Holidays 101: Overcoming a Toxic Relationship

By Melissa Stefanec

As we embark on the most wonderful time of the year, I want you to think about something: my garbage can.

It’s a standard-issue trash can from a local waste-removal service. It’s black, and I can cram a lot of trash in it.

Are you still with me?


Let me tell you more about my garbage can.

On Mondays, it sits at the end of my driveway waiting to be emptied into a giant truck. It waits outside of my well-kept, middle-class home. From the outside, our garbage can is usually unremarkable. However, what’s inside that garbage can deserves to be noticed, because what’s inside reveals a very toxic relationship that exists inside my family’s home.

Before the holidays (and birthdays), the inside of my garbage can is full of perfectly good stuff. Stuff I can’t sell, consign or trade. Stuff I can’t donate or unload on community pages. Stuff my family and friends don’t want passed to them. Things that literally no one wants. Come November and December, my garbage can hides my family’s dirty secret: we are blessed to the point of having too much.

As we close in on the holidays, I spend much of my free time going through my kids’ rooms and the rest of my house looking for stuff to get rid of. What I can’t sell, donate or rehome, I end up throwing away. All this excess is bad for everyone. The clutter and mess are bad for my family’s psyche. It’s bad for my extended family’s bank accounts. It’s beyond dangerous for our planet.

And, yet, every year, we perpetuate this toxic relationship. We keep buying and gifting more stuff. We keep engaging with things and then wonder why we feel depleted, disconnected and empty.

So, this year, I’m inviting all of us to try something a little different. I recognize it’s not easy to end a toxic relationship overnight, but if we put our minds to it, we can make progress. As you start making your holiday shopping lists for the important children in your life, I encourage you to embrace three concepts:

1. Most of us have toxic relationships with things. We have too many and still want more.
2. Time is more important than money.
3. Time is love.

Sit with that for a moment. In our heart-of-hearts, we know these three concepts are true. However, year after year, we let commercialism and fear of missing out dictate our gift giving. We vainly hope giving things will show people how much we love them. We hope giving things will make people feel valued. This year, we can give people what we should have been giving them all along—time.

This year, you can break the cycle. If you are buying gifts for the children you love, please consider some of these ideas.

• Movie night: Whether you want to bring the kids in your life to a movie theater or make a theater experience in your living room, this gift is sure to give kids something to look forward to.
• Game night: If you want to buy a little something for the kids in your life, consider buying them one or two board games they don’t already own. Then, make a date with the kids to play the board games.
• Arcade day: If the kids in your life are into arcades, buy them gift passes for an arcade and set a date over winter break to take them to that arcade. Play the games with the kids.
• Sledding/tubing: Kids love sledding. Pack up the kids’ sleds and head to a local hill. You can also buy passes for a business that offers tubing. Take the kids out for hot chocolate after.
• Skiing/snowboarding/snowshoeing: If the very important kids in your life are outdoor enthusiasts, consider buying them passes or lessons for winter sports.
• Baking day: If you know a budding chef or baker, buy the supplies and spend a day cooking or baking. You also get bonus points for helping a kid build life skills.
• Art class: Whether you host your own or buy one from a local vendor, art classes are a great way to enrich a child’s life. You also get to take the memory home with you.
• Zoo day: Most zoos are open year round. Bundle up and take your little animal lovers to a zoo. Avoid the gift shop and go out for a treat instead.
• A single book: If you are lucky enough to spend a lot of time with the important children in your life, buy a book and read it to them. Make it a long book and only let it be read by you.

So, to bring this article full circle, I want you to think about two things this holiday: the smiling faces of kids while they open gifts and garbage cans. Based on experience, I can promise you that half of what you buy will be in a trash can or a donation bin within 12 months. When you give the gift of your time or nurture a child’s passion, you build that child up in ways a thing simply cannot.

Beautiful memories are a lot less likely to end up in the trash bin.