The Halloween decorations have been packed away, and while I am not ready to festoon my house with glittery Christmas flair, the stores are certainly ready for me to do so. Every display window is suddenly jammed full of ho-ho-ho, every object less about the thing itself and more about the moment it promises to deliver. I’ve been budget-crunching for long enough that I’ve mostly stopped lusting after what I cannot have, but the holiday crush, ah, it’s something else entirely. There is so much stuff everywhere, my god, so much stuff. It’s all so tempting and well-lit and offered through a whirling cloud of nostalgia and I tell myself it’s the twinkling pretty paper on an enormous calculating machine that can break you if you’re not careful but jesus it still presses my I want buttons one after another. It seems custom-designed to make me grab for all sorts of things that are just out of reach.

Money money money money. Time time time time. Time is money or money is time or maybe the two should have nothing to do with each other but they’re standing there with locked hands nonetheless. Red Rover, Red Rover. A school course description catalogue arrived in the mail a while ago and I left it on the table for a night before folding it, unopened, into the recycling. There’s no money right now, or maybe the more important fact is that there’s no time, or maybe it doesn’t matter which there isn’t enough of.

I miss writing, not for deadlines or assignments, but for the pure joy of it. There’s not much time for that lately, either.

There are plenty of other things, though. So many good moments lately, laughter and silly rituals and conversations I wish I could capture in amber. Store them away preserved, intact, for some future day when I can draw out just a microscopic amount and be flooded all over again with this exact time in our lives.

I’m trying to keep that in mind as the decorations and ads and pitches get into full swing so I can stop myself from fretting over not having custom-printed holiday photo cards or a rented snow-dolloped cabin in Sunriver or that inexplicably satisfying weight of department store bags on my arm. We have our family, our little unit who loves each other. That’s more than enough. It’s the real happiness all that stuff is trying to sell.

The imbalances, I think, will work themselves out. Today is temporary, which is both the joy and sorrow of it all.


42 Responses to “Scales”

  1. Kathy on November 11th, 2010 3:40 pm

    <We have our family, our little unit who <loves each other. That’s more than enough. <It’s the real happiness all that stuff is <trying to sell.

    That says every bit of it all. Brought me to tears.

  2. Kelly P on November 11th, 2010 3:41 pm

    Well, you could have the custom-printed holiday photo cards… I saw another blogger write about them on her website – apparently you can get some free if you just write about it on your blog. I’m relatively new here so I don’t know if you do that kind of thing, but I thought I’d let you know.

    I agree with your point wholeheartedly though. Family over the trivial stuff for sure.

  3. becky on November 11th, 2010 3:41 pm

    thank you for a great reminder.
    “It’s the real happiness all that stuff is trying to sell.” – this is going to go up on my wall to remind me what is important while i start to worry and hustle and fret about thanksgiving and christmas and all of it. thank you.

  4. Mama Ritchie on November 11th, 2010 3:55 pm

    We spent years not making enough money, and living in want for all the things that everyone seemed to have but us. Then a funny thing happened. We suddenly found ourselves making enough money, and it was instantly that we stopped wanting things. It seems so indulgent, and cumbersome – accumulating things to get maybe a fleeting moment of joy.

    We get more joy putting the extra money away for our kids’ futures, and for providing for those family members and friends who may need it more than we do. And the best times are not playing with our new gadget or watching a bigger TV. They are, instead, the days we all end up in our bed – all five of us, if you include the dog (which we always do) – giggling and laughing and wrestling and playing. This is an important post, especially at this materialistic time. It’s important to focus on the intangibles that really make life worth living.

  5. Sam on November 11th, 2010 4:06 pm

    You hit the nail on the head. You already have the happiness ‘all that stuff is trying to sell’. So, so true.

  6. Michele on November 11th, 2010 4:13 pm

    Thank you for writing this post. So many of us are in the same position.

  7. Erica on November 11th, 2010 4:13 pm

    A great message. We’re going into this Christmas down one job, and in the midst of a real estate deal gone horribly wrong. There won’t be a Christmas for us, but alas, I’m wrong. There will be us, and our special ‘others’, and that’s our most important earthly gift isn’t it…

  8. Cosmopolitan Kids on November 11th, 2010 4:22 pm

    I totally agree with you. However, as holidays come and go, I find myself bored by all of the commercialism and wanting to avoid it all entirely. My daughter is pretty young and I’m trying to figure out how to get her to make her own gifts and make the season more heartfelt.

    Great post. I enjoy your blog.


  9. Aubrey on November 11th, 2010 4:31 pm

    It’s been a lean year financially for my whole family, and we’re planning a holiday season of “experiences” rather than “things.” None of us actually need anything, but since my siblings and I have (mostly) grown up, we have discovered that family get-togethers are the thing we enjoy most: huge meals, obnoxiously loud games, making jokes about football, and being together.

  10. jen on November 11th, 2010 4:43 pm

    de-lurking to say, oh, did i love this entire post, but especially this:

    “The imbalances, I think, will work themselves out. Today is temporary, which is both the joy and sorrow of it all.”

    it is so, so easy to forget that it IS people who make our lives worthwhile, not things. thank you for the reminder :)

  11. LisaK on November 11th, 2010 4:57 pm

    Long time lurker and I have to say — well said and exactly !

  12. Kate on November 11th, 2010 5:57 pm

    I’m sorry if you already answered this, but have you considered financial aid? So many more people qualify these days and it’s fairly easy to apply.

  13. Laura on November 11th, 2010 6:05 pm

    “Today is temporary, which is both the joy and sorrow of it all.”

    This line is so poetic and so true.

    Great post – I can totally relate.


  14. Donna on November 11th, 2010 6:23 pm

    Every year I swear that I am just going to go away somewhere so I can miss the whole thing, and just hole up in a cabin and watch it snow, where the perfect gift would be someone else bringing wood in for the fireplace.
    I’m sick of it. Someone always gets hurt feelings, someone always chooses to go somewhere else trashing all the plans that have been made, someone is always let down, and we all spend waaaay too much money that will come back to haunt you in the spring, so that not only was your xmas ruined, but your new year too. I’ve gotten to where it’s okay, I’ll cook, if anyone shows up that’s cool, if not, then whatever. And presents for the kids only. Other than that, I’m just not doing it anymore. All the stores, and decorations, and junk that I want want want? Can just bite me.
    I do enjoy the music, and movies though, and that part I can live with, Charlie Brown, Rudolph, Frosty, a christmas story, and of course, how the grinch stole christmas. The rest? Just tired of it, and want to go away.

  15. Claire on November 11th, 2010 6:30 pm

    It presses your ” I want” buttons? Why? Whst is it you want?

  16. Taryn on November 11th, 2010 6:55 pm

    Really great post. I agree, although it can be hard to remember that. I sometimes struggle with what other people have, especially when it’s other family members who you spend part of the holidays with. You have a beautiful family and what great experiences you are all having this year.

  17. sooboo on November 11th, 2010 9:28 pm

    Nice post that I think is timely for lots of people. The holidays are really about spending time together, but man, they are soooo good at making us want that stuff this time of year and I’m not normally a stuff wanter either.

  18. Kristin on November 11th, 2010 9:59 pm

    “Today is temporary, which is both the joy and sorrow of it all.”

    Just Lovely.

    I was shopping at Target on October 23rd, and there was CHRISTMAS MUSIC playing. Before Halloween? WTF?

  19. Kim on November 11th, 2010 10:26 pm

    You are such an eloquent writer, Linda, I love this post. Thanks for some great thoughts.

  20. Shawna on November 11th, 2010 10:45 pm

    For what it’s worth to help save your budget but still satisfy the yen to send personalized cards: I send inexpensive cards but print pics of the kids myself on my computer to include as inserts, and relatives don’t seem to notice I’m going the cheap route. They’re just happy to get pics of the kids. I print 2 on a 4×6 sheet and cut them in half.

  21. Jean on November 12th, 2010 4:56 am

    I also love this post.

  22. Deanna on November 12th, 2010 4:59 am

    I shop at the thriftstore and yardsales all year for xmas gifts. I have a list on the computer and I plan to be completely done before Dec 1. I have found cool t shirts for almost everyone on my list and I barter services with a mom who does machine embroidery (her + thriftstore fleece throws = awesomely personalized gifts on the cheap cheap!). We make a whole bunch of crafts and gift those (toilet paper tube reindeer, clay covered styrofoam balls, beaded candycanes, shrinky dinks – just a few on the To Do list). This years new craft to try is decorated mugs. Ceramic paint pens from the craft store, thriftstore mugs, bake in the oven = permanent washable memories!

  23. Jen on November 12th, 2010 6:09 am

    Oh I love this post. And “Today is temporary, which is both the joy and sorrow of it all”, well that just couldn’t be any more perfect or true.

  24. Carrie on November 12th, 2010 6:18 am

    Thank you for this post. I needed to hear this today!

  25. Debbie on November 12th, 2010 7:18 am

    You may already do something similar to this but a lack of money last year drove us to do a homemade advent calendar and I am so excited to use it again this year. I made envelopes for Dec. 1- Dec. 25 and put a special activity in each day’s envelope. We hung them across the fireplace and got to open one each morning. It was all pretty much free stuff, i.e. watch Christmas movie, string popcorn, Christmas craft, sing silly carols, make cookies, etc. I also looked around for bigger things like festivals or Santa visits and put those in the weekend envelopes. My son loved it and it was a good, cheap way to get into the spirit.

  26. Hope on November 12th, 2010 7:53 am

    I want those last two paragraphs tattooed on my hand because they were so perfectly said. I keep trying to remind myself of just that lately.

  27. Amy Fox on November 12th, 2010 8:13 am

    I prefer to send real pictures as inserts to cards instead of doing the printed holiday card. That way, our friends and family have a picture of us all or whomever I can get in the photo (if I manage it) to keep all year, most likely on our families refrigerators. If you send the holiday card, those seem silly to have on display come July with the Xmas or winter themed frames. They are also usually bigger, so harder to fit on the fridge with everything else.


  28. Liz on November 12th, 2010 8:16 am

    Your comment about not enough time to write for fun reminded me of a quote from one of my favorite writers, Linda Holmes (she used to be at TWoP, as Miss Alli, and is now the NPR Pop Culture journalist). She wrote somewhere, once, that writing, just like anything else, is a job, and that some days it’s just as tedious to get through as a status report/conference call/excel sheet. The way she said it was kind of a light bulb-over-head moment, sort of “You can eventually get your dream job, but at some point, it’s still work, and that’s …just the way it goes.” It’s hard for me to imagine, given that I like to write and the idea of getting paid to do so seems intoxicating, but, yes: it’s work, and it’s different they getting to sit back and write, just for yourself, just for the sake of it.

    (I know that wasn’t the point of the post, but it did resonate with me)

  29. Sarah on November 12th, 2010 8:25 am

    Remembering what is important is so tough at this time of year…the advertising pushes for things. I’m marking this post to come back to it often as things get crazy.

  30. Tammy on November 12th, 2010 8:32 am

    When the kids were younger we hit hard times…and when I say hard times I mean HARD.
    One Christmas we had to buy their gifts from the dollar store and we bought the Christmas tree from Goodwill for 5 dollars….which we got home and found, it had no top. So we had half a tree (the wide base) a bunch of blue balls and tinsel and a handful of crappy cheapo plastic toys that fell apart as soon as you looked at them.
    I felt such a huge amount of guilt that I would not be able to give them the Christmas that I felt they deserved.
    Fast forward 8 years and things are way better now and my almost grown kids talk about THAT Christmas more than any other.

    “Remember the smurf tree, Mom?”
    “Remember how we had to balance some branches on the tree so it looked like it had a top?”

    Follow that with tons of laughter and they will happily tell you that the Smurf Christmas was the best Christmas they ever had.

  31. Katie on November 12th, 2010 9:11 am

    Thank you, thank you. The timing of this is perfect as I am starting to get into a tailspin about Christmas. Gifts! Parties! Baking! Thank you for bringing me back down to earth and remember what is truly important.
    So many times I also throw the catalogs in the trash before I even open them so that I don’t even have the chance to start the ‘I wants’. It’s just better if I don’t know what I am missing. (Although yours was education and mine is “stuff”)

  32. KKF on November 12th, 2010 9:23 am

    Custom cards you say?
    Take a “school” day and hit a lesson on mass-production and have the boys make the cards for you/with you by stamping large shapes of different colors on blank cards. Tuck a family picture on the inside and you’re gold. They can even make the stamps out of leaves, their own hands, weeds and grasses… it’ll be super messy and unpredictable and a TOTAL win with your card recipients.
    The farther away from perfect they are, the better they’ll look.
    Keep it simple. Everyone wins.

  33. Maja on November 12th, 2010 9:58 am

    I’m a pretty new follower of your blog, living on another continent and living a completely different life. First of all thank you for your courage to share your thoughts so openly. I love your blog! From my own experience I know that sometime it’s easier to cope with a tight financial situation if you change perspective. It’s hard not to buy stuff if you forced into this financial situation but it’s easy if you choose not to buy stuff because it’s “only stuff”. There are a lot smart people out there in the web who have stopped buying stuff we do not need just because we are all so used to and told do it. If you are interested please check out Francine Jay’s blog at or Tammy Strobel’s at who are both are great source of inspiration!
    (English is not my mother tongue, so please apologise any typos or incorrect expressions).

  34. MRW on November 12th, 2010 10:14 am

    This was us last year. We were down to one income and bought presents for the nieces and my son and something very small for the baby (only because my son would have been horrified if Santa hadn’t brought the baby anything) and gave each other very small items. This year, we are back to two incomes after almost a year without and like Mama Richie said, even though we have the money, I don’t seem to feel like buying anymore – frankly, I’d rather have the time back, but that wasn’t financially feasible. Not sure where I’m going with this other than to say the kids didn’t mind the smaller Christmas and for me, once I got past the initial buyer’s withdrawal, it felt more manageable – chucking the catalogues in the recycling so they never get in the door and using my lunch hour to exercise so I’m almost never near stores other than the grocery store has helped quite a bit with the I wants too.

  35. Katherine on November 12th, 2010 11:57 am

    This post has perfect timing for me in a way not really related to Christmas but to the longing under my “I want” button. Your words have helped me shift perspective and come up with a different way to satisfy it. THANKS!

  36. Annemie Tonken on November 12th, 2010 12:55 pm

    The thing that gets me is that SO MANY PEOPLE in our country right now are in EXACTLY your shoes, and yet the advertisers would have us all believe that we are the only ones not buying diamonds/cars/vacations/other-absurdly-expensive-gifts for our loved ones this holiday season. I’m not even religious and the commercialism of it all gets to me. What happened to oranges in our stockings and a hand-knit pair of mittens or something?

    Anyway, I put a blog post up earlier this week about a lower-cost, personal way to make holiday cards… you could even get the boys to help out with the stamping :)

  37. Kris on November 12th, 2010 2:00 pm

    Just wanted to tell you that I think you’re a really good writer. You capture things I’ve thought and felt so well.

  38. CC on November 12th, 2010 6:20 pm

    “Today is temporary, which is both the joy and sorrow of it all.”

    You just gave me my Christmas present. Thank you.

  39. Courtney on November 12th, 2010 8:57 pm

    That was lovely and so well written. It brought tears to my eyes. I am feeling the same way about overspending and the joy of the season and the supreme joy of loving my family. I just found you through classychaos and I have loved reading through your posts. You are a beautiful writer, I am so happy to have found your blog.

  40. Jennifer on November 12th, 2010 10:18 pm

    So many more fun things in the upcoming season than “collecting more stuff.” In addition to your beautiful family you already have some great stuff to display for the season — that little angel-chime thing, and the sheep that poops jelly beans! Make some cookies and wrap in tissue with ribbon: instant gifts that people will LOVE more than some glittery expensive thing. I’m already looking forward to my niece’s peanut brittle – and sitting around crunching it while enjoying coffee and nog with her and the family is the best gift I could ask for.

  41. sadie on November 15th, 2010 8:54 pm

    Another eloquent piece of writing, Linda. It brought back, for me, a great memory from last Christmas. My brother and I, after years of 6-figure sales jobs, BOTH found ourselves unemployed and poor and bereft last Christmas. I picked him up at the train station on Christmas Eve day and we drove around making jokes about our misfortune, laughing as we compared the depths of our respective poverty (“I consigned my SHOES!” “I haven’t had a vegetable in 3 weeks!” “I robbed a homeless person!”), and trying desperately to think of gifts to go in on together for our family. Somehow we ended up at a pet store and we bought a guinea pig. Don’t ask me WTF, I ask it myself every day as I shovel green pellets into this squeaking rodent’s cage, and laugh to myself about how fun that Christmas was.

  42. Rachel on November 16th, 2010 10:41 pm

    This is a really good time of year to unplug the cable. We’ve got a giant stack of holiday movies on rotation, saves us from any kind of commercials.

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