It’s the Sunday after Thanksgiving and the holiday shopping season has officially kicked off. With cyber Monday just around the corner, it’s easy to get sucked into the world of “stuff” and miss the spirit of the season. Here’s what we did this week to keep fighting the good fight and focus on being truly thankful this holiday season without busting our budget.

Thankful for the Basics

We have every reason to be thankful.

We were blessed to have been born in a country where the standard of living is luxurious compared to what the majority of people experience on a daily basis.

No matter what your life situation is, you’re bound to have stresses and challenges, but most of what we face in our family are “first world problems”.

We strive to remind ourselves that there are others out there who struggle daily with hunger, unclean water, lack of shelter, and inadequate hygiene products.

One way we help combat this is through participating in Operation Christmas Child through Samaritan’s Purse.

For the last two years, we’ve had our kids each assemble a “shoebox gift” - a shoebox filled with toys, clothes, and hygiene items - to be shipped to a child in a life situation much more challenging than our own.

It’s a great way to show gratitude for your situation - by helping others who aren’t in the same place.

Our three girls walking to the drop-off for Samaritan's Purse

Thankful for our Kids

Our kids are all in school now and they regularly bring home some pretty awesome artwork to hang on the wall.

Pro parenting tip: painters tape is a perfect way to turn your house into a kid art gallery without damaging your walls

The week before thanksgiving, all three of our kids came home with paper turkeys; we used painters tape to hang them up on the wall as free Thanksgiving decorations.

In addition to giving our house a festive feel, the kids were incredibly proud of their work and having it showcased encouraged them to make additional decorations with our home art supplies.

Before we knew it, every interior door had a paper turkey and there were little slips of paper all over our house with the word “Gobbl” (sp) on them.

You couldn’t walk into any room in our house last week without seeing a Thanksgiving decoration (Tweet this )

It was awesome for us and our kids were excited to have helped decorate.

Paper turkey taped to a door

Piece of paper with "Gobble" written on it, spelled G-o-b-b-l

Thankful for our Planet

Last year, we chose to forego an artificial Christmas tree to go with something a bit more minimalist. We didn’t want to do a traditional live Christmas tree either (to avoid killing a tree for no other reason than to have it in our house for a few weeks).

With that in mind, we found a cool middle ground - we bought a small Norfolk Pine which can act both as a Christmas tree and as a year-round houseplant.

We failed in our first year, under-watering and ending up with a dried up shrub. We do not have green thumbs…

We aren’t quitters though - we’re back at it and hoping to be more successful this year.

While they start small, Norfolk Pines can grow as high as 20 feet tall indoors. We’re hoping to top out at 6 feet or so, which would make for a great permanent Christmas tree for our family in the future.

In the meantime, it’s a great new member of the family - the girls really enjoyed the naming process :)

Our new Norfolk Pine houseplant and Christmas tree

We're in the presence of royalty (as named by our children)! I present: Princess Lulu Cora Isabella Elena of Norfolk Island

Thankful for Our Individuality

This was our first Thanksgiving at our house, just the five of us. While my wife and I do some basic cooking, neither of us has ever done a turkey with all the trimmings and we weren’t set to try this year.

Compound that with three little picky eaters (no, I’m not one of them) and we had a problem - or opportunity.

To make sure everyone got something they’d love (and keep the cooking within our wheelhouse), we gave each family member the power to choose one food that we would have for Thanksgiving dinner.

While strawberries, buns, pumpkin pie, sugar cookies, and fancy grilled cheese may not meet the traditional definition of a thanksgiving feast, it did meet our appetites and everyone felt ownership over the meal :)

The grilled cheese even had deli turkey on it for the family members that were up for it.

Fancy grilled cheese sandwiches...mmm...

Fancy grilled cheese sandwiches on homemade french bread with provolone, parmesan, pasta sauce and deli turkey

Thankful for Enough

Black Friday. Ugh. (Tweet this )

People confuse me.

Just one day after everyone counts their blessings and shows gratitude for their lots in life, they buy presents to celebrate the birth of our savior while simultaneously…stepping on each other, yelling, shoving, and generally being not-so-nice people.

I know most people shopping on Black Friday aren’t bad apples, but there are enough to spoil the bunch.

Compound that with my general distaste for consumerism any time of the year and it leads us to very different family activities on Black Friday.

Rather than spend the day standing in line for stuff we didn’t need, we spent the day playing games, chilling in our pajamas, and building epic forts using our furniture, blankets, and camping gear :)

It was a great way to show gratitude for what we have - committing to not getting anything more (Tweet this )

A fort for three little ones; future additions planned

Thankful for Everything Else

Continuing in the theme of encouraging craftiness (the artsy kind, not the con artist hustle kind), my wife had a project for us to do as a family to help bridge from Thanksgiving to Christmas in a really fun way.

Enter the Thankful Tree

Christmas tree painted on cardboard with paper ornaments

We took a piece of cardboard and had the girls paint a bare christmas tree on it. While the paint dried, we all wrote down things we were thankful for on little circle ornaments and then glued them to the tree, saying what we were thankful for as we put it on.

It stands proudly in our living room as a reminder of what we’re thankful for while looking forward to celebrating Christmas.

Christmas tree painted on cardboard with paper ornaments

Of all the things we did this week showing our gratitude, this one was the most impactful to me because of the surprising (and wonderful) things that our kids came up with.

Some of my favorites from the kids:

  • Bathtub toys
  • Christmas Tree
  • Birthdays
  • Blood - “so we can live”
  • Clothes - “otherwise we’d be naked and cold”
  • Home - “so we can stay warm and safe”
  • Food
  • Teachers
  • Mommy & Daddy
  • My sisters
  • Myself (one of our daughters being thankful for herself)
  • Jesus

It’s not the first time I’ve been amazed at how poignant the thinking of a child can be

What struck me the most was how thankful they were for the fundamentals - that they understood that many of their items were necessary but not universal.

On our end, some of the hits:

  • Our kids and each other
  • Safety and health
  • Those that dedicate their lives to helping others
  • Freedom
  • Friendships
  • Walking together
  • Road trips
  • Books, blogs, podcasts
  • Recycling and Organic Farming
  • God’s love
  • Jesus

And one last one from me that’s worth a special note:

  • This blog and its readers (AKA you!)

Writing and being lucky enough to have some people actually read along has been an amazing experience these last 11 months. I’m excited to keep on rolling and see where this all goes.

I hope you had a great Thanksgiving and have been able to see the many blessings in your life. If you’re reading this, I count you as one in mine - thank you!

As you head into the rest of the holiday season, keep an eye on what this season is and isn’t about. Don’t make this time of the year about spending ridiculous sums of money on things that people don’t actually need.

Keep Thrifty and Carry On!