How my keys ended up in the garbage…and other stories of Christmas madness

If you feel like this about now, you've binged on too much pre-Christmas mania

The inner holiday panic started about two weeks ago and has reached a crescendo; it’s what I call I-have-so-much-to-do-and-buy-and-am-spending-way-too-much-money Christmas insanity. It’s the same feeling that I’ve had in the past during a sugar cookie binge: I almost don’t even realize what I’m eating (or spending) anymore—and that’s no good for many obvious reasons.

After a recent shopping excursion, I couldn’t find my car keys—and then opened up the garbage to toss something out in my kitchen and there they were, gleaming atop the trash. I don’t even remember throwing them in there. I’d like to blame it on my kids, but my daughter was napping and my son was at school. I doubt the babysitter had it in for my car keys! This is the time of the year where I lose things (like keys), misplace critical papers and find them months later, and just over shop and overspend. It’s what I call pre-Christmas disorder because I’m not focusing on what I’m doing.

But what I thought about today in a moment of clarity (few and far between these last couple of weeks): every store feeds into this panic. I’ve been getting e-mails almost daily from J. Crew, the Gap, Williams Sonoma, you name it, telling me: EVERYTHING IS NOW 40% OFF!, WE’VE REDUCED 250 MORE ITEMS…PRICES HAVE BEEN SLASHED YET AGAIN…”Oh my God,” I think. “I HAVE to stop by. What if there’s an amazing deal that I just pass up???” “I’ll just take a quick peek” (and then I leave with a bag full of stuff that I could have lived without during more sane moments).

Add to that the INSANE music in the stores: frenetic versions of popular Christmas songs are played over and over at decibels that provoke anxiety: my heart races, my breath quickens (I’m sure there’s a scientific answer to how the body is responding: it’s called the “flight or fight syndrome” that starts when the body is under stress!). I literally wanted to rip the cord out of the music system at Gap Kids as I was shopping as the repetitive, loud music was mind altering—in a bad way.

What the heck is all this about? Spending MORE money. Helping THIS holiday season be even better than last year…so we can read some report on the news that says: “This season’s holiday sales were strong! The economy is strong! The recession is over!” But that news, I hate to say it, is a bit empty—particularly when our spirits are lost during the craziness of it all—and we’re exhausted, spent, and broke (spending the next few months paying off bills for unnecessary stuff—most of which, I’ve noticed, is made in China! Merry Christmas China!).

I’m not sure I have an answer for this holiday insanity: sure, you can try to avoid the stores, but they’re hard to resist with e-mails bombarding your inbox daily and stores discounting stuff 40 to 50% (my Coldwater Creek in town had 50% off everything in the store…I wandered around the store TWICE [and I don’t even typically shop there!] to see if I could buy something just because it was 50% off). I didn’t end up buying anything because I was going to be late to pick up my son from school if I went around the store yet again, but the temptation to go back is strong, I must admit!

But just as you would stop a food binge in its tracks, we have to stop the holiday binging. Mine stops here (convenient that tomorrow is Christmas Eve and there’s little time left to shop, but I’ve made the decision anyway) and I won’t be going near the post-holiday sales. Just as a binger can’t go near a bakery so a Christmas binger can’t go near stores until every holiday light is packed away.

I’m not worried: I’m sure what I’ll find is that I may miss out on some monster sales, but I’ll spend less and be less stressed in the long run. And I won’t be feeding into the rampant consumerism that holidays in this country have become.

So my advice to you (if you see even a glimpse of yourself in these scenarios): take time to enjoy the holiday on Christmas, relax, get out for a walk or run, read a book, eat in moderation—and get some sleep. Then resist the urge to shop the stores (at 7 AM!) the day after Christmas. After all, shopping—believe it or not—isn’t what the holiday is all about in the first place.

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Valerie LatonaAbout Valerie Latona
As the former editor in chief of Shape (the active lifestyle magazine) for 5 years, I personally spoke with a lot of women (thousands over the years, from around the nation) and what I found is this: it's not easy to stay healthy, to get (and stay) fit, and to stem the weight gain tide (and even the tide of disease) that inevitably happens to us as we get older.