Experience a simpler, more meaningful holiday season with these 5 tips — just in time for those who want to slow down and savor the season.
There are few things I enjoy more than simplifying something that is commonly thought to be stressful, complicated, overwhelming, expensive, elaborate, or excessive.
In many ways, the holiday season is often described by all of the adjectives I listed above.
Personally, I’ve been on a mission to simplify the holidays for the last 15 years — even more so after adding 4 young children to the mix.
There’s so much potential for connection, community, joy, and fun during the holiday season — as long as we don’t smother it with too many needless to-dos, unwanted obligations, or excessive over-indulgences.
Speaking from years of experience, a simpler holiday season IS possible (even with young children), as long as you’re willing to plan ahead and set very clear boundaries for yourself, your family, your time, and your money.
I could share hundreds of tips and tricks to help you simplify your holidays … but in an effort to keep things SIMPLE, I’ve whittled my list down to the top 5 I feel will make the biggest impact.
If you want to experience a simpler, more meaningful holiday season this year, start here!
1. Simplify gifts.
The benefits of simplifying gifts during the holiday season are almost too numerous to count.
- less shopping (which takes time and can lead to impulse purchases)
- less expense
- less time spent wrapping gifts
- less wasted paper, bags, tissue, tape, ribbons, etc.
- less to ship or haul to various parties
- less anxiety over getting the “perfect gift” for everyone on your list
- less for the recipient to return if they don’t like/want/need the gift
- less clutter a few months after the holidays when something better comes along
Does any of that sound appealing to you?
Don’t get me wrong, I truly LOVE gift-giving (it’s actually one of my top love languages) but I don’t believe gift-giving needs to be excess, expensive, or reserved strickly for the holiday season.
Related Reading: The ultimate list of clutter-free gift ideas.
Honetsly, there is no need for more than a few gifts per child — especially when they are little.
And there is certainly no need to spend massive amounts of money on gifts just because the calendar says Dec. 25.
If you need a few simple gift ideas for young children, here’s a look at what we gave our children for Christmas last year. (Yes, we’re OK with giving used gifts!)
Another way we simplify this time of year is by choosing NOT to give gifts to every single person in our lives.
We give gifts to:
- Our own immediate family
- Grandparents (our parents)
- Teachers (school, piano, Sunday School, etc)
We do NOT give gifts to:
- Extended relatives
- People from church
Instead, we often make a big batch of treats and divide it up into small bags for various special people in our lives.
We do also send out some type of holiday card (or email) each year.
Yummy Holiday Treat Ideas:
2. Simplify decorations.
For the most part, I enjoy creating a festive atmosphere within our home during the holiday season, but that doesn’t necessarily mean spending countless hours setting up intricate decorations, spending lots of money, or looking through a dozen storage tubs to find the decore I want to use.
Instead of focusing my decorating efforts only on visual elements, I keep things simple by incorporating scents and sounds as well.
Yes, we put up a few Christmas trees (I love these simple alpine trees) and we display our 2 nativity scenes… but we also play holiday music, light holiday candles, and enjoy special holiday goodies all season long.
The twinkling tree lights, cinnamon-scented candles, yummy treats, and Christmas piano music playing throughout the day make our home feel extremely festive and cheery with very few physical decorations.
I also try to use pine branches, pinecones, candy canes, and other “natural” decore items that will eventually be eaten or composted after the season is over (bonus = less stuff to store!)
3. Simplify traditions.
Traditions are a huge part of the holiday season but they can also be a huge source of stress and needless busyness if we’re not careful.
Over the past several years, I’ve made a conscious effort to evaluate (and re-evaluate) various traditions each year — picking and choosing only the ones that work for our family in our current season of life.
Things we currently don’t do:
- cut down a tree and document the entire event on social media
- always put our tree up on the same day
- bake certain things on certain days
- Elf on a Shelf
- White Elephant gift exchange
- stockings (we don’t have a fireplace!)
- read special books every night
- an Advent calendar
- Christmas pajamas
- specific holiday meals on certain days
- drive around and look at the lights
- go out for fancy hot chocolate and coffee
- decorate sugar cookies with all our friends on the same day every year
- always send Christmas cards (sometimes we do New Years, sometimes Thanksgiving, sometimes just an email)
I can’t even think of one single Christmas tradition we “always do every year”.
To be clear, NONE of the things I mentioned above are bad or wrong — but they do add stress, pressure, and commitment to an already full time of year.
If we happen to see pretty Christmas lights or enjoy an afternoon of baking special treats, that’s great. If not, that’s OK too!
Maybe that sounds awful and sad to some — but it feels extremely liberating for me!
Traditions have the potential to be super fun — but the point I want to make is that they are not necessary in order to celebrate the holidays.
If a tradition is causing you (or someone in your family) stress, it’s time to re-evaluate.
4. Simplify extra events and activities.
Dave and I are at the stage of life where we not only have our own children to spend time with during the holidays, but also both of our immediate families, all 4 of our extended families, and even a group of college friends.
Because of all these people and parties, we sometimes have to pick and choose… and just say ‘no’ when something doesn’t work for us.
Of course, we always attend each of our immediate family parties, but we don’t always make it to our extended family parties.
We also rarely attend Dave’s staff party or many of the holiday events at church.
I realize the holiday season is a great time to reconnect with family and friends — but since Dave and I both have strong introverted tendencies and our children go to bed really early, our whole family is happier and healthier if we aren’t over-committed with events and activities all season long (even if they are fun).
Knowing, accepting, and acknowledging this helps us simplify our holiday season and reduces the guilt when others pressure us to do more than what we feel we can handle this time of year (we apply this strategy all year long too!)
5. Simplify expectations.
Expectations are an important component of simple living all year long, but especially throughout the holiday season.
If we go into the holidays expecting a perfectly decorated home, Pinterest worthy baked goods, thoughtful gifts purchased months in advance and wrapped in coordinating paper, complete agreement among all extended family members, and angelic smiles from our children when they wake up in their matching Christmas pajamas, we will be sorely disappointed.
However, we have the power to change our entire outlook if we simply acknowledge that even with the best of intentions, this time of year is often busier, more mentally and physically exhausting, more expensive, and more chaotic than other times of the year.
Things will go wrong.
Food will get burnt.
Packages will arrive late (or get lost in the mail)
Children won’t always smile for pictures.
You will get more toys and gifts than you wanted.
You will spend more money than you budgeted.
The weather might not cooperate.
Christmas Day will feel rushed as you scurry from church to one party to the next.
Such is life during the holidays!
I’m always an advocate of planning ahead and simplifying as much as possible… but I know better than to think things will always go according to plans (especially during the holidays!)
We can’t control all the outside variables, but…
By changing nothing but our expectations, we can have a completely different perspective on the holiday season.
Simplify YOUR expectations now and keep your stress levels down throughout the holiday season.
Speaking for myself, I love the Christmas season and I love simple living…
With a little planning and intentionality, I think I can have both!