(Ep. 21) Do Less, Enjoy More Holidays with Rebecca

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Podcast favorite and professional declutterer, Rebecca Mezzino, comes to discuss how to give yourself the gift of sanity this holiday season. I admit my biggest holiday struggles and we come up with lots of tactics to avoid the exhaustion and frustration so a joyful holiday can be had by all, namely us moms who are worn down from all the magic-making. Rebecca and I sort out how to specifically delegate tasks to your spouse (and she has a whole system for this), how to limit the work that doesn’t bring you joy, how to change your gift-buying habits, how to cut your wrapping in half, how to put your domineering family members to good use, and basically how to curate a holiday that doesn’t leave you flattened. I also share my plan for a do-less holiday “experiment” that will be implemented this year, and Rebecca shows her extraness with a funny detail about how she keeps surprises hidden from her family. I’m giving you this episode early enough in the season so you have time to implement its takeaways, before you get stream-rolled.

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Brandy:                   In this episode, I bring back a podcast favorite, professional declutterer, podcaster, and all-around awesome Aussie, Rebecca Mezzino, and we discuss how to give yourself the gift of sanity this holiday season. I admit my biggest holiday struggles, and we come up with lots of tactics to avoid the exhaustion and frustration, so a joyful holiday can be had by all, namely us moms who are worn down from all the magic-making. Rebecca and I talk about all sorts of good stuff, like how to specifically delegate tasks to your spouse (and she has a whole system for this), how to limit the work that doesn’t bring you joy, how to change your gift-buying habits, how to cut your wrapping in half, how to put your domineering family members to good use, and basically how to curate a holiday that doesn’t leave you flattened. I also share my plan for a do-less holiday “experiment” that will be implemented this year (fingers crossed it works), and Rebecca shows us her extraness with a funny detail about how she keeps surprises hidden from her family. I’m giving you this episode early enough in the season so you have time to implement its takeaways before you get steamrolled.

Brandy:                   I want to make sure to acknowledge that this episode is going to feel pretty privileged. There are plenty of moms and families out there who are really struggling to even celebrate the holidays at all, and here we are trying to tone it down. It seems kind of shitty, but it’s also the reality for many of us, being brought up in a consumerist society, and some of us with moms who have always gone overboard – Hi Mom! So it’s both things, right? It’s shitty, and also totally where many of us are at – and we do also talk about ways to give with our kids, so it’s not just complete assholery.

Brandy:                   I want to give a shoutout to my newest Patreon supporter, Diana Reusch. Thank you, Diana! I don’t like talking about the money piece, but perhaps with some of the awesome money and sanity-saving tips we’re going to give you today, you could find it in your heart, and budget, to throw some holiday cheer (cash cough cash) my way. It’s super easy, you just go to www.patreon.com/adultconversation – and Patreon is P-A-T-R-E-O-N. You can choose either the $4 per month or $8 per month option, and boom, you’re a hero. And, you give me motivation to keep spending my kid-free time on this podcast instead of just sitting and staring out the window while sipping tea all day, which sounds super great. Onto the show.

Brandy:                   So today on the podcast we have a returning guest. She was that good the first time around that I brought her back, the lovely Rebecca Mezzino from the Be Uncluttered podcast. Welcome again, Rebecca.

Rebecca:                Hi.

Brandy:                   The last time you joined us you were giving us killer advice about decluttering when kids are in the picture, which is totally different than the advice that somebody would get if they didn’t have kids, right?

Rebecca:                Yeah.

Brandy:                   I’m not calling out Marie Kondo again, but I sort of am, always.

Rebecca:                Yeah, and even she admitted that things changed after she had kids.

Brandy:                   Yes.

Rebecca:                Definitely different.

Brandy:                   I got so much positive feedback about those episodes with you, so I’ve asked you back because I wanted to bring someone on who could help us create a more sane holiday this season, and I know you’ve got some gems for us, just because I know how you are. So I know that some people want a real change, and other people just want to ease things up a little bit, so we’re going to talk about all the things, and like the genius Kathie says (she’s been a guest on my podcast before), “You take what you need, and you leave the rest.” So I’m hoping that people will have something to walk away with today, and early enough that they can implement it in their holiday madness – hopefully not madness but sanity.

Rebecca:                Yes, fingers crossed.

Brandy:                   I’m not going to spend too much time on talking about why us women and moms do most of this unseen work of the holidays, and like all the magic-making, because almost all of my other podcast episodes discuss some part of that, especially the episode with Darcy about Moms, Dads, and the Myth of Equal Partnership. So if you want to learn more about why these expectations exists, why we keep showing up and doing more than our share, and why men aren’t expected to do the same, check that episode out.

Rebecca:                I’ve been thinking about that just in preparation for this. I was actually just thinking about how I need to be careful, that I do just check my own husband’s dad privilege when I’m talking about him and his contribution. Normally I’m sort of like, “Yeah, I’m aware of it, and I take measures to address it,” but at Christmas time I fall into the same trap as everyone else.

Brandy:                   Yes, I appreciate you being thoughtful about that, but I’m exactly like you are, which is I have pretty high expectations, but then around the holidays I just all of a sudden turn into, like this 1950s housewife that basically does everything. I think what’s happening, is so many of us moms, and women are starting to vocalize our exhaustion, and our unhappiness, and just being fed up about doing all of the things. So it’s not surprising that many women also feel overwhelmed by all that’s required of us during the holidays, so hence this episode.

Rebecca:                Yeah. Yeah, exactly. When you think about it, if you step away from it you think, “Why? How did I manage to make, like set myself up so that I was the one who did everything?”

Brandy:                   Then on the holidays I will be the first to admit that on Christmas morning, because that’s what my family celebrates – and this episode is for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, anything, any sort of holiday during this time, and really any time. It’s not even just at fall or winter time that we have here in this hemisphere, but I know I’m the only one that on these holidays, you sit there with a little bit of rage at having put together this huge production, and everyone else gets to just show up to it, and you’re like, “This is bullshit,” but you’re also like, “but I love everyone and I’m so glad you liked that gift, and also I am so pissed right now.”

Rebecca:                Exactly.

Brandy:                   So we’re trying not to have that.

Rebecca:                Yeah, exactly. You want to be able to sit down, and enjoy it, and relax. Even if you have been the one to do all the work at least you want to be able to just enjoy all of that work that you’ve done, instead of just thinking about the next thing that you have to do or watching the mess just grow around you.

Brandy:                   Yes, that’s exactly right, and I feel like if there’s any gift we can give ourselves it’s the gift of sanity this season. So maybe looking at it from that point of view, like here we are doing all of these things for other people, so what can we do so that we can actually enjoy the day? I like that.

Rebecca:                Yup, exactly.

Brandy:                   As I see it, there are two categories of things that drain our will to live during the holidays. For me, the two categories are: Stuff, which includes gifts, clutter, costs, the gross feeling of consumerism instead of connection), and then there is the doing, which is the traditions, the making, the expectations, the magic, the family plans, and all of the family expectations and dynamics. So I wanted to focus on these two things, and these are the things that I would love to tackle with you.

Brandy:                   On my Facebook page I recently asked the Adult Conversation community what kinds of things they wanted to know on the topic, so I have some specific questions for you. The one that came up the most, which is funny because you’ve already mentioned it, is how to get one’s husband to partake in the gift-buying, and namely for his own family. I think somebody even wrote, “Like dude, at least buy for your own family, please.”

Rebecca:                I know, right.

Brandy:                   So how does this work in your home? Does your husband do any of the gift planning, buying, or wrapping, any of it?

Rebecca:                Yes, he will do presents for me, which is very nice, and he will often shop for the kids as well. He’s quite enthusiastic about buying presents for the kids, and we have to actually make sure we have a meeting because sometimes we’ll both go off buying things for the kids and not communicate to each other about what we’ve done, and so we end up having too many gifts at the end, because he’s gone and got the things that he wants to get, and I’ve gone and got the things that I want to get, and then we end up with a few too many. So we have to have a little bit of a meeting to go, “Right, what do we got? Who’s already bought what, and let’s just cross those things off the list so we don’t accidentally go overboard.” So he does do all of that.

Brandy:                   I’m already amazed. I already have to stop you because I’m already amazed that he goes out and gets gifts not just for you, but for the kids. So is that something … has it always been like that? Has he always been interested in doing that part, and was there ever a point when he didn’t do that, and then you asked him to do more? Has it always been like that?

Rebecca:                I think that there’s been times where I’ve done more but I think … He’s always been interested in contributing to the doing of the kid stuff. He’s the type of person who doesn’t want to leave everything up to me, he wants to be really involved, so whenever he can, he involves himself in all sorts of things to do with the kids. I think that’s just part of who he is.

Brandy:                   Okay, well, shit.

Rebecca:                That’s where he is a bit different from other dads, is that he sort of really likes to be involved, and he gets cranky if I leave him out of anything like that, fair enough. So that sort of just naturally who he is.

Brandy:                   Then maybe we should have your husband on this podcast, because he sounds like a fucking gem, right?

Rebecca:                Well, you know, there are still other things he doesn’t … that he opts out of that sometimes make me rage, and I do have to talk to him about presents for his family though, and sometimes I would just say, “I’ll get the present,” but the thing is we have a very small family, so it’s very easy in that sense. That’s another thing that I’m quite aware of when I’m doing this episode with you, is that I am in position of privilege already because I have a small family that we buy for, and that we entertain with.

Brandy:                   A couple things is I’m thinking about the listeners whose husbands aren’t involved in the gift giving-process at all, and I’ve always enjoyed this part of the holidays. Christmas for us… I’m the kind of person that has a list running all year, and when somebody says, “Oh, you know what’s my favorite thing?” I’m like, “Uh-huh, uh-huh,” and then I take down the little note because I love giving people gifts that aren’t crap, and that are something that they’re like, “Oh, my God, I didn’t think anybody was listening, but you were listening.” So I’m like, “And here is the thing that you have wanted your whole life, but nobody has listened,” like that’s how insane I am. I kind of feel like this is my deal, but then when it comes down to it I don’t really want to do all this work myself, but I put it on myself.

Brandy:                   So one of the things that I’m doing this year, is I’m having a conversation with my husband – this is my plan, is that I’m going to talk to him about what my ideas are for everybody. I’m going to specifically delegate to him what it is that I would like him to do. So there are some parts of it that I find joy in, and I don’t want to give those parts away, but there are other parts that I don’t find joy in, and that’s what we’re going to have a conversation, and figure it out together so that the whole thing isn’t on me. So that’s one of the things that I’m going to do, but when you’re talking about having a smaller family – I have a friend who has a huge family, and one of the things that they do that I think, “Why doesn’t everybody do this?” is they do the draw a name from a hat thing, so that you have one person that you give the gift to. I think the kids maybe they do something for, but I could see even doing the pull the name out of the hat for that, but to me, if somebody’s got a big family, and they’ve got like three siblings, and then parents, and then aunts, and uncles, and cousins, and they’re buying for all of that, I don’t know how you do that without breaking the bank, and also without it being a huge burden.

Rebecca:                Yes. Yeah, I agree, and so our family used to be bigger, but we’ve lost family members, so my dad passed away, and my stepdad has passed away, and then there’s been families that have distanced themselves or parts of the family that have distanced themselves, and there’s been divorce, and things like that, so it sort of shrunk. So early on, say maybe before we had kids we always did the Kris Kringle we called it, and-

Brandy:                   Charming as always.

Rebecca:                You just draw a name out of the hat, and you just buy for that one person, and so we did that quite a lot, with mixed family more. My mom was like, “No, that’s it. I don’t care what you’re doing, I’m buying everybody a present, and I expect presents from everybody.” My mom is just going, “No, that’s just not me.” My mom is very Christmasy, and very gift-orientated, she loves it.

Brandy:                   Oh my gosh, my mom too, yes.

Rebecca:                Yeah, and that’s fine, she can do what she wants, but she’s like, “I’m not just buying one present,” and so she wouldn’t, so we sort of, with the adults we just did one present. When the kids came along they all got presents from everyone, and the adults just sort of shared that. That makes it so much easier to do that with the large families. The thing is some people go, “Oh, but just one present. I’m only going to get one present, that’s not very exciting,” especially for the present-orientated people, but you can do more. Everyone can pull three names out. You can do your own rules. There are ways to simplify without going to that extreme.

Brandy:                   Right. I know with my husband it’s hard for me to give up the job, and give up the control of being the person who does this, because for me I also do things early, part of it is because of my health stuff that I have going on, so I always do things early so that if I have to completely eject myself from my life that everything doesn’t fall apart around me. I get on things earlier than my husband because he’s the quintessential person that’s out on Christmas Eve looking in the clearance bin with all the other people. That’s not how I like to do it, and so it’s … it’s like I need a contract, like a blood contract from him if I’m like, “These are your things.” I need him to fully understand that he cannot wait until the day before. So that’s my worry, and I feel like other people, other moms probably have the same worry, “If I hand over the reins, he likely doesn’t know all that goes into it, and how early sometimes you have to do things, how some of the gifts you can’t find them the week before, or sometimes shipping you have to get them by early December,” All of those things. I’m like a bargain hunter too (this is why it’s so hard, this is why it’s so hard to be me) because I’m also trying to get the best deal on it. I’m like juggling all of these different things, and I feel like if I hand it over to him, if I’m like, “Okay, so our son wants a VR headset,” and then I’m like just, “You go and do that,” I feel like what’s going to happen is a week before Christmas he’s going to be like, “Yeah, they just, they were out of the one that he wanted.” Then, and I mean, I guess like the worse that happens is my son is deeply disappointed, and then I get to point out why, and whose fault it is, which sounds awful.

Rebecca:                Make sure you point it out, that’s the thing.

Brandy:                   But that’s my fear.

Rebecca:                Yeah, yeah.

Brandy:                   That is my fear though, is that there’s a way to do this that my husband maybe doesn’t know yet, and even if I tell him, “You have to do it by this time,” I feel like he’ll be like, “Yeah, yeah, right,” and he’ll think it’s like, “Oh, that’s just your way – your Type A way of doing it, when it’s really just like the way to do it,” which makes me sound like a total control freak, which is all fine.

Rebecca:                Well-

Brandy:                   That’s what I struggle with letting go of.

Rebecca:                If you were to step back, and think about what the worst is that could happen, you would survive that, and he would have a lesson for next year, and you would be able to also teach your kids that things don’t always run smoothly, you don’t always get exactly what you want, and that they’re going to be okay as well. So there are some lessons to be learned in that, but the thing is people don’t learn these lessons unless they make the mistakes themselves. If you say to them, “This is going to happen if you do this,” then they’ll be like, “Oh, yeah, whatever.” But when that happens to them they’re like, “Oh, so this happens when I do that,” and the happening to them is what makes it sort of stick.

Rebecca:                So unless you give them a chance to figure out how to negotiate all of the chaos, and how torturous it is to have … See, this is the thing, if they do the last-minute shopping at the moment, they’re doing the last-minute shopping for you, and for one thing. They’re only buying for one person anyway, and that’s you. If they’ve got, however, 10 things that they need to buy, and they’re leaving it to the last night they’re going to learn pretty quickly to never bloody do that again. That’s just a really bad idea, and then the following year they’ll be like, “Right, I’m going to get into it a little bit earlier.” One would hope.

Brandy:                   So it seems like this suggestion, and maybe what we’re agreeing to this year is what if this year is the transition year? What if this is the year that all of us listening, who want to hand some of these things over, and are terrified because of aforementioned things, what if we let it fail or at least give it space that it might fail, and if it fails people have learned some things. Kids have learned that, like you said, kids have learned that you don’t always get what you want, and partners have learned that you can’t just do it the week before, that if you’re buying more things than just one present it’s going to take some time. I think that’s the hard thing, is nobody ever wants it to be the… what would we call it, the “Learning Season?” Nobody wants it to be the Learning Season, but maybe we make a pact that all of us who wants something different, we make this year be the year that everybody gets let down, and everybody learns, so that maybe every other year after this can be better.

Rebecca:                Yeah, exactly. A lot of my clients do stuff like this, we just call it an “experiment,” you know. We’re just going to experiment. We’re going to see what happens, because unless we do this experiment we’re not going to know what happens, and things aren’t going to change unless things change. So even though that change might be a little bit torturous as far as giving up control goes, and having things the way that you like them, that just rightness, letting go of that initially, and then making a new just right, and then practicing that, and seeing what happens. If next January your hangover is much worse, if you have a more miserable Christmas Day because of the things you’ve implemented, then you won’t take from those learnings, and you’ll try something different. But you don’t know until you try. This is where the delegating is really important, because if they’ve never done it before how are they meant to know? Our expectations are probably a little bit too high as well.

Brandy:                   Right.

Rebecca:                For someone who hasn’t done something before you can’t expect them to do it perfectly, and you can’t expect them to not make mistakes, and you definitely can’t expect them to do it the way that you do it because you’re two different people. It’s only through the trying that you would get to that point where everyone ends up on the same page eventually, or at least for the most part everyone knows what everybody else is doing, and is cool with it.

Brandy:                   Right.

Rebecca:                That’s where you want to get to, yeah. So if you’re going to be delegating things you plan ahead, you sit down and you go, “Right, I am exhausted every Christmas, and I’m not doing this anymore, and therefore I am going to be delegating some jobs, and here is a list of every single thing I do in the lead up to Christmas, and on Christmas Day, and in the cleanup, and then in the hangover. It’s all of the things that I do.” You write every single thing down.”

Brandy:                   I love this.

Rebecca:                Then you go, “And this year you’re going to do these things, and this person’s going to do these things, and this person’s going to do these things, and we’re going to cross some of these things off the list completely. We’re going to opt out of all of these things that cause us stress throughout the year, because if you’re not willing to do them, and I’m not willing to do them, why are we doing them?” Make that big list, and just delegate, and opt out of as much of it as you possibly can.

Brandy:                   Yes, okay. This is great, and also, I feel like answers the question that people have which is, “How do you get your husband to buy for his own family?”

Rebecca:                Yeah.

Brandy:                   So if you’re making this list, and you’re having this conversation you can say, “You are now in charge of buying the gifts for your family.” So this can fall into the delegating category.

Rebecca:                Yeah, exactly, and if you need help or suggestions they can come and ask you for suggestions, if they sort of go, “Oh, I’ve got no idea.” Then say, “That’s fine, I’ll send you a list of five things,” and you just shoot them a text and say, “Don’t lose that list because you’re going to need it.” Also, have deadlines. So Christmas and the holiday season is like a big project plan, and you wouldn’t do a project at work without milestones and deliverables, and time-framing, and it’s the same kind of thing, is all of this timeframing is that if you are going to be splitting tasks, those tasks need to have start and end dates. So the end date for all present-buying would be, say the first of December.

Rebecca:                So if you have the conversation in October, then there is a good six weeks of opportunity to do that shopping in the lead-up to the first of December, and then that’s the deadline. You say, “Okay, on the first of December that’s when we’re going to get all the presents together, and we’re going to check everything off the list, and make sure we haven’t missed anything.” We’d have another meeting at that point, and so they’ve got that deadline of the first of December because they know that you’re going to be sitting down and saying, “Have you got this present? Have you got this present? Have you got this present?” They’ll say, “Yup, yup, yup.” Hopefully.

Brandy:                   Yes.

Rebecca:                Or they’ll say, “In the mail.”

Brandy:                   Are these the timelines that you use in your family? Because I feel like people listening are like, “Everything by December 1st??” Even though I’m pretty much on that timeline because of the reasons I said, are you pretty much, like have everything figured out and done by December 1st?

Rebecca:                I have it all planned, but I don’t have it all done.

Brandy:                   Okay.

Rebecca:                I’m a bit more relaxed, because I have less stuff to buy, but I do start planning. So I sit down, and I start making my presents list in October, November, and I start thinking about it. Sometimes I won’t, like actually be set on a present, like there’ll be a name that’s left blank, and by the end … it’s the middle of December I’m still thinking of what to get this person, and then I’m scrambling maybe, but for the most part I, at least have a list of all of the people that need to be bought for, and what they’re going to receive, or what my ideas are at least. Then once the shopping happens, that can adjust a little bit, you go to buy the thing that you’re thinking of, and if it turns out it’s pretty crappy so you change your mind, and then you reassess, and you need to go out and shop again, but the list is really important.

Brandy:                   Yes.

Rebecca:                You just make a list for everything.

Brandy:                   I’m with you on that.

Rebecca:                In my bullet journal, I have a Christmas planning page, and actually this, I’m lowering my voice now because the people in my family might be in the room next to me, but I actually write their presents in my bullet journal pages in invisible ink, and-

Brandy:                   Wait, what?

Rebecca:                Invisible ink, like it needs an infrared light to shine on it to read it.

Brandy:                   Oh, my God, you are worse than me. You are next level.

Rebecca:                I don’t expect everyone to do that, but it was really fun last year, because if anyone accidentally came across that page in my bullet journal, because I leave it laying around, then they would just see an empty space next to their name, because they don’t have the little infrared light to read it.

Brandy:                   That is amazing. Oh, my God.

Rebecca:                So that’s a bit next level. It’s probably a bit stupid, but it’s fun.

Brandy:                   Yes.

Rebecca:                It’s real fun.

Brandy:                   Well, I also love this idea of treating it like very office-like, and very business-like where you have these deliverables, and you have a date, which means you could also write each other up. I like the idea of thinking about writing my husband up for like, “You didn’t deliver at this time, I’m going to put you on…” What are those things where it’s like a plan?

Rebecca:                Performance plan, yeah.

Brandy:                   Performance plan, “I’m going to put you on a PIP, and we’re going to see how you work through that, and then I’m sorry if we have to let you go.” I like all the role-playing that’s included in this.

Rebecca:                This is the thing, it works. I love it too, it’s fantastic, and it just helps to get everything out of your head.

Brandy:                   Going back to something that you said about opting out of as much as you can, I feel like that right there is, almost should be our true North, like our guiding idea for this season of experimenting, and possibly everything falling through the cracks. But somebody, one of their questions was, “How do I do less, but maintain the magic?” One of the things that I was thinking about is if we think that we have to do all the things then we’re going to be overwhelmed, so I thought what about sitting down with your family and saying, “Hey listen, this year we’re going to change things up, so that we can enjoy it more, and maybe we’re not frazzled,” and maybe even saying, “So that I, as your mom-

Rebecca:                The royal “we.”

Brandy:                   Yeah.

Rebecca:                It’s not really we, it’s actually me.

Brandy:                   Right! “So that I’m not as frazzled, how about each of you pick what is your favorite thing that we do?” So maybe one person says, “Well, I want to make sure that we go looking at the Christmas lights around the neighborhood,” and another one says, “I really love the gingerbread house,” and everybody gets their one thing, and so that can be it. That “We are going to make sure that we do each of those things,” and then maybe you find yourself in the holiday season, and maybe you have space for one more thing.

Brandy:                   So then maybe … it’s like, again, it’s the modifications, maybe have everybody say one thing, but then if you feel like you’ve got the energy for it, maybe there’s another thing that can be done, but instead of thinking about it, almost not thinking about it, and just kind of going through the season in like, “Oh, yeah, now we do the Christmas caroling.” I don’t know if anybody does that, but I want to fucking join you, because Christmas caroling sounds amazing, but like, you know the Chex Mix, and the gingerbread houses, and the Christmas play, and then we go see The Nutcracker, and all of these things, if we’re not consciously thinking about all that we’re doing, and then we find ourselves so frazzled it’s like, “Why are we doing that?” This is a way to get people’s input so that you’re not just saying, “We’re only doing this,” which is totally okay too, but maybe get everybody’s input so everybody feels like they’re heard, and we’re not overwhelmed.

Rebecca:                Yeah, that’s a brilliant method of opting out, and I actually, in preparation for this episode, I actually went and talked to my kids, because I read a couple of the comments on the Adult Conversation Facebook page when you posted about this. One of them in particular mentioned that she wants to do all this stuff for her toddler, but she is also wanting not to be overworked.

Brandy:                   Yes.

Rebecca:                My first thought was, “Toddler. Toddler.”

Brandy:                   Yes.

Rebecca:                That they don’t know what day it is, why does it matter whether or not you have all of the things? It’s like as we get kids, all of a sudden we get this checklist of all the things we Must, with a capital M, do, and why? Just because everyone else does or just because the stores tell us to do that? Or just because TV families tell us to do that? Just because we’ve always done it? Why? Why is it a must? Why do we must do all these stuff?

Rebecca:                I said to my kids, I went in and I had my thoughtful face on actually, so they said, “Am I in trouble? You’ve got like your serious face on.” I said, “No, no, it’s my thoughtful face, not my serious face,” but I said to her, “Can you,” and for those who don’t know my daughter is 16 and a half, and my son is 15, they’re through the whole little kid phase, and I said to Zoe, “Would you say that you’ve missed out on anything in your childhood to do with Christmas?” She kind of screwed her face up at me and went, “Huh?” I said, “You know, is there anything that other people do at Christmas time that we haven’t done, that you think, you felt hard done by, that you’ve missed out somehow?” She put her thoughtful face on there for a second, and then she said, “No,” and I said, “Not like the Elf on the Shelf or anything?” She went, “No.” I went, “Right, good, okay,” and so she said, “Is that all?” I’m like, “Yes, I’ll leave you alone now.”

Rebecca:                So then I went into my son’s room, and I asked him the same question, and he went, “Oh, no.” He actually didn’t understand the question, and I had to sort of repeat it again like, “Well, people do these things, like they make things, like they do baking of cookies together, and they do gingerbread houses, and they do all this stuff,” and he goes, “Oh, do they?” I said, “Do you feel like you’ve missed out on anything?” He said, “What about Christmas in July? I feel like I’ve missed out Christmas in July.” I’m like, “Dude, that wasn’t even the question.”

Brandy:                   Oh, my God, hilarious.

Rebecca:                But still.

Brandy:                   Yeah.

Rebecca:                I’m like, “Oh, you want us to do Christmas in July?” He goes, “Oh, well, it’s just an idea.” So neither of my children have been damaged by me not doing all of the things.

Brandy:                   Okay.

Rebecca:                They are fine, and it’s not all of the things that you have to do in the lead up to Christmas that are important, it’s the things that you end up doing, and also the earlier you start the better, because you’re setting their expectations. If you’ve been the type of person who, in the first 10 years of your child’s life has crammed the six weeks in the lead up to Christmas, and then the week after with every single tradition and activity imaginable, then if you turn that tap off they’re going to notice, but if you never turn it on in the first place you don’t have to adjust to expectations. So all those out there with toddlers and with babies, just decide now how much you’re not going to do, and how much you are going to do and stick with it. Don’t allow it to grow because the kids actually aren’t going to be disadvantaged in any way, especially toddlers and babies. They don’t know what they’re missing out on.

Brandy:                   Yes, another piece of that, that I wanted to say is I know for me, when I had kids the first thought in my mind, like the minute I found out I was pregnant I was like, “Oh, my gosh, I get to do Christmas for them!”

Rebecca:                Yeah.

Brandy:                   So sometimes it comes from us, and not from like, “Oh, I want to make sure that my kids have as much toys as somebody else.” But I was brought up in a family, my mom is like your mom, so into gift-giving, she calls them “packages,” and how they’re wrapped, and it’s this whole perfect ordeal, and there’s lots of them, and it’s like that’s the magic. So I was brought up in this family, and loved it, like it was amazing to me, so I couldn’t wait to do this for my kids. So we kind of went overboard, I mean as one does pretty quick, and it was fun, but I will never forget my son’s first Christmas he got all these things, and of course everybody knows where this is going, he played with the box. He played with the big box and that was his favorite thing. Now, obviously when … There was a woman who had written on my post about it, and she had a baby, and was wondering like, “What things do I do and not do?” and I felt like, “Oh, you can still be saved.”

Rebecca:                Yes, exactly.

Brandy:                   So I was like, “Hey, don’t,” exactly what you’re saying, “don’t do too much because it’s way easier to do a little more than it is to pull back.” And also I was like, “Just rid yourself of the Elf on the Shelf idea unless you think it’s fun to remember to move something every night for 30 days.”

Rebecca:                Every single night. Exactly.

Brandy:                   If I can go back and do anything different I would just completely erase that. My kids are getting old enough that the youngest maybe, in a couple years we can not do that, and that’s actually one of the things that I have my husband do. So I think that there is this … One of the hard things is that when you’re brought up in a family that loves the consumerism, and the gifts of it, is how do you not do that? So my mom, the other day we were talking, and we were Facetiming, and she’s like, “Okay, well, start thinking about what the kids want for Christmas,” and I said, “Mom, this year, I know I say this every year, but this year I really don’t want to do a lot, and I really want to take it down a notch, and we don’t need all the stuff, and I feel like it’s so overwhelming, and then it costs us money. It’s a win-win for everybody if we pull back.”

Brandy:                   Because even us pulling back it’s not like my kid gets like just a whistle, you know? It’s not like, “Here is your one gift.” It’s not like that, and she looked at me and she was like, “I know, but you know I just, I want it to be special for them,” and I said, “Mom, it’s going to be about going against our DNA here, and I don’t know if we can do it, but can we please try to do it?” So that’s one of the things I wanted to ask you about too, is do you have any tips or insight into – and especially I’m asking this because of the people that you work with, and the people that you see who do have an issue with clutter, and probably were brought up like that as well, or in many cases could have been. How do we rewire ourselves, and do we even try to rewire the grandparents or the other people in our family who contribute to the mass amounts of things?

Rebecca:                Definitely, you can definitely retrain people, but you’ll have varying effects depending on the person. We had to retrain Mick’s family to buy more and to celebrate more, and my family to celebrate a little less or buy a little less. Mainly being my mom, because she’s just exactly, when you described your mom I’m like, “Yup, my mom’s exactly the same,” gifts and gift giving, and wrapping is really important to her.

Brandy:                   Yes.

Rebecca:                So I don’t like the idea of saying to her, “You can’t do that anymore, like you can’t feed your soul anymore,” it’s not fair.

Brandy:                   Right.

Rebecca:                But what you do, is you can say, “We’re trying to decrease the amount of stuff that the kids are receiving. We want more grateful kids. We want kids that have more clarity, that can tidy up their own stuff by themselves,” all of this stuff that you’re looking for as part of the simplified Christmas, “So we’re doing all this stuff. So I know you love giving presents, and I know that’s your thing. So can I just, instead of you having free rein over what you buy, could I suggest some things for the kids this year that you can then choose from and buy for them?”

Rebecca:                That’s when you look inwards at the house and you say … at the family, and you think, “Right, okay, so that kid needs some new sports leggings. That kid needs a new bike helmet. One of them wants a phone mount.” So you sort of think about the list of the things that the kids have been talking about all year, and the things that you know they need, but you’ve been putting off buying for them. If you’re like me, you put off buying for them because of Christmas, because we don’t buy stuff for our kids throughout the year unless they are a necessity so-

Brandy:                   Yeah, wait, I have to interject real fast, if people haven’t listened to your other episode, Rebecca is the kind of person that when you go to Target with your kids you don’t buy them anything, and you set this up early, which is totally different than how I am, and I think many of the listeners. But it was amazing in those episodes when you talked about why, and how, and then how to retrain – that’s where people were like, “Oh, my gosh, these episodes are so great.” So just so everybody knows, you practice what you preach, you are like the real deal.

Rebecca:                Yeah. Yeah, I don’t buy anything for the kids throughout the year. Ethan recently, I said I was going shopping, and he said, “Oh, can I come with you? I want to get some new shuttlecocks.” He was using his own money to go and buy those, and so we went shopping for a few different things I had to buy, and we went to a sports store. They were a bit more than what he wanted to spend, but he went, “Oh, okay, I’ll get them anyway.” So he got his shuttlecocks, and then we were looking at some other things, and he spotted a t-shirt from his favorite American football team I think, are the Patriots a football team or basketball?

Brandy:                   Yeah. Yes.

Rebecca:                Whatever they are anyway.

Brandy:                   Yes. Yes.

Rebecca:                I have no idea. I only know about Australian football, I have no idea about American, but Ethan loves American football. He gets up early on Monday morning sometimes to watch his team, and he found a t-shirt for this, and he goes, “Oh, look, look,” and then he looks at the price, and he went, “Oh, that’s expensive.” I said, “Yeah, that licensed stuff is expensive.” He said, “Well,” and he folded it back up, and he put it on the shelf, and he points at me, and he said, “Christmas, right? Remember, Christmas.” So that’s what my kids do when we go shopping, if they spot something they want and they go, “Can I have that for Christmas, please?” Then you put it on the list, and so if you’ve been practicing that throughout the year, and you haven’t been sort of just buying them things whenever they’ve asked for it, you actually have a nice hefty list at the end of the year, of suggestions for family members of what they could buy your kids. Then they’re going to be appreciated and needed, and used, and loved.

Rebecca:                That is really quite powerful if you’re going to try to have your family members reduce the amount of stuff coming in. You just give them a list and you say, “Out of these three things you can buy all three, or just one or whatever. When you’ve bought them tell me, so that I don’t give that item as a suggestion to the other grandparent.” Then the kids, everything they open is like, “Oh, yes!” They get excited about every single thing that they open, because it’s what they’ve been waiting for up to a year for.

Brandy:                   Yes.

Rebecca:                That could be things like horse riding lessons. Your kid’s probably going to ask for them, and you’re probably going to go, “Oh, yeah, I suppose,” and then it’s going to cost you all these money, whereas if you actually said to the grandparent, “They want horse riding lessons, can you buy them a starter pack of five lessons or something? Here are all the details.” Then they get that and they go, “Oh, my God, I get to do horse riding,” and they’re all excited, and you don’t have to pay for it, which is a bonus for you as well.

Brandy:                   Yeah, but you’ve just hooked them on the most expensive extracurricular activity known to man! So just a little tip, be careful on what you’re hooking them on, or yourself on, for that matter.

Rebecca:                That is true. Yeah, I have kids that tend not to stick to things so I’m pretty safe there.

Brandy:                   Nice. So the five pack will do you good.

Rebecca:                Yeah, exactly. After five they’ll be like, “Yeah, I don’t have to keep coming to this. I’m bored. I want to try something new now.”

Brandy:                   It sounds like from what your kids said, since you do a pared-down holiday where you don’t do all of the stuff, will you walk us through what you do in terms of gifts? It sounds like with the gifts I know that this time of year you don’t hold back, so you don’t do the like four things: the book, the clothes, the thing you want, the thing you need, because you don’t buy all year, so this is kind of where you guys go a little bit wild, right?

Rebecca:                We do.

Brandy:                   What do you think of that idea though?

Rebecca:                What do I think of the idea?

Brandy:                   Yeah, like, you know, have you heard about people who were like, “Oh, we only give four gifts or we do one gift?”

Rebecca:                Oh, yeah, that, yeah. It works well for other families. It would be fine if I wasn’t saving up all these things during the year of, “Rather than buy that for them now I can just make that a Christmas present, and kill two birds with one stone.” So I have that thinking throughout the year, and if we weren’t doing that, and we were just sort of, the kids were just getting things all year then a pared down, a four-present-only Christmas is a brilliant idea because you’ve been collecting stuff all year. You actually don’t have any needs because you’ve been meeting them all year by buying the things that they have asked for, so they actually don’t have anything that they really need or want. So having only four presents is perfectly acceptable, it’s a great idea, and especially if you’ve got lots of kids.

Brandy:                   Right.

Rebecca:                There’s so much competition, and … You know what, it’s probably it’s all invented in our heads. It’s not even as much in our kid’s heads that there’s meant to be this large volume of presents. I think someone commented on your Facebook page about how they see these photos of the Christmas tree barely visible, like behind the piles of presents.

Brandy:                   My mom is trying to achieve that all the time, yes.

Rebecca:                So you look at that, and we then go, “Oh, should I be like that? Does that mean then that my kids aren’t going to be happy unless you can’t see the Christmas tree through all the boxes?” I’m pretty sure that that’s not the case, and that my kids are perfectly happy with their Christmases. Mind you, they do get more presents than the four, but they’re still only getting things that they have either asked for or that they need. The poor things tend to get a hand-me-down iPhone every couple of years when we get an upgrade it’s like, “I can pop this in for Christmas.” It’s that kind of stuff, it’s things that they need anyway, we just don’t get stuff for no good reason, it’s always stuff that they’ve asked for.

Brandy:                   That’s what always goes through my mind when I’m shopping and thinking about Christmas, and what I always say to my mom is, “I don’t want to buy to buy, that’s not what I want to do.”

Rebecca:                Yes, exactly.

Brandy:                   I don’t want to buy to have a package under the tree so that it looks like nice. I want to only buy things that I know that they’ll really like, and I fall into this trap every single year, and every year I try not to do it, and this year I’m going to try even harder since I’m doing the “experiment” of Christmas this year. But I will find something in the store, and it’s usually like the week before Christmas, like I’ve got all my ideas, and then I see something, like for example last year I got my son this thing at Barnes and Noble, it’s a box, and it has a little book in it, and a little toy, and it’s like How to Train Your Cat. I saw that, and my son loves our cat, and so I thought, “Oh, he would really like that. That’s a cute idea.”

Brandy:                   Now I have to stop myself, if anytime I think, “That’s a cute idea,” it means, “Nope, don’t do it.” If they haven’t talked about it then I’m not doing it, because he opened it and was like, “That’s cool,” like unwrapped it and thought, “That’s cool,” and that thing has sat on a shelf for a year, and he hasn’t even opened the cellophane paper around it. So those are the things that I have to stop myself from, like you’re saying, it’s not even my kids, it’s me from being like, “Oh, won’t that be so fun?” Like I said, I’m going against my DNA on this, but we don’t have a large house, and so I don’t want all of this stuff, and I also don’t want my kids to just, have just clutter everywhere, and have things that they look at for two seconds, and throw away.

Brandy:                   I want them to really value the things that they have, and I know on Christmas Day, and I would imagine a bunch of people know on the holidays too, you can see it in the kids when they become overwhelmed with the amount of things, rather than just be able to play with something, or use something. It’s like there’s so much going on that they almost become, like they almost disengage a little bit, and so it doesn’t help anybody, but darn it, it’s like I can’t fight my DNA! This year I’m going to try so hard, but I know that there are other people out there like me. So I’m curious, do you have any tips on, I know that you do gifts that you’ve been thinking about throughout the year, and so your gifts are very thoughtful. But for people who aren’t doing that, do you have any ideas on what could be more thoughtful gift ideas, and for stockings too?

Rebecca:                It’s okay to get excited about those kinds of things, like you said you started going, “Oh, that would be good fun, or that would be cute. I’m sure they would love that,” but instead of buying it write it down against all the other things that you’ve written down. When you can see it all collectively then you can say, “You know what? That’s really not necessary because I’ve just seen it, there are four things on their list that I’m giving them, just us,” like their parents giving them that they’re going to love, and that costs plenty of money, and if we get any more then that reduces the specialness of those things. When everything is special nothing is special, and so if they’re getting loads of presents they’re not appreciating any of them. By getting quality over quantity you’re then making sure that there’s gratitude there.

Brandy:                   Yes.

Rebecca:                One of the keys to happiness is gratitude, and we need to foster that in our kids. We don’t want kids that are not grateful for what they get. I remember my mom ringing my brother once, because she hadn’t heard back about whether the granddaughters, my nieces, had liked their presents or not, so she asked, and my brother turned around and shouted to his wife across the room, “Hey, did the girls liked their presents?” This is like Boxing Day or a couple of days after Christmas. She called back and she said, “Oh, I don’t know,” and my brother said, “Oh, they unwrapped them so fast, I’m not even quite sure. They probably liked them.”

Brandy:                   Oh, man.

Rebecca:                That was the response, yeah, and it’s like, okay, they’ve got so many presents that they just tear them open and move from one to the other, to the next, to the next, to the next, and then when they get to the end they’re like, “Are there any more? Are there any more?” That’s not gratitude at all, there is no gratitude in there. If our kids are going to grow up feeling content with their lives then they’re going to need to be grateful for things, and you can’t have gratitude when you are just handed everything one after the other, after the other, because why would you be grateful for something that never stops coming?

Brandy:                   Exactly.

Rebecca:                It becomes then an expectation instead of a privilege, and an exercise in gratitude. So you want your kids to value their belongings, and value the day, and the institute that is Christmas, and all of those holidays where you give gifts, that’s to be valued. It’s not just another day of filling the house up.

Brandy:                   That’s so true. Some of the things that I’ve heard people say are giving experiences. I have a friend who did with her kids where she gave them each an experience, so one went at a concert, there was a restaurant one wanted to go to, I mean you could even do something where if there was a trip that somebody wanted. So I think in terms of thoughtful gift ideas, and that’s similar to like the horseback riding lessons you’re talking about, I think that those kinds of things, especially if you’re looking to not have a bunch of stuff, and this maybe older kids are easier to do this, but you could also institute this with the younger kids too. I wish maybe I had done a little bit more.

Rebecca:                Well, when they’re little you sign them up for all these things like kinder gym, and oh, I don’t know what they’re called, but all of the-

Brandy:                   Yeah, the mommy and me stuff.

Rebecca:                Yes, but I’m already getting, what’s it called, Gramnesia? I was already forgetting my little stuff, but yeah, all that stuff. You sign them up for all those things when they’re little, just make it a Christmas present, just turn something that you would do anyway with them into a Christmas present. One of the best things you can give to your children is your one-on-one time and attention. A really good present is a weekend away one-on-one with one parent.

Brandy:                   Right.

Rebecca:                You just go and you spend just that time with them or you take them fishing, and you just sit there for four hours together, and fish just one-on-one where there’s no phones taking up the parent’s attention or anything like that, and you just do things together so-

Brandy:                   I love that idea.

Rebecca:                You know, with the horse riding you could do that together. Kids get such a kick out of you joining in their activities, the get such a kick. If I run, my kids get so excited, like if I’m in the playground and I run they’re like, “Oh, my God, you’re running.”

Brandy:                   “Oh, my God, she can run.”

Rebecca:                Yeah, exactly, and kicking the footie or all those kinds of things that, you know, they love it when you muck in with them, and you do the things that they like to do. My kids do, I mean there’s a couple of things Ethan asked me to do, and I’m like, “Yeah, no.” He wants me to like act on his videos so that he can do these video collections, I’m like-

Brandy:                   Oh, my God, I would do that in a heartbeat.

Rebecca:                I can’t act. Yeah, you would. I don’t. I’ll have to tell him to hire you instead.

Brandy:                   Yeah, tell him to ring me up. Oh, my God, every time I think the words that you’re using couldn’t get cuter then you say something like “muck around,” and I’m just fall in love with you all over again, Rebecca.

Rebecca:                Don’t you say that?

Brandy:                   No, there are so many great things you guys say that we don’t, so thank you, just thank you for saying your words.

Rebecca:                You’re welcome, I try really hard to say my words.

Brandy:                   One of the things I wanted to ask you too is, somebody asked how to make wrapping more enjoyable so that it’s not all on one night, and this is something I’ve had an issue with. I love wrapping, because remember I was brought up by the woman I was brought up by, we even had a wrapping table in our basement. So we had a whole room that was devoted to wrapping, and we had tools that were devoted to wrapping, and making handmade bows, it was amazing. And so I love wrapping, but what I found in the last couple of years is that I save it all until the night before, and then I hate wrapping, and then I hate my family. And then that’s not how I want it to feel, and that’s not really how I feel deep down.

Brandy:                   So this last year I think I did a little bit, maybe two nights before, and then a little bit maybe the night before, so I try to split it up, but I really want to try to make it so that it’s something that my husband and I do together, and we don’t do it at night. So this year what I’m going to try to do is I’m going to try to get him to take off a day of work or an afternoon of work, so that we can have mellow time that’s not at 10:00 PM when we’re both just at our worst.

Rebecca:                Cranky.

Brandy:                   Yes, and so that we can do it. Do you have any ideas about this or how do you do it?

Rebecca:                I tend to be a bit like you, and do it sort of close to Christmas, but that’s because we don’t have many presents really. My kids still get Santa sacks, and like my mother, my mother has never told me about whether Santa exists or not. She said, “I will never say those words.” I’ve done the same with my kids, you know, “If you don’t believe you don’t receive.” We sort of joke about it, and they’re older they’ve got more that eye roll, and try to tell me that perhaps I was doing everything. I’m like, “No, I’m not, and if you don’t believe in him then he’s not going to come.”

Brandy:                   Nice, just total deception. Nice, nice work.

Rebecca:                Yeah, exactly. Yeah, total denial of everything and full deception, but they still get Santa sacks, and I have these sacks that I sewed when they were toddlers, when they were little, one’s got a blue one, one’s got a green one in Christmasy material. It’s just like … it’s bigger than a pillowcase size, like two, maybe two pillowcases, and it’s just got a drawstring at the top, and they’ve got one of those each, and that’s where the presents from Santa go in. They don’t get wrapped, they just all go in the sack.

Brandy:                   Got it.

Rebecca:                Just because Santa’s too busy to wrap, that’s pretty much my rationale ever since, and my kids could understand it, it’s like, “Santa’s too busy to wrap, he just puts them straight in the sack for you.” But then the presents from us are wrapped, so straight away I’ve over halved the amount of things I have to wrap just by, “They go in the sack.”

Brandy:                   That’s a great idea.

Rebecca:                With present wrapping, rather than wrapping them all at once, one idea is to wrap things when you bring them home so on the day or at … Having a present wrapping station is really handy for that because you can just walk in the door, you’ve got the bag of goods in your hand, go straight to the present wrapping thing, you wrap it up, you label it, and you stick it somewhere. If the tree is up you stick it under the tree, if the tree is not up you stick it under your bed or somewhere like that. You’ll still have some last minute things to wrap, but you’ll have less, so wrapping after you buy them would be my first suggestion.

Brandy:                   Yeah, and you bring up something that I have forgotten about, which is because my youngest is six, and maybe this year we could do it, but normally I wait to put presents out under the tree until maybe like two or three days before Christmas, because otherwise however long I … however early I do it I hear, “Can we please open?” It’s just more whining, like I just know that if I have it out two weeks ahead, I’ve got two weeks of whining. So usually I wait and save it up, and then you know, over three days maybe put it out, but I think maybe this year I could actually put it out and there may not be as much whining. I mean, I guess that’s an experiment.

Rebecca:                Experiment, yeah.

Brandy:                   I’ll try one. I’ll just try one.

Rebecca:                One’s torture though because … You know what my mum does, she wraps the presents early, and then she doesn’t put the labels on them, and so she’d put them under the tree or somewhere, and they won’t have labels on them, and she says, “Don’t worry, I know.” Do you know how many times we’ve opened the wrong present at Christmas?

Brandy:                   Oh, yeah, I’m sure.

Rebecca:                Because Mum is like, we’re looking at the presents going, “Who’s this?” Mum will go, “I think it’s yours,” but she’s gotten a bit better at that, but yeah, you don’t need to label them either. If you’ve got some kind of, again, maybe invisible ink.

Brandy:                   Oh, my gosh.

Rebecca:                Just buy it, just buy like a little invisible ink from eBay, they’re like $3. You could write on the actual wrapping somewhere either hidden or whatever, whose it is so that you don’t forget, but if the tag’s not on it they don’t know whose it is, and you can then just make up whose it is so they’re not going to nag you. You can say, “Oh, no, that one’s for dad,” or, “That one’s for grandma,” or, “Yeah, that one’s for whomever.”

Brandy:                   Right, once again, deception. Deception.

Rebecca:                Yes, exactly.

Brandy:                   I’m seeing a pattern here. I could also do a thing where I say, “If you whine about opening the present I throw it in our fireplace.” That could also be one way that I handle it.

Rebecca:                You could do that.

Brandy:                   I could do that.

Rebecca:                But you’re not going to go through with that if they do whine though, so then it’s an empty threat.

Brandy:                   I’m not?

Rebecca:                You wouldn’t. I bet you’d chicken out on that one, especially if you’ve just spent $60 buying it you’re not going to want to throw it in the fire.

Brandy:                   Yeah, but maybe as part of the experiment I’ll wrap the cheap one first and put it out there. What if it’s even something like fireworks?

Rebecca:                Yeah.

Brandy:                   So it’s something that has a huge explosion like, “Oh, yeah, you’re going to whine? [exploding noises] You just blew up Christmas!” That’s awful, I wouldn’t do that really.

Rebecca:                It’s funny to think of it. Yeah, but that’s the thing, you have to experiment with these I think, and as she gets older it will become less torture for you. Again, it’s all about setting the expectations. Nagging is a great specialty of young children.

Brandy:                   Yes.

Rebecca:                They’re very, very good at it, and they wear us right down.

Brandy:                   Oh, yeah.

Rebecca:                One of my favorite phrases is, “It doesn’t matter how many times you ask me I’m not going to change my mind.” You still have to say that several times, but that does sink in eventually, “I’m not changing my mind.” Every time they ask you can just look and go, “I haven’t changed my mind.”

Brandy:                   Or you could hold the package by the fireplace, then you don’t have to say any words. I’m just saying, silent, but gets the point across.

Rebecca:                Yes. Yes.

Brandy:                   Do you have any ideas, somebody had asked about what are some simple, but meaningful rituals to do with the kids that aren’t food-centered?

Rebecca:                Yeah, that’s a good question. Everything is food-related, but one of the ideas that I thought of when I read that particular question was around giving. So you could have ritual where … we have a couple of stores that, K-Mart for example has what they call the Wishing Tree, it’s in the store, and it’s just a big tree with a fence around it, a low fence to stop kids from running over to the toys. You grab the tag off the tree and it might say, “Boy, seven years old,” or something like that. Cuz we’re still gendered, but anyway, you pick that off and then you go and buy a present, and then you put it under the Wishing Tree. So that’s something that you can do with your kids, is you can say to them, “How about we go and you each pick out a present for a little boy or girl who isn’t going to get any Christmas presents, and we’ll put them under the Wishing Tree?”

Rebecca:                There is a tradition, they’d each go out and they choose the person, the recipient, and they choose the gift, and then they can even wrap it if they want, and we put it under the Wishing Tree. That’s one that doesn’t involve food. The Christmas lights doesn’t involve food. Volunteering somewhere doesn’t involve food, so if you’ve got kids that are old enough, soup kitchen volunteering, or even just volunteering wrapping presents for people, those kinds of things can be good rituals that you can undertake that don’t involve food.

Rebecca:                It’s a little bit different in Australia, because in Australia it’s hot at Christmas. We spend a lot of time doing summer activities in November and December, and so our traditions are a little bit different, and going to see the Christmas lights, you have to wait until 9:30 at night to go out and see the Christmas lights because it’s light until nine o’clock at night, and so they can’t see the lights.

Brandy:                   Yeah, that’s why all of our rituals are about bulking up for the winter. It’s really what it is.

Rebecca:                Yeah, ours are going to the beach and stuff like that. So we don’t have the … we just don’t have the baking, the Christmas baking quite as much.

Brandy:                   Yeah, I like the idea of giving, or having some sort of ritual around giving or helping out somewhere as being part of giving.

Rebecca:                Because that’s what Christmas should be about.

Brandy:                   Yeah.

Rebecca:                Not about the stuff, like it’s nice to receive and give gifts, that’s definitely a given, it’s fun to get stuff, and it’s really rewarding to give things to someone that they value, and that they want.

Brandy:                   Yes.

Rebecca:                But that’s not everything that Christmas is all about. You can make it about whatever you want, and if you want to make it about giving you can make it all about giving, because there are so many charities out there that you can give to. There’s loads of things that you can contribute to.

Brandy:                   Right, and I bet people who are religious have a plethora of ideas about different rituals to be done as well.

Rebecca:                Yeah, because we’re not religious so we don’t have any of the … we don’t go to any masses or anything like that, so that’s not something that we do.

Brandy:                   Yeah, we’re the same.

Rebecca:                It’s all about getting people together, and helping each other. There’s loads of ways that you can do that if you just use your imagination.

Brandy:                   This is sort of a tricky question, maybe a hard question, but do you have any insight on how to set boundaries with extended family? This is about the event. I know that sometimes what we want to do, and how we want to have our holiday is not exactly how our extended family wants to have the holiday. I think when you have a family that’s on the same page it’s wonderful. When I grew up, we didn’t go anywhere on Christmas Day, we stayed in our pajamas all day long, just with my little family, and I loved it, and then as we got older maybe in the evening we would go somewhere. So it’s been really important for me, with my kids to not have it be where you rush in the morning, open presents, and then go to some other family member’s house.

Brandy:                   It’s been important to me to keep it really nice, and mellow, and just really personal, so I’m also not about having these big events where there’s a whole bunch of people, and it’s different personalities, and some of the people you don’t really like, but you’re obligated to be with, like all that kind of stuff. I’ve been lucky enough that I’ve been able to keep it how I want it, but I know that not everybody has that, and so do you have any ideas about that?

Rebecca:                Yeah, it can be really tricky meeting everybody’s expectations, because they’re all so different. Making sure your needs are well-expressed is important because sometimes some families can dominate over other families, and so making sure that everyone is happy is really important, and expressing your needs, and saying, “This is how I enjoy Christmas. This is what I want to do.”

Rebecca:                One of the things that I have had to do with my mom is, not train her, but just put up with her disapproval because she is very much into the traditional Christmas lunch. My mom likes to have a roast chicken, and roast lamb, and all that kind of stuff, and roast potatoes, and roast everything, and I live in the driest state, in the driest continent on the planet, and my mom … that’s not actually a joke, that’s a literal fact, and my mom lives in the country, which is surrounded by the desert. It’s like an oasis in the desert as well. At Christmas time it’s not unheard of for it to be a good 40 degrees on Christmas Day, which is over a 100 Fahrenheit.

Brandy:                   Oh, wow, yeah.

Rebecca:                So we have hot Christmases, and my mom said to me once, “What are you making for Christmas?” Because I was hosting, and she said, “What food are you doing?” I think it was my first year hosting and I said I’m going to do cold meats and salads, and she looked at me and she said, “Well, that’s just not Christmas then.”

Brandy:                   Wow.

Rebecca:                I shrugged and I said, “It’s my Christmas. It’s my Christmas, and you can do your Christmas at your house, and I would do my Christmas at my house.” She shrugged and there was no tension, that was just her stating her need, and then me telling her she can have that need at her house, and my need will be met when I’m hosting. So I don’t begrudge her the full Christmas dinner at her place, and I will help her prepare it, and all of that, but when it’s at my house I say that, “This is the way I’m doing it.”

Brandy:                   Good for you on that.

Rebecca:                It reduces the amount of work that I have to do as well, because you can prepare things more in advance if you’re not cooking a lot on the day.

Brandy:                   Yes, and that’s what kind of kills me about hearing about some people’s holidays is I have friends who will be like, “Oh, I’m hosting everybody this year, and it’s so much work.” I think, “Why do we do this?” Why isn’t it that the person who’s hosting is like, “Well, here is what I’ve got the bandwidth for,” and so I think part of that is setting the stage and saying, “Hey, this is what I have the bandwidth for, and so here’s what we’re going to do.”

Rebecca:                Exactly.

Brandy:                   And it’s like you kind of have to be brought to your knees in order to realize this, but at my house not only was I putting on the big production of all the gifts, and having everything all sorted out, and planned, and all of that, but then the day would come, and so then I would be making something to eat. It’s always been somewhat relatively easy, like I’ve done something in the crock pot that’s tacos, but even some of that, some of the sides that we have-

Rebecca:                Tacos at Christmas?

Brandy:                   I know. Well, we’re in California so-

Rebecca:                It’s so California.

Brandy:                   Yeah, so it feels really right, but the last couple of years I just … I also don’t want the day of to have to then gear up, and then put everything out, and make everything, so what we do is we do exactly like what you were talking about. We do sandwiches, and so we do lunch meat, and a whole bunch of veggies and bread, and all the condiments, and everything, and maybe I think as a side we either have like potato salad or chips and dip of some kind, or whatever. We have it so that whoever is hungry can go make their own. Again, we don’t have this big family fancy thing, but that’s not what I want out of my holiday. I want people, if they’re hungry I want them to be fed, but I don’t want to be the person that’s doing that for everybody on top of everything that I just did. It’s tricky because if you aren’t that kind of personality to speak up for what you need it feels like, “Oh, I could never,” but really if you are hosting something at your home you get to say everything that happens.

Rebecca:                Exactly, that’s what I was going to say, you’re the boss.

Brandy:                   Yes.

Rebecca:                If you’re the host, you’re the boss, and no one is allowed to dictate anything, if they want something their they can go and do it their way when it’s their turn, or they can do it their way at their house, but you’re going to do it your way at your place. When you are hosting a large gathering if you do have dominant people who do like to tell you what to do, just use that. Like for example, if I was hosting for a lot of people, and Mum wanted to have a hot meal I would delegate that to her.

Brandy:                   Right.

Rebecca:                I would say, “Well, I’m going to make the salads, and I’m going to make sure I’ve got all the cold meats, and the prawns, and those kinds of things, and you can roast something. That’s your job, you can roast something.” So if you’ve got people coming that will have a certain thing that they want to do then-

Brandy:                   Then they just signed up to bring that.

Rebecca:                Exactly, they have signed up to bring that so, “Yeah, that’s great. You do that. You bring that,” and delegate the pants off everyone. My sister-in-law once said, “Can you bring potatoes?” I’m like, “How do you want me to prepare them?” She goes, “No, just bring potatoes.”

Brandy:                   One less thing she had to do.

Rebecca:                Exactly, yeah. Just think about, again, write that list of everything you need to do, and go write, “This person brings the salad. This person brings the paté and biscuits. This person brings cheese. This person brings wine.” All that kind of stuff, they bring it, and all you have to do is serve it.

Brandy:                   So going back, one thing that I just remembered that I did, and I think maybe I talked about it in our episode about the decluttering for real people, is Christmas time, the holiday time, getting gifts even on their birthdays, is a time where I can get my kids to get rid of so many things that they otherwise would not get rid of. So a tip that I want to give to other people is to use this time to say, “You can’t get anything new if you don’t have any room for it,” which is how I phrase it to my kids, and then they are more than eager to go through all of their stuff and make space. They’re not keeping tabs on like, “Well, I gave up 20 things so I need to get 20 things,” but they’re just thinking, “I gotta get rid of some of this stuff.” Then we get a declutter, and the killer is you get the declutter, and it feels so good, and you’re like, “We should live like this always,” and then two weeks later you fill it up with new stuff.

Rebecca:                It’s full again.

Brandy:                   That’s what I’m trying not to do this year, is I’m trying not to fill it up completely, and so that’s what we’re going to see if the experiment works, but that’s a great way when kids have a hard time parting with things that I like to do.

Rebecca:                That’s a great idea.

Brandy:                   This year I was talking to my son about it the other night, and I was kind of putting it into his head, he’s 12, and I was like, “Well, this year I think we’re going to just try to not go overboard.” He was like, “Mom, that’s totally fine. You know as I get older,” he’s so mature, “As I get older, you know I don’t really need all of that stuff, and you know I only really want a couple things anyway. There’s one thing that I want that’s probably a little bit more expensive, and so maybe that is the only thing or whatever.” So I was like wow, it’s so amazing as they get older. But then we were going back and reminiscing about the big gift that he got each year, so he want back from last year, and the year before. We made it all the way down until he was seven, that he could remember what that big gift was, but then when we got to when he was six he couldn’t remember.

Brandy:                   So you know what that did for me, is my daughter is six, because I said to him, “We’re going to have a really hard time,” and by “we” I mean me, “We’re going to have a really hard time with her because she is used to maybe having a little bit more, and I’m worried about changing it up for her because she’s not as mature as you.” But then when we went back, and he couldn’t remember I’m like, “Can you remember anything about your Christmas when you were six?” He’s like, “No, I don’t think I can,” and I was like, “Hot damn, this is perfect!” She is six, I’m going to pare it down, and then hopefully the memories start at age seven, and then we’ve rewired the whole thing.

Brandy:                   So I’ll let you know how that goes, but I’m hopeful about it because of his lack of memory for that. I mean he was also the same kid that was like, “When I was two I think I remember getting this car tracks.” I’m sure it ebbs and it flows on the memory, but here’s hoping.

Rebecca:                That’s the thing, the things that they remember, like what you remember about your Christmases is hanging out at home, that’s the thing that you remember the most about Christmas. That feeling about it all is what lasts, not the actual stuff, and not all that they’re doing beforehand. Because there are things that when you make this list of all things you have to do, there’s also some non-negotiables – going to the kids’ Christmas concert, that might be a non-negotiable for you. So if you have to put a tick next to that whether you want to go or not, then you might have to put it across or next to something else has asked for, because there are non-negotiables.

Brandy:                   Yes, and I think the non-negotiables – I think a way to look at that too is to really look at those in a more critical, thoughtful way. Obviously the kids’ play, I can see how that’s a non-negotiable, but maybe take a look at your list of those things, and see what you’ve thought is a non-negotiable that’s actually negotiable. When you really think about the cost and the benefit of what the thing is, obviously there are somethings that you just can’t get out of, but maybe there are things that you can get out of more than you think you can, and you’ve always thought they were a non-negotiable. I guess what I’m saying is everybody’s non-negotiable as relatives. So some people really have those things that just are not negotiable, and other people maybe if they’re more of like a people-pleaser type, then maybe they have a list of 10 things that are non-negotiables, but maybe actually only two of those are.

Rebecca:                Yeah, and a lot of them are just, “This is the way we’ve always done it so we have to,” so really looking at that, through a different eye, like an outsider’s. You know, okay, listeners out there, when you write your list, when you read it, read it with Rebecca’s eye, not your-

Brandy:                   Deception.

Rebecca:                Yeah, deception, opt out, laziness, all that kind of stuff, but just pretend you’re reading it with my eye, pretend I’m reading your list, and then go, “What would Rebecca cut out?” Because by thinking about it from a different person’s perspective, and especially someone like me who’s more of extreme opter-outer, you might then see more opportunities where you could cross off and go, “Actually, if I was Rebecca, I’d cross this off. Can I actually cross this off as myself as well?” Does that make sense?

Brandy:                   Yeah, that’s a great idea. I really like that, and I think it’s so interesting what you were saying before, it’s kind of like we come full circle when you were saying, and we were talking about it’s not about the stuff, it’s about the feeling. That’s what we talked about on your other podcast, was with the decluttering, and I remember we were specifically talking about how do you decide which baby clothes to give away, because they all bring you this intense nostalgia and joy. Then I had such an aha moment when you said, “It’s not about the thing, it’s about the feeling that the thing brings you. So instead of keeping 20 pieces of clothing you could keep one or two, and have the same feeling.” So I think that that’s a great overall, overarching idea to bring to this, which is the same thing with the holidays. Instead of doing the 10 things, can you get the same feeling with doing two of them, and save your sanity, so actually in the end you get even better feeling?

Rebecca:                Yes. We worry about the kids missing out at Christmas if we don’t do all of the things, if we don’t go and visit Santa, or if we don’t do … this photo’s taken, if we don’t do the Elf on the Shelf, and all those things that they didn’t do, it doesn’t matter that it’s … it doesn’t matter, like it’s not such a big deal. You just do the things that you enjoy, and that you have the capacity to do. If decorating the tree, and the house is a big thing for you then go all in, go all in on that, and leave off some of the baking so that you can do the thing that you actually enjoy doing. Get the kids to, like you said, pick a favorite tradition only, and just pare it right down, and they are honestly, honestly going to be better off for it, because when you are happier they are happier.

Brandy:                   Yes. One of the main things I think to remember is that all this stuff, and all of these expectations, and this overwhelm, we create that for ourselves.

Rebecca:                Exactly.

Brandy:                   It’s rare when it’s the kids asking for it. They don’t need it, but we think that they need it, or we need it to mean something about us.

Rebecca:                Yes.

Brandy:                   But in fact, I think it’s a detriment to them, and to us, because if it’s a detriment to us it is to them. So really thinking about how we’re spending our time in these seasons, and to pull back, like even for Thanksgiving, I know that there’s not as much … I mean, there’s not nearly as much that goes into that, but even thinking about the day, and how you want that to go, and even rethinking. If you’re hosting, and you have people coming who expect a certain way, and that’s not what you want to do-

Rebecca:                They can do it.

Brandy:                   Then find a way out of that or delegate it to the teeth, like delegate it so hard that even before you come there is like, “Okay, I have a sign-up sheet, who is going to do the cleanup afterwards? Who’s going to bring this? Who’s going to do that?” so that you’re not going into it already feeling overwhelmed. I think that that is such a key, and again remembering that the overwhelm of having to do all the things, that is something that we create, and it’s not necessary. So to do as little as we can that still makes us happy, and enjoy the holiday.

Rebecca:                Exactly. Curate it.

Brandy:                   Okay, so we covered a lot here. I hope you’re feeling as inspired as I am about experimenting with things. You know, we deserve to enjoy the holidays as much as everyone else around us, and for some of us to make that a reality, we might need to do an overhaul. But if this feels like a lot, maybe just pick two or three things from this episode that stuck out to you, or maybe make a list of tasks that you like, and don’t like, and see where there’s room for cutting or delegating. Even just foregoing one or two things might make the entire holiday feel lighter. We are not striving for perfection here, we are just striving for something better.

Brandy:                   Make sure to join me next time for another holiday-inspired episode, where my guest and I will be tackling some of the less practical aspects of the holidays, and more of the emotional, familial, and boundary-setting challenges that this time of year (and all the personalities) can bring.

Brandy:                   If you want to continue this conversation online, make sure to follow Adult Conversation on Facebook, and Instagram – and I guess Twitter, even though it is still an enigma to me. But also, checkout the Adult Conversation Podcast Discussion group on Facebook, where myself, and other listeners like you discuss each episode. I always appreciate your podcast ratings and reviews. It only takes a second to look down at your app, and click five stars. Five stars! As always, thanks for listening.

** As always, thank you to Scott Weigel and his band, Seahorse Moon, for providing me with that jaunty intro and outro music. You guy are awesome. Check ’em out on iTunes.