Ah, the holiday season. A time filled with magic, giving and wonder. Or at least that’s what it’s supposed to be. But for many of us, the holidays can quickly become stressful and overwhelming. Becoming one of the busiest, most expensive, and most draining times of the year. But there are ways to simplify the holidays and live intentionally even during the holiday hustle. Read on for ways to take the chaos, stress and craziness out of the holidays. And instead create a simple, meaningful, heart-filled holiday season you and your family can enjoy together.
The holiday hustle
For many of us, the holidays can get out of control quickly. Between the gifts, the buying, the overspending, the never-ending to-do list, the parties, the baking, the busyness, etc. It can take the fun and meaning right out of the holidays. The holidays begin to feel like an obligation and a chore, something we “have to do”. Instead of a special time of the year spent with the people we love most.
But by being intentional and simplifying the holidays, you can add a lot more enjoyment back into the season.
How to Simplify the Holidays
1. Prioritize your priorities
The first step towards simplifying the holidays is to figure out what your priorities are. Take some time to get clear about what’s most important to you during the holidays. Then make sure you prioritize your priorities!
Always come back to your priorities to decide if a holiday activity or commitment is important to you. Being intentional involves accepting that you can’t do everything. You need to pick what is most important to you and focus on those things, then let the rest go.
For me, spending time with the people I love is my most important priority during the holidays. For example, I would rather spend less time cooking on Christmas day, enjoying a simpler meal instead. And then be able to spend more time creating memories with my family.
2. Adjust your expectations
Adjusting your expectations and perspective is important to simplify the holidays. Stop aiming for a Pinterest perfect Christmas and holiday season worthy of a magazine. It’s not realistic and will only leave you exhausted and disappointed. Let go of your unrealistic expectations and keep your focus on your priorities and what matters most to you.
Don’t work yourself into exhaustion and make the holidays so stressful trying to achieve some picture-perfect vision of the holidays in your mind. A “perfect” holiday season isn’t what’s important. Especially if it means you’re a burnt out, cranky, exhausted mess and don’t enjoy a moment of the magic you’re trying so hard to create.
Your friends and family won’t remember (or care!) if you had five different kinds of Pinterest worthy cookies. But they will remember spending a fun night laughing, talking and enjoying your company while eating your cookies. Even if the cookies are far from perfect, or (gasp!) even from a store!
Let go of the unrealistic idea of a “perfect” holiday season. Perfection doesn’t exist anyways. Instead, shift your perspective to focus on your priorities and what matters most to you.
Keep your focus on gratitude
Remembering to focus on gratitude can go a long way to shift your perspective during the holidays. Actively look for things to be grateful for. Take the time to notice and appreciate the simple joys during the holidays.
Remember you and your family’s holiday memories probably won’t be about who got what, or how many dessert options there were. What we remember is the time we spend together.
My favourite Christmas memories are all centered around time spent with people I love. I fondly remember our epic card and board game nights during the holidays. Or our running joke about how long it will take for the first “argument” over how to decorate the tree to start. I remember the fun of having our house filled with family during the holidays. I remember cozy movie marathons when it was cold and snowy outside. Just to name a few.
Those are the things I remember. My favourite memories aren’t the gifts we received, how fancy the decorations were or if the cookies were perfect. My favourite memories are of the time spent with the people I love. Keep your eyes and your heart open to notice and feel grateful for these simple moments.
3. Simplify your holiday traditions
A great way to simplify holiday traditions is sitting down with your family and listing the holiday traditions you LOVE. Then make time for those traditions. And maybe let some of the traditions you don’t love or don’t care about as much go.
It’s important to remind yourself you get to choose how you spend your time and what holiday traditions you continue.
For example, if you’re dreading taking your kids to the busy mall, standing in line for an hour, just to have them cry when they finally see Santa. Don’t do it!
If you don’t enjoy having an Elf on the Shelf, don’t do it.
If sending holiday cards is making you overwhelmed and stressed, either don’t send cards this year. Or simplify it by sending a simple photo card instead of a personalized card to every person.
The world will continue if you don’t do every tradition you’ve always done or feel obligated to continue doing. If it’s a tradition no one enjoys or cares about, you don’t have to do it.
Keep simple, meaningful holiday traditions
Holiday traditions can be fun, intentional ways to make the holidays special. The important thing is to only continue traditions you and your family love and enjoy during the holidays. If they only add stress, or just become another chore on your to-do list, let them go.
And remember simple traditions can often be the most fun. Instead of elaborate traditions that leave you exhausted, think of simple traditions that focus on spending time together.
For example, you could make a Christmas tree ornament or build a gingerbread house as a family every year. Or drive around for a Christmas lights tour in PJs with hot chocolate. Our kids love counting down to Christmas with their advent calendar. Having an annual Christmas movie night is another fun, simple tradition.
Be intentional with how you spend your time
The holidays are busy times full of parties, concerts, events and other commitments. It can quickly become busy and overwhelming trying to attend everything.
As a family, decide which holiday events and activities are important to you. Then include those in your holiday schedule and politely decline the rest. Also, decide how many holiday activities are enough for you and your family. This helps avoid over-committing or feeling stretched too thin.
Keep cooking and baking simple
Simplifying holiday meals and baking is another way to simplify the holidays. Keeping meals simple or hosting a potluck meal can help take the stress out of the holidays. Simplifying meals can give you more time to spend with the people you love and less time cooking.
The same goes for baking. Don’t feel pressured or obligated to bake every kind of holiday treat you can think of. Keep it simple so you have more time and energy for your priorities during the holidays.
If you are someone who loves cooking and baking during the holidays, do what makes you happy. If it’s something you love to do, of course, keep doing it. Only scale back and simplify the cooking and baking if it’s making you feel burdened rather than joyful.
4. Simplify decorating during the holidays
Holiday decorations can take a lot of time to set up and take down. And sometimes cause your home to feel cluttered during the holidays. I love holiday decorations, but find too many decorations cause more stress than enjoyment. Simplifying your holiday decorating is a great way to simplify the holidays.
Start by determining what holiday decorations you love. Keep the ones you love, and let some of the others go.
For example, if you don’t enjoy putting up and taking down outside lights on your house, don’t do it. Or simplify your outdoor lights by putting up fewer lights or only lighting your shrubs instead of the roof.
If maintaining and cleaning up after a live tree isn’t something you enjoy, get an artificial tree. Or if storing an artificial tree all year isn’t your thing, a real tree might be a better option. Or if you don’t even enjoy having a tree up at all, that’s ok too! The point is to do what works for you and brings more enjoyment to you during the holidays. Follow your own rules, not anyone else’s!
Simple decorations – less is more
Keep decorations simple, remembering less is more. Don’t overwhelm your space. Often using natural materials and focusing on creating ambiance can go a long way to simplify holiday decorating.
For example, using natural items, fresh greenery, candles, twinkle lights and music can create beautiful, inviting and cozy holiday décor. All without overwhelming your home with decorations or clutter. Using meaningful, sentimental items for holiday decor is another great way to decorate intentionally and simply.
5. Simplify gifts
One of the biggest sources of stress during the holidays for many people are gifts. Both buying and receiving gifts. Buying gifts can be expensive and stressful, trying to think of something everyone on your list will love. And receiving gifts can leave you feeling overwhelmed with clutter and “stuff” in your home.
But there are ways to handle gift giving and receiving to help simplify the holidays and take the stress out of all things gift related.
Simplify buying gifts
If you feel overwhelmed by the number of gifts you are buying for the holidays, first start by assessing if there are any gifts you don’t need to buy. Talk to friends and family and see if they want to forgo exchanging gifts and plan to get together for dinner, coffee or an activity instead. The people you are struggling to buy for may be feeling the same way as you, but just don’t want to say anything!
Another way to simplify the number of gifts you are buying for a group of people is to draw names. Instead of buying for everyone, each person only buys for one person instead. This can simplify the gift buying process a lot and still let you exchange gifts with your group.
For people you are still buying gifts for, look for experience, consumable or clutter-free gift options to avoid adding clutter to their homes. Check out my clutter-free gift guides for adults and for kids for some helpful suggestions. And remember, not all meaningful gifts need to cost a lot of money.
When buying gifts for your kids, committing to buying fewer gifts can help simplify the holidays a lot. For example, maybe decide to only buy three gifts for each child. Then you may be able to spend a little more on each gift without overspending or buying too many gifts.
There’s also the saying “something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read” to help keep from going overboard buying gifts for your kids.
Also shopping earlier in the season, or doing your shopping online, is a great way to avoid the holiday shopping crowds and craziness.
Take the stress out of receiving gifts during the holidays
It can be stressful worrying about gifts for your or your kids adding clutter to your home after the holidays. But a few simple strategies can help manage incoming holiday gifts to prevent clutter and stress.
First of all, prepare a list of gift ideas for you and your kids for anyone who asks. Not everyone will ask, or use your suggestions, but if they do ask, have some clutter-free gift suggestions ready. Experience and consumable gifts are great clutter-free gift ideas. And if there is something you or your kids really need or want, tell people if they ask. If it’s something you’ll use or love it won’t be clutter at all!
Declutter before and/or after the holidays
Another great way to prevent holidays gifts from creating clutter in your home is to declutter before and/or after the holidays.
Because you know you and your family will receive some new items as gifts during the holidays, do another round of decluttering before the holidays to make room for the new things. Already starting with less will mean you won’t be overwhelmed by holidays gifts or end up with a cluttered home after the holidays.
It’s also helpful to do another round of decluttering a few weeks after the holidays. Get rid of anything not being used, loved or needed, including old things and any new things received as gifts. Remember, gifts are given to show love. You accept the gift, thank the giver and express your appreciation for the gift and the love behind it. But once the gift is in your home, you’re free to do whatever you want with it. If it’s not something that’s being used or loved, get rid of it.
Give it a few weeks after the holidays and see what is actually being used or loved.
6. Other practical tips to simplify the holidays
Here are a few additional quick tips to help further simplify the holidays.
Start saving for the holidays throughout the year. Instead of racking up debt during the holiday season, set aside some money each month for holiday purchases, travel, hosting, etc.
Another way to simplify the holidays and avoid stress from forgotten tasks or last-minute rushing is to plan your time, activities and “to-dos” well ahead of time. Make a list of everything you need and want to do for the holidays, and when you need to have each task done. Planning everything in advance is a great way to avoid last minute stress and chaos to help simplify the holidays.
I hope these suggestions will help you find ways to simplify the holidays and create a holiday season full of enjoyment, love and meaning for you. With some intention and planning, the holidays don’t have to be stressful, overwhelming and draining. Keep it simple and bring the joy back to the holiday season.
Now let’s hear from you! What is your favourite part of the holidays? What causes you the most stress? What’s your favourite way to simplify the holidays?