I cleaned out my closet yesterday and realized that I have three nearly identical black sweaters.

Now, if I owned three totally different black sweaters? Nothing wrong with that. But who needs three cardigan-wrap hybrids (is there an official fashion name for that style? I am outing my lack of fashion vocab here)?

Me, apparently.

On further inspection, conducted by rapidly pulling things off of shelves and hangers, looking at them, declaring them stupid, and throwing them in the Goodwill bag, I realized that not only do I own an excessive number of sweaters for someone who lives the desert of central Texas, I own an excessive number of items in the black, gray and navy families. I’ve unwittingly created my own set of Grown Up Garanimals. I also own lots of stripes (black, gray and navy stripes, of course), which is an odd choice for someone who is not six feet tall and is decidedly un-willowy.

The voices in my head had a field day with this little activity. One uncharacteristically cheery voice said things like,

You are so good. Look at you, cleaning out your closet and being so productive during this busy, busy season. You are super woman!

(Clearly, I’m easily impressed by my own, fabulous self.)

The other, more standard, Debbie Downer voice said things like,

You are wasteful. You waste money on 42 sweaters that you never wear; and then you waste valuable holiday time cleaning out your excessively full closet. You are all that is wrong with the consumerist culture.

When the voices got too loud, I told those whiny, obnoxious mean girls to SHUT. UP. But their words rattled around in my head for the rest of the day. I wrestled with the concept of excess, all the while feeling so excited about my latest purchase: a navy and white striped cardigan.

It’s natural to look at our excess during this season. Everywhere you go, the talk is about shopping, buying, giving, getting. And while Mark and I make an effort to teach our children about the meaning behind Christmas, the reason for the season if you must, we also do Santa.

And Elves on the Shelf.

And stockings.

And letters to the big man, requesting the toys of our dreams (“A big T-rex, what stomps and looks like Buddy from Dinosaur Train.”).

In the grand scheme of things, we do keep things manageable. My extended family is a reasonable bunch, and we don’t buy huge numbers of presents for each other or for the kids. There’s name drawing in some circles; there’s price limits in other circles; across the board there’s a sense of restraint, however subtle.

But that undercurrent of the I-Wants-and-the-Gimmies is still there. It sort of goes with the season. Personally, when the budget allows, I adopt a One-For-You-One-For-Me shopping attitude. Hence the new cardigan.

I don’t know how to eradicate that undercurrent of wants during this season. And, if we’re being honest, that undercurrent runs throughout the entire year.

Short of stopping all present giving and getting, I don’t see a solution. I’m also not certain I’m looking for a solution. I love the giving (and yes, the getting) part of this season. Finding the right gift for someone is one of my greatest pleasures. Getting the right gift doesn’t suck, either.

So Mark and I try to strike a balance. A balance in our own spending, a balance in what we buy for our children. We share our excess with those in need. We teach our children to give. We talk about the great disparity between those who have, and those who don’t.

But I wonder… am I doing enough? What message am I sending when I come home from Christmas shopping with a new pair of boots for myself?