“Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after the wind.” Ecclesiastes 4:11 ESV
About eighteen years ago, Judy Stock, the owner of “Wonderful World” coffee shop in Sheboygan, WI, was a marketing genius. She sold addictive caffeinated drinks for mothers, coupling it with a live folk music half hour for children. Judy played her banjo and jaw harp, singing children’s songs, while I sat at a table with friends, drinking a latte or espresso shake. After spending one morning at “Wonderful World”, I decided to bring home a new treat for my husband: chocolate covered espresso beans. After a little coaxing, Terry tried one bean and found it to be delicious. Six hours later, Terry lay in bed wide awake, realizing eating a small bag of espresso beans right before bed was not the best idea.
The Christmas season is in full swing, with Black Friday gone and the hours left for Cyber Monday slowly dwindling. My home is fully decorated, with gnomes and reindeer having taken up residence. The Piano Guys are on repeat, while my favorite “Jolly” mug is filled with coffee. I love how Christmas makes my home feel: softer with the white garland of pompoms that drapes across my favorite sign, calmer with twinkle lights that add warm glow, and more peaceful with baby Jesus laying in the manger.
For the past few years, I have been changing how I approach Christmas. Too often, Christmas was a season of me trying to capture all the magical moments I could. These included baking dozens of cookies, hosting a hot chocolate party, writing out Christmas cards, trying to squeeze in all the wonderful events in the community, watching all my favorite Christmas movies, and reading some Christmas favorites. Christmas didn’t feel calm or peaceful, it felt like a lot of hustle and bustle. Even typing this list causes my heart to race faster and my anxiety to increase. None of what I was doing was bad or harmful. They were all wonderful additions to add to the merriment of the season. But just like too many chocolate-covered espresso beans that kept Terry awake, too much of a good thing can end up causing some unnecessary stress.
Now, I approach Christmas trying to do less, and finding it gives me more. I buy less, not because I don’t enjoy gift buying, but am more intentional with what I buy. I watch less, because I want to be more present with my husband, by reading a book aloud, or putting together a puzzle. I bake smaller amounts, because I want to have more energy at the end of the season instead of being in a sugar coma. I participate in less activities, making more space to have time for reflection on the true meaning of Christmas.
To be honest, I still do way too much. I haven’t mastered this. Just this past Thanksgiving weekend, I was about to bake two different types of donuts and a muffin for brunch. My wise daughter stepped in and reminded me that two different donuts and a muffin were not necessary. I compromised by only making one doughnut and a muffin. This honey nut squash muffin with maple bourbon glaze was an involved recipe, requiring a long list of ingredients and multiple steps, but resulting in only six muffins. In the end, I was the only one who loved the pseudo-nutritional muffins. I could have saved myself some time and effort by keeping it simple, making only one doughnut.
Coco Chanel, the famous designer, told women when they were accessorizing their outfits, “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.” I’ve heard interior designers, writers, artists, and chefs echo the same thing about their craft: eliminate one item on your shelf, one sentence in your blog, one flower in your painting and one ingredient in your dish. This simple elimination of one item, makes the room more cohesive, the blog more concise, the painting more beautiful and the dish more balanced. I think Coco Chanel’s philosophy is not only applicable to creatives, but also to our ordinary lives. We need to create room in our lives for wholeness, beauty, and balance. And for some of us who add a lot of extra in our life, maybe we just need to eliminate one thing in our holiday traditions.
This year, as we were putting ornaments on the tree, I realized that we had too many ornaments for our now smaller tree. We got rid of some we no longer liked, simplifying our tree a bit. I even put less on some shelves and kept some of my décor packed away. I think this simplification helped create the atmosphere of warmth, peace, and calm in my home. I want the feeling of peace and calm that is reflected in my décor to be reflected in my heart as well. This will only happen if I continue to simplify my life. So, once again, I am emphasizing that less is more this season.
If you find yourself already feeling anxious and it is not even the first of December, maybe try to follow Coco Chanel’s advice: look at your calendar and eliminate one thing. And, just maybe, this will help the season be calmer and more peaceful for you.
The spiritual discipline of Simplicity. Well said once again.