Wanted Dead or Alive: One Jolly Old Elf

Part 7 in my Series on Giving and Forgiving

You can also read Part 1: Deck the Halls with PsychoAnal Gifts, Part 2: The Spirit of Giving and Forgiving, Part 3: Balancing the Four Rooms, Part 4: The Candy Cane Crux, and Part 5: Why I Don’t Believe in Santa Claus, and Part 6: A Parenting Carol: Being A Ghost Story of Christmas.

Wanted: Santa

Wanted: Santa

This jolly old elf is responsible for the crime of calling attention to a major problem in my home.


I was almost through wrapping presents when I began feeling slightly ill. There was so much stuff! How were my kids going to deal with so many things? I don’t know how many gifts are too many, but somewhere during the wrapping, I crossed that line.

More stuff was coming into my already overstuffed house. And once something comes into my house, the odds are good that it will stay.

If the item is for my husband, it stays. He keeps everything. I don’t judge him for that. He kept everything when I met him and he still has everything all these years later. I’m sure his junior high girl friend would be pleased to know he still has the notes she passed to him in class. Every computer he has ever owned is in our garage. Ski boots that are too small have accompanied us over four moves, and he doesn’t even ski. I managed to pass on those ski boots, but it took him 10 years to let them go.

If the items coming into the house are for the kids, they most likely fit well into my weak spot: educational play. The possibilities for learning and fun are enough for me to keep the toy. It doesn’t matter whether they have no interest in it or if it is a marginally different repeat of one we already have. The mere possibility that the kids might enjoy and learn gives it a home. I can always justify it for when they kids get bigger or because they each have different personalities, perhaps one would take to it better. I’ve got a million rationalizations, but the truth is a bit deeper.

If the gifts are for me, however, I can downsize without much effort. I used to have a problem with holding on to things, but I went through a semi-obsessed purge after losing my daughter. Since then, I am more detached from objects. Apparently, this is not uncommon after a loss. I remember my midwife saying that she has seen many mothers include their partners in the purge. While I kept my purge to inanimate objects, I can see how easy it would be to toss relationships while in that mindset after a loss. My hold on reality was tenuous. I was directly confronting the transience of objects and of existence. There were no possibilities or future for me, I existed in the present. But, not in a good way.

I think this flirtation with death is part of why I have trouble letting go of the toys for the kids, too. I can’t face the possibility of their impermanence. I balk at detachment to their bright futures. Their things are tangible representations for me of their futures.vAnd, possibly, through them my own mortality can be hidden from me.

Afrikaans: 'n Klassieke Westerse uitbeelding v...

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I’m staring at Saint Nick and seeing the grim reaper.

And that’s where I think the entire winter season of holidays and observances is rooted. It’s human nature to fear the dark and trust the light. The longest night also heralds the return of more light. Neither is permanent. Each is a balance. Impermanence and inevitability. Staying attached to either won’t create anything but suffering. Light and dark will change whether I hold on to one of them anyway. Death and life are natural, but not something we enjoy thinking about all of the time.

The possibilities of impermanence are still far more palatable to me than remaining static and unchanging, even if it means facing immortality.

When I look at gifts as a representation of possibility, they also seem to be an affirmation of life. I believe it is this, slightly misplaced, ideal that we hold when we give too much and hold onto it all. And the converse can be true when we feel we don’t deserve joy or life, when we can’t receive or hold onto gifts that are given to us.

What do you think about the symbology of gifts as potential joy and wishes for life? Can you give too many gifts when viewed this way? Do you have trouble getting rid of, or the opposite, holding onto everything that is given to you?

Remember, anonymous comments are always welcome. I’d love to hear from you.


  • Questions from Part 1: Have you ever been charged for receiving a gift? Do you have expectations when you give to someone else?
  • Questions from Part 2: Do you feel that giving and receiving freely is important or is a gift a gift? What do you think about the concept that giving objects are a representation of the feelings inside?
  • Questions from Part 3: Do you visit the four rooms of your house? Are there any areas you need to offer the key of self-forgiveness before you unlock them?
  • Questions from Part 4: How do you handle candy in your family? Is giving candy in a separate category from giving gifts? Why or why not?
  • Questions from Part 5: How do you reconcile the idea of Santa Claus with your worldview? Do you treat the magic of childhood as something intertwined with the spirit of giving and forgiving?
  • Questions from Part 6: If you were visited by the ghosts of parenting past, present and future, what would your visits look like? Would you see joy and pain in the past? How does that inform your present? And how do you think it will affect your children’s future relationship with you?

I hope you will feel moved to respond, especially on your own blog or here, as a guest post. I’ll happily share responses that add to this interesting discussion.

This article contains all original content by TouchstoneZ.com and is protected by copyright. If you are viewing this post on another site than TouchstoneZ.com please notify the author at zoie.touchstonez(at)gmail.com
Image Credit: Kevin Dooley on Flickr
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4 thoughts on “Wanted Dead or Alive: One Jolly Old Elf

  1. I think I have the same husband. When I saw the “Banana Splits” cereal box prize, framed and still in his possession, I had all the information I needed. I don’t know if you’re even old enough to know the Banana Splits… weird 70’s kids show.
    Anyway… we’re having enforced downsiziing and it’s a revelation, a struggle and hopefully will be freeing.
    When you ask if we can give too many gifts I want to shout, “oh yeah!!” But when I look it through the lens of gifts being wishes for potential joy… I have to take a breath and ponder.
    I think it’s still yes. Because, with my daughter for example… she’s been getting so many gifts, so often and so easily that she doesn’t connect to the joy or stay in the moment with any of them (often this is the case.) She is addicted to “something new.”
    We’ve been working on how to shift this for a year now and you’ve given me a new way to think about it that could be a key.
    I really like the idea of gifts as wishes for life and potential joy. I don’t want to deprive my daughter of that by desensitizing her to them.

  2. In fall and leading up to Christmas I was working on de cluttering and I felt like I was making progress. Now that Christmas has passed and my son was given many new toys I feel like I have lost more ground then I had gained. I will be renewing my efforts to cull what we have and organize on the cheap.

    I find it fairly easy to let go of objects that no longer serve a need or purpose but I still have my collections. My craft room might just need some de cluttering to….ack

  3. I totally admire you for sharing about how much STUFF your family has. I have a really hard time being honest about our accumulated material wealth. Honestly, I feel nauseous whenever I really think about all the CRAP we have!!! Argh!!!

    And clutter literally puts me into fight or flight mode. I clean up CONSTANTLY, because I can’t stand it. But pretty soon the kids are going to end up sleeping in the chicken coop because we just RUNNING OUT OF SPACE for all the stuff we have!

    Yet, I have no problem getting rid of things. I give stuff away all the time, although not without the express permission of the whoever thinks they are the owner at any particular moment. MY stuff, I get rid of without even blinking. But I am extremely consumerist: for example I am happy to get rid of my 3 old winter coats and then I go out and buy a new one! Yep, just make me wear the hat that says “MATERIALISTIC”!!!

    This one made me really think, Zoie. Thanks for that.

  4. Jon Kabat-Zinn writes about an old monkey trap that works on this principle, but I prefer the Homer Simpson version. Homer’s trying to get soda and candy from the vending machine. He reaches his arm up to retrieve the goodies and gets stuck. The fire department is there and one worker breaks the news that the only way out is to saw Homer’s arms off. Just as they’re revving up the saw, another worker asks, “Wait, Homer…are you still holding onto the can?”

    I have a lot of trouble letting go of things, especially kid things (and Simpsons episodes). I’ve managed to de-clutter the kids’ toys and books just because I’ve not gotten rid of them, I’ve just relocated them to a dark corner of the basement.

    Go slowly, my friend. Impermanence is a sticky, scary concept. Treat yourself gently. Plant the seed and, when you’re ready to let go, you will. And remember…you don’t need to let go of everything, just what no longer serves you. (That’s me trying to sound more sage than I actually am.)

I love comments and try to reply to each one. I look forward to connecting with you. Namaste

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