I grew up in a small, affluent town in Connecticut.
Most of my friends had huge houses and their parents drove BMWs or Mercedes or Jaguars. Some of the kids even drove those kinds of cars.
They had pools and tennis courts and horses and they belonged to country clubs and riding clubs and gun clubs and vacationed all over the world regularly.
Neither of my parents went to college. My mom stayed at home with my brothers and me, and my dad was an auto mechanic. My parents built our house on a 2 acre piece of property my great grandmother and great grandfather gave them. My great grandparents had a farm, and the house I grew up in was built on part of what used to be their apple orchard.
Growing up we never had a lot of money. My parents were really frugal, and really smart with their money, and they made it work.
I remember when I was little having a car that had a hole rusted through the bottom of it. It was covered with a floor mat, but if you picked it up, you could see the road whizzing by while you were driving. And I remember being so envious of all my friends with their fancy houses and designer jeans and cars without holes in them.
But even though my parents didn’t have a lot of money back then, we always had a really great Christmas.
We always had tons of presents under the tree.
The past couple years we have been having serious financial difficulties, but our community and family and friends and readers of the blog have helped us be able to give the kids the kind of Christmases I remember having myself when I was young.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Christmas this year and wondering how we were going to be able to give the kids a great another Christmas like this, especially since my husband has been out of work since his accident this summer.
But then two things happened.
First, when my parents took us on vacation and I didn’t pack any toys for the kids and we stayed in a small three bedroom condo for two weeks, I realized that we just had way too much stuff.
Then I discovered the life changing magic of tidying up.
And I started getting rid of crap. Lots of it.
I recently went through all the kids’ toys.
All of them.
And that’s when I realized something else.
No matter what we get the kids, no matter how many new toys they get, they play with the same six things all the time. And those six things are simple, old-school toys:
- Legos/Tinker toys/Lincoln Logs/Blocks
- Cars/Action Figures
- Board games/card games
- Play kitchen stuff
- coloring stuff
And that’s it!
But every year we keep getting them more stuff, and that’s all it really ends up being.
They don’t really appreciate it, and they don’t really take care of it.
Most of the time, it’s just strewn all over the place, and then it ends up getting broken or lost.
I thought about this more because even with my husband’s accident, we had a great vacation this summer. It was the first vacation we’d taken in four years.
So tonight, I asked Number 3 and Number 4 what they got for Christmas last year.
They each got at least fifteen presents.
Do you know how many they remembered getting?
They could only remember two out of fifteen presents.
Then I asked them something else.
The last vacation we went on was in 2011. Number 4 was four years old, and Number 3 was five.
“What do you remember about that vacation we took four years ago?” I asked them.
The rattled off a whole list of stuff — they remembered the house we stayed in, hanging out with their uncle, going to a water park, watching fireworks, going out to eat, swimming in the ocean.
They remembered lots of details from a vacation they took four years ago but couldn’t remember most of what they got for Christmas last year.
I knew this was going to be the case. That’s why I asked them those questions. I was preparing them.
So I told them, this year (since they both still believe in Santa) I had put in a request to him, and I explained that I wanted to limit the number of presents that each kid got this year to four.
I told them I let Santa know that I want them to have:
something they want,
something they need,
something to wear,
and something to read.
Number 3 and 4 were actually okay with it.
Number 5 came into the room at this point in the conversation and just lost it.
ONLY FOUR PRESENTS!!!
She had a complete meltdown and started bawling hysterically, which made me feel even better about the conversation, because that reaction let me know we are having a gratitude issue here in our house.
So then we started talking about Little House on the Prairie, our favorite show. We got the complete set as a gift from my parents last year, and we still haven’t watched most of it and are still watching it (best present ever, by the way). We talked about how simple things were back then. How Laura Ingalls didn’t even have enough money to by pencils for school and how she would have been pretty freaking psyched to get four presents.
Number 3, 4, and 5 share a room, and every night I read to them before they go to bed. The book we are reading now is Little House in the Big Woods (because of our favorite TV show). So we talked about that. We talked about the chapter we just read where the Ingalls celebrate Christmas and how Laura was ecstatic to finally get a rag doll. A real rag doll.
Because before that, her sister Mary had a rag doll and Laura’s doll was… a f*cking corncob wrapped in a handkerchief.
We all talked after that about how we really appreciate experiences much more than gifts, and we know this because we actually remember them. We talked about spending less money on having things, and saving that money to put toward being able to do things.
I reminded them about our trip to Boston for the Boston Marathon, and how they will never forget that.
This helped to put things into perspective for them.
I know Number 5 isn’t gonna go down without a fight, but she’ll learn.
And again, I am finding a reason to be thankful for this financial situation we find ourselves in.
Because I don’t think I would have had this shift in perspective without it.
It’s going to be our leanest Christmas ever this year.
But I’ll bet (all that saved Christmas) money that it’s also gonna be our best.