If you holiday shop as I do, the experience goes something like this: I go into a store thinking, I need to buy something for my sister-in-law. She likes to entertain. Oh, look at these pretty holiday placemats, and these reindeer plates, and these Santa cheese knives! Well, she wouldn't be able to use them before this Christmas, since they're for Christmas, but I, on the other hand, would love these. Next thing, I've bought five holiday gifts for my home, which doesn't need them, and nothing for anyone on my list.
"The temptation is real," said Mary Collette Rogers, a kitchen expert based in Boulder, Colo., whom I tap now and then when looking for a serving of common sense. "You say, 'Oh isn't that cute!' Because of the appealing way stores merchandise, you get sucked in."
No kidding. One minute you're full of budget-minded resolve, edited lists and gift-shopping discipline, and the next you're buying candy-cane stocking hangers and gingerbread house kits.
Although I would be the last person to tell you not to buy something beautiful and enjoyable for your holiday home ― especially after the 20 months we've all just been through ― I might gently suggest that before you or I splurge, we ask ourselves: Does this really fill a glaring gap in my holiday housewares? Does it go with the rest of my home (or would it go better in someone else's)? Do I have room to store it? Can I get rid of something that it's replacing? ('Tis easier to buy than to purge.) Do I want to see this expense on my credit card bill in January? Should I be focusing on buying for people other than myself? (Yes.)
Now I don't mean to be a grinch, but before succumbing to that urge to splurge on our own homes this holiday, here are a few more thoughts to help you pump the brakes:
◼️ Take inventory. Make this deal with yourself: Before you go holiday shopping, you will first take out all your holiday home decor and assess what you have (more than you think and probably more than last year). This works like a wrist slap and helps keep you from piling on more.
◼️ Give before you get. As you gear up for a season of giving and getting, take a good look at what you have too much of and what you could give away. For instance, if you have managed to amass 12 platters over the years, consider handing some down to the next generation. "In your kitchen alone you probably only use 15% of what you have," Rogers said. "Weed through the rest looking for duplicates or never-used items to hand down or donate. Your kitchen will instantly become more efficient." Plus, you will spread the cheer, streamline your home and dampen your desire to get more.
◼️ Skip the Christmas china. I may be too late, but if you don't already own a set of Christmas dishes, do not feel compelled. Rather, Rogers said, ask yourself, "Do I really want to buy and store a set of dishes I can use only at Christmas?" (No.) "Is that what makes the holiday?" (No.) "Or can I create a festive feeling with a few special touches?" (Yes.) If you want a set of china for special occasions in addition to your everyday dishes, pick a pattern that works year-round, like one that's white with a gold rim, as opposed to one with spring flowers or a Christmas tree. Most chefs prefer solid white or ivory dishes because they better feature the color and texture of the food. You can add festive touches with your centerpiece, napkin rings and table linens. "Do, however, have a few holiday serving pieces that elevate the everyday and signal when a day is special."
◼️ Cut the colored crystal. Similarly, resist the impulse to buy red or green, cut-crystal wine glasses. Stick with clear. Though colored glassware can work for other beverages, part of appreciating wine is to see it.
◼️ Avoid one-shot wonders. For those home chefs who see the holidays as a good reason to beef up their kitchenware, Rogers has this crave-crushing news: "If your kitchen works well for everyday cooking, you should have all the cookware you need for holiday meals and parties." In other words, you probably don't need to buy anything. (Sorry.) Regardless, don't fall for gadgets that just do one thing. Gizmos like a mushroom scrub brush, a corncob kernel remover, an egg separator or a creme brulee torch waste money and space. This advice goes double for infrequently used appliances, like that chocolate fountain, pasta maker, popcorn popper or Mickey-Mouse waffle iron.
◼️ Beware theme-y patterns. In general, good design is about capturing the essence of a season or holiday, not a literal image. So, rather than buy a tablecloth embellished with holiday wreaths, or cloth napkins emblazoned with sleighs full of toys, choose solid color table linens in seasonal colors that go with your decor. "But no white," Rogers said. "That's too stressful."
All that aside, if you're out shopping for others this season, and you come across that enchanting item that speaks to you from among all the pretty displays, and you just know it will tickle your tinsel and make your sugarplum fairies dance with your nutcrackers, by all means get it.
Marni Jameson is the author of six home and lifestyle books, including "What to Do With Everything You Own to Leave the Legacy You Want."
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