When What I Need Is Less Not More

When What I Need Is Less Not More

“Mommy, what did you get for Christmas?”

We were unpacking our suitcases and the boxes full of presents we’d carried with us to and from a visit to family in the Midwest over the Christmas and New Year holiday. My 5-year-old son had a long list of answers to this question for himself, as did his sister. I answered him honestly.

“That pretty necklace from Daddy. Time with family. A little bit of money. A coffee mug.” I listed a few things of importance, not wanting to dwell on what I did or didn’t get at Christmas. Sometimes, it’s hard, even as an adult, to remember that the holiday isn’t about gifts and getting.

“And what else?”

I think I told him that I didn’t need anything else, that all of those things were enough. I hope that somewhere in his preschool mind he sees that it’s okay to not get at Christmas.

Our Christmas plans were different this year. We took an airplane to visit family. We spent time in Colorado with family. The kids and I stayed extra time while my husband returned to our home to work.

And one thing people asked us was: “So, did you take all the presents with you?”

Years ago, my husband and I decided that we didn’t have to buy our kids a bunch of presents. I’d love to tell you that it was a super-spiritual, anti-consumer decision, but really, it was because we were dirt poor and couldn’t add to our debt to buy our kids a bunch of things. Besides, that’s what grandparents are for. And seriously, our kids were the only grandkids on both sides for several years. They are well-loved when it comes to Christmas presents, and I doubt they even realize that my husband and I don’t buy them gifts. We shell out the money to get them to their grandparents for the holidays. Merry Christmas to all.

That was my response to those who asked, and even though it’s a perfectly rational answer, I still felt a little crazy saying the words, “We don’t really buy our kids gifts.”

The new year has brought with it some unpleasant changes. Higher insurance premiums. An increased cable/Internet bill. A possible change at my husband’s job that could complicate our transportation needs.

In all of these situations, my first reaction was: I need to get a job. I need to write more or look for work I can do at home. We need to sell some things.

Increased expenses meant a need for more income, in my mind. Until I remembered that another way to survive increasing costs is to find areas of the budget where we can cut back. More income isn’t impossible, but it’s also not easy. So, instead of me pursuing work, we’ve found ways to cut back, at least in some areas. We cut the cable completely. We took action to get a company discount on our cell phone bill. Two small changes but ones that will give us a little bit of breathing room. I suspect there are other ways we could cut back. It might hurt a little more, but I know it’s possible.

Why is my first reaction always that I need more?

I need more time. More money. More alone time. More space. A bigger house. A second car.

The only things I seem not to need more of are the things I don’t want. Things like extra pounds and stress. These things I would gladly accept less of.

The older I get the more I realize that being a Christian does not immunize me from the disease of more.

Even if we’re able to shed the more worldly desires of more money, more stuff, there are still things we all want more of.

More love. More friendships. More appreciation. More encouragement. More free time. More vacation time.

For Christmas this year, I really wanted more time with my family, and I got it, but only because my uncle died at the beginning of December. We all piled into an RV to drive across the Midwest to Colorado in a snowstorm to spend time with family. It was not the way I would have planned it, but it’s what I got.

I don’t know many people who would ask for less of anything on purpose, but I’m getting really tired of the need for more. It’s insatiable. The more I have, the more I seem to want. The cycle of “more” spins so fast it makes me dizzy and sick.

Tell me I’m not alone in wanting this carnival ride to stop.

The only antidote I know is “less,” and I’m a complete failure at it.

I give away clothes and toys and books we don’t need anymore and somehow our dressers and cubbyholes and bookshelves are still overflowing. We make space in our house and it somehow still fills.

But every time I take a box or 12 to Goodwill, I feel lighter. Like a burden has lifted. Every time I say “no” to something to we could use but don’t need, I feel powerful. (We canceled cable and I almost did a jig. Comcast may not care that they lost a customer, but I’m celebrating our freedom from more in this one area.)

It’s tricky, this less-versus-more business because it’s different for everybody. And it’s fluid. Different seasons of life and family and work bring different levels of less and more. I can’t tell you how to fight the “more” in your life anymore than you can tell me how to fight it in mine.

But I can say that less, as they say, somehow is more in the long run. The less I have, the more full my life is in the things that matter.

I used to think it was weird that my parents and grandparents would say they didn’t need or want anything for Christmas. But I think I’m finally beginning to understand what they discovered.

Sometimes life is so full of the things that matter most that more of anything else adds nothing of value.

Do you feel it, the need for more? How do you fight it?

Lisa Bartelt About Lisa Bartelt

Lisa has been writing stories for more than a decade, first for newspapers and now as a freelancer, blogger and budding novelist. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two kids. Read more at her blog, Beauty on the Backroads.


  1. Liz Bragg says:

    I struggle with this as well. I really want less in our lives, but more seems to just come. In the mail, from far away grandparents, from school, everywhere! My oldest gets so attached to his things, I would love some suggestions on ways to get him to let go, so we can let go! He has a mind like a trap and if something breaks it is the end of the world. We recently went through boxes from our move (over four years ago…) and my husband and I both had clothes from high school. We’ve been out for 18 years now. I need to find a way to get rid of the excess. Be sure to write about it when you figure it out. 🙂

  2. Garry & Katie says:

    Agree, but…… we always want more of your writing, Lisa. Enjoy it much! Thank you!


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