Laundry used to consume WAY too much of my time, so last year I established a designated laundry day once a week. It works great [so long as my partner doesn’t sneak loads into the washer – which he does FREQUENTLY] except that a week between washes means that I have to be more proactive about stains.
And I’ve already admitted that I’m super lazy about laundry. Historically, if one of the kids have played with their pasta sauce or rolled around in the mud outside or poured hit chocolate down their front – well, I would set the clothing aside until I threw it in the laundry. And quite honestly, if it didn’t come out in the wash…well, who cares? These little kids clothes are like $5 for a pack of three.
Well, times have changed. Or rather, I have changed. It is no longer okay for me to trash stuff that I am just too lazy to clean properly. I am so embarrassed that this used to be my attitude toward clothing, as if it is disposable just because it is inexpensive.
[I could go off on a huge tangent here, but I will spare you in this post.]
Part of zero waste, minimalist, and simple living is about taking care of your stuff. Dare I say, it is a HUGE part. So, it’s time for me to put my big girl pants on and handle my home like I actually value everything in it.
Confession #2: I used to “Shout it out.”
You are all familiar with the Shout stain-remover, right? Miracle worker, really.
There have definitely been occasions when I spilled something on my favorite t-shirt or – god forbid – a shirt I borrowed from a friend and had to do an emergency Shout session. [Shout sessions consist of soaking and spraying and scrubbing and praying – on the knees if necessary – and then repeating until the stain is gone.] I mean, for real, that stuff works!
BUT, Shout comes in a plastic bottle that I would rather not buy again. So when I stumbled upon the stain stick, I was super excited to give it a try.
Remember that aforementioned hot chocolate incident? Well, here you can see the aftermath. The other shirt has a banana stain that has already been washed and dried [oops].
I followed the instructions on the stick: “Wet stick and stained area. Run into fabric and lather. Wash as usual.” Very simple.
Good as new!
The banana stain, however, didn’t fare as well, so I have learned a valuable lesson: pre-treat IMMEDIATELY.
I’ve been using the stain stick to pre-treat all our messy clothes with excellent results. And we have A LOT of messy clothes. I have four children under the age of six, folks. Things get really messy around here.
Confession #3: I’m not perfect and that’s okay.
Sometimes, despite my best intentions, things sit dirty and stain and it’s a bummer. But I am only human. I’m trying to do my best. And I think the stain stick over the plastic bottle is a step in the right direction.
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.
In the past 6 months I read fourteen books and enjoyed them all – but of course, some more than others.
Here is my list and my star reviews [purely for fun].
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
Beautiful story and quick read since it is young adult [historical] fiction. I don’t know how I missed reading this when I was in school. I, like the author, am moved by the story of how the Danes smuggled nearly their entire population of Jews to Sweden during World War 2 and this fictional portrayal of those real heroes is profound and beautiful.
The Happiness Paradox by Richard Eyre
I don’t even know why I picked this up at the library – I think I was hoping that he was going to say that all our stuff or maybe our money was getting in the way of our happiness. Unfortunately, that’s not what he said, but it was still worth reading. The premise of the book is that three things that we are all pursuing are the very things that are making us unhappy: control, ownership, and independence. I wouldn’t recommend the book though because it is painfully repetitive.
Time to Parent by Julie Morgenstern
This book was helpful for me to assess my own parenting and think through ways I can change to be more efficient and more effective. Parenting is broken down into four quadrants with the acronym PART: Provide, Arrange, Relate, and Teach. Biggest take away from the book was that I don’t have to finish every book I start. I have a problem with this. I will spend precious time reading a book that doesn’t even interest me anymore because I don’t like leaving things unfinished. But I see now how that is a waste of time and after reading this book, I actually stopped reading a few books in the middle!
Overdressed by Elizabeth L. Cline
One of my favorite books of the year. I listened to this book as I got back to running after having my baby. I was so engrossed in this book that I often ran longer than I had intended. I want to read it again [the hard copy way] so I can really let this information sink in. As someone who is already committed to ethical and sustainable clothing, this book opened my eyes to just how challenging – and CRUCIAL – that goal really is.
You Can’t Go Wrong Doing Right by Robert J. Brown
I liked this book. Honestly, I had never heard of Robert J. Brown, but this slice of history was important to learn about through the eyes of a man who knew some of the greatest leaders of all time [and some not so great leaders].
Why I’m No Longer Talking [to White People] about Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
This book is on Emma Watson’s feminist book club list [which I am still working my way through] and it was eye-opening. It was obviously written for the British population – but if anything, American history of racism is even more deeply-rooted and upsetting.
“Racism’s legacy does not exist without purpose. It brings with it not just a disempowerment for those affected by it, but an empowerment for those who are not. That is white privilege. Racism bolsters white people’s life chances. It affords an unearned power: it is designed to maintain a quiet dominance.” – Reni Eddo-Lodge
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
This is another book from Emma Watson’s book club. It is no doubt beautifully written, but looking back on it, I don’t really know the purpose of a lot of it. Still, Lee writes with such an effortless style that I was sucked in from the beginning and read it really quickly [considering the book is lengthy]. I wanted it to wrap up with something profound or have some unexpected development to tie everything together – or at the very least, provide some sort of moral lesson…but I was disappointed.
September was a great month for me physically, but a bad month for reading. The baby was finally old enough to need more attention and I was back to working out twice a day, but I had no time for reading. At this point in the year, I adjusted my goals and aimed to read at least one book each month for the rest of 2019.
Talking Across the Divide by Justin Lee
Probably my favorite read of the year and one of only two books that I actually want to go buy [I don’t own physical copies of books unless I literally want to read them over and over and over again].
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
I loved this book. It was meaningful and beautiful and it had my three favorite elements in fiction: a profound moral theme, a surprise, and a satisfactory resolution. You know it’s a good book when I am literally yelling out loud while reading. What was so great was not that there was a surprise, but that it kept me guessing the whole time.
The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni
This is easily my favorite fiction book of the past six months. Ironically, it wasn’t on my list. I had never even heard of this book [or author]. I only read it because it was listed as a free kindle book through Amazon and I was bored. I read the first half in a day before my Amazon subscription expired and I had to wait TWO WEEKS to get it from my library. I was dreaming about this book and literally yelling out loud so much while reading that my husband was concerned for my sanity. I guess I respond to books just like I do movies – I laugh, I cry, I try to tell the characters what to do, I get super invested in the story.
It’s a blessing and a curse.
My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem
This is another on Emma Watson’s feminist book club list. It has a very slow [and quite frankly boring] start for me – so much so that I almost stopped reading it. But it definitely got better as it went. It was very strange to read things in direct opposition to what I was told in my conservative, evangelical, Republican, and 99.9% white upbringing. It was strange…and liberating.
“I began to see that for some, religion was just a form of politics you couldn’t criticize.” – Gloria Steinem
I kept seeing this book so I placed a hold on it at my local library. Took a few months, but finally got it and read the whole thing in a few days. I LOVE this author. I enjoyed the story, as hard as it was to read at times.
Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis
This is a great pep-talk, and let’s be real, we all need a pep-talk every once in a while. But unfortunately, it felt too fluffy and egocentric for me. I’m all for reaching for your dreams, but I sincerely hope that your dream is not wrapped up in a Louis Vuitton handbag…or a vacation home in Hawaii…or even a thriving business. I would hope that your dreams are not in any way related to accumulating more expensive stuff, but rather, about giving more away.
Of course, that’s probably just me – which is why Rachel Hollis has 1.7 million insta followers…and I have 60.
Anyway, I’m looking forward to more great reads in 2020!
In 2019, I read 40 books, I fell in love with yoga, I learned to knit, I spent more time outside with my kids, I visited the dentist TWICE, I made my own cleaning products, and I gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby.
All-in-all, it was a great year.
This, my friends, is what New Years resolutions are all about. They are NOT just to set and forget. They are supposed to change you. And when they are effective, they are AWESOME.
This year, I have goals that are BIG. They are so big, they are a little scary. I’m almost afraid to state them – but these are things I truly want to accomplish, so I’m going to go for it anyway.
New skill: learn Spanish
Health: run a marathon, swim regularly, improve flexibility
Personal: go back to school for nursing, pursue kidney donation, volunteer regularly
Blog: improve blog design and function, organize and categorize posts
Family: establish family mealtime routine and guidelines, take international trip with Brett
Minimalism: minimalist game in January, remove 30 unused items per month, log all [non-consumable] purchases
Environmentalism: buy milk in glass, switch to safety razor, wooden dish brushes, and straw broom.
Humanitarianism: donate more money this year, sponsor another child, commission quilts for donation
As I’ve said before, I LOVE making resolutions [or goals] because it is so helpful for me to focus on specific things I want to change or improve or learn or accomplish in the new year. Maybe you hate them, maybe you’re indifferent, or maybe you have your own way of goal-setting. Whatever the case, I hope that 2020 is a year of tremendous personal growth and accomplishments for you.
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.