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Christmas stressI don’t know why, but this Christmas feels different to me.  Every year, in the Provo, Utah area I say I can’t believe Christmas is already here, so that’s no different.  Every year I become a little less enchanted with stores and the retail part of Christmas, so that’s not new.  Maybe I’m different this year.

Yesterday in church a man spoke about the history of Christmas.  He shared that Christmas used to be a very quiet, family based holiday.  No lights, no malls, no incessant voices telling us we needed more.  The “good ol days” always sound better than they really were, but I think this part of the past was better.  I’ve gotten tired of the retail world taking over a very sacred, special season.  Funny thing is, I don’t think I’m alone.

Wellness Mama says it well

I get a blog from a great blogger called Wellness Mama.  She wrote a post about giving experiences instead of gifts this year, and it resonated with me.  At the end of her post she linked to other blogs that have written about the same topic.  Seems a lot of people want to simplify and take Christmas back.

I want to share some of her thoughts and research (yes, people have even researched this).

“As we near the time of the year often dedicated to gift giving, I can’t help but think about the fact that often these well intentioned gifts eventually lead to more stress, for the giver and the receiver. In our family, we’ve chosen to give experiences instead of material gifts most of the time and the results have been amazing.

Don’t get me wrong… As a dentist, I love giving gifts near Provo, Utah and always enjoy finding, wrapping and giving the perfect gift to a family member or friend. As a mom, I also dread the aftermath of gifts… the paper all over the floor, the toys all over the floor, the lingering messes and the kids complaining about having to clean up their toys.

Also, as every parent has inevitably experienced at some point, the joy of material gifts fades quickly and even the most anticipated Christmas toys soon become a chore to clean up.

Are We Drowning in Too Much Stuff?

The dramatic success of the book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up provides a hint that perhaps many of us feel that we simply have too much stuff (short summary of the book= throw most of it away).  Turns out, we probably do!  Think for a second about your grandparents home when you were growing up. If it was anything like mine, it was probably a small house with even smaller closets. And the closets were not that full. And they raised six kids in that house! They also didn’t need drastic storage and organizing solutions or extra storage rental units.

Fast forward to present day, when the LA Times reports that the average American home has over 300,000 items in it and there are over 50,000 storage facilities nationwide (and this is the fastest growing real estate segment!). In fact, at least 1 in 10 of us have a storage unit to store our excess stuff…  Do we really have so much more stuff than people did just two generations ago?  Yes we do…

More Clothes

Our grandparents had an average of nine outfits, including dress clothes and work clothes.

Now, we have an average of 30, plus a lot of extra clothes that don’t qualify as an “outfit.”

The AVERAGE family spends $1,700 on clothes annually while giving or throwing away over 200 pounds of clothes per year.

More Toys

This is the part that really shocked me…

The average child in the developed world owns over 200 toys but only plays with 12 of them on average per day!  Even crazier? Only 3% of the world’s children live in the US, but they own 40+% of the world’s toys!

If it Makes You Happy…

Those staggering statistics about how much stuff we all own wouldn’t worry me if it seemed that the excess stuff improved our lives in some way or made us happier, healthier or closer to our children… but that isn’t the case.  We have and consume twice as many material goods than we collectively did 50 years ago, but statistically we are much less happy.  54% of us report being overwhelmed with clutter and 78% of us have no idea how to overcome it!

This also leads to additional stress:

Over the course of our lifetime, we will spend a total of 3,680 hours or 153 days searching for misplaced items near Provo, Utah .The research found we lose up to nine items every day—or 198,743 in a lifetime. Phones, keys, sunglasses, and paperwork top the list.  Certainly, there is much more to why we are less happy than we used to be than just the excess clutter, but statistically, it is a contributor, and an easy one to address.

Why Give Experiences Not Stuff?

Many studies have shown that material possessions do not equal happiness and that experiences are much more intrinsically fulfilling that things. (Additional bonus: you don’t have to find a place to store experiences except in your heart, memory, and maybe on some pictures!)

Research shows people tend to get less happier with material purchases over time, and more happy with experiences. They speculate that this is because we adapt to physical things, so even the nicest car or  newest phone becomes commonplace after enough time, while memories tend to get fonder over time.

Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods.  Even negative experiences can often be remembered fondly as a funny story or bonding experience. The anticipation leading up to a trip, event, or experience even has the potential to provide happiness itself, making it the gift that truly keeps on giving! Happiness in the anticipation, happiness during the experience and happiness in the memories.

Beats the heck out of a pile of toys that you trip over while tucking the kids in at night!

It turns out that Aristotle had it right all those years ago: “men fancy that external goods are the cause of happiness (but) leisure of itself gives pleasure and happiness and enjoyment in life.”

Thank you Wellness Mama!  You make a beautiful case for changing up the way we give.  This year I am going to give local experiences as gifts.  I am going to make clues for local fun things – the swimming pool, the rock climbing gym, our favorite Ethiopian Restaurant- and have them figure out what their gift is.  I’m excited just thinking about it!  And heaven knows, we don’t need one more thing cluttering up our house.

Have a Very Merry Christmas season, and if you want to keep your sanity, avoid the mall near Provo, UT at all costs!!


Dr. Michelle Jorgensen

This information is not meant as medical advice. It is provided solely for education. Our practice would be pleased to discuss your unique circumstances and needs as they relate to these topics.

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