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I have a goal this holiday season: to spend less.

That probably sounds a little shallow, so let me explain.

It’s more than just being a severely indebted work study student who barely has time to shower, much less get a profitable second job. (Kidding about that.) (Kind of.) It’s about taking the time to stop before I toss countless items into some shopping cart, and to instead consider what my loved ones really want. It’s about communicating that love in a way that each person will really understand—without adding to the clutter.

So I want to spend less without loving less. But how?

After some thought, I realized that in order to spend less money, I really need to spend more of something else.

A little less than a year ago, I stumbled across a brilliant theory called “The 5 Love Languages.” It’s by this marriage counselor named Dr. Gary Chapman. Basically, during his 35+ years of working with couples, he noticed that each of his clients best expressed/received affection with their spouses in one of 5 basic ways: physical touch, quality time, words of affirmation, receiving gifts, or acts of service.

(Important note: Although everyone is capable of expressing/receiving affection in most or all of these ways, people generally find that one or two of these methods communicate affection more effectively than the others. Whichever method an individual has a predisposition for is his or her “primary love language.”)

He discovered that these five methods of expressing affection (or “Love Languages”) don’t just apply to romance—they apply to any relationship in which one would express any kind of affection at all: mother-daughter, brother-sister, best friends, you name it.

These love languages afford a little bit of explanation, as some are more obvious than others, so here’s a quick briefing on what each language means (Find out more at www.5lovelanguages.com).

Physical Touch: Handshakes, hugs, and high-fives are how this person best expresses and receives affection—a shoulder massage can go a long way!
Quality time: Full, undivided attention is the most sincere way to tell this person you care. A missed movie night or jam session can really, really hurt.
Words of Affirmation: This person feels most loved and communicates love best through spontaneous affirmations. Anything from a heartfelt letter to a quick “You’re awesome!” scribbled on a Post-It note can speak volumes to this person.
Receiving Gifts: Not to be mistaken for materialism, this person is touched by the intention and sacrifice behind a physical representation of affection.
Acts of Service: Vacuuming or doing dishes for this person is the best way to love them. Does your roommate always offer to do unnecessary acts of kindness for you? Now you know why!

So what does all of this mean to me?

What this means is that in order to spend less, I’ll be spending much, much more…

…Quality Time. Instead of sitting alone in my room scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed for the 18th time today, I’m going to get up and make a conscious effort to spend time with my siblings. It means making the effort to organize and host hangout time with my friends. It means setting down my phone when my Dad walks in the room, asking him how work went, and actually caring about his answer.
…Physical Touch. For me, this one’s the easiest. I love to shower people in hugs (tackle hugs are the best!) and high-fives and make up secret handshakes. But this year, I have to remember that just because I feel like tackling someone in a hug doesn’t mean they need the hug right then. Misplaced affection can really defeat the purpose. So for Advent and Christmas, I’m going to pay special attention to the emotional state of those around me. I’m going to stay super tuned in to how my loved ones are feeling, and give them affection when they want and need it, not just when I feel like communicating it.
…Words of Affirmation. It seems so simple to affirm people, but it’s usually forgotten. I’m going to focus on telling my family how amazing they are, especially since it usually goes unsaid. I’ll draw attention to the things I appreciate but don’t usually mention and share them with the friends around me. I might have to risk being laughed at or shut down for seeming sappy, but if it makes my sisters, my dad, or anyone else feel valued, it’s worth it.
…Gifts. Even though a lot of emphasis so far has been on things that aren’t material gifts, for some people, receiving gifts is extremely important. This year, my emphasis will be on gifts that will really matter to the person receiving them. Often, the simplest, homemade gifts are the most special. This means making scrapbook pages with fond memories, printing and framing a picture of a special time together, or other simple, meaningful arts and crafts.
…Acts of Service. I hated having dish duty when I still lived at home, and I remember how nice it was when someone would jump in and do a load for me, especially when I was stressed. I’m going to make a conscious effort to take over dishes for my sisters, dinner set-up and clean-up for my dad, unsolicited vacuuming to keep the dining room nice, etc, etc…phew. I might even accidentally get in shape!

This year, spending less won’t just mean saving money. It’ll mean becoming actively involved in and aware of the lives and feelings of those around me. It’ll mean being totally in tune with those who I love, and being involved enough in their lives that I’m aware of their needs and wants. It means that, this year, if I want to show my family and friends how I really feel, I’m going to need to spend a little less and love a whole lot more.

Forest Hempen is a sophomore Theology major from the St. Louis area.  Forest works at the Dorothy Day Center for Faith & Justice as a Student Employee; she’s the one who makes all the pretty posters! She enjoys Lord of the Rings, improv comedy, and sharing laughs with everyone she meets!