Working through relational expectations during the holidays can be a challenge. Being proactive in starting conversations helps in working through potential roadblocks to simplifying.

Expectations with gifts

Whether or not we realize it, we all have expectations during the holidays. Our experiences from years past cause us to anticipate what will happen in the coming season.

Sometimes that leads to incorrect assumptions being made. The best way to proactively deal with expectations is to discuss them.

Start with open and honest clear communication about your wants, needs, and expectations. Those conversations begin with your spouse so the two of you are on the same page first.

Then start conversations with extended family and friends. If you need to either not exchange gifts or want to change the way you do things, let people know in advance.

Unmet expectations set everyone up for failure. People are less likely to feel hurt when they know what to expect.  Discussions ahead of time can help avoid awkward situations.

You may find some people are relieved and glad for the change. Others may struggle a bit more with it. It’s important to be respectful and gentle in how you communicate your family’s wants and needs.

Also, realize that it’s ok if you don’t all agree. In the end, you can only control yourself and your attitude. You can’t change everyone’s mind. Remembering that can help you have grace in the midst of potentially difficult conversations.

Keep an open mind and heart as you listen to the thoughts and feelings of others. For the people in your life who have gifts as their primary love language, these conversations will feel more personal and potentially emotional.

Financial constraints

As I talked about in changing gift giving many people are going into debt buying gifts they are not able to afford. Prevent that by having open dialogue and sharing with people if you aren’t able to send gifts this year.

You can communicate that honestly by letting them know your finances don’t allow for it, but that you love and miss them. Just because you’ve always done thing a certain way doesn’t mean you can adjust expectations during the holidays. You can change the way you do gifts.

If you want to send something, there are ways to let people know that you care about them without investing much money. That could mean making homemade cards or sending baked good with a note letting the receiver know how much you love and miss them.

Time constraints

So you don’t want to spend your holiday season running around shopping with crowds trying to find the perfect gifts for 30 people? Yeah, me neither.

It is easy for our holiday joy to disappear when we invest a significant amount of time and energy devoted to shopping. The stress of shopping combined with financial constraints can be particularly difficult.

Perhaps you or a family member is dealing with health issues or is having to work a lot over the holidays. It’s ok to not want or be able to spend so much time shopping.

Begin with open honest communication with your spouse and family. Start the conversation with how you would like to change gift giving. Some options include opting out with certain family/friends, simplify by giving fewer gifts, or changing the way you gift to an exchange (so you are only buying one gift).

After you determine how you want to handle gift giving, let friends and family know so they can adjust their expectations accordingly.

Space constraints

Space constraints can be a challenge on the receiving end of gifts. If you are on a journey to simplify your home and your life, you already know what a challenge it can be to get items out of your house.

After dedicating time and energy to declutter, there is nothing worse than a truckload of new items (that you didn’t thoughtfully select) coming into your home.

You may also have physical constraints with living in an apartment or smaller home. Even if your home is larger, you begin to appreciate the open space and want to keep it.

Approach would be gift givers with some alternative ideas. Share your experience with simplifying and let them know that you’d prefer to change some expectations around gifts accordingly.

Simple gift ideas:

  • List of wants/needs
  • Gift cards
  • Gift of your time
  • Experiences
  • Handmade cards or treats


It’s completely fine to have a list of things you and your family would appreciate receiving at the holidays. This can help guide people who want to bless you but aren’t sure what you would want.

Gift cards

Gift cards are an acceptable option too. To make them feel a bit more personal, select one to a local place you know that person enjoys or a new place to try that you researched for them. Include a note sharing that you were thinking about them and miss them.


Gift of your time would be something like babysitting. Moms of little kids LOVE this gift. Perhaps the person you are gifting to could use a break or needs help caring for their lawn. There are lots of ways to gift some of your time to bless someone.


Experiences are a great gift and create the best memories. If you live far away from the person you are gifting to, it may be helpful to ask what local places they like to go to or check Groupon in their local area for ideas.


Making a card or homemade goodies is another great option. Rarely do we receive handwritten notes anymore. I love the idea of sending someone encouraging kind words at the holidays.

Share something you love and miss about the person or your favorite memory with them. Your words can meaningful gifts the receiver may want to hang onto for years to come.

Looking for additional ways to simplify the holidays this year? Check out THIS POST.

Expectations with family get-togethers

Similar to gift giving, it is easy to come into the holiday season with a set of expectations about family get-togethers. Maybe it’s because you’ve done the same thing every year.

Challenge assumptions if the habits you’ve had aren’t working for you or your family. If you need to have more open and honest communication about things that need to change with this, now is the time to do that.


Perhaps your tradition has been to fly home for the holidays every year. Maybe this would be the first year you ever even considered not doing that.

There are reasons you may want to reconsider your plans. The ones that first come to my mind is the time, cost, and stress of traveling (especially with small children).

People may be disappointed. You may be disappointed. Some years exceptions may need to be made given your circumstances and accepting that and making the best of it is all you can do.


I have heard friends talk about celebrating multiple times for Christmas with various branches of the family. The expectations during the holidays of you and your family going to everything can get quite complicated and time-consuming.

If participating in 3 Christmas dinners every year works for you and your family, then there’s no reason to discontinue it. However, if you are constantly feeling pulled in multiple directions and it is draining you then maybe it is time to reconsider the expectations.

Some families solve this by switching from year to year which side of the family they celebrate with. Another idea is to simplify the celebration so making elaborate meals and giving gifts each time isn’t expected.

Compromising and sacrificing is part of being in a family. However, if you are in a situation that really isn’t working for you for holiday get-togethers, start a conversation about it and work on coming up with solutions.

The heart of Christmas

The holidays should be a time for celebrating family and friends. Demonstrate love by believing the best in others. Give and expect nothing in return. Be gracious. Be patient and understanding.

Start the difficult conversations and change the expectations as needed. Know others usually mean well even if they don’t see things the same way you do. Remember you can only control you.

Be sensitive and listen to other’s needs and desires. But, don’t feel like you need to fulfill everyone else’s desires. Don’t go against your own values to fulfill other’s expectations. Have discussions. Work through it.

It can be tricky to navigate relationships and expectations during the holidays. By starting open conversations now you have the chance to change expectations moving forward if needed.

As you work through expectations during the holidays, may the season be filled with joy, love, and peace đŸ™‚

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  1. Ok I know this is the wrong time of year, but I am a planner. This last Holiday Season I needed to make some changes. I was too stressed!! I work full time (I usually work Christmas Eve and the day after Christmas), have a medically fragile child, and just don’t have the time to fit it all in. So this last year I told my parents (they are in their 80′, travel to my house, and stay with us for about a week) I would not be making Christmas Day dinner, I would do Christmas Eve dinner instead so I can truly enjoy Christmas day. I also have to get up at 5:30am the day after Christmas so when I do dinner and clean up I don’t get to bed till very late and I am tired at work. But truly the biggest thing is I want to enjoy Christmas. Not getting up and down all day working on dinner, basting a turkey, cooking this and that, I needed a change. I informed my parents in November this was my plan. This did not go over well with my mother who relentlessly tried to tell me (not even ask me) to change my mind. I held true and stuck with my plans, but I was met with snarky remarks, etc. I plan to do it again this year and I know I will face the same treatment, but I have to look out for my mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing. I also spoke with several family members and we have decided to stop exchanging gifts. For my grown children I will be greatly cutting back. I just don’t have the time or WANT the stress buying tons of gifts entail. Also, since starting my decluttering this year, I don’t want to add unwanted gifts and stuff back into my house. I have finally overcome most of the “gift guilt” my mother has put on me all these years. Reading all of these tips just confirm in my mind, what I am doing is best for me and my family. Thank you!!

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