Let’s face it, while the movies portray images of happy families laughing around the kitchen table or in front of the fireplace during the Christmas season, often moms end up more stressed out and busier than ever. I know I fall into the trap, and each year I have to try again to stay focused on what matters and simplify Christmas.
We want this time of year to be filled with warm memories for our families and friends, and it is so easy to get wrapped up (pun intended) in the business of the season. It’s easy to want to be present and enjoy the moment, but there is often so much to do that this is difficult to accomplish.
There must be a better way!
Can We Simplify Christmas?
Over the years, our family (like many) has searched for ways to simplify Christmas while still giving our kids the traditions and memories that bring joy and happy memories.
I’ve written about some of the things that have worked for us, like prioritizing experiences over material gifts, limiting the number of presents per person, and focusing on a spirit of giving instead of receiving.
All that aside, it’s tough to recognize all of the outside forces that act on us despite our best intentions … and we wonder why we are again in Target on Christmas Eve at 10 P.M., when we really were going to be so intentional and simple this year!
Rejecting the Christmas Crisis
The ads, Facebook posts, and store displays seem to begin earlier every year exclaiming (I saw a store with a Christmas display in early October this year!): “There’s X number of days left until Christmas!”
Translation: “Hurry up! Only a few shopping days left!”
We all know this isn’t what the holidays should be about. It’s not what any of us wants for ourselves or our families. But somehow it just creeps in. The sense that we’re not giving enough … or doing the right things …
It’s time to take back Christmas! And yes, this may not be the year when you magically transform into the living embodiment of a Real Simple magazine article. (Wouldn’t we all love it if it was actually that easy?)
This may not be the year when you Konmari your house to perfection before placing carefully chosen (and of course eco-friendly) presents under the tree.
But this can be the year when you create enough space for you and your family to continue to shape and enjoy your traditions. The year when your picture of “the perfect Christmas” becomes a little clearer and a little more real.
And chances are it won’t take much!
Minimalism … Can It Go with Christmas?
Merriam Webster defines “minimalism” as “a style or technique that is characterized by extreme spareness and simplicity.” This buzzword has enjoyed a lot of popularity in recent years, especially since the bestselling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up came around.
I can buy simplicity, but “spareness”? Does this really go along with our idea of Christmas?
I have to believe there’s a way to be mindful and peaceful about Christmas without going to extremes. Maybe it’s more about a shift of mindset than going bare bones. About asking yourself — and your family — what is really important and crossing the rest off the list.
Our family tries to give only one material present per person. That may seem extreme to some. But over the years we’ve realized that experiences mean more to us (and our kids) than material presents, and we’ve moved toward a kind of Christmas that emphasizes quality over quantity.
That feels right for us … but what is right for you? Here are a few ideas to try if you feel like you need to hit the pause button this holiday season.
Simplify Christmas by Finding Your Sweet Spot
These are the things I’ve found most helpful in simplifying Christmas. I try to hold on to these to help me focus on my family and not everything that needs to “get done” this year.
Evaluate Your Favorite Christmas Memories
Think back on Christmases past. What are your most cherished memories? What should Christmas really be about? These could be from when you were a child or from times with your own children.
Chances are your best memories aren’t about stuff, but about time spent with others.
Take note of everything that stands out to you as a tradition you want to recreate. Write it down. Talk to the family about it.
Schedule the Essentials
Make a list of “must-dos” using the list of favorite Christmas memories for inspiration. Keep this list short — three or maybe five items at most. Pare it down to what really matters the most (spareness and simplicity!).
These must-do traditions will of course change over the years as a family grows. That’s the beauty of it.
You may have a special circumstance to navigate (a new baby, travel plans, a sick relative, a tight budget). Reevaluate and adjust, limiting yourself to what will give the most joy this year.
Maybe cooking is really important to your family. Maybe the annual shopping trip with your sisters gives the most joy. Maybe it’s time to try a new tradition like a family Christmas movie marathon, or singing in the choir at Midnight Mass.
Give priority to traditions that help you connect with friends and family. Put them on the calendar now and schedule the downtime to do them.
Bottom line, Konmari-style, say “yes” to what brings you joy.
And that means saying “no” to what doesn’t!
Review Christmases Past for Pitfalls That Stress You Out
We all have our little habits that rob us of our joy.
It could be overspending, overeating, or overdoing. It could be online shopping in the dead of night when we can’t sleep. It could be that urge to rush out two days before Christmas and buy just a little bit more.
All this leads to additional stress. More to store, more to return, more to clean up, and more post-holiday bills to pay.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not against giving gifts. I love the feeling of giving and receiving a well-chosen gift Christmas. But I had to learn the hard way that I needed to simplify Christmas in order to preserve the meaning of the season.
If we can identify just one or two or three things that stress us out each year and eliminate it, that seems like a good kind of minimalism. Decide what you will say “no” to this year (and tell someone to keep you accountable). Maybe ask your spouse to do this with you!
Which goes with the next step …
Set a Budget and Number of Gifts
This is pretty generic advice, I know. But I can think back to plenty of years when I didn’t do it, or at least never committed to more than a vague idea of how much was “too much.”
Gift-giving gives joy and is a worthy tradition. Just look at the Three Kings who traveled so far to give their gifts to the Christ Child. But they could only carry so much with them.
It’s a rather shocking statistic that in the U.S., only 1% of the goods we buy are still in use 6 months later. Yes … only 1%! And it makes sense, doesn’t it? New things thrill us only for a little while.
“One of the enemies of happiness is adaptation,” says Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University who has been studying the question of money and happiness for over two decades. “We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed. But only for a while. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them.”
In fact we are more likely to remember and cherish experiences rather than material things. These become the stories we tell and relive.
Setting a budget and being choosy about the kinds of gifts we give helps us learn when to say “just right.”
Designate a “Give Back” Day or Week
Making room for what we receive often pains kids especially. Mention you’re about to get rid of something, and suddenly that thing is their “favorite.”
Am I right?
Designating a “Give Back” day (or even a week if you need it) gives everyone a chance to get in the right mindset and know the expectations. Read a book or watch a movie about the generosity of St. Nicholas to set the mood. This article has some helpful tips too for helping kids get on board.
Although we can certainly give back any time of year, I find it’s best to do this before Christmas so it doesn’t get forgotten.
Take a Picture of Each Gift to Review (Before Buying Anything Else)
It’s so easy to simply lose track of what we intend to give and what we already bought when it’s hidden away in the back of the closet!
Keep a digital record by snapping a pic and keeping an album in a secure spot. You can use apps like Evernote, Remember the Milk, or a Dropbox or Google Keep folder. Keep track of even small items like stocking stuffers. You can even screenshot a website to keep track of experience gifts.
Before you buy, take a look at the album and give yourself a cooling-off period to decide if it’s the right choice.
You can even move images to a new album or folder to keep track of returns or presents that didn’t make the cut but you might consider for next year.
When Things Go Wrong, Make An Act of Gratitude
G. K. Chesterton wrote, “I would maintain that thanks is the highest form of thought.” When things don’t go according to plan, control what you can: your thoughts.
Christmas traditions develop little by little, year by year, and sometimes with no advance planning. By learning to let go and let the memories happen we make room for shared experiences with the ones we love the most.
Show gratitude for what you have and give your kids and yourself the greatest gift of all this Christmas — a contented and present parent.
How do you stay grounded during the holidays? What are the traditions you want to make room for?