Christmas isn’t just the most wonderful time of the year, it’s often the most stressful. When the busyness of the season takes away from its meaning, you know it’s time to simplify. But what should you give up? You don’t want to come across as a scrooge, right? During the holidays, less is truly more– and can enhance its significance. Knowing the difference between what is truly meaningful and what you feel just adds to the stress is key, and varies from person to person. Here are some ideas:
Get an Early Start
Make it a goal to tackle a little bit on your holiday task list each day, starting as soon as you can. Even if you’re too late for that this year, you can start as soon as Christmas is over to make next year’s holiday season less stressful. Shop ahead for gifts, get the cards done before December, and even bake things ahead that you can freeze. Not only does this spread out the work, it can help spread out the expense.
Focus on Meaningful Traditions
What Christmas memories were most special to you and your partner growing up? If you have little kids and haven’t solidified your own family traditions yet, those are the traditions you should focus on carrying on. Or, if your kids are school-age already, which ones do they remember most? Those are the ones you should keep up. Having those conversations can provide insight into what is important and what may not be. Often, things you feel obligated to do aren’t as memorable as you give them credit for.
Here are some ideas for Holiday Family Traditions you can start this year
Prepare Your Home
November is a month of thanksgiving and gratitude, and it’s a great time to go through your home, declutter, and give to those less fortunate. As a mom, it’s not too overwhelming to set aside a few minutes each day to go through various “hot spots” in your home, such as your own closet, the kids’ toys, and the front coat closet to donate things you don’t need. This will help get your home in order before the holiday chaos hits – and make room for gifts you may receive.
Better yet – get your kids in on the donating action. Have them go through their own toys and clothing to find things they don’t use or need anymore. This not only helps you purge your home of unused items, it helps get them in the habit of decluttering and focusing on generosity.
To simplify it even more, find out which organizations in your area will pick up your donated items if dropping them off is a hassle.
Buy Fewer Gifts
Even Jesus, the reason for the season, only got three gifts – gold, frankincense and myrrh. Why do we feel the need to double, triple, even quadruple that amount for our own kids? I love the idea of following in the footsteps of the wisemen and giving three special gifts. However, our family has never been able to do just that. If you feel the same way, you may want to talk to your spouse and pick a number of gifts you both agree on. Otherwise, gifts can tend to pile up at the end just for the heck of it.
If you have babies and toddlers – keep this in mind: The best time to set an expectation for a simple Christmas is while the kiddos are young. If you go overboard with the amount of gifts they receive early on, they may start to expect it as they get older, and when gifts get more expensive. It’s totally acceptable to leave the generosity to the grandparents, aunts, uncles and special friends.
Set a Budget… and Stick to It!
It goes without saying that holiday spending can easily get out of hand. Typically, we think of gifts when we think of Christmas budgets. However, it’s the other stuff – the Christmas cards, postage, the food, the travel, the clothing, that can cause us to break the bank. Listing these incidental expenses, setting a budget, then STICKING to it, is a great way to keep holiday expenses under control.
Read more here: Create a Holiday Gift-Giving Spreadsheet
Create Boundaries with Your Time
Just as budgeting helps you create boundaries with your money, placing boundaries on your time can lessen holiday stress as well. Decide which holiday events are a must, and which ones you can politely decline. You can also avoid the “Christmas Creep” stress by setting deadline dates for tasks that need to get done, such as mailing holiday cards and gifts, wrapping presents. Don’t just set deadline dates, but put them on your calendar to reinforce their importance.
Designating one night of the week as “family night” can be a fun tradition as well. It’s a 2 or 3-hour block where you limit phones and digital interruptions, and really focus on building tradition. You can use those nights to put decorations on your tree, watch holiday movies, or bake cookies together. Put them on the calendar to ensure you follow through.
I remember someone once telling me she thought it was a “cop out” not to hand-address Christmas cards. Well, if cards required me to do that, I’d have a hard time getting them all out. Keeping an address database so I can print my labels is a huge time-saver. Plus, nobody wants to see my handwriting anyway. I think everyone needs to evaluate what their true goal with their cards really is. For some, it’s a traditional touchpoint in the year. For others, it’s more meaningful, a way to share what their family has been doing and truly connect.
Some people love the idea of sending cards, but have started doing it on other holidays, when time isn’t at a premium. Sending a “Happy New Year” card may buy you some extra time, and then you can make sure you send to the people who sent YOU cards. I’ve even seen people send Valentine’s Day cards to push it the task off until the holidays are completely over.
Simplify Holiday Baking
This one can be especially annoying or stressful if you don’t like to bake. No need to stress yourself out! There’s nothing wrong with store-bought sweets to have some festive cookies on your plate, or getting some pre-made dough if you want the experience of baking with your children. Whatever your level of baking enjoyment is, show yourself some grace. If you normally enjoy cooking anyway, consider putting a few frozen dinners on your menu plan. That way, you can focus your time on holiday baking instead for an easy time-swap.
Shop in Your Own Closet
Holiday parties, church services, kids’ programs… all usually make you feel like you need to dress up in something festive and NEW. Chances are you already have something you can wear, so don’t put additional pressure on yourself to buy something you really may not need. Guess what? Most people won’t notice what you’re wearing anyway, or if you repeat an outfit from last year. If buying something new makes you feel special and is important, aim for something you can wear time and time again after the holidays are over. Or, opt for a fun new accessory or pair of shoes that will get a lot of post-holiday mileage.
You can even shop in your own closet for meaningful, used gifts. Before you dismiss this and say how incredibly tacky that sounds, read this: How to Give Used Gifts Without Being Tacky.
Avoid the Stores
If the crowds, parking lots and commercialism are draining, skip the stores. In 2018, you really don’t need to set foot in any retail establishment to buy gifts if you don’t want to. This goes beyond typical online shopping — you can even order groceries online and have them delivered to your front door, sometimes even for free with a minimum purchase. Or, to lessen the legwork you can take advantage of stores like Target and Walmart that now allow customers to shop online and pick up at their stores or in their parking lots on the very same day.
I’m also a firm believer in shopping locally and supporting small business, which can be more challenging with this approach. Do you know of any college students or high schoolers with drivers’ licenses that can shop for you in exchange for some of their own spending cash? Hiring out the job may be a win-win for everyone.
Minimize Christmas Decorating
Christmas decorating can take a lot of time and truly feel like a chore. You can say no to this, and decorate with fewer pieces that are simple to get out of storage and display. You don’t need the holiday-scented candles, Santa-themed hand towels, or a complete set of snowflake dishes, bowls and mugs. Unless, of course, these things really light your fire. I have some friends that go all-out, spend hours upon hours decorating. It’s meaningful to them. But, if you feel that decorating is more of an obligation than something you truly enjoy, make things easy for yourself. Create an impact with a few decorations that are truly beautiful and meaningful.
Like most items in our home, we tend to collect more each year and avoid getting rid of what we don’t use. Each year, as you get your holiday items out of storage, make sure you donate what you don’t use anymore. If you get more decor after the season is over when it’s on clearance, make it your goal to get rid of one item for each one you purchase.
Wrapping it Up
Some years, even wrapping gifts can feel like a chore. Take advantage of stores and mall kiosks that do the wrapping for you. Or, make use of gift bags that make wrapping easier. You’ll find all sorts of sizes and designs at the Dollar Store, so wrapping gifts this way doesn’t have to be more expensive. They’re also easy to save and re-use next year.
If you do your own wrapping, do it as you go along to reduce the stress you experiences as you get closer to Christmas Day. However, if you do enjoy one big wrapping session – make it fun and memorable! Turn on some holiday music, pour yourself some eggnog and wrap with your spouse after your kids have gone to bed. If you wrap as you go along, you may want to put post-its on your gifts so you remember what they are. You don’t have to write out the gift names, either. If you have nosy kids that may find them, it may be best to number them, and keep a corresponding list on lockdown on your phone or computer.
Above all, focus on gratitude this season. When things seem stressful or too busy, keeping things in perspective and counting your very many blessings can help you decompress. Start a Holiday Blessings Jar to keep the focus where it needs to be.
How do you simplify Christmas? Leave your comments below!