Planning for Christmas

I love to give gifts. I wish that I had so much money that I could just hand out fabulous cashmere scarves and gloves to every person I meet. Unfortunately, that is not an option for me and I assume that most of you reading this blog have your limits too. Since most of us do not have an infinite amount of money, I have proposed the following suggestions for gift giving this Christmas season:

1. Draw names. I honestly believe people are really relieved when you suggest switching over to this.

2. Instead of drawing names play a really fun game of dirty Santa. I grew up with an enormous extended family and we always drew names. Plus we each received two gifts from the matriarch and patriarch of the family. Along the way we stopped doing that and started playing dirty Santa which is really hysterical in a big family. I enjoy the jokes and the hysterics of it all so much that I wouldn't want to go back to exchanging boring gifts and passing them around for inspection.

3. Completely stop swapping gift cards (ahem, I mean presents) with everyone except your immediate family. There may be a lot of resistance to this one and some boycotting. But hey, no one can force you to give right? Now before you start calling me names that begin with an "S" (scrooge), hear me out on this. Christmas is supposed to be a time when we appreciate and celebrate our precious savior, eat cookies, decorate the tree, go caroling, sledding, attend parties, mail and receive cards and basically immerse ourselves in the merriment of the season. What it isn't supposed to be is stressful. I mean, I don't remember reading anything about waiting in line to purchase an iPhone and getting trampled entering a store in my version of the nativity story. So - just think about number 3 a little bit. Let it roll around in your head for a few days before you reject it whole heartily. This is something that we do in our family and it has worked for us. Because it means that we focus on each other when we are together and celebrating our own little traditions of the season instead of maxing ourselves out financially. Of course, homemade gifts like a loaf of pumpkin bread or a jar of your homemade hot cocoa mix don't count.

Whether you are buying for just your children or for your entire family aunts and uncles too, it's not too late to plan your Christmas spending. Here's how I do it: make a list of every person you are buying for including teachers, neighbors and family. Then assign a dollar amount to each person.
Mom - $35
Dad - $35
Brother - $20
Aunt - $15
Neighbor - $10 .... you get the point. Then write down your other expenses because surely gifts isn't it.

Here are some categories to include:
Christmas tree (if you buy a fresh one)
Christmas cards
Decor (any new or replacements for lights/ornaments)
Holiday food
Christmas eve dinner
Holiday Party expenses
Special holiday activities (movies, train rides etc.)
Hostess gifts.....

List them all out, assign dollar amounts and then add it up. You may be shocked to find out what you are really spending on Christmas. We did this last night and even though I thought my budget was pretty sparse for gifts, once I added my additional Christmas expenses I was surprised to see how much Christmas 2014 is costing me. So much so that under the tree skirt category where I had anticipated buying a new one this year, I wrote "better luck next year". Unless of course, I find some rockin deal on one after Christmas. Instead, I will need to just make do with some fabric or an old sheet or something. I will figure it out and to be honest, it's not a need - it's a luxury. So ask yourself when looking at your list: are these needs or luxuries? Could I make do this year with my current lights and wreath and maybe look for a good deal after the holidays are over? Just some food for thought. It's not too late to make a plan for Christmas.

Celebrating with traditions

Last year, I wrote about our Christmas tradition and honestly, the post was quite well received. I had so much feedback on this one topic and realized that it really is such a hot button with so many people. I think maybe because it's the central cause of many heated discussions amongst family and friends each year. Traditions are hard. Mainly because we assimilate into families or friend groups with our own pre-existing ideas about what the holidays should look, feel and taste like. Essentially, every one has their own idea of what holidays should be. It gets complicated when you throw in parents, grand-parents, in-laws, and extended families. But here's the gist. The tradition for your family has to be your own. You can't own someone else's tradition. You can't take on the responsibility of making someone else's holiday. You can only be responsible for your own.

This season with our precious special needs son has been extremely difficult. For whatever reason, he has been having a hard time adjusting to some new changes in our lives, primarily being back in a school program. This transition for him has caused us to step back and re-evaluate some of our plans and traditions for the upcoming holidays. In the end, we decided that while we want to do things that are important and special to us, we ultimately had to own our own tradition this year and make it flexible to fit our special son.

This may not be the case next year or the year after that. But we are taking each moment at a time and constantly asking ourselves: is this a good fit for our son? And here's a very real example for that. Last year, we went for a Hibachi meal after our Christmas eve service. It was a disaster. It was too much stimulation: the knives banging, the onion volcano of fire erupting and our waiter even skirted our son twice with water, which really scared him. On top of that, it was not a cheap meal, as hibachi never is.

This year in an effort to do what would work best for us, we have opted to go for Mexican at our favorite restaurant after our church service. Our kids love chips and cheese dip; as an added bonus, my husband and I always eat inexpensively at this restaurant. And so we are abandoning the tradition of Japanese that we started two years ago because it's not working for us. This season, consider what is and isn't working for your family. There may be a better option out there for you that you hadn't realized, because you were still stuck in old traditions.

Wearing my best colors.

Last season, I gave away my favorite navy and white blouse. It was worn out looking, and I could no longer wear it with confidence as a best quality item in my wardrobe. I wore it with black pants (I love navy with black), white jeans, dark denim, gray blazers and even denim shorts. Now that we are entering fall, I realize how much I miss that blouse. I think I've been mourning it. I even caught myself on the phone telling a friend about that blouse and how it needed to be retired yet I wished it was not so.

A few weeks ago, I felt led to re-read "Color Me Beautiful" (this book will change your life) to see if there were any tips that I might have missed in my past readings, and I came across this line, "navy blue is excellent on you, as is burgundy."

Ta-da! Revelation! That's why I was grieving. I looked in my closet and realized that was the only item I owned in navy. Navy is a best color for a Winter like me yet I didn't own anything else in navy besides my old blouse. So I figured my next step in the grief process was to come up with a replacement. My new purchase is quite different from my old faithful. Really the only thing they have in common is that they are both navy/white and don't have to be ironed (hand clap). But I feel better now having that item in my wardrobe that I can always throw on when I'm in doubt of my look and know that it will look fabulous on me.

I entered this fall/winter season thinking that I was going to build my wardrobe around black with lots of basics to mix and match. Basically, I planned to look like I was going to a funeral all the time. No ma'am! Navy is my best color and mixed with white - it's just plain nautical and that makes me oh so happy. This season I will be sporting lots of navy. Look for it. :)

A capsule lipstick collection

Since becoming a minimalist, I've simplified and paired down everything in my life from activities, kitchen gadgets, clothes to routines even. When I finally narrowed down my make-up bag it was as if a white light from Heaven was shining down. Years ago, one peek in my bathroom revealed the entire contents of the Chanel and MAC make-up counters. Not so now. I was a make-up junkie then, always looking for the next and greatest product, but never fully using up what I owned, and never throwing them away. Thus, an enormous collection of eye shadows, lipsticks, blushes, eyeliners.... you name it, reigned supreme in my boudoir.

But I'm a simple girl now and a simple girl needs a simple lip. I need a go-to collection that is hand-picked for me: streamlined and confident. And I believe I may have found the perfect mix.

1. a red lip ~ Rimmel Stay Glossy in Red Carpet Glam
2. a pink-coral lip ~ Milani in Coral Crush
3. a pale pink (neutral) lip ~ Maybelline Elixir in Petal Plush

Ahhhh the trifecta of lip glosses. Everything is encompassed for me in those 3 colors. The bold blue-red when I want to make a statement or be French. :) The pink-coral color makes my green eyes pop and the pale pink goes with everything and is perfect for when I want a minimal or more natural make-up look.

To take this thing to the next level, I'm using (gasp) drugstore brands. Can I get an "amen" somebody? I've used lip glosses that costs upwards of $40 all the way down to $3 and I can tell you that there is not a difference in the one. I do my research but the truth is gloss is gloss is gloss. It's not meant to stay on forever. It's not a lip stain so I don't expect it to act like one.

My lip color collection is perfect for me and suits my minimal make-up bag. Just one color wasn't enough for me but 10 was too much. Three is my number.

Call a friend.

I recently worked with a client who didn't want to have people over to her home because she was embarrassed by the mess and the stuff everywhere. She had inherited and collected many things but she didn't have a home for them and they were in different piles all over her house. Maybe you can identify with her. I think we all long to be known for being hospitable, for opening our home to others and it serving as a place of peace and refreshment for all weary souls that enter its dwelling.

But how can we do this when our guests have to step over piles just to reach the powder room? The prescription is a good and hearty purge session. This is what my dear friend needed the most, and while she knew what she should do, she was having a hard time getting it done herself. Sometimes in life, we need someone to just hold our hand and walk a little distance with us on our journey. Life is easier in pairs.

Maybe you can't afford a professional to help you. That's okay. All you really need is a friend. Find someone who loves you and will hold your hand for just three hours. That is a great place to start. This friend will help you get the ball rolling and once you see the dramatic difference, then you will be strong enough to face the rest on your own. Gather some big black trash bags and boxes. Arrange for a local pickup from a thrift store for later in the afternoon after your purge session. Then fix yourself a cup of tea, admire what you accomplished, and remember, this is the start of a whole new chapter in your life. An abundance of possibilities lay at your feet now.

Excess. It can happen to dogs too.

A client of mine recently told me that her husband was making the family dog de-clutter his bones and toys. My client was appalled. I was cheering him on. :) I told her that there was nothing wrong with a dog having a capsule bone collection. In the end, Jack kept the largest bones and let the smaller ones go. Good dog!

So even dogs have excess just like us humans. When I think of excess generally one thing comes to mind: clothing, particularly for Americans. Last week, I mentioned the talk I gave recently about simplifying. Another key area that I addressed was the capsule wardrobe. So I thought I would post a few points here about it. I'm sure I've already mentioned them here and here but I like to say, there's always room for fresh revelation from the Holy Spirit in any area or on any topic no matter how much you have heard it before.

De-cluttering my wardrobe was the first step on my minimalist journey and it set the stage for everything else that I did in my home. It believe it's the most powerful thing you can do for yourself and it's the starting point for clearing the excess from your homes and lives.

Here is what a capsule wardrobe will do for you:

- It gives you peace
- It removes stress
- It frees up space in your closet
- It removes materialism and self-focus

3 key points:

1. Have a few pieces that you love and wear - We wear 20% of our clothing 80% of the time because we will always gravitate towards those pieces that we feel beautiful and stylish in. The number one key to this is knowing your colors. The colors that are most flattering for your skin tone and hair color. You will find that this book is dead on 99% of the time. Remember, you can generally go up or down a shade.

2. Buy classic investment pieces and cheap trendy - I recommend to my clients to buy the highest quality that they can afford within their budget and lifestyle. There are certain items that I'm willing to pay more money for like pants but not shirts. My pants seem to last a lot longer for me but my shirts not so much probably from the wear and tear of toddlers pulling on them. I like to buy trendier pieces at discount prices as they generally don't last past a season or two.

3. De-clutter your wardrobe and use numbers to slim down your items - I've discovered that I only need two sets of pajamas, the same through summer and winter (I'm cold natured at night). I also only need one swimsuit, one sunhat and one cover up. Experiment and determine what's right for you.

You can't go wrong with a capsule wardrobe. You're in charge and if you find you need an additional item then just buy it. But here's a warning: once you start dressing this way, you won't be able to stop. Freedom is addictive. :)

Simplifying dinner time

I recently spoke to a group of young women gathered in a friend's home for a weekly bible study. The topic was simplifying. I covered three areas: clothing (capsule wardrobe), routines and finances. One of the most flexible and easy ways to gain control in the area of finances is to make a menu plan. A menu plan is your road map to a less stressful dinnertime and week.

Here's what a menu plan can do for you:

- reduces stress at dinnertime
- makes shopping easier
- reduces food waste
- saves money

There are any number of printable templates floating around on the Internet so I won't bother posting some here. Or you can just keep it really non-fancy like I do, and just take a pad and pencil and just draw your own columns for the days of the week and three main meals.

I think it's important to plan out breakfast, lunch and dinner plus a special snack or dessert. It certainly would be a downer to get up in the morning, start making waffles only to realize that you didn't have enough eggs. That's why it's important to include breakfast too. Each meal takes ingredients. I realize this is not new information, however I think people have forgotten how important this tool is in their domestic tool belt.

Here are my steps to making a menu:

1. I start first with my calendar. Are there any meals that are already provided in the upcoming week, say a church potluck or date night at a restaurant? Then I schedule those meals first in the meal plan.

2. Cook once, eat twice. I always try to pick recipes where there are enough leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day.

3. Once meals and snacks are planned out, I go block by block of my menu plan adding the ingredients for each dish to the backside of my menu plan so nothing is forgotten.  I like to shop with mine in case I'm in the store wondering why I'm buying a can of adobo chilies.

4. I keep a menu plan started in my junk drawer so as the week goes by and we run out of a staple (for us, that's raisins, oatmeal, honey, etc.), either Steve or I can add it to the list because we both know where it is.

5. Post my plan on the fridge where everyone can see it. Not only does this help to clarify any confusion about what people are eating, what times and what days, but it helps the other spouse to know what they need to do in regards to starting dinner prep one night if necessary. For example, if my plan says spaghetti and I'm working late afternoon and stuck in traffic, then my husband knows to go to the freezer and pull out a jar of spaghetti sauce and start boiling the noodles.

Planning a menu can generally take around 30 minutes but it's so worth it in the end. Happy planning!

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