Drops in the Bucket, Holiday-Style

I am feeling sad and cranky and plain today, and my hair is kind of dumb and I’m tired of all my shirts. Paul and I had another argument, and whatever, the upshot was that I started cleaning out the basement storage area, and feeling about 10% satisfaction and 90% resentment-and-why-did-I-marry-a-jerk-who-was-such-a-jerk.

It HAS been satisfying to get rid of some things. I had two medium boxes of baby things I’d forgotten I still had—not particularly sentimental stuff, but the few practical things I’d kept Just In Case: the only front carrier I ever liked, the few receiving blankets that worked best, a hooded towel, the best play gym ever, the favorite baby toys. Time to get rid of those.

Also, do you remember the mother-in-law dishes? That was a long time ago and still so satisfying to me to think of. I swear those dishes made me more pleasant for my mother-in-law’s visits. But in the six years since my mother-in-law died, I haven’t opened the box a single time, or even thought of doing so. And so it is time for that box to go.

I’ve stalled on the basement project for now to give myself plenty of time to sit around fretting about Christmas. I always do that at this time of year, and everything always works out, but this year I am later on everything than I have ever been. That is, when I place orders, some of them aren’t going to arrive until after Christmas. I always at least get the Christmas card stuff up from the basement by this time of the month, and this year I haven’t even taken a picture of the children yet. The tree, which is never up long enough to suit me, is not decorated. And curses, CURSES on the earlier version of myself who thought it was a good idea to make gingerbread houses with the children, because they have latched onto that SO HARD that now I can never stop.

This morning I thought “Something MUST be done.” That is, I can’t just keep fluttering around being stressed and yet somehow not making any progress. And so I am going to take the drops in the bucket approach to this. If I hang one single ornament on the tree, if I order one gift, if I buy one single container of eggnog—all of these things bring us closer to what I’d like to have done, and make me calmer.

Yesterday I did TWO things: I brought the Christmas cards upstairs, and I brought a Christmas mug upstairs. I’d kept NOT bringing the mug upstairs, because “I can’t do that until I put away some of the everyday mugs, and I can’t do THAT until I bring up the whole Christmas box and take everything out of it so there’s room to pack away the everyday mugs.” But then here I was, every morning, not drinking out of a Christmas mug, and drinking out of a Christmas mug is one of my favorite things about Christmas. That mug can sit on the damn COUNTER if there’s no room in the cupboard, and today I put eggnog in there (purchased as the One Thing from the day before yesterday) with my coffee.

This afternoon I am taking a picture of the children. We were going to do one with all seven of us this year, but that’s not going to work out, and we’re out of time, so Just Kids it is. We haven’t changed much anyway. I will try to ALSO take the pictures off the camera, choose one, and order it, but that’s like three additional tasks so we’ll see.

38 thoughts on “Drops in the Bucket, Holiday-Style

  1. Jennifer

    I have no great solutions, but the one thing I can offer is that with Dropbox and my phone backing up automatically to Dropbox, my pictures are on the computer as soon as I am near wifi

  2. Frankie

    I’m so sorry, and I hope tomorrow is a better day.

    Thank you for the opportunity to read about your mother-in-law dishes! Seriously, that was exactly what I needed this morning. My nuclear family and I moved two states away from the crazymakers and now they come stay with us which is a completely new version of crazymaking. And I think your idea is completely brilliant. Pardon me, I need to go purchase some dishes…..

  3. Donna

    Your Drops in the Bucket (Drops! In! the! Bucket!) approach has more than once kept me from drowning, and I will always be grateful. I’ve been listening to Christmas music on Pandora but have completely lost track of what I’ve ordered and what’s arrived, no tree up, no cards written. I have no stamps. We are eating on a small corner of the table as the rest is awash in gifts I need to wrap and ship. My volunteer group has a potluck on Saturday, and I’m an officer so I have to go. But! I did find and bring down the stockings, so at least that’s something. Trying not to fret; it’ll all get done (or not) somehow.

  4. ccr in MA

    Breaking tasks up into steps is a totally valid strategy, and if finishing even one little thing helps, then I totally support making each task into many steps that can be completed and crossed off the list. I often tell myself that I can’t get everything done right now, but I can do one thing, right? And usually I can.

  5. Lori

    I love your Drops In the Bucket approach and am living by that this season too, along with trying to do one small fun mindful thing for myself each day as a treat. This morning I ordered the Writers’ House calendar you highlighted in your last post. Thanks, Swistle! Hang in there…you are awesome!

  6. Anon

    Totally off (the excellent and timely) topic:

    I’m a new mom and I have to ask: what’s the one front carrier you like? I feel that your testing and trying must have been exhausting.

    I have an Ergo and it never really feels comfortable.

    1. Swistle Post author

      It was an Infantino, and I wish I still had it in the house so I could see if there was more information on it—but it was probably about 15 years old, anyway. It wasn’t COMFY-comfy (like, I was always aware I was wearing it), but it was so much better than all the others I tried, it was like a miracle. The others I tried, I’d have to take them off within fifteen minutes; this one, I could endure for a whole Target trip.

  7. Alice

    I need to employ this strategy ASAP. I’ve been struggling with some stupid health stuff that has made doing anything Overwhelming, especially when I think of it as I have been (I HAVE NOT PUT UP A TREE! I HAVE NOT EVEN BOUGHT A TREE! I HAVE SEND OUT CARDS! I HAVE NOT EVEN CHECKED MY XMAS BINS TO SEE IF I HAVE CARDS THAT I CLEVERLY BOUGHT ON CLEARANCE LAST YEAR! SO I DON’T EVEN KNOW IF I HAVE TO BUY CARDS IN ORDER TO SEND THEM OUT!) but. Drops in a bucket, self. Drops In A Bucket.

  8. Lawyerish

    Going back and reading your mother-in-law posts fills me with glee. Also with remorse that you had to deal with that complete and utter nonsense, but the way you wrote about it makes me laugh loudly every single time.

    1. el-e-e

      I also was delighted to go back and re-read both of those wonderful posts and the comments! Fun times, fun times.

  9. LeighTX

    Just commenting to commiserate, and to thank you for the Drops in the Bucket reminder. I’ve been feeling very overwhelmed the past few weeks; the work surrounding the holidays is mixing with the work involved in helping my senior apply for colleges and scholarships and it is all covered with a big dollop of This Is Our Last Christmas Before She Leaves Home So It Must Be Extra-Special, and so I spend a lot of time in denial, farting around on Buzzfeed instead of doing things that need to be done.

    So! I’m sending encouragement to you, and am going to put a drop or two in my bucket today.

  10. Eli

    I was not familiar with the Drops in the Bucket method, but OH, how much good it does to see that other people do this too! (I just call it…purposeful wandering, when I can’t get anything in particular picked up/completed/put away….but I have made (even minimal) progress on all of it!)

  11. Rachel

    Drops in the Bucket is an excellent strategy, and one I am employing this year.

    I brought all my decorations up last week, but the only thing I had accomplished before last night was putting the stockings out. The rest was sitting in a corner of my living room in bags and boxes, lol. Very pleasing to the eye. Last night I assembled and fluffed the tree. Tonight is lights…and maybe some ornaments. I hope to do one small thing each evening, and be finished decorating by Saturday afternoon.

    I feel like I have purchased so many gifts (and I have!), but there are also so many more to get. My siblings (I have 6), keep blessing me with nieces and nephews, but it means so many more gifts every year. I got engaged in May, so now I feel extra pressure to get my future in-laws great gifts. All in all, I feel good about what I have, and what I will be getting. But it’s still a lot.

    I love your eggnog idea. I might have to buy my first quart of the year this evening to help with all of these tasks.

  12. Auntie G

    I’m as behind as I’ve ever been this year, too — so behind that it’s very tempting to chuck it all and see what my ungrateful complaining family even notices isn’t there. Hang in there. Some holidays are grouchier than others. If a drop of cheer is all we can muster each day, IT’S STILL A DROP IN THE BUCKET. xoxo

  13. Laura

    This comment section and post have been so soothing (although, I’m sorry everything seems dumb, dumb, dumb, Swistle – been there and it’s no fun). This morning I burst into tears thinking about how I’m totally failing at creating “the Christmas magic” and just once after 20 years of marriage, I don’t want to be the one solely responsible for making the MAGIC happen. This time of year just seems to magnify all of my personal weaknesses – organization, time management, magic generating, etc.

  14. JMT

    Swistle, every time I see that you have a new post up, it makes me SO happy. You are one of my favorite bloggers and I think it might be time for me to read your entire archive again. I wish you could come over and hang out.

    That’s all.

    1. Teej

      Me toooo! Swistle is my favorite blogger by far. I would love to see a post about the blogs that Swistle reads. I need more blogs like Swistle’s to read. More humor and honesty and real life and variety of interests! Less carefully posed Instagram photos and pinterest blah blah blah.

  15. Nowheymama

    I am so sad that my Swistle mother-in-law mug chipped. I will not be getting rid of it because it reminds me of my friend Swistle. Luckily the chip is right next to the handle so it doesn’t affect drinking. I was looking through your archives the other day to figure out what the china pattern is and had such fun rereading all those posts.

    Also, I think this post helped my diagnose why I am procrastinating. Drops in the bucket, Sarah. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said that to myself over the years.

  16. Shawna

    Glad to know I’m not the only one who reads the swistle archive like a much loved novel every few years! You are my absolute favorite writer on the Internet.

    1. KeraLinnea

      I’m right in the middle of the archives right now, somewhere in 2010. I was feeling a bit like a weird creeper until I got to this comment section! I’m so, so SO glad I’m not the only one who re-reads the bloggers I love!

    2. Becky

      I have reread the archives too! I totally thought of you, Swistle, when I was looking for a new winter coat. I ended up going to Land’s End and found a down parka with a hood and zip-off fur trim! It is wonderful! Thanks, Swistle!

  17. Kyla

    Totally feel you. I feel like I preach my Activity Advent every year but it really works for me. We have one of those “fill your own” advent calendars and before Dec 1st come up with 24 activities we would like/have to do for the season – anything from pics with Santa to having eggnog and cookies or watching a Charlie Brown Christmas or baking a batch of Ginger Krinkles. Then each day we pull the advent activity and – we do it. Somehow we always do. Even when I think the day is too long or we are too tired – we do it and it’s fun. There are some days when I am really grateful to pull something easy and we do have 2 or 3 events “pre-seeded” like the Nutcracker, where we have to buy tickets and so that is our advent for the day. Even my Christmas card is in the advent and so people will get them when they get them – hey, it’s the Advent’s fault! I feel like we do something Christmassy every day and my kid jumps out of the bed every morning to find out what . We are not an Instagram Perfect family in ANY way but during December – I kinda feel like we are in the neighborhood!

  18. k

    Drops in! We are driving cross country this weekend for a wedding and the holidays and I am just looking at mountains of laundry and cleaning that needs to happen not to mention packing…. Overwhelming. But! Little things add up. I’m glad to know I’m in good company!

    I bought the Things Come Apart calendar and I just love it. Thanks for the recommendation!

  19. Ess

    You know, I am still annoyed at Paul for making artisanal jams instead of taking over all your laundry/cooking/whatever duties. Get it it together, Paul! When did you write about jam making?? I always think of it when my husband gets so much praise for the one holiday dish he makes. To be fair, he does his share of home work and emotional labor.

    (I am sure some have read this, bit its too good not to share with you. This essay is about women and unpaid emotion labor http://the-toast.net/2015/07/13/emotional-labor/

    It also inspired a truly EPIC online conversation among women that was pretty raw and great (and enraging) that some kind soul put into a document format. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1UPyDpDVXCG2cf7mBJ51ipcsAN6BhAr1GYDP6IUd2Vgk/mobilebasic

    1. Karen L

      As I was doing Christmas cards this evening and contemplating how DH would not do them in a million years (not that that’s really a problem) but how he doesn’t really show any appreciate that I do (which is a smidge of a problem.) The argument in my head included his imagined-by-me hint that I was wasting money and not doing thing that were an actual priority with my retort that “I do these so that he can have people to hang out with at my funeral.”

  20. Kim

    I was open-mouthed at the beginning of this post, as I had the exact same hatred toward my hair and shirts this morning as well.

  21. nonsoccermom

    Holy cow, I have been reading your blog for a long time! Anyway, I don’t comment as much as I should, having been an avid reader since the very beginning (pre-Henry!) but just so you know: Drops In The Bucket has saved me from more than one overwhelmed meltdown. Especially during the holidays, when I am trying to coordinate travel logistics along with MIL (and lately, BIL) issues and all the usual stressy stuff. So anyway, THANK YOU for being awesome, Swistle!

  22. Life of a Doctor's Wife

    1. It was extremely fun to go back and read those old posts! I read all of them.

    2. I am trying to be very Drops in the Bucket myself which is going okay… Although I keep thinking that the holiday card will be one thing that just doesn’t make it. I LOVE the annual holiday card so it makes me sad, but I just don’t think it will happen. I must be satisfied with other drops and a half empty bucket. Otherwise I will have a half empty bucket AND feel terrible/depressed.

  23. g~

    While I also subscribe to the “drops in the bucket” mentality when I am feeling overwhelmed, I also want to try to explain another philosophy I try to adopt. It’s called “doing it right when I think of it even though it’s not the right time.”
    By this I DO NOT mean “plan and ahead, make a list, and get things done” because, DUH, that is entirely unreasonable. I mean not letting yourself get in the way of getting something done. Perhaps an example…

    I had my Christmas tree up and decorated before Thanksgiving. Not because that’s what I do. In fact, I generally am a huge procrastinator. But I was sitting here thinking of it and felt a smallish tinge of inspiration about a week before Thanksgiving. Normally, I would push the feeling away and have another cup of coffee until it passed because our general rule is to wait until after Thanksgiving to start Christmas. But this year, I ignored my self-imposed rule and put the damn tree up. It felt a little silly then but now I am SO GLAD it is done.

    Now, I realize that this is two steps away from just leaving the damn thing up all year but until I get there, I am not going to worry about that. Different bucket, different drops.

  24. sooboo

    How many times I’ve said to people. ” a drop in the bucket is still A drop IN the bucket”. It’s such a great way to get over a mental hurdle. I’m having a lot of MIL issues this holiday season and I re-read your archives from the time yours passed and it’s given me a lot to think about.

  25. Shelly

    This makes me laugh SO HARD. I took an ENTIRE WEEK off work last week in order to take holiday pictures of the whole family and order my holiday cards and the yearly calendars that I make for the grandparents. I tried to take the holiday pictures on FOUR separate days and everything went wrong. It took until Thursday night to even take the damn holiday pictures and half of them were a blurry mess. So I feel your pain.

  26. Dr. Maureen

    I love the Drops In the Bucket strategy so very much.

    I would also like to say to everyone in the world ever: Christmas cards should be the FIRST THING TO GO from your list. If the thought of Christmas cards makes you feel ill, don’t do them. You don’t have to do them! Other ways I relieve Christmas card angst:

    1) If you like having a picture card but haven’t taken your Official Holiday Photo, just use one or some pictures that you already took this year and consider it a year in review kind of thing. I used pictures from Easter this year because otherwise I would have missed a sale price.

    2) Don’t do photo cards at all!

    3) Send cards after Christmas, it’s totally fine.

    4) Send cards for Valentine’s Day, it’s totally fine.

    5) Send cards randomly, it’s totally fine. Ignore any snarky comments from uncles-in-law, because screw him.

  27. Laura Diniwilk

    I know I always have to comment way late, but my current boss walks past my desk 70 zillion times a day and is super passive aggressive whenever she catches me not working. It’s like kindergarten up in here.

    THE MOTHER IN LAW DISHES!!! I am almost sad you are getting rid of them.

    I am also working on the drops in the bucket approach here. This year I waited until last week to put up the tree and bust out the dreaded elf, only decorated with ornaments they made this year (which actually looks great, and ensures I get full use out of the cinnamon ornaments they made before they all break), skipped outdoor lights and just keep the window shade by the tree up, and am picking and choosing off my xmas card list as we speak. Instead of doing fancy cards I picked my favorite instagram picture and walgreens printed them out in less than an hour, and I’m sticking them in all of the boxed cards I hoard during post-xmas sales. And I’m sure NO ONE NOTICES OR CARES. Might slack on Christmas more often.

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