Open your mailbox any day over the next few weeks and it's sure to contain yet more glossy catalogs and/or other publications full of images of gorgeously decorated living rooms, artfully set tables and gifts wrapped with a flourish.
Hit the Internet and the visual feast continues. Big sites and small blogs alike feature a smorgasbord of artfully photographed, thoughtful holiday crafts you, too, should try this time of year. If you turn on the TV, you'll find more of the same -- plus experts of all stripes showing you how to find the perfect gift for everyone on your list.
The images are lovely to look at and potentially inspiring. I'm certainly always on the lookout for good ideas I can use to spruce up my own home for the holidays.
But they have a dark side.
Cumulatively, they send the message that there is such a thing as "perfect" when it comes to decorating and gift giving, and that we somehow owe it to loved ones to strive to achieve it.
That's why we put out an alert for this time of year. Most of what you are seeing is pure airbrushed fantasy, images that have been carefully art-directed, airbrushed and retouched to create maximum desire. They bear little resemblance to real life.
So why should you care about that? Well, on a very real level, this ratchets up the pressure on most of us to do more, buy more and be perfect hosts when we are already pretty overloaded and financially strapped. The key to avoiding the trap is, mercifully, very easy: awareness. Once you are aware of what you are looking at (not reality), you then are free to choose how much or how little you want to buy into a particular image, idea or product promise.
Here are three techniques for combating the pressure to be perfect -- in decor, gift-giving or any other area.
Focus on one idea you can take away and implement without spending a dime. These images are often wonderful springboards for decorating ideas. To keep from becoming overwhelmed, though, look for ways to "right size" them for your life.
For example, a cue I've borrowed from Pottery Barn catalogs: If you put a bunch of leaves or greenery around your turkey, it will instantly look better no matter what platter you serve it on.
Pick one "project" for yourself for the whole season. Stop there and just do it. It is fairly easy to get carried away fantasizing about all the beautiful handmade things you're going to create. The only problem is, when you have too many things on your list, you get paralyzed, overwhelmed and do very little. Then you feel bad about it. It's a vicious cycle. Give yourself one decorating project and focus on doing a great job on it.
Ask the people you love what's important to them. Sometimes the experts just aren't right when it comes to proclaiming what's best. If you get to the point where you feel your stress levels rising and your chest constricting, tune out the noise. Step away from the experts and go listen to the opinions of those who really matter: your loved ones. Ask them what traditions are important to them, and focus on those.
The writers are co-founders of Buttoned Up, a company dedicated to helping stressed women get organized. Send ideas and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.