Design Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

I went to a local department store to buy my great nephew a birthday gift. I passed the “pink toy” aisle when I heard a little girl’s voice say, “Get over here, Dad!”

She reminded me of bratty Violet in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory (the old one, with Gene Wilder). There’s Dad, rushing over, taking a cell phone picture of a large-pink-toy-something. “Over here, Dad, I want this! They come in different sizes! I want the biggest one!”

A weary looking older couple ambled by, “No dear, they’re too little for Twister. They can’t reach the dots.”

I chose a book –  “The Lost Dinosaur Bone” – and a little rubber T-Rex – German made – whose lower jaw opened to reveal pointy teeth. Score, as 4-year-old Austin loves books and dinosaurs.

I looked around at the beleaguered family units. Kids running all over, loudly exclaiming, “I want! I want!”

I almost found myself pitying the harried-looking parents, except that these demanding children are the by-product of a too-common ideal of accumulating to excess.

I recall my own childhood, when Christmas was a time of happy anticipation and experiences, such as choosing just the right tree at the Christmas tree lot, stringing popcorn, singing carols at school glee club, clay ashtrays made in school art class as “surprise gifts” for our parents, and sitting on the couch with my sisters, poring over the JC Penney toy catalog.

Only at Christmas could the ice cream snow balls from  McCall’s Dairy be purchased: baseball-sized ice cream confections, covered in coconut flakes, with holly-leaf frosting and a real little red candle to light.  I remember when our mother brought out a cake with lighted candles, and we sang happy birthday to Jesus.

I don’t even remember writing lists for Santa, except in the note on Christmas Eve, with a plate of cookies for Santa and his reindeer. We waited all year for the one night when “A Charlie Brown Christmas” was aired on TV.

Granted, my childhood was in the ’50s and ’60s, but there is something disturbing about current holiday seasons’ pressure to shop and buy, as opposed to experiencing the joy and wonder of the holiday celebrations.

Fast forward a number of decades, and I have a profession as interior re-designer, where I specialize in redecorating, utilizing mostly what the client already has. Hands down, the foremost issue is “dealing” with “so much stuff”. I am often hired to help clients de-clutter their homes and lives of massively oppressive material accumulations.

Closets and drawers packed to overflowing, garages that can’t fit a car, children’s rooms with bins, buckets and toy boxes full of plastic stuff, usually made in China.

Kitchens are crammed with duplicates of gadgets barely used.

I’ve heard clients lament that they wish they could just walk away from the mess, and start over. Yet, here we are, at a time of year that is known as a Shopping Season. When did that happen? Shopping Season?

What happened to this season being a time of joy, traditions and good will?

In my own life, I’ve been methodically ratcheting down my purchased gifts for a few years. Instead, I made Christmas gifts of kahlua, jams, and even homemade wine last year.

This year, I’ve even skipped the homemade gifts, and am donating to my favorite local charities: Wings of Angels, Living Hope, Bella Vista Farms and Friends of Whiskeytown.

Lest you think I’m a total Scrooge, I do make exception for my three young granddaughters, who will get Christmas pajamas, a book, and a modest toy, or art supplies.

My adult children agree that they don’t need or want any more stuff. Not to say that there won’t be gifts of experiences, which make wonderful meaningful presents, anything from cooking classes, theater tickets, art classes, massages, hang-gliding lessons, spa treatments and tickets to events, to gift certificates for services like house-cleaning or yard work.

I even know some families who bypass Christmas gifts entirely and take a vacation together instead.

As an artist and designer, I also see the value in giving art as a gift. It is lasting, it enhances your life, it wasn’t mass-produced, and it carries the story of artists and their message through creativity.

Likewise, this is true for treasures that survived the span of many years – a unique gift that has no duplicate – whether it’s an antique clock, a set of silver spoons, or vintage chair.

Once through the de-cluttering process, all the remains are things that are functional or meaningful, and the meaningful objects vary from person to person.

Take, for example, a large, green glass floating ball. It was a gift from my younger sister; homage to my birthplace of Hawaii, and recognition of my love of things oceanic.

But that’s me.

For you, I wish a holiday season filled with the comfort and joy that comes from creating a meaningful, peaceful home that reflects the essence of you, your family and generations’ of treasured traditions.

Amen, and a merry Christmas filled with less stuff and more tranquility.

Shelly Shively lives in Redding. She is Interior Re-design Network certified.  Among her specialties are real estate staging, furnishing vacation and new homes, and the art of interior “re-design” – where she transforms and refreshes clients’ living spaces using their existing belongings. Shelly is also a freelance artist, illustrator and muralist.  To inquire about a consultation, she may be reached at  530-276-4656 or

Shelly Shively
Shelly Shively lives in Redding. She is Interior re-design network certified. Among her specialties are real estate staging, furnishing vacation and new homes, and the art of interior re-design where she transforms and refreshes clients living spaces using their existing belongings. Shelly is also a freelance artist, illustrator, muralist, Whiskeytown kayak volunteer and curator at O Street Gallery. To inquire about a consultation, she may be reached at 530-276-4656 or
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13 Responses

  1. Ginny says:

    Thank you for telling the truth of what should be important and not the house full of big plastic toys for kids that are not used after a few weeks. And, those same children who don’t really understand it is not what you get, but what is important in life other than goods. Too often the true meaning of Christmas has been lost over the years of your life, but such a long ways from when I began the last day of 1932.

    Bless you and your family!

  2. AJacoby says:

    Hands down, the very, very best Christmas present I’ve ever received/given was the year my daughter and I gave each other a gift certificate for Glen Ivy Spa . . . then made reservations to go there together the day after Christmas. We spent the whole day there. . . together . . . what a memory, what a gift!! Experiences are, fur shur, the very set gift of all!

    Thanks for reminding us . . . and a happy, happy season to you, too!

  3. Gerry says:

    Thanks for your refreshing view on how to enjoy the season. The current materialism is overwhelming and depressing. There is such joy in giving “gifts of time”. I hope others catch your wisdom.

  4. Canda says:

    Great article, Shelly, and right on! We took the grandkids to see Cascade Christmas yesterday, and I loved the theme. Even Santa had to flee for a break from the materialistic chaos of Christmas. Even though we do buy gifts for the grandkids, what they remember most year after year is putting the train up around Grandma and Grandpa’s Christmas tree, and helping us decorate it. It’s the Lionel I’ve had for 60 years, and this December marked the first time our grandson was able to put it together with Grandpa watching. Usually it’s Miles assisting Grandpa. The other tradition we love is personalized ornaments for us and the kids’ family. Don and I have 15 special ornaments now, from 2000 when we first met, to the present. My favorite gift to give my daughter and son-in-law is a scrapbook with the many photos I’ve taken over the years, and DVD’s made from childhood dance recitals, slumber parties, and general goofing around videos. This Christmas I found another extra special something to give them, but can’t write it down here until after Christmas. 🙂 Thank you Shelly, for the beautiful reminder that Christmas is not about shopping. It’s about the birth of Jesus, and a wonderful opportunity to bring families and friends together, and to help those less fortunate. Merry Christmas!

  5. EasternCounty says:

    Each time I read one of your de-clutter columns, I’m inspired to get rid of some more stuff. You should write one weekly! One of my most memorable Christmas presents — besides my horse when I was 12 — was when my grandmother — Nana — made a pecan pie for me. She knew I loved her pies, and that one was all for me. I can taste it now.

  6. Mary S. says:

    Great article, a nice reminder to everyone.

    We are trying like heck to teach our kids that Christmas is about giving and being with family, instead of receiving. Baby steps… it’s hard when they see their friends getting so much. This year we decided to rescue a dog from Haven Humane, and I booked a trip to Hawaii. They will get something from Santa, but that’s it from us.

    My 8 year old son actually said he was going to cross off things on his Santa list, because he had asked for too much. We said, just leave it. Santa will leave you what he wants to leave you no matter what’s on your list.

  7. Shelly Shively says:

    Ginny, you were blessed to have lived in a time before the holidays got scary!
    Gerry, it’s my hope that this concept of simplicity is enough to give people pause long enough to give serious consideration.
    AJ, your ultimate Christmas gift with your daughter sounds Devine! Actually, Doni & I are giving each other Spa treatments for Christmas this year…a first!
    Canda, sounds like you are on track with personalized Christmas gifts and experiences…creating a lifetime of memories.
    Eastern County, I am moved by your
    account of your best gift with your Nana’s pecan pie. That’s what I’m talking about!
    Mary S, sounds like your newer downsized Christmas is being picked up by your son, for an 8 year old to voluntarily pare down his list: that’s huge!

  8. Budd Hodges says:

    Thank you Shelly for that timely, very informative Christmas message, as I sit in my Cluttered little house preparing for the return of the little fat guy from the Pole.

    I remember leaving a cup of hot Chocolate and cookies for his fleeting visit way back when and to my surprise it was gone in the morning and in it’s place SC had left a brand new Lionel electric train or a bike. I love those memories of Christmases in the olden days, as my kids call them.

    But, of course, Jesus is reason for the season and we must overlook the Chri$tma$ that we have become after all these years.

    A very Merry Christmas to you and your lookalike sister, Doni.

  9. Shelly Shively says:

    Thank- you, Budd! Those Olden days were pretty nice, huh? My kids consider me from that era as well…and I’m proud of it!

  10. Sally says:

    This isn’t a Christmas story, but one showing a giving heart. One of my granddaughters for 3 birthdays, wrote on her party’s invitations that in place of presents if they would like, and their parents agreed, would they contribute to the non-profit organization _________. It was one organization to which her family is closely aligned and another year to a zoo who are trying to save the red panda. After 2 years of the first request $800 was raised!!

  11. Shelly Shively says:

    Sally, you have an extraordinary granddaughter! What a marvelous, generous idea to use a birthday as a catalyst for giving! This could easily be applied to Christmas!

  12. Sam Allen says:

    Great article Shelly. I grew up with one toy every year and we didn’t know what that would be. It was all about the excitment of the tree and my dad always read the story about baby Jesus before we opened our gifts. My mom made little baskets of baked goods and I remenber how happy it made me to see the look on our neighbors faces to recieve a little treat. I loved the simple life and the small pleasures experienced from that.
    Now…. I can’t even respond to how Christmas( yes I said Christmas, not the holiday season) has changed. Yea! I said Christmas and it feels good! Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas To All!

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