Create a Relaxing & Luxurious Atmosphere This Holiday Season (With Things That Are Inexpensive, If Not Free)
For the love of books & other simple pleasures
Two weeks ago, I was fighting evening fatigue when a surprise shoutout gave me a gust of energy. I’d been struggling to make final edits to my newsletter because I’m sharpest in the morning and as the day fades, it takes my ability to spot typos with it. But alas, I’d run out of time and said evening was my only option.
I was about to forego my effort and just hit ‘send’ when I was tagged in another post. Keen on any distraction from the task at hand, I clicked on the post and was honoured to find myself the subject of it. Not to mention, I was deeply moved by the writer’s kind words. And that gave me the energy boost I needed to finish my post.
Here’s a glimpse of whatwrote about me—and my writing:
Firstly, I will say that I’ve worked hard and overcome a lot of fear in a bid to realize my potential and explore as much as possible—especially in the last few years. Recognition of that is deeply appreciated. Thank you so much, Brooke.
Secondly, I’m glad my Sundays and general relaxation rituals inspire others to indulge in some luxury of their own—without needing to break the bank as I’m all about delighting in the simple things.
With that in mind, my holiday gift, or “pre-Christmas present” if you’re celebrating, is a rundown of how to make the most of your “me time” for the remainder of 2023 and beyond. Because you can’t take care of others unless you’re taking care of yourself first.
Self-care 101: Ambiance is everything when it comes to relaxing
Simple pleasures are only as luxurious as the ambiance you create for them. And a great ambiance satisfies as many of the senses as possible to help you relax. Here are some examples of my favourite ingredients to create a relaxing and luxurious atmosphere based on the most prominent sense they satisfy. Note that all of these things are relatively inexpensive (if not free).
During mornings and throughout the day, take advantage of natural light streaming through your windows. Depending on the layout of your living space, different rooms are likely to be sunbathed at different times.
For instance, early morning sunshine streams into my bedroom, yet as the day moves on, the sun projects into my living room where it eventually sets. So I like to curl up in my room first thing in the morning with my coffee to enjoy that golden hour.
In the evenings, take advantage of dimmers and other gentle lighting accents (lights strung across your Christmas tree or garland along the mantel) to soften the vibe of a room. Other welcome additions include lighting the fireplace (or if you don’t have one, setting your TV to a YouTube video of one), as well as candles—lots and lots of candles.
In my case, I finally got a small electric fireplace to fit into the gorgeous old-fashioned, French one I have (but that no longer works). For some reason, it never occurred to me you could get small units for apartments. And until now, I used my TV for the “fire effect” which always seemed to impress people.
Scented candles are synonymous with relaxation and large candles with multiple wicks (the kind you set down on a coffee table) are extra luxurious. My favourite candle maker at present is Sand + Fog. It’s an American brand inspired by the California Coast (a place I still have on my bucket list but can enjoy vicariously through my growing candle collection). Sand + Fog’s tagline is “Investment in relaxation” and that’s rather fitting if you ask me (or any number of my family and friends who buy their products). That said, I believe those of you in the US have an even wider selection available to you than those of us in the Great White North. (Lucky you.)
Another favourite source of relaxing scents is my essential oil diffuser. When I moved into a quaint, dreamy beachside apartment in Sydney back in 2017, I could hardly believe my luck. But what made this pad especially homey was my flatmate’s gift of style. In addition to beautiful and refreshing furnishings and decor, she had a gorgeous oil diffuser that sent the most relaxing scents emanating throughout the apartment in a dance with the sea breeze wafting in and out of the windows we rarely shut.
Ever since, I’ve made it a point to have a diffuser of my own. Now, often when I’m working out or doing yoga at home, I’ll use it to make the experience that much more zen. Or I’ll simply place it in the living room to let the relaxing aromas wash over the place. I’ve been gifted all sorts of oils from citrus scents to tea tree oil, but I generally prefer lavender or on occasion eucalyptus.
I don’t know if it’s because I’ve loved books since I was a toddler (a family trait I’m thrilled my three-year-old niece and one-year-old nephew have inherited), or my appreciation for luxury in so much as making experiences multi-sensory, but I’ve never been remotely interested in reading from a Kindle rather than a book.
I get the arguments in favour of Kindles (and similar products). Chiefly, they save readers space and money. But more and more, I have a growing respect and fascination for those who go against the present grain to accumulate physical books.
Back in August, I was wandering through Westmount—a hilly, upscale neighbourhood adjacent to my own (which is far more modest). I was with my mom, aunt, and sister and we were admiring the array of mansions that swept across Montreal’s most coveted vantage points when I was brought to a halt. Though difficult to see in the photo below, the view of books stacked up against the top floor windows was impossible to miss from the sidewalk. That alone made it the most interesting house to me. Because anyone who collects books is guaranteed to have an interesting mind. (I even made my aunt pose in front of the house so I could send a photo to my uncle, a major book collector, with the caption “your dream house.”)
Granted I’m a neat freak and wouldn't want books cluttered in my windowsills of all places obstructing sunlight or fresh air, I dream of having a house with a library someday—small as it may be. My earliest memory of wanting my own library (with old-fashioned ladders to reach the highest shelves) was sparked by Beauty and the Beast as Belle glided across bookcases to pluck out her latest selections.
I was reminded of this childhood dream upon reading these words by Jane Austen:
“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of anything than of a book! When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.”
I find comfort in Austen’s words every time I neglect my library card in favour of stocking my aspirational “library” with another beautiful book. Great writing is a gift in itself, but aesthetics paired with quality go a long way and I can’t deny my growing desire to make my reading that much more enjoyable with special hardcover editions with gilded edges (preferably gold).
Here’s an example of one I recently found that fits this criteria:
After binge-reading so many work-related books over the past few years, I’m pivoting back to fiction. More specifically, “the classics.” I’ve started with Pride and Prejudice (inspired by the movie being re-added to Netflix a few weeks ago), and this gem of a hardcover with gold-trimmed pages is making the read extra luxurious. I don’t want it to end.
Upon starting my new job, I did what any self-respecting book lover would do. I scouted out the nearest bookstore for a visit. I was thrilled to discover “Librairie Bertrand” is nestled in a historical building dating back to the mid-19th century. And I can attest to this claim on their website that their “interior stone walls create an ideal ambiance for browsing.”
Upon my entry, this Classic Tales of Christmas book jumped out at me from the display curated at the front:
I told the shop owner how much I loved hardcover editions of classic books with gilded edges à la Pride and Prejudice. I was curious to see what similar books they offered. The woman all but wielded the power of Santa Claus in making my Christmas wishes come true. She told me a number of classics by everyone from the Brontë sisters to Oscar Wilde (including Jane Austen, of course) would be coming into circulation as of December 18th as part of a collection called “Signature Gilded Classics.” She was even kind enough to write it down on a post-it for me.
Needless to say, I will be adding a few to my collection in due course. In the meantime, I encourage you to indulge in your favourite books to rest your eyes from the glare of screens in favour of softer sights found in tranquil pages.
But books aren’t the only ingredient guaranteed to help you relax. Whether you’re reading, napping, chilling, or sipping tea or coffee, you can make all of these things more luxurious with the right “touch.”
By that I mean warm blankets and soft throw pillows—I use soft velvet ones to prop up my book when I’m reading. You can also drape your favourite robe around you or put on a favourite sweater. You can even make ultra simple, unconscious things like moving around the house extra zen with comfy slippers and warm socks—which reminds me, check out this snug pair my work gifted us with for the holidays:
Once you’re comfy, you can also pull out a journal, which like a book affords you a break from screen time in favour of tranquil reflection. Combine this with a hot tea or coffee and a favourite scented candle and you’ll feel any stress you have melt away. It’s all about facilitating beautiful moments that make you treasure the present.
I’ll admit, my enthrallment with hardcovers and gold-gilded pages began with journals rather than books. Nearly two years ago, I discovered beautiful journals (like the one pictured below) being sold at a local shop and it was only upon recently finding my beautiful copy of Pride and Prejudice that I made their connection—they’re both published by Peter Pauper Press (also known as my new favourite brand).
I’m also a big fan of The Five Minute Journal—a gratitude journal designed to help you reflect on all you have to be thankful for and all that you’re looking forward to. It has daily prompts for both mornings and evenings, and each entry is preceded by a thoughtful quote to boost reflection.
Finally, a guaranteed way to warm up and let your stress evaporate is to take a bath. Water has rejuvenating powers and you can make your baths extra zen by incorporating candles and soft music.
When it comes to relaxing, embodying cafe vibes at home is where it’s at (think light jazz or other acoustic playlists). Or go a step further, and use your TV or computer to play YouTube videos of relaxing Christmas melodies set to a live fireplace that crackles realistically in tune with the music. Even better, light a real fireplace if you have one. Or else you can play a YouTube version to hear the sounds of a crackling fire (which is surprisingly effective). Lastly, silence is the most underrated soundtrack for relaxation. So leverage it where you can.
I was mulling over the menu at Café Jardin last weekend where a friend and I were catching up over brunch, when the barista whipped out a “festive beverage list.” There were countless options to choose from so I did what I always do when faced with such a dilemma, I asked the barista what their favourite was. They told me the peppermint latte and as a mint chocolate lover, I happily complied.
My original thought was “Well, I don’t need the extra sugar so I could just stick to my usual coffee,” but then I thought “What the hell? The festive season comes around once a year and I may as well lean into it with the odd sweet treat.” I was glad I did because the latte felt like Christmas in a cup and it made my coffee that day all the more enjoyable.
I’ve since kept the festive spirit alive with a special Christmas blend I purchased from another local cafe to give my usual black coffee at home a slightly different flavour. This way I’m back to my healthier version but it still feels uniquely seasonal. Not to mention, I get to enjoy it in an array of favourite mugs—from charming holiday ones that have been gifted to me over the years to sentimental ones I’ve hauled back to Montreal from favourite places like London, Sydney, Paris, and Maine.
In addition to satisfying the five senses, there’s another thing I want to touch on (no pun intended) regarding how to maximize relaxation over the holidays and beyond. And it’s the easiest exercise of all: walking.
I walk nearly everywhere. I walk to get groceries, I walk to the pharmacy, I walk to shops and cafes, I walk to and from the metro when I go into the office, and I walk around my neighbourhood and the surrounding ones even when I don’t have a specific destination in mind.
I’ve always been a big walker. When I lived in Sydney, people would look at me bug-eyed when I told them I often walked from Bondi to Maroubra (a coastal walk slightly over an hour and a half each way) or the equivalent between other beaches. When I lived in Paris, I’d walk from my apartment in the Marais to the Seine and then along the river to the Eiffel Tower and back about once a week (which took about two hours). And as for here in Montreal, people thought I was insane when I used to walk home to NDG from the Mile End after finishing work at Ubisoft (that walk was just under two hours but mostly downhill and plus, it was summer). What really horrified people though was sometimes I’d walk there and back in the same day.
In any case, a question I get asked a lot from people who aspire to walk more is “How do you motivate yourself?” The truth is I enjoy it because the combination of movement and fresh air is a form of meditation for me. No, I don’t employ any “real” meditation tactics but ultimately, it helps me clear my head. And isn’t that the point?
What I tell people who haven’t gotten to that enjoyment stage of walking yet is start by having a close destination in mind. Whether it’s strolling to a favourite cafe, library, park, etc., pick somewhere that feels “rewarding” to arrive at. Then set out on your journey. Put headphones on to listen to your favourite tunes if you need extra fuel.
The more you do this, the more inclined you’ll be to gradually increase your distances. And the more benefits you’ll reap from the combination of movement and fresh air. Pretty soon you might be walking most places yourself. In fact, why not make walking more a goal for 2024?
You can use a fitness tracker (I have a basic Fitbit) to track your steps and set a daily goal to hit that will help you celebrate your daily achievements. You don’t have to be neurotic about it. I’m not. It’s just a helpful benchmark, especially for those eager to up their step count. Eventually, you’ll get good at calculating your steps yourself. But in the meantime, the extra help can go a long way in staying motivated.
Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays
I want to take this opportunity to say a HUGE thank you for being a dedicated reader and wish you and your loved ones a very Merry Christmas (if you’re celebrating), and the happiest and healthiest of holidays.
Have a wonder-full week,
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