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Why I stopped giving gifts for the holidays

Julie Hryniewicz is a former police officer who shares her personal and professional stories about overcoming adversity, healing, wellness and living fully. She has been speaking and writing since 2004.

Filing for bankruptcy taught me there can be more to the holidays than gifts

I ran into a lovely woman today. I hadn’t seen her in a while. She is elderly, sweet and always in the mood for a conversation.

Today, she claimed she was doing OK, but her tone indicated otherwise. I felt concerned about her in that moment and decided to probe further. I asked her if she was looking forward to the holidays. She responding assertively with, "I can’t wait for the holidays to be over."

Perplexed, I asked why. She proceeded to tell me that shopping is one of the most stressful things she ever has to do. She went on to explain how she never knows what to get people. While saying this, she was shaking her head and taking a deep breath. She was so cute with her broken Italian accent and a band of gray hair lining her ears where her roots were showing under her dark brown hair.

In passing, I told her how relieved I was that our family decided years ago to stop buying gifts and now our holidays were so much less stressful. We now do one thoughtful thing for each of our children, and that is easy to manage.

"No gifts!" she exclaimed with her eyes bulging in disbelief and a perplexed look on her face.

We chuckled as we exchanged good-byes at the building's entrance. I offered her a suggestion that perhaps giving them some money might be easier. She looked back at me and nodded in agreement that money sounded like a much better idea, for sure. We waved as we parted, and I wished her well.

Getting into my car, following our exchange, I felt sad for this woman in the same way I feel for so many people who find the holidays so stressful. It is unfortunate that her association with the holidays is negative. But, I also received confirmation that giving up the gift giving, in general, was one of the best decisions we ever made.

Knowing that January and February were always difficult months, once the credit cards with holiday purchases started arriving, I remember the aggravation it caused. I guess, in hindsight, I was grateful for the experience of bankruptcy.

Over a decade ago, my life was upside down. I had left my marriage and my career as a police officer. At the time of leaving my profession, after eight years on the force, I owned seven houses and was collecting rental income from most of them. The idea was the income and my severance would sustain me financially until I found a new career.

Although I ended up teaching at a local college part time, my debt and my monthly obligations were too overwhelming to carry. After juggling lines of credit, credit card transfers, attempting to sell houses in a depressed real estate market, divorce, dealing with repairs from tenants who damaged some of my properties and running out of options, I resorted to bankruptcy.

It was one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make. I felt like a financial leper for many, many years and the side effects of bankruptcy went well beyond my finances. Feelings of worthlessness, despair, restriction, pain, regret, guilt and remorse were regularly triggered and rehashed. I never imagined I would come out on the other side of these feelings.

The good news is, I have. Even though the bankruptcy still comes up now and again and does impact lending well after the seven-year mark (contrary to the information previously provided to me), I feel hopeful that there is life after bankruptcy.

I have learned that things, money, gifts and stuff can be toxic, unhealthy and draining. I love the new lessons, tips, tools and decisions we have made in regards to money, and I have released my attachment to money to feel whole.

Even when my bank account is drained, my wallet is empty and my thinking cap is on about how to generate the money I need to live, I feel love, a warm bed and a roof over our heads, food in my belly and the pleasure of enjoying a holiday filled with family, food, fun and Christmas movies.

I bask in the experiences that life has brought to me in the form of pain, so that I may share my stories with others. You don’t need to purchase anything for someone to care for you or love you. That is the lesson I have learned.

Instead of debt, over spending, obligation and stress, I hope your holidays are filled with meaning, laughter, kindness, hope, joy, new memories and conscious spending. That is my holiday wish for you.

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