On September 11th of this year, I experienced several unconnected situations that required me to check in on my priorities and how they gel with society.

The morning was spent as I imagine many of you spent it, watching the coverage from New York, Washington & Pennsylvania. It was an important time to reflect on the events from a decade ago. I was pleased to see that, even in our current disappointing political climate (a Congressman called government approval levels “somewhere in the friends and family only area” on a recent Sunday morning news show), for at least one day, we were able to reflect on one of the most tragic days in our history and, perhaps more importantly, the sense of community it created in the weeks and months that followed.

That afternoon was spent moving my wife’s grandfather out of his condominium as he transitions to a nursing home. Without going into great detail, it became an opportunity to prioritize the importance of “stuff” in our lives, reflect on some important memories for some of the family and effectively evaluate wants versus needs when it comes to sentimental value.

The day ended with a stop at the mall for a quick errand. To my surprise, I had to walk through an entire floor fully decked out for Christmas before reaching my destination. Less than a week had passed since Labor Day. Halloween is still well off into the future. How could we already be emptying Santa’s sleigh into the local mall?

While a strange combination of events, it culminated in my realizing that this is the year I’m going to have a sincere talk with my family about the holidays before it catches me by surprise again. Every year, too much time and money is spent buying stuff that none of us really need. We rush to get to and from the mall, get it all wrapped, making sure everyone has “enough” to open. By the time we get to actually spending time together to celebrate the holiday and the year we’ve had, we’re out of time and out of energy. We discuss how silly it all is. How the time together and the simple traditions are really what means the most, but it’s too late. When the next year comes, we get blindsided by feelings of obligation, and the cycle continues.

Thanks to the timely reflections provided by the focus of the 9/11 memorial ceremonies, a family member’s move to a nursing home, and a disturbing scene at the mall, this year I’m taking a stand. I’m going to discuss these issues with my family now, not when we’re all gathered around the tree. I want to focus on experiences as gifts and trading the time spent running around the malls for time spent together.

I hear these concerns echoed throughout the year from so many friends, clients and colleagues, and wanted to sound the alarm a little earlier this year in the hopes that we’d all have time to reflect on how we want the holidays to look this year.

So before the mall and television ads nudge you back to the typical holiday shopping pattern, take the time now to consider making some changes this year. As with investing, retirement or most anything in life, you’re much more likely to succeed with a little planning in advance.

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