Simplifying your life can help ease tension, reduce cost of holiday season

Posted: Thursday, November 16, 2000

NEW YORK (AP) -- As we go into the holiday season -- a time of overdoing, overeating and overspending -- it might be helpful to touch base with people who promote the idea that less is more.

Their mantras are ''simplify your life,'' adopt the ''real simple'' and consider a ''new American dream'' that is kinder to your psyche and easier on the environment.

They don't call for you to jettison the turkey, eliminate all gifts at Christmas and Hanukkah, or cancel your New Year's Eve bash so you can hide out in a cave. Rather, they suggest it would be less stressful and more in keeping with the spirit of the season if families set realistic goals.

Elaine St. James began about a decade ago to try to eliminate the clutter from her life. She gave up a career as a real estate investor, moved west and began writing a series of books that began with the 1994 publication of ''Simplify Your Life.'' Among her latest titles is ''Simplify Your Christmas: 100 ways to reduce the stress and recapture the joy of the holidays.''

''I think everyone's life has gotten complicated,'' St. James said in an interview. ''We're overwhelmed with choices.''

She's tried to ''give up that quest to have it all and do it all'' by getting rid of things she and her husband weren't using, ignoring the calls of advertisers to buy the latest gizmos and creating more time to think and read, to go for long walks and to sleep in.

Her advice for the holiday season is straightforward: ''Take some time to figure out what you really like about the holidays. Also figure out what you do not like. Then eliminate what you don't like. It's so simple.''

So if you really don't like to send Christmas cards, don't send them. If you don't want to buy 42 presents for siblings and in-laws and cousins this year, talk to relatives and agree to cut down the list. One advantage, she adds, is that ''you won't find yourself paying off the credit card bills a year later.''

In New York, Carrie Tuhy is managing editor of Real Simple, a magazine that debuted last April and already has grown to a circulation of more than a million.

She believes that in many ways, we've become the victims of our own prosperity. Surveys indicate many people feel stressed at the end of the day, yearn for more leisure time and want simpler lives.

''In many ways, this is a wonderful moment for women,'' she said. ''But it is multifaceted and makes many demands on them. They're trying to sort out what is important and spend more time on that.''

One way to do this, she suggests, is to get away from pressure for perfectionism -- the idea that you have to have a perfectly decorated house, perfectly set dinner table, perfectly cooked meal, perfectly wrapped gift.

Tuhy argues that ''it's not necessarily about reducing consumption ... but about eliminating what's irrelevant and insignificant.''

As the November cover of Real Simple says, ''You don't have to do it all.'' December offers ''The best of the season (without the hassle),''

Yet another view comes from Betsy Taylor, executive director of the Center for a New American Dream in Takoma Park, Md. Founded in 1997, the nonprofit center urges individuals and institutions ''to change the way they consume to improve their quality of life and reduce the impact on the environment.''

A recent phone survey done for the center by Opinion Research Corporation International found 84 percent of the 1,035 people contacted would prefer holidays that are less materialistic, and 55 percent said they actually plan to spend less or otherwise simplify celebrations this year.

For Taylor, it has boiled down to reducing the emphasis on things and, instead, focusing on relationships with family and friends, on volunteer work, on the outdoors.

''For example, I started working a four-day week,'' Taylor said. ''I can't afford a bigger kitchen, but I do have time to play jazz piano.''

As the holidays approach, the center's Web site -- with the motto ''more fun, less stuff!'' -- is filled with members' ideas for gifts ranging from homemade framed photos to do-it-yourself bird houses and a collection of family recipes.

Taylor's family, meanwhile, has its own holiday tradition. Her kids along with neighbors' children get together and make gift boxes stuffed with ''necessities and pleasures'' ranging from mittens and hats to water colors and chocolates. They then deliver the boxes to children living in shelters for the homeless.

''Isn't that what the holidays are about -- sharing and families and giving and fun?'' she asked.


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