Recently, we took a long, hard look at the holiday season.

We’ve always had lofty expectations of what this time of year should to be like: cool gifts, legendary parties, and that coveted, down-home It’s a Wonderful Life coziness. Then, the actual holiday season shows up and we run into excessive giving, doses of forced merriment with toxic relatives and co-workers, and a nagging sense that the new year is probably not going to bring anything different. Where’s the value in a holiday season filled with that kind of garbage?

As two guys who have spent decades dealing with trash, we realized that the best way to get the waste out of our holidays was to act like a garbageman. He spends his days hauling away trash—that is, getting rid of anything whose value is all used up. Why couldn’t we do the same thing with the holidays: dump the stuff that clogs it up and replace it with something that has real value? That’s when we came up with the Holiday Garbage Guide, a few targeted suggestions that will help you toss the old trash so you can really enjoy the magic of the season.

Control your contact. A garbageman who works with toxic waste learns how to control his contact with it so he doesn’t become contaminated. The holidays are no different. Sitting next to your disapproving mother-in-law or dealing with Bragging Bob who always puts you down at the holiday party can create some very toxic situations. If you’re dreading face-to-face contact with someone or you have to attend gatherings that give you the shivers, take some precautions. Keep your distance. Limit your contact. Walk away if things start to get out of hand. And if you’re lonely, no texting old flames! The last thing you want is to create your own toxic mess.

Toss the triggers. How many years have you been celebrating the holidays? Ten? Twenty? Fifty? That’s a lot of memories—a minefield of songs, smells, and rituals that can trigger all sorts of emotions and drag the ho-hum into the holidays. When Jingle Bells comes on the radio or you see a billboard with the perfect family sitting around a dinner table, notice what you’re feeling and thinking. If you’re backsliding into the doldrums, put on the brakes by taking a few deep breaths and telling yourself, “That was then. This is now.” That way, the triggers of your past may fire but they’re not going to affect you anymore.  

Dump the obligations. There’s a lot more value in doing things because you want to rather than because you have to. It’s hard to see how your annoying neighbor’s gingerbread house unveiling or dragging yourself to yet another performance of The Nutcracker can add holiday cheer if you’re forced to go. If you feel obligated to give a gift or attend an event, ask yourself what would happen if you said no this year. If it doesn’t create a big mess, consider dumping the obligation and using that time or money in a way that is far more meaningful to you.

Take care of your truck. Plates of cookies. Open bars with free-flowing drinks. Edna from Accounting’s triple chocolate chunk bars. This is the time of year when access can quickly morph into excess. Take a tip from the garbageman and do a little preventative maintenance. Don’t attack the snacks on an empty stomach. Hit the gym a few more times a week. Set some limits. Indulge in the tastes and festivities of the season. Just don’t let them run you into a ditch.

Put value back in the holidays. Toss any trash that triggers old, unwanted feelings and replace it with traditions and actions that bring out the true spirit of this season. By tapping into your Inner Garbageman, you can create an experience for yourself that you’ll never forget.


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