It’s gratitude month! Everybody I talk to seems to be tuned in to 11:11, full moon celebrations, kundalini yoga and gratitude lists; I don’t hear so much about stuffing recipes, extensive Christmas lists and Black Friday anymore. The words “Walmart” and “Target” come up a lot less in my conversations than they used to. Practicing gratitude and living with less are big trends in America and I’m finding it soothing.
I have to give Japanese tidiness guru Marie Kondo a lot of credit. Her little sky blue book, “The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up,” turned almost every single person I know on to showing appreciation for their material possessions, thanking them for their service and treating them honorably whether they make the cut to stay in the home or get lovingly placed into a donation box.
Practicing this kind of mindful gratitude is calming. It’s not something I can do at my usual speed, which a client once exasperatingly told me was “Red Bull plus espresso.” You definitely have to slow down to do it, and darker winter days are the perfect time to go through certain areas of the house and give things some careful consideration.
Take one category at a time. Pre-holidays, a good place to start is the kitchen. As you plan your holiday meals, identify all of the tools, dishes, pots, pans and sundries you require to prepare whatever feast you have planned, whether it’s traditional or not.
Once you’ve separated out all of the items you use regularly and those that you need for the holidays, what’s left? Do you have a lot of duplicates? People who combine households tend to have a lot of duplicates and don’t take the time to let the extras go. Is it time to part with the fourth and fifth spatulas? The extra three ice cream scoopers? The fancy corkscrew and foil cutter that someone gave you for Christmas 14 years ago that is still in its acrylic box?
Prevention is the greatest tool in keeping clutter — and guilt — at bay. Gifts and shopping are two areas you can work on.
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You can’t prevent people from giving you things you don’t need or want. I recently attended a girlfriend’s birthday party for which she emphatically stated, “No gifts.” I was the only one who complied. If you already have all that you need or want, ask for experiences — such as lunch out, a massage, an olive oil tasting, a manicure — rather than traditional gifts. And when you are on the giving end, be sure to send edibles, flowers or certificates for experiences.
Another good category to purge at this time of year are decorations. Which Halloween decorations did you not use? Could you purge the costume bin as well? And when putting out Christmas decorations in a few weeks, are there any that no longer “spark joy,” as Kondo would say?
Slow winter months indoors provide an excellent opportunity to purge through and organize memorabilia. Take advantage of family members who may be visiting to assist you in this task and also potentially take some photos or scrapbooks off your hands.
If you are at a loss for activities to occupy family after meals and gifts, why not forgo the usual jigsaw puzzle or Cards Against Humanity and sit around a table reminiscing over old photographs? The organizing will be slower going, but so much more fun and bound to spark a lot of love and gratitude as the good memories are shared. Have your photo boxes, books, a labeler and other supplies at the ready so that you can organize the photos as you go. Don’t wait to do it later thinking you’ll remember all the names, dates and stories—you won’t, especially if you’re enjoying some eggnog or Champagne while you “work.”
The more thoughtful you are about what new items come in to your home, what old things go and what ends up staying, the more gratitude you are likely to have for each and every item. After a thorough purge, the treasures you decide to keep — from turkey platter to a photo of your great aunt Berget — spark even more joy after being rescued from a sea of so-so stuff.