How would things be different if this year you focused on simplifying the holidays? Does that sound like it would be a weight off your shoulders or does the thought scare you a little bit?

Simplifying the holidays

I’ve loved Christmas since I was a small child. I’m very attached to my traditions and really enjoy the holiday season.

However, I’ve had to adapt to holiday experiences changing since becoming a parent. I miss being a kid and having all of the traditions happen without having to do any of the work.

simplifying the holidays

Experiencing the holidays as a parent

As a parent, I put too much time into things my kids didn’t care about. I’d had too high of expectations and then have exhausted myself trying to make the whole month magical for them. The following holiday season,  I decided to reassess the situation and think through my values.

I had to look at what was working and what wasn’t. We kept certain traditions and eliminated others. It made for a more enjoyable experience.

Have you noticed that as a culture we have come to expect that the holidays are busy and chaotic? We often spend too much, do too much, and end the Christmas season feeling more burned out (and in debt) than when we started.

Not exactly a great way to end the year. If your goal is simplifying the holidays this year so you can experience less stress and more joy, I created a planner to help you get started. You can sign up for it on the form below.

Priorities

The first step in planning for a simpler holiday is thinking through your priorities.

  • What matters most to you for the coming season?
  • Which adjectives would you use to describe your ideal holiday season?
  • What memories do you want to have?
  • What’s most important to you?

It can be very helpful to think through these questions for yourself and then discuss them with your spouse. Finding some middle ground for where you can both be happy in selecting your priorities as a family is key.

Decide ahead of time how many events and activities you feel are appropriate. Your schedule for the months of November and December will easily fill up if you don’t have clear boundaries.

Depending on the age of your children, you may want to have a family meeting to let them know what to expect for the coming holiday season (especially if you are making big changes from previous years).

If your kids are older, you may want to ask for their opinions as you decide which traditions you plan to carry on and which you may let go of.

As you think through traditions, schedules, decor, and gifts refer back to your priorities and how you want to remember the holidays.

You want the decisions you make to reflect the priorities you established for the holiday season.

Traditions

Traditions can be a touchy subject for some as you work at simplifying the holidays.

Die-hard traditionalists may not be too excited about the idea of letting go of any of their beloved Christmas traditions. Tread lightly and be sensitive to the feelings of other family members.

If we do an activity once, my kids sometimes assume that it is now a tradition. In some cases, those activities may not be ones we want to try again either due to cost, time, or it not being enjoyable for everyone. 

It’s ok to not take that on and let it become an expectation.

Let your kids know that not everything you do during the holidays will be repeated the following year. Otherwise, you are setting yourself up for exhaustion. I’ve been there and I’ve done that.

We do have some simple and inexpensive Christmas traditions that we love though.

When you are assessing which traditions to continue with, do 2 things:

  1. Ask members of the family which tradition is most meaningful to them
  2. See if that tradition fits with the priorities and goals you established

I asked my girls this past week what their favorite holiday traditions are.

One said the advent calendar (which we put a few m&ms in each drawer for each day of December through Christmas). The other said finding her presents on Christmas morning.

This tradition was passed down from my childhood. Each year my dad would hide our presents after we went to bed on Christmas eve.

We would wake up before the sun, take out our flashlights, and go through the house searching for our wrapped presents. My oldest now loves doing this too!

It would be easy to fill the entire month of December with traditions you are passing on from your own childhoods as well as new experiences you have started as a family.

For most people that would lead to weariness and burn out. I’m guessing those are not the adjectives most of us would use to describe our ideal holiday season.

Have you mailed out Christmas letters or cards for years and now feel the pressure to continue to do so even though you loathe it? If that’s you, I give you permission to let it go. So many things we tell ourselves are necessities truly aren’t. It’s ok to take a year off or let it go altogether.

Scheduling

I’ve found that the month of December is the most difficult for planning anything with a friend or family member. People are so busy going to work parties, school parties, concerts, church events, local events, etc. The list seems endless.

While some of those activities may be non-negotiables for you, examine how many of them are actually important to you.

I think we keep consciously or subconsciously telling ourselves we HAVE to do all these things either due to expectations we have set up for ourselves or the real (or perceived) expectations of others.

Want a more peaceful holiday season? Say no to more things. Allow for more margin and breathing room as you close out the year.

Let there be unscheduled time at home with your family where you play games, sit by the fire, or go on an impromptu drive looking at lights.

Don’t wear yourself down and stress yourself out trying to make it to all the things. There is no joy in that and in fact, we can get resentful that our holiday was spent going places we didn’t want to go and doing things we didn’t want to do.

As you determine which activities are the most important, refer back again to your priorities and hopes for the holiday season. Be selective with your schedule. Choose not to fill it. Allow yourself some breathing room.

The free Simplifying the Holidays Planner has calendars for November and December to schedule your events and activities. Sign up on the form below to get it đŸ™‚

Decor

Similar to how our schedules can get out of control, so can our Christmas decorations. They start appearing in stores around September so we have plenty of time to add to our stash.

It’s easy for the bins of lights and decorations to add up and suddenly half your storage space is filled with items you only take out for a month or two of the year.

This started happening to me years ago. My sweet grandmother knew I liked snowmen. Year after year she gifted me quite a lot of snowmen decor.  I finally broke down and politely requested no more snowmen.

Limiting storage space

Last year I decided that my maximum allotment of Christmas storage would be 3 bins. I went through my entire collection of snowmen (and non-snowmen) decor.

I gave away a lot of my excess to my local buy nothing group. It was great to have those items go to someone who could use them and love them because it had all become a burden to me.

I don’t want to fill every empty counter, surface, and mantle with snowmen (or anything else for that matter). I’d take it all out, place it around the house only to have to box it all back up not too long after.

That was just tiring. I wasn’t feeling happy looking at the decor. It felt more like a chore.

I like having a significantly pared down selection of items that I put out. The girls have a few Christmas themed toys and many Christmas books that they enjoy. We have a wreath for our door and I put lights on the 2 evergreen trees in our front yard.

We enjoy decorating our Christmas tree with meaningful ornaments and I put out a snowman-shaped advent calendar that the girls enjoy. And that is about it. I keep it simpler and I like it that way.

Gift giving

Similarly to traditions, gift giving can be a hot topic for debate. The culture we live in can be interesting at times.

We spend Thanksgiving reflecting on gratitude and blessings to then begin shopping like crazy the next morning (or even that night!).

If shopping black Friday sales brings you significant joy, go for it. But it is also totally ok to completely opt out. I love a deal like the best of ’em but I find no joy in black Friday so I skip it entirely.

The overwhelm of too many gifts

When my kids were very young, the sheer number of gifts they received at the holidays was totally overwhelming to them. They couldn’t process or appreciate it.

They wanted more for the sake of more without even realizing what they had just opened.

When we limited the number they got, they were able to slow down and process the experience.

They paid more attention to each gift and were more grateful for what they received. It seems backward in a way, but when kids are bombarded with a lot of things at once they feel entitled.

Excess doesn’t teach gratitude. It teaches greed. Having noticed this, we informed our kids we would be limiting the number of gifts they got each year so they would know to change their expectations.

So if you’ve had Amazon shipments coming every other day in the months of November and December, here are some other ideas.

There are various ways to approach limiting gifts. Here are some ideas:

  • 3 gifts per kid
  • 4 gifts per kid
  • Experience-based gifts
  • No gifts at all
  • Giving to others

3 gifts per child

The 3 gifts per child approach is a take on the gifts Jesus was given. Not that you would be giving them gold, frankincense and myrrh though unless you really love essential oils, in which case you might be ;).

4 gifts per child

The 4 gifts per child approach is one of our favorites. Each kiddo gets 1 thing they want, 1 thing they need, 1 thing to wear, and 1 thing to read.

In all honesty, we usually give more than 1 book as we really love reading. I set up the gift page in the Simplifying the Holidays Planner in this 4 gifts format. You can sign up for it on the form below:

Experience gifts

Another option is experience based gifts so the focus is on spending quality time rather than accumulating more stuff.

No gifts

No gifts at all is an actual option and no, it isn’t abusive. I’m not sure where we have gotten the idea that children must be showered with mountains of presents to properly experience the holidays or feel loved. Some families may opt to do an experience together in lieu of gifts.

Giving to others

Other families place a high value on giving at the holidays. They may choose to focus their attention on giving to others in the family or people in the community who are in need.

Choose the approach that works best for you

You get to choose what method of gift-giving works best for your family and reflects your values. Trying to get extended family members on board may be a challenge in some cases.

Having honest conversations and open respectful dialogue can help them understand your goals and priorities.

Our family had some of these conversations years ago and decided to cut way back on our gift giving. The adults participate in a gift exchange so each person brings one gift and takes one home. We don’t all buy lots of gifts for all of the kids either.

The parents tend to buy each of their children a few select gifts and grandparents on one side buy them matching jammies and on the other side a few educational toys that they run past us before buying.

We do our best to respect each other’s choices and boundaries.

Plan ahead

Another aspect of simplifying the holidays involves planning ahead. Decide on your gift buying approach in advance and then shop early to alleviate last-minute stress shopping.

Likewise, planning out holiday meals weeks in advance helps too.

In order to make the holiday itself as enjoyable as possible, plan out tasks a few days beforehand. That includes what need to be purchased when and foods that can be prepared ahead of time.

Some advanced planning and work can go a long way in allowing you to relax and enjoy the actual holiday.

Adjusting expectations as you’re simplifying the holidays

Challenge your thoughts, assumptions, feelings, and expectations. We accept things because they are the way they have always been. That doesn’t mean they have to stay that way though.

We have the freedom to make different choices and to take back a peaceful holiday season. It’s no fun to end up exhausted, disappointed, and in debt from chasing all of the expectations.

The good news is once new expectations have been set, it gets much easier going forward.

Things will change from year to year as circumstances change and that’s ok too. Flexibility is part of simplicity. It allows for the breathing room and freedom to do what’s needed.

Be intentional with every decision about traditions, events, and gifts. End your year feeling good about how you spent your time and money. Wouldn’t it be amazing to feel rested and energized ready to take on the new year?

Simplifying the holidays may not be easy initially. Particularly if you are entrenched in holiday traditions and have family members who do not at all share your vision.

However, focusing on your priorities and making decisions in alignment with them will allow for a much less stressful and more joy-filled holiday season.

If your goal is simplifying the holidays this year, I created the Simplifying the Holidays Planner as a resource to help you get started. The planner contains:

  • Priorities questionnaire
  • Thanksgiving meal planner
  • November calendar
  • Gift list
  • Christmas meal planner
  • December calendar

Simply fill out the form below and you’ll also get weekly tips on how to simplify your life đŸ™‚

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16 Comments

  1. This is a very thoughtful post! I love all of these ideas to simplify what can be a stressful time of year for many people. Your tradition of hiding the presents is such a fun idea and one that is special to you as well! Thanks for a great post!

  2. I’m definitely learning to say “no” more this year! We’re also taking a trip before Xmas this year and I think we’ll try not to do that next year because it’s been so stressful!

    1. Great job on saying no, Marcie! That can be hard at first. And yes I can see how a trip right before Christmas would make things a bit more stressful (I really don’t like traveling at the holidays). We’ve worked to simplify things a little more each year. It’s definitely a process. Enjoy your trip and thanks for stopping by!

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