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Seeking Higher Ground: ‘Too many junk’ from Christmas past

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When I was a teenager, long before the Marie Kondo simplification trend, a young Japanese woman came once a week to restore order to our home — a house peopled by two adults, three huskies, two cats and five teenagers. Miko’s real reason for housekeeping was to practice English; she wanted to master her second language well enough to manage her fiance’s martial arts studio after her wedding.

She practiced on us. Sometimes, the results were, well, “hanabanashī”!

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I keenly recall Miko opening our door, post-Christmas, and exclaiming, “Too many junk!”

Hai. So true, Miko-san.

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Recently, Olivia Pevec posted a photo showing the Near New Thrift Store’s steps blockaded by “too many junk” dumped there. Olivia issued a pleA: “Dear Carbondale, while considering what to give for Christmas or Chanukah, or whatever, remember that … our addiction to stuff is drowning not just this store, but the entire planet.”

I belong to two Facebook groups dedicated to building community, recycling and gifting. In both the local “Buy Nothing” and “Gifting Between the Valleys” groups, you can ask for something, gift something or thank someone. No money changes hands. Outgrown toys and housewares are re-gifted, new moms bond, appliances get fixed, magic happens. (A young man who couldn’t afford a guitar was gifted one after his mom posted an “ask.” Now he “brings it everywhere and plays every chance he gets.”)

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I asked these gifters to share traditions that celebrate the season’s deeper, spiritual meanings while avoiding white elephants that, frankly, don’t spark much joy.

Stacy Royal’s family creates a gratitude wall, an annual collage made of fabric and found objects. This year’s is a girl wearing a green velvet dress and a tiara. “This year we wrote what we are grateful for on the backs of snowflakes,” says Stacy. The snowflakes now falling around the long-haired girl “will be joined by many more by winter solstice.

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After Daria Stakiw-Harlow’s family draws names, each person plans a date or experience for one relative. “With little kids, the date has been massages, house cleaning, breakfast in bed, snowshoes and hikes. Older siblings have planned swimming, movie tickets, lunch dates and mani/pedis!”

Jeanie Child and Rachel Mulry emphasize experiences: pool passes, museum memberships, ski lessons, a trip to see the lights at the Denver Botanical Gardens. Rachel is giving the cousins a “family book club kit” that includes snacks and activities tied to a book. Books and activities will be shared in Skype dates that Rachel hopes “will help the cousins stay connected even though we live in different states.” For relatives who want to give “a thing”, Rachel asks for “supplies for art projects or games to play together.”

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Crafty! Art has many ways of capturing memories.

At Christmas, Cheryl Anne’s mother, grandmother and aunts would cut old clothes into squares. During the year, they made “memory quilts” from the squares. The quilts became gifts that honored a marriage or a new baby. “No matter how many miles separated our families, we were still together,” Cheryl recalls. “Years later…we would point out daddy’s overalls, my old cheerleading outfit, momma’s maternity blouse, grandma’s apron. Grandma insisted we not waste things, and would call them “the fabric of our lives’.” Now, “those raggedy old quilts are priceless.”

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Here’s more art magic: Last week, Carbondale Arts directed a woman I’ll call Alice to my Alaprima artists group. Alice explained that her family draws lots and gifts one family member. Gifts must fit a theme. This year, it’s “locally made” — and Alice’s gift will be locally made in my studio! I got Alice’s commission, the job of painting a “before” portrait of a truck that’s being tenderly restored by Alice’s father-in-law. That adds up to wonderfully personal gift for him, and a project that feels like one for me too.

Many folks make cookies and goodies for neighbors and friends. Maura Carlson gives homemade cookies to the police, firemen and hospital on Christmas morning. “We also did 12 days of Christmas to someone who had a loss or difficult year,” she says. “We gave things like pear bread or two turtle candies taped to two Dove chocolates. We left it secretly at the door each day with a sweet note.”

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My husband, Mason, buys lunch for the staff at the Carbondale Library. (This was a secret until a librarian thanked me for his generosity!)

Alica Hamlin Stanley’s family fills Christmas stockings with snacks, socks and hygiene items. When they hand the stockings to homeless folks, “their faces always light up.” Tessa Ice and her kids do the same. Tessa says, “I want my kids to grow up with the focus being on loving and blessing others and not about what they want to get under the tree!”

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Frankly, all these ideas sparked joy for me. Arigato, friends. You’re all hanabanashī!