For a neat freak like me, the holidays are both magical and nightmarish. Under normal circumstances, a pile of miscellaneous stuff on my desk would be enough to nag at my focus for an entire day.
I’m not the perfect little neat freak I’d like to be — far from it, in fact — especially when I do silly things like commit to making Christmas gifts by hand while juggling extra hours at work, freelance projects, social and family obligations, plus daily tasks like cooking and worrying about how much sleep I’m not getting. Essentially every moment of my day became focused on controlling everything, even after it all got way out of hand.
I spent most of the last month trying not to burst at the seams, worrying too much that I wasn’t working enough, that my crafty Christmas wouldn’t meet the standards of my friends and family, and feeling a constant current of failure as my apartment declined from its initial mess into a state of total disaster. I worried about imposing on my partner, and although he insisted he wasn’t upset by the blanket of craft supplies covering every available surface in our home, it didn’t relieve my guilt.
With only half of my gifts made, I finally put my head to a pillow at 2:30 a.m. on Christmas Eve, trying to remember what I wanted this special time to look like. What was the gold standard that motivated such madness and anxiety?
The answer was unexpected. As I pictured all of my favorite things about the holidays, I realized that none of them were tidy and perfect. Making special edible treats was messy. Untangling the Christmas lights was messy. Opening gifts was messy. Having a meal with my extended family was messy. Coordinating holiday events with dozens of people was messy. Making these gifts, shopping in the store, playing or driving in the snow … it’s all a mess. And here I was, feeling like a total failure because I couldn’t maintain a level of perfection that is contrary to the entire nature of this holiday and the things I love most about it.
Here we are, well into January, and I still have a few unmade presents calling my name. I have a pile of things that haven’t made their way to the post office (why is snail mail so hard?), and an even bigger pile of resolutions for 2014.
This year, I hope to respect my limits a little bit more by saying no when it’s necessary. This was a hard lesson in embracing holiday chaos and loving my imperfect self. As much as I try to instill good habits and take on the bits of life within my control, times like this hep me remember that the madness can still be beautiful, meaningful, and perfect in an unexpected way.