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I live a minimalist lifestyle, but there was a time when my cluttered schedule in December told a different story. Now I have a new tradition — doing less but with more love. I began to connect to the part of me that craves mental simplicity.

Before, my pattern was to make a list that I didn’t even have to check twice. I was too busy doing. My mother’s-mind had become programmed to think consequentially, in terms of supply and demand. If the cards didn’t get sent out early enough, or if they didn’t go out at all, I graded myself with a holiday F.

On top of all else I aspired to the notion that the house ought to be cleaner than usual, with a perfectly decorated tree. When the cat batted the ornaments and the dog (or the baby) chewed them, I lost hope.

Then one year in early December, shortly after adopting our third child, I heard a dark horse in my mind, calling to me.

“Call and cancel,” it whispered.

“Don’t take down the box of holiday decorations this year.”

“Do less, and do it with more love.”

I told my family that we were going to celebrate with a nature theme. The kids and I went to the florists and bought Baby’s Breath, and we strung the tree with white lights and tucked small clumps of the white Baby’s Breath into the branches. We placed a pair of red flowers on the table, to increase the energy of health and vitality. And that’s all we did. The effect was stunning, simple.

I wish that I could tell you I learned about being more with less right then and there, but I didn’t. I also didn’t learn it the year my son had cancer and was undergoing chemotherapy. That year the fear of the unknown gave me the incentive to do just a little more for the holidays. Sure, I wanted to have some wonderful memories for my three children to remember so that they would be able to recall more than hospitals and sickness. Yet, my inspiration in the cancer years came from realizing that I like doing something a little bit special for my family whenever I can, because I know my usual tendency is to get caught up in the tangle and I rush through my days.

But I didn’t rush through anything when my son had cancer. I moved through each minute with careful thought. My mind was a camera capturing each second. Cancer did have some unexpected good surprises for me, however. It taught me about the power of now, to pay attention to each moment. And it shook up our holiday traditions, teaching me to go against the grain, to let things go haywire and to let go of the outcome.

Except the lesson didn’t stick. Every December my frenzy returned, and after my son grew healthy again I reverted back, back to holiday doing.

Then one Christmas years and years later, age gave me what I had always longed for. Perhaps other people might live forever, but I am pretty sure I won’t. The memory that I want to last and be passed on is that I am a person who is not always a busy, frantic woman with worry wrinkles around her eyes. I also want it to go down in history that I am relaxed and fun to be with.

Every year since I have de-cluttered my commitments and allowed myself freedom and breathing space. There are the years when I do send the cards, bake the cookies, and go to-ing and fro-ing. But I never do everything in the same year anymore. Now I choose one or two things to focus on. My rule is that it must be something I want to do, no obligations, and I let the rest slide so that I will have time to go sledding or spend a lazy afternoon reading book, or gaze at the night sky, cold, clear and studded with stars.

The result is the December holiday season is no longer crazy-making for me. I look forward to the one or two things I want to do with more love.

This is what I want to claim, for the time I give to be remembered. That is why I now wrap it, and not objects, and give my time as a gift to my family.

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