Become a Christmas Minimalist

Season’s Greetings from a Christmas Minimalist

I’ve never been one of those bubbly people who sparkles during the holiday season.  I am more of the Meredith Grey type, a bit dark and twisty.  I am also one of those people who believe that Christmas has become a massive marketing campaign – overlong, overdone and overbearing.

But I’m not a complete bah humbug, Debbie downer type either.  I enjoy eating and drinking with friends and family. I allow myself to eat Lindt chocolate balls even though each one contains 4.5g of saturated fat and 80 calories. I sing Christmas carols in the car. There are lights strung up outside my house, and my Christmas tree is up and decorated.  I get my annual fix of the Sound of Music.  And I buy gifts.

So, maybe I’ve become a Christmas minimalist of sorts.

It Used to be Bad

When my kids were small, I bought gifts for everyone.  Their teachers, coaches, babysitters,  neighbours, our friends’ kids, family members of and of course, my own kids.  I think I had over 60 recipients at one point. In those days, I would start to feel the pressure the day after Hallowe’en. Gift giving was time consuming, stressful and strained my pocketbook.  I tried hard to come up with budget friendly ideas and would shop warehouse sales and then package items so that they looked more expensive than they were. Finally, I’d force myself to do all the wrapping on the 2nd or 3rd Saturday evening in December.  I’d start around 9PM and would not stop until every last gift was wrapped and ticketed with my custom made tags.

the minimalist inspiration

Years ago, a friend’s boyfriend thought that spending anything less then $1,000 in gifts was not good enough for his only nephew.  My friend did not have that kind of money but still scraped together several hundred dollars to lavish gifts on this boy who, by the way, did not need a single thing she gave him. And quite frankly, did not appreciate them.

She also bought gifts for all her co-workers, friends, neighbourhood kids, service workers, all sorts of people. With some members of her family, she would accumulate items over several months and at Christmas, would spend a couple hundred dollars to ship these large, heavy boxes.  This was a woman who did not earn much and was even unemployed for a while. She would spend money she did not have to buy presents she could not afford.

I think about her situation every Christmas.  I know I judged her at the time.  I thought that she felt that she had to give a lot of gifts in order to be liked (that’s my dark and twisty side speaking).  Looking at it now, maybe it just made her feel good.  I don’t know.

But for myself, I gave so many gifts out of a sense of obligation that sprung from having children. And okay, maybe some of it was trying to impress people with my creativity.   I know that only a few of those gifts actually came from my heart.

I shudder when I think about those years.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy gift giving. I just don’t enjoy buying for the sake of buying. And I hate when gift giving creates a sense of obligation. And I really don’t like the one-upmanship that some people indulge in or the expectation that you need to spend a lot of money.

How to be a Christmas minimalist

While I consider myself just a “wanna be” minimalist, I am getting better at it as the years pass.

  1. DO buy or make consumables.  They land in peoples’ stomachs, not in landfills. Who doesn’t love bottles of olive oil, cava and packages of jamon brought back from Spain during a recent holiday? Or some locally made smokey balsamic vinegar?  Or mango salsa (homemade but not by me) delicious on that Christmas tourtiere.  For myself, I am hoping my daughter makes me some of her super yummy date squares.
  2. DO buy or make experiences.  This year I am hoping for a gift certificate to a spa.  That would beat the Apple Operating System for Dummies book from last year. For nieces and nephews, I am getting them movie gift cards.  For my family, I am thinking of booking one of those murder mystery dinners or scavenger hunts over the holidays. It’ll be fun and something we will remember down the road.
  3. DO DIY. Last year, I made dozens of bath bombs, packaged them and gave them as gifts to the staff at my mother’s nursing home.  This year, I’m getting a friend to mix some soothing essential oil blends along with some homemade soap.  I’ve got some other great recipes for body wash, lip balms, sea salt scrubs, and body butters that I could use to make personal gifts for friends and family.
  4. DON’T add to landfills. Not to be negative but I find the amount of waste that North Americans produce truly appalling. Take a look at where our fast fashion ends up. I want to actively minimize my participation in activities that add to environmental destruction. We all should.

So from my minimalist perspective, gift giving is fine.  It’s about creating a positive experience or feeling for the recipient.  And that doesn’t necessarily mean that it takes a lot of money or time to accomplish that.  It’s not about me anymore.  And as a result, I’m enjoying it more.

Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Happy New Year!

What is my Purpose?

When you Google the word “purpose”, this is the definition that comes up:

The reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.

What is my purpose?

This is one of the questions you ask when you’re trying to find the meaning of life and your role in it.  I know what it was before.  When I was a young girl, my purpose was to listen to my parents, do well in school and practice piano.  As I grew older, it was to finish university, find a job, get married and have kids.  While I did get side-tracked for a couple of years and kicked around Europe, I pretty much stuck to the plan. As an adult, I got married, bought a home and had kids. My purpose then, was to pay down the mortgage, be a good mom and do my best at my job.

I think that I have mixed up purpose with other words like role, expectation, obligation.

I just read this article called How to Find Your Life Purpose: An Unconventional Approach. Leo talks about personal bubbles and how we need to break out from them. Bubbles are places where we are the centre of the universe, feel safe and comfortable. Leaving the bubble makes us uncomfortable. But when we do, we get a broader view of the world and the people in it. We acknowledge our shortfalls and learn new skills. We become bigger than ourselves.  And only then can we move beyond ourselves to a greater sense of purpose.

I agree with Leo.  I spent years unknowingly stuck firmly in my bubble.  Now that I have exited the hamster wheel and my kids have moved into adulthood,  it’s easier for me to see this.

But It’s been a Pretty Good Year

I have been trying to exit my bubble this year.  I have always told other people to put themselves out there.  Otherwise, luck, fortune or opportunity will not find them.  It’s good advice but I wasn’t good at following it myself.  I had “really” good excuses though.  Too busy, too tired, too stressed out – sound familiar?

As 2017 comes to a close, I am happy about what I’ve done this year.  Have there been any earth-shattering accomplishments?  Have I made a ton of money? Have I made a big list of objectives and checked them off one after the other?  Well, no.  But still, this retirement thing takes getting used to.  I never realized how hard it would be to break free of habits that I developed over 30 years at one company. Picking up new skills is more challenging than it used to be.  Being free and having too much choice is shockingly paralyzing. But at least now I am doing things versus thinking about them. So for me, positive steps forward indeed.

What I Really Came Here to Talk About

And oh, I did start out by talking about purpose.  My original intent for this blogpost was to talk about why I haven’t written anything in 8 months even though I had good intentions. Some of it is because I got busy doing other things.  But it’s more that I haven’t figured out what the purpose of this blog is.  I know I enjoy practicing my writing.  I like  that the blog is a vehicle to express things that I might otherwise bottle in. I enjoy the community of bloggers even though I’ve not participated much this year.  But like my life, I’ve not really determined what purpose this blog serves.

So many of the blogs I read have clear purpose and intent written by people who are experts in their field.  Or, they offer opinions on people/places/things. Or, they teach me to do things like cook or make DIY products. But I am no expert at getting older. I am not an academic or even a deep thinker. I am very practical at heart. I do have opinions. I dole out advice.  But my day-to-day life is not so exciting that I find a lot of subject matter to write about.

I am hoping that if I stay outside my bubble, I will find luck, fortune and opportunity. And then the true purpose of my blog and maybe even my life will drift my way.  I am going to try to document the small steps I am taking to see the bigger picture of where I am heading comes to me in a aha moment.  So expect to see me more frequently than every 8 months.  🙂




Taoist T’ai Chi Surprised Me

I tried T’ai chi when I was 25 years old.  Since I was (and still am) very impatient, I found it far too slow so I quit after a few classes.   Jump ahead 30 years and it’s now the right speed.   I started last year knowing that I needed to find a way to relieve the overwhelming amount of stress I was experiencing at that time.   I ended up selecting T’ai Chi for several reasons:

  1. IMG_1481I had heard T’ai Chi being referred to as Moving Meditation.  I thought this might work better for me than Yoga which I have tried multiple times.
  2. I am of Chinese descent and I thought that this was a way to connect with my heritage
  3. I already have arthritis in my fingers.   Look at these knuckles, especially the middle finger.  My elderly mother has arthritis and osteoporosis amongst other things, and due to her lack of exercise, she is bound to a wheelchair.  If I live to be as old as she is, I want to prevent that from happening to me.
KR Tai Chi
Google Maps captured my silver Impreza parked outside

I decided on the Taoist Tai Chi club simply because there is a studio close to home.  I took a crash course to learn all 108 moves over an 11-hour beginners’ weekend.   Although I have participated in hundreds of aerobics classes, I was surprised to find that not only was I struggling to memorize the sequence of moves, I had also developed 2 left feet.  Nonetheless, I remained enthusiastic and dutifully attended class 3 times per week.

Taoist T’ai Chi surprised me in many other ways.

  1. There is no syllabus in Taoist T’ai Chi.  No precise and predetermined execution of movement and placement like there is in ballet.   Master Moy’s philosophy was to customize the move to the individual since each person will have different issues
  2. Taoist T’ai Chi is about continuous improvement and learning.  Even for those who have studied for decades.  It does not remain static.  It lives.
  3. I still find it a bit on the slow side but that no longer annoys me.  In fact, I strangely enjoy the minutiae that can sometimes be Taoist T’ai Chi
  4. I have strengthened my core.
  5. I sweat.
  6. The membership is primarily Caucasian
  7. There is no judgement

I am not sure if all my expectations were met with Taoist T’ai Chi but I can say that I have made progress.   My mind stays relatively uncluttered while in class and when practicing.  If I am thinking about anything at all, it’s about executing the corrections I’ve been given.   I don’t worry, my mind wanders much less than when I have tried to meditate in the past.   I feel calm.   Taoist T’ai Chi has been an anchor during my year of transition to retirement. It has provided me with focus, regular exercise, volunteer opportunities and of course, social interaction.  While the membership itself is not very Asian, the society’s principles are.  Sometimes I stare at the posters littered around the studio.  The one that resonates most with me lists the 8 virtuesvirtues.  Filial Piety, Sibling Harmony, Dedication, Trustworthiness, Propriety, Sacrifice, Honour, and Sense of Shame.

Each virtue is described in more detail on the website but when I look at the poster in class, I try to think of how I exhibit (or don’t exhibit) the characteristics. While I am FAR FAR FAR away from being a model for the 8 virtues, the poster regularly reminds me of the characteristics and behaviours needed to become a better human being.  I try to work on one thing at a time.  I’ve spent 55 years developing some bad attitudes and habits, it’ll take a while.

This sounds like a cliche but Taoist T’ai Chi is for everyone and anyone.  I am only in mid-life and still healthy but there are many members who have serious health issues who practice T’ai Chi. Some suffer from severe diseases (like Parkinsons) that affect mobility.  Others have had terrible accidents that resulted in limited movement.  There many other members who practice T’ai Chi for the mental relaxation and physical exercise.  Every member has his/her personal story.  Some are in the video below.

So all in all, I am grateful that I found Taoist T’ai Chi.  I feel that it’s helped me both physically, mentally and emotionally.  I thank my lucky stars that I am healthy. Practicing this art form is a way of staying that way.  It is something that I will continue even if I embrace other forms of exercise and/or meditation.  It has certainly earned a continued place in my life.