Thursday, December 23, 2010

Weekly Column: Christmas Joy, One Way

The first Christmas after I became a mother was perhaps my most difficult Christmas ever.

We came home from the hospital on December fifteenth, and besides being an emotional wrecking ball of postpartum hormones, I was completely unprepared for the impending holiday. I only had a handful of presents purchased – none yet wrapped – and my house was a disaster of disorganized baby things. We had piles of baby-shower gifts covering every available surface in the living room. Blankets and clothes and diapers and toys filled our couches and tables. It was overwhelming both in the sense that we’d received such generosity, and in that I didn’t know what to do with it all.

That Christmas, I learned something vital about my personal holiday sanity: Order creates peace.

Really, I’ve learned that lesson about life in general since having kids, but around Christmastime, it becomes more apparent. There are countless reasons for stress during the holidays, and I’ve begun to understand that if my little slice of the world is organized, I will feel more joyful. Less harried. More calm. Less hysterical.

More happy.

The problem is that much of the advice I hear about the holidays (and having new babies, for that matter) states that we should let the dream of a clean or organized house go by the wayside in an effort to downsize our stressors. The advice-givers promise that one less thing to do will clear me of angst or worry, freeing me up to be pleasantly swept along in the season’s current. Checking things off my list without knowing that I have to go home and clean up the messes that are congregating like so many red and green dust-bunnies is supposed to make me more calm, right?

But that’s not right – not for me, anyway. I feel better if I can see all of my kitchen countertops before I start making pecan pie. I like knowing that things are in their rightful place so I won’t lose time searching for those illustrious gift tags. The fact that I might wake up to a house full of hazardous piles – disorganized gifts! leftover food! – throws me into a grumpy, rushed mood: the exact opposite of holiday cheer.

To combat those frustrations (however insignificant they may seem to onlookers), I do my very best to keep our little family organized at Christmastime. Chores and tasks don’t get pushed aside (any more than usual…) just because it’s a holiday and we need more TIME. Cleaning the house becomes one of my top priorities. I’m not saying our house is spotless – far from it – but it calms me down when the chaos is somewhat more subdued. And on Christmas day itself, if I feel like stopping the proceeds to fold wrapping paper or pass a trash bag around, I do it. Because it makes me feel better.

Here’s what I propose: whatever quirky bit of preferences in which you need to indulge during this Christmas, indulge.

If turning off the requisite Christmas carols and listening to Pearl Jam instead makes you feel more joyful, turn up the volume.

If attending a Christmas party makes you want to crawl into a hole, skip it in favor of what really makes you smile: a Home Alone movie marathon.

Whatever you do, harness the things that will help you enjoy the holiday. For me, that means picking up the mess moments after it’s made. For you? I have no idea what it means.

But I’ll trust that you do. In any case, I wish you a very merry (and happily organized) Christmas!

[Online version here.]


  1. I am with you one hundred percent on this! I have a really hard time relaxing in a mess, and I've decided that that isn't necessarily a bad thing!

  2. Amen sista! I have been so crabby and stressed-I just had to get the house cleaned before we left because I knew that when we returned it would be with large piles of disorganized at least everything else could be in order right? So I sacrificed taking time out for a fun playdate (we will get together soon!) to clean my house up when we wouldn't even be here ha ha and I didn't get all my shopping done so yes once again I was out on Christmas Eve aaak pull my hair out! I need a little more organization and order in my life ha ha!

  3. Okay, I'm only just getting around to reading this post now (days after the fact) because on the day you posted it, well, I'm pretty sure I spent the entire day cleaning. I have a pretty low standard for clean most of the time, but I cannot--I absolutely CANNOT--celebrate a holiday in a mess. I'm glad your embracing your inner organizer...

    ...but for goodness sake, now I want to hear more about that first Christmas with Mia!


Hmm...And how did that make you FEEL?