspired activities. This year, we did some new things and revisited some of our favorites from previous years.
For those thinking of starting a similar tradition, here are the activities we did this year and [at the end] some tips for making this happen!
The Annual Carlson Countdown to Christmas
December 1: Santa’s Holiday Workshop. This year we kicked off the holiday season with a park district event where we watched Santa arrived pulled by sled dogs and the kids participated in a variety of holiday themed activities.
Tip: Check your park district guide or local event calendar for ideas of things to do with your community.
December 2: Put up the Christmas Tree and Make the Paper Chain. Every year, the kids and I make a Christmas paper chain so that we can countdown to Christmas. This is a helpful visual for them to see how far til Christmas AND cuts down on them asking a million times if today is the big day.
December 3: Shopping for Toys for Tots. This is an annual tradition. We take the kids shopping for toys to give to Toys for Tots then drop them off in a local collection bin. This activity reminds us to appreciate our many blessings and give back to other kids in our community. And, as an added bonus, it helps us to see what toys our kids really love.
December 4: Homemade Marshmallows and Hot Chocolate. This was my first time making marshmallows, but I make hot chocolate every year. The kids and I LOVE hot chocolate and it is so easy to make at home. I can’t believe I used to buy it in packets!
December 5: Christmas I-Spy Game. I wanted to create an activity that would get the kids outside, and since my kids are really into I-Spy and “Look and Find” books, I hid a bunch of Christmas items in the backyard for them to find. They played outside for several hours searching and then re-hiding the items. I wore the baby in a carrier and we got involved in the game too.
Tip: The activity for the day does not have to be a big event or time consuming trip out of the home. I always gather a few simple holiday games and craft ideas to use on occasional days when we just want to stay in [or I’m exhausted].
December 6: Geneva Christmas Walk. This is a tradition for us, even though it always means long lines and walking around outside in the freezing cold. This year we got hot chocolate at Kilwins and took photos with the Grinch. This event is a Christmas classic for us.
December 7: Clay Ornaments. Every year the kids and I make ornaments of some kind. We’ve done salt dough. Last year we did paper. This year, we rolled and cut and painted and glittered cornstarch clay ornaments. This is a great way to make gifts and to add some new ornaments to the tree.
December 8: Christmas Light Shows. This is another annual tradition that the kids LOVE. We have several big, fancy light shows in our area [one was even featured on The Great Christmas Light Fight a few years back]. This year we all got in our Christmas pajamas and drove to the displays.
Tip: Even if you don’t have a fancy light show in your area, there are usually neighborhoods to drive through where the lights are beautiful. I have also seen Christmas light bingo cards on Pinterest which would be a fun game to play!
December 9: Bake Christmas Cookies. Every year, I take one day to bake Christmas cookies because I know that I will eat an obscene amount of cookie dough, and my health [and blood sugar] can only handle it one day. Let me tell you – it’s a special day! The kids love to get involved. Thus far, we’ve been making different types of cookies each year, but I’m hoping that over the years we will settle on our favorites. I think the melted snowmen cookies we made this year might be my favorite cookie EVER.
December 10: Deliver Christmas Gifts to our Neighbors. The gift has been different each year [this year we gave away tins of the freshly baked cookies], but we always enjoy walking to our neighbors to wish them a merry Christmas. This year everyone was home!
December 11: Puffy Paint Snowmen and Christmas Shopping. One of my regular holiday crafts is puffy paint snowmen because the kids love it so much and all it requires is shaving cream and glue. The 11th is also our wedding anniversary so we went out to dinner with the whole family and then took the kids shopping for gifts for each other. It was so sweet to see how thoughtful they were in picking out gifts that their siblings [including the dog], would love.
December 12: Daisy’s Birthday Party. We brought Daisy home three years ago on December 12th as a Christmas present for our kids and every year we celebrate that day as her birthday [we don’t know the actual date]. We bake her a little “pup cake” [humans get banana muffins with cream cheese frosting] and wear party hats and sing to her and give her gifts – the whole deal. It is seriously great fun!
December 13: Christmas Movie. I LOVE Christmas movies. And I love the excuse to watch the cute kids Christmas movies like The Polar Express, The Grinch, and [my personal fave] Arthur Christmas.
December 14: Christmas Tree Waffles. These waffles are an annual breakfast tradition – one day a year only. I didn’t get a picture this year but they are just waffles colored green and decorated with mini M&Ms and powdered sugar.
December 15: Christmas Tree Cinnamon Rolls. I saw this on Pinterest and thought they were cute. They are harder to make into a tree shape than you would think…only half of them came close to resembling trees. Still delicious though!
December 16: Birdseed Ornaments. This is another annual tradition. We love to take care of our feathered friends – especially since we live in a very wooded area.
17. Gift for Peter Rabbit. This year for the first time, we bought and delivered a gift for the bunny who lives in our local nature center, Peter Rabbit. Then we played at the nature center for the afternoon.
18. Gingerbread Houses with Auntie Paula. Of course this is our FAVORITE annual tradition – with our favorite Auntie!
19. Frozen 2 with Judi. My kids are old enough to go to the movies!!!!!!! [At least, my two oldest are…] So we went to see Frozen 2 with my good friend and fellow movie lover, Judi.
20. Read Christmas books by the fire. We have a big collection of kids Christmas books that we bring out in December – and something about a warm fire in the fireplace makes reading the stories extra special for the kids.
21. Oreo ornaments. More treats! No wonder I gain five pounds every December!
22. Puppy Chow and other gifts. We love to give edible homemade gifts that go in mason jars! We make puppy chow every year because it is easy, delicious, and the kids can help. Only bummer is that I have to buy boxed cereal for it, which I ordinarily never do. Next year I think I’ll try making chocolate popcorn instead to avoid the waste since I can buy popcorn kernels and chocolate in bulk bins.
23. Polar Express and 2 Toots. Every year we do our own “Polar Express” train ride to a little train themed diner called 2 Toots Train Whistle Grill. This year, my parents and my sister and her family came up from Indiana to join us.
24. Christmas Scavenger Hunt. This is a new activity that I hope to turn into an annual tradition. When we had our first kid, Brett and I began the tradition of opening one gift on Christmas Eve – always one Christmas book and Christmas pajamas. Well, our sustainability values no longer include a) buying new books [because we use the library and already own too many books] or b) buying new pajamas when they aren’t needed. We needed to change the tradition, so this year I created a scavenger hunt for the kids to find one Christmas gift for them all to share. Because it was hidden, it didn’t need to be wrapped. And it was also a toy set that I bought used.
They were SO EXCITED.
25. Monkey Bread, Orange Julius, [MIMOSAS for the tired mama] and Christmas gift exchange. Every family has their own Christmas traditions, obviously. Ours include a very extravagant breakfast [compared to our usual oatmeal] and a gift exchange. [I like to use the phrase “gift exchange” as opposed to “opening presents” because the former implies that we are GIVING as well as RECEIVING.]
Tips for a Successful Christmas Countdown
1. Make a LONG list. I brainstorm a huge list of ideas of crafts to make, things to bake, places to go, community events to attend, etc. We don’t do all of it, but it helpsto have options.
2. Include LOTS of simple, stay-at-home activities. The activities don’t all have to be extravagant or costly. We do plenty of simple activities like reading Christmas stories together, dancing to Christmas music, or coloring Christmas pictures.
3. Be FLEXIBLE. I used to tryto plan out the entire month in advance, but it’s impossible to predict what will happen over twenty-five days and sometimes you’ll have to adjust the plan. In those instances, having plenty of simple ideas will be helpful.
PLEASE let me know if you start this tradition in your family! The holiday season is about so much more than just gifts. We have so much fun celebrating it all month long, spending time together, and remembering to real reason for the season.
Every December, we celebrate the holiday season with our Carlson Countdown to Christmas – which is basically an advent calendar of holiday-themed activities for us to do as a family like baking Christmas cookies, driving to local Christmas light shows, visiting Santa Claus, making Christmas ornaments, etc. Each year I come up with twenty-four of these activities [some old, some new] and then go through the process of planning and organizing and actually making all of it happen.
It is a lot of work. It is also a lot of fun, but with four little kids, at this point, it is mostly a lot of work.
So, why do I bother?
Well, I am hoping that it will result in a lot of cherished memories for my kids and holiday traditions that we can all look forward to around the holidays. I dream of my kids getting excited on Black Friday, not to go shopping, but to start prepping for our annual countdown which always begins on December 1st with decorating the house for the holidays.
But in these early years, the kids don’t really appreciate or understand the lengths to which I go to ensure that we get to decorate gingerbread houses with Auntie Paula, and go ice skating at our local outdoor rink on a night when it is not absolutely freezing, or coordinate with Brett’s work schedule to make sure we can take our annual train ride and read The Polar Express.
Ah, the things we do as parents…
So, for now, I’ve been using these days to build a foundation of gratitude and generosity in my children by intentionally turning their attention to ways we can give rather than things we can get.
Here are some ways that we celebrate the season of giving:
Last year, we had a “Gratitude Tree” in the month of November to count all of our blessings. This year, we are doing a holiday version. At breakfast time, we talk about the things we are grateful for and add some ornaments to our tree.
[I rather like how “Dr. Seuss” our tree looks, pieced together from all the random pieces of green paper I could find in my scrapbook stash.]
We encourage [read: “force”] our kids to give gifts in many different ways throughout the month:
1. We take them shopping to buy toys to donate to Toys for Tots. This is hard for the kids, but each year it gets easier. We always explain in advance that we are picking out toys for other kids to open at Christmas. We obviously foot the bill.
[Side note: this is very helpful for giving us gift ideas for them as well.]
The kids drop them off in a local collection box, and let me tell you, I am so proud every time my kids put toys they love into that box.
2. We take them shopping to buy gifts for each other. In my family growing up, all five of us kids always gave individual gifts to every other member of the family. I don’t know when or how this came to be, but honestly, it is still happening even though we are all adults. I want my kids to enjoy giving gifts to their siblings so we are starting young [and also paying at this point, of course]. The kids also pick out gifts for Daisy the Dog, of course.
I ask them what their siblings would like for Christmas to get them thinking about it and then take them shopping. They did really well this year [after my son stopped insisting that his big sister really wanted a paw patrol truck].
Later I wrap the gifts with each child. My 3-year-old son wanted to put a message on the gift tags so he dictated these sweet notes for his sisters.
This just melts my heart.
3. We hand deliver gifts to the neighbors. We’ve done this every year since we moved into this house because I resolved to be intentional in building good relationships with my neighbors. The first year, we gave store-bought boxes of chocolates. [We had just moved in so I didn’t know if people would accept hand-made goodies.] Last year the kids and I made chocolate covered pretzel rods with holiday molds. This year, we delivered a tin of freshly baked Christmas cookies to each neighbor. [I think they know us well enough now to eat them.] We also give a gift to our postwoman.
4. We make ornaments to give to friends and family. We’ve done different kinds of ornaments – salt dough, paper, clay, etc. We tried mailing clay ornaments to the cousins one year. That was a bad idea. The next year we sent Danish paper heart ornaments. This year we made corn starch ornaments and will give them to local friends and family.
5. We give to every bell ringer. I will write more about this some other time, but we have a lot of fun giving to the bell ringers outside of the stores during the holiday season. I always carry cash to make sure we can do this. This sets an example of generosity for my kids. I want them to grow up seeing us giving freely and generously as often as possible.
The rest of our holiday traditions revolve around spending time together as a family. The “Season of Giving” doesn’t have to be about buying stuff and stressing over what to give who and how much money to spend and all of that. Giving is as simple as spending time with friends and family. The gift of time and attention is worth so much more than anything we can find in a store – especially nowadays when everyone is so rushed and busy and families are spread across the country [or around the world]. Time is the greatest gift.
It is also zero waste. 😉 Just sayin’…
I try to find as many ways as I can to incorporate giving into our holiday traditions because I hope that someday this will balance out the emphasis on receiving gifts that is an inevitable part of Christmas.
When the kids are older, I look forward to volunteering as a family – all year round, but especially during the holidays – to expose my kids to the hardships that face many people even in this privileged country and to show them that the true joy of Christmas comes from giving not getting.