Now that another Christmas is past us, I’ve been thinking more about the holiday season, frugality, family, and giving. As perhaps you’ve noticed, I hate the concept of expected gifts. I believe gifts should come from the heart, not because the calendar tells you it’s time to buy things. It kills me to see the kids tearing open a dozen gifts and throwing the things that don’t immediately interest them over their shoulder. And the ones that do hold their interest may only do so for a week or two, until they’re distracted by some other new toy or video game. So it came as a bit of a surprise to me when my fiancé and I were shopping for a couple last minute Christmas gifts, and I suggested to him that we buy an additional gift for two of his nephews.
My fiancé has two siblings who each have two kids. All in all, there are three boys and a girl. He had already bought two things for one nephew, and we picked up three pieces of clothing for his niece, and he told me he had gotten one bigger gift for his other two nephews to share. I think I floated to the top of Target and had an out of body experience when I listened to myself say to him, “I think we should get something else for the two of them so they don’t feel like their cousins each got multiple things from us and they have to share one gift.” So we picked up another little gift for the two of them and went on our way.
What happened to me? I suggested buying an additional gift? Who am I? The fact is, Christmas is out of control. I may hate buying things for people that they don’t need or even particularly want, but I also don’t want us to become the grinch-like aunt and uncle of the family. I don’t want my fiancé’s nephews, or more likely his siblings, to feel like we’re slighting them, or favoring certain kids over others. Gift giving has become a mine field, where something I already dislike is now a dangerous game of trying not to offend people. And I’m playing the game whether I like it or not.
It’s not all bad though. The adults in the family don’t participate in the craziness of extravagant gift-giving. For the adults, we do secret santa and put a maximum on the cost of the gifts. Now perhaps I’m admitting to my grinch-like ways, but I enjoy watching adults opening gifts much more than kids. Adults at least try and humor you if they don’t like what you gave them, while kids just toss the gift off to the corner of the room to be forgotten. I think I did a pretty good job getting a gift for my future brother-in-law, and it was nice seeing him open it and I think he really liked it. That’s what gift-giving is all about. Giving someone something that they like and will use. Maybe they wouldn’t have bought it for themselves because it wasn’t really a necessity. Maybe they would have bought it for themselves and you’re saving them money by giving it as a gift. Either way, you’ve given them something they wanted and you feel good about it. That’s the true joy in gift-giving.
So what else has been going on this holiday season? Well, I took a week off from writing for starters. I didn’t intend to do so, but I don’t think I realized quite how much I needed a break. There is a lot going on in my office right now, so the last week before the holidays was very stressful and not terribly enjoyable for me. I was counting down the hours until I could leave the office for a sweet week and a half. And now that almost a week has passed, I’m finally started to feel antsy to get stuff done. This past week I’ve slept in, I haven’t exercised, I’ve eaten too much food, I haven’t written anything, and I haven’t spent as much time practicing music (I have a few performances coming up) as I should have. For the first four or five days, it felt great to have no responsibilities. But yesterday I started to feel completely worthless.
Those of us working hard and saving our money in hopes of reaching early retirement sometimes wonder if we’d get bored or feel useless sitting at home all day without any work. The answer is yes! But there are always things to do to fill that time and give purpose to your life. Now that I’ve gotten a week of doing absolutely nothing out of my system, I’m ready to be productive with my remaining time off! To start with, I’m writing this post! Also in the hopper for the next few days: I’m going to go for a run at least three times before going back to work, I’m going to finish learning all my music, clean my bathroom, vacuum the house, and get back on track with my diet. This is what I see when I imagine an early retirement. Not lying around like a bump on a log all day, because after a week of it I’ll feel like a worthless excuse for a human being. I’m sure everyone who retires spends a little bit of time doing absolutely nothing. But then they get the itch to do things, be productive, better themselves, create things.
Going through a week of doing nothing, then the subsequent feeling that I was being completely worthless, and finally now the urge to be productive, has gotten me even more excited about the prospect of early retirement. This has been the first big chunk of time I’ve taken off work since I started on my journey to financial independence, and it’s proven to me that I will have the internal motivation to be productive and do things with my life once I do finally reach financial independence.