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Surviving the Season - Part 7

Yule Tidy

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It is Sept. 25 and a mother-in-law who shall remain nameless makes what she believes to be a harmless declaration over the phone from Florida. I've finished my Christmas shopping. That's followed closely by thud. That's the sound of my heart, my will, my enthusiasm, all my hopes and dreams that this might finally be the year I get it together and finish Christmas shopping early enough to enjoy the season - all hitting the floor. I do not have the fortitude to ask if her gifts are wrapped because the answer would send me into apoplexy. From 914 miles away, those packages are already taunting me, tucked as they are neatly away in an orderly closet in a spare room - separated in piles according to child, son-in-law, daughter-in-law and granddaughter. They are stacked by size and shape, fitted perfectly together until each pile nearly resembles a perfect cube. This season which suffocates so many of us under a mountain of detail must be unbridled joy for the anal-retentive. So ridiculed the rest of the year, this is their chance to take center stage and flaunt their tortured talents. Of course, it's easier to curse the anal- retentive's unique brand of mania than admit that I am trapped in my own prison of forgotten gifts, last-minute shopping and diminishing rolls of wrapping paper against increasing mounds of gifts. Their smug sense of accomplishment, their doneness, is like a sick taunt to the disorganized: You suck, you suck, you suck. Surely, you know one of these people. Their calendar year begins Dec. 26, when preparations for the next Christmas begin. It goes something like this: Dec. 26 - Hits all the sales for discounted Christmas merchandise. Purchases Christmas cards, wrapping paper, ornaments. Picks up a few stocking items for next year. (In his/her delight over nabbing a great deal a year early, the anal-retentive never really stops to wonder if Furbys will be even remotely "in" next Christmas or to consider that that Spice Girls lunchbox still pictures Ginger Spice.) Dec. 30 - Makes month-by-month to-do list for next year. Like an Olympic pole vaulter, the anal retentive just keeps raising that bar. Having finished all Christmas shopping and wrapping by Nov. 1 this year, she writes down with a mixture of trepidation and excitement: "October - Xmas gifts bought/wrapped." Jan. 5 - Updates Christmas card list computer file with the changes of address of friends whose cards are saved in the envelopes and placed in a file marked "Xmas Card List" in the home office. Deletes names of those who neglected to send a card this year. March 2 - Our anal-retentive friend spots a lovely purple scarf for Aunt Josephine. That's really her color, so she picks it up and stores it away in the closet in the spare bedroom. Starts a new envelope marked "Xmas receipts" and slips it into top dresser drawer. March 10 - Aunt Josephine's gift has gotten her thinking about Christmas, so she drafts a list of all the friends and loved ones she'll be buying gifts for and marks Aunt Josephine's name with the two satisfying strokes of a check mark. May 25 - Can you believe she's already checked seven names off that list? July 13 - Attends a Christmas-in-July arts and crafts fair. What great stocking stuffers! Check, check, check, check, check, check ... Aug. 22 - Begins separating gifts and tallying money spent on each. In an attempt to keep spending equitable, the anal-retentive determines to spend $12 more on Sam, $16 more on Jill and $7.50 on Mary. (Note to self: Be sure and tell everyone at Christmas that even though Mary has two more packages than everyone else, you spent the same amount on each person within about a dollar and a half and you have the receipts to prove it.) Sept. 24 - What could it hurt to start wrapping? Sept. 25 - Packages wrapped, separated by person and stacked in the closet in the spare room. Maybe a call to the kids ...? It doesn't stop with the shopping. Try trimming the tree with an anal-retentive. You view the process as a carefree finger-painting; they, as a jigsaw puzzle in which each ornament has its right and proper place. It's a little hard to get in the spirit of the holiday when the anal-retentive comes right behind you and moves the skiing Santa you placed casually facing out on a limb near the bottom of the tree to the upper corner of the tree. "This way Santa is going downhill," the anal-retentive says cheerfully as you sneer into your eggnog. In your passive-aggressive attempt to make your point, you stomp away from the tree, declare you don't want to decorate anymore and place your glass of eggnog down on the coffee table. No coaster. Take it from me, though, your stewing does no good. The only reason you resent the anal-retentive is because you are so dramatically inferior when it comes to organization. So why not learn something from these people? you can pick up some helpful hints if you study them carefully enough: Start early. You might say, "Easier said than done," but it is just as easy as it sounds. There's a can't-eat-just-one, potato-chip thing that kicks in when you buy your first Christmas gift of the season. The first one gets you over the emotional hump and the next becomes easier, and then the next. It's one of the miracles of the season, really, virgin birth aside. So buy one. Do it today. Stock up. Half of your angst at Christmas is in running out of stuff. Buy more wrapping paper, tape, bows, gift tags and tissue paper than you need. It's not going to waste - you'll use the excess next year. Make a list. The list may just be the key to the whole Christmas thing - again, virgin birth aside. First, there's the gift list but there's also the to-do list. No need to go off the deep-end here: In fact, the rest of us are mere novices compared to our anal-retentive friends. Do not attempt a list with the degree of difficulty these maniacs pull off. You'll only set yourself up for failure and may pull something in the process. Avoid tasks such as "repaint all trim in house before family arrives on 22nd" or "purchase homemade paper kit, make homemade paper Christmas cards, address in hand calligraphy, stamp and send - Dec. 1." Keep it simple and thereby achievable: "Buy Christmas cards." And lastly, perhaps most importantly, take a lesson from your own messy, haphazard nature. Isn't it possible that the reason you've never obsessed over details is because you knew all along that it doesn't matter if the tinsel is hung on the tree in perfect symmetry? Or that Grandmom isn't going to burst into tears if the design on the wrapping paper doesn't line up straight at the creases? Maybe the best lesson at Christmas is the one our anal-retentive friends can sadly never learn: Don't sweat the small stuff. Jump to an article:
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