Dear Moms, How to Simplify Christmas (and Enjoy it!) This Year

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Let’s face it, the holiday season can be a stressful time of year. While the movies portray happy families laughing around the kitchen table or in front of the fireplace, that’s often not the reality we face as moms. During this time of year, we often end up more stressed out and busier than ever. I know I fall into the trap, and each year, I vow to stay focused on what really matters and work on managing holiday stress.

We want the holidays to be filled with warm memories for our family members, but it’s so easy to get wrapped up (pun intended) in the business of the season. There’s often so much to do that it’s difficult to be present with our loved ones. Ever feel like you’re losing your sanity around the holidays?

There must be a better way!

Can We Simplify the Holiday Season?

Over the years, I’ve searched for ways to make the holidays special while still giving my kids the traditions and memories that bring joy. Some of the things that have worked for us are 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 the outside forces that act on us despite our best intentions. There’s so much on our to-do lists, and there’s a lot of pressure to make the holidays perfect. But I do believe we can try to resist some of the stress and pressure that social media and society make us feel.

Rejecting the Holiday Stress for Our Mental Health Well-Being

Leading up to the holidays, we’re bombarded with messages that create panic inside us: “There’s X number of days left until Christmas!” From television ads to social media and store displays, it’s easy to feel our stress levels rise when we see the marketing start as early as October. All this holiday stress can’t be good for us or our mental health!

This isn’t the kind of holiday we want for our families either.! We don’t want to feel rushed or panicked about buying enough and doing enough. Instead, we all yearn for a time of togetherness with our loved ones, making memories and spending time together with less stressful situations to face.

So, I say … this year, let’s take back Christmas! This may not be the year when you magically transform your holidays into the living embodiment of a Real Simple magazine article. But it can be the year when you create enough space for you and your family to shape and enjoy holiday traditions.

Don’t we owe it to our kids to manage stressors by creating a safe, stress-free holiday for them so they’ll remember it as the most wonderful time of the year? And chances are it won’t take much!

Managing Holiday Stress Through Minimalism

Our family has become a huge fan of minimalism. It’s helped us define what’s really important to us and then makes it easier to remove things that don’t add value. Minimalism also works for our schedule too. Since we know what our family values are, we only say yes to things that are in alignment with those values.

One of the biggest ways we simplify the holidays is to give only one material present per person. That may seem extreme to some, but over the years, I’ve realized that experiences mean more to my family than material presents. Not only does it line up with our minimalist lifestyle, but it helps with financial stress that can sometimes creep in during the holidays.

Even though there are lots of opportunities for fun and festive events during the holidays, we don’t participate in everything. There’s no way we could attend all of the holiday parties or festivals, so we pick the most meaningful ones.  This lifestyle choice has taken some of the stressors out of an already busy season.

7 Steps to Simplify the Holiday Season

Since there are a lot of fun activities and things you don’t want to miss, you can’t cancel all the things. I’ve found it’s helpful to create realistic expectations and set boundaries. I use these steps to help me focus on my family instead of everything that needs to “get done.”

1. Evaluate Your Favorite Traditions

Think back on Christmases past. What are your most cherished memories? What did you enjoy doing, and what did you always look forward to? 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 loved ones. Maybe it was making cookies with your family members or creating a DIY tree garland together. Or it could have been driving around looking at lights while drinking homemade hot cocoa.

Take note of everything that stands out to you as a tradition you want to recreate. Then share your ideas with your family. Ask them if they have anything they love doing during this time of year.

2. Schedule the Essentials

Make a list of “must-dos” using the list of favorite holiday memories for inspiration. Keep this list short — three to five items at most. Pare it down to what really matters the most.

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, or a tight budget). Reevaluate and adjust, limiting yourself to what will give you the most joy this year.

Give priority to traditions that help you connect with friends and family. Put them on the calendar now. Don’t forget to put in some intentional downtime as a key to help with managing holiday stress. Say yes to those things that bring you joy and no to the rest. Your future self will thank you for giving your schedule some breathing room!

3. Determine Any Stress Triggers

We all have our little habits that rob us of our joy. It could be online shopping in the dead of night when we can’t sleep. It could be that urge to rush out to the store at 10 p.m. on Christmas Eve to buy more presents. Or it could be overeating, which makes your digestion sluggish. Or maybe it’s staying up late to get it all done.

If we can identify just one or two things that stress us out each year and eliminate them, that seems like a good kind of minimalism. Decide what you will say “no” to this year (and tell someone to keep you accountable).

4. Managing Holiday Stress With a Budget

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. But it’s important to be intentional about what we buy. A rather shocking statistic is that in the U.S., only 1% of the goods we buy are still in use six months later. Yes … only 1%! And it makes sense, doesn’t it? New things thrill us only for a little while.

In fact, we’re 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 not be overwhelmed and appreciate what we have.

5. Designate a “Give Back” Day or Week

Making room for what we receive and focusing more on giving than receiving often pains kids. 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 needed) gives everyone a chance to get in the right mindset and know the expectations. This article has some helpful tips for helping kids get on board.

6. Keep a Record of Gifts Purchased

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! I like to keep a digital record by snapping a pic and keeping an album in a secure spot (one that my kids can’t access!). Use apps like Evernote or Remember the Milk or store it in a Dropbox or Google Keep folder. Make sure to keep track of small items, too, like stocking stuffers. You can keep a screenshot of any experience gifts you purchase.

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.

7. When Things Go Wrong, Make an Act of Gratitude

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 — a contented and present parent.

How do you stay grounded during the holidays? What are the traditions you want to make room for?

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


16 responses to “Dear Moms, How to Simplify Christmas (and Enjoy it!) This Year”

  1. Laura Avatar

    The information is always great, but this “do-less” list is really helpful. Thank you, Mama. Happy Chanukah ? and Merry Christmas ? Have a healthy, happy new year.

  2. Bailey Avatar

    Great article. Love any quote by Chesterton of course. I love also the tradition of one gift a piece and waiting until Twelfth night (the eve of Epiphany) when the Magi arrived to adore the Christ child. Many blessings to you this Advent and Merry Christmas 🙂

  3. Ashley Avatar

    I love your blog and use your resources constantly. I would love to minimalize our gift giving to our young kids and follow something similar to you. However, my parents and inlaws bombard my kids with gifts. They are loving and sweet, but it stresses me out and I feel like I have to compete.
    Do your parents and inlaws take on the same “experience” gift idea? If not, how do you handle that?

    1. Katie - Wellness Mama Avatar

      We’ve had the discussion with extended family about it so they know we don’t want (or need) lots of material things for Christmas. It was a challenge at first, but they’re on the same page with us now.

  4. Michelle Avatar

    YES!!! This year, we used only donated and handmade decorations. It really helped us to minimize and de-stress, and our kids had a blast making memories! We had our own Ugly Christmas Sweater tree trimming party and it was so fun to see how much they got into it all, rather than me fussing over my Christmas tree to make it “just so.”

  5. Kris Avatar

    Thanks so much for this post Katie. Now that the kids are getting older, I feel that we need to transition from material-oriented holiday to “something else”. This post will really help me come up with parameters for future Christmases.

    I will say (rather guiltily), we did have fun watching the kids’ eyes light up on Christmas morning, and it did make Christmas bright for us, but we also “justified” it by giving all of their old toys to charities over the years. That’s not to say it was right or wrong to do that, but we are moving towards a new stage in our lives; one that I think will become more meaningful to all of us. Your post will help us come up with parameters for this.

    Thank you, as always, for sharing your ideas.

  6. Sheyona Lightheart Avatar
    Sheyona Lightheart

    Hi! Merry Christmas to you and yours???

    Could you put up your recipe for Corning beef to make corn beef and cabbage !?! I made it a few years ago from your receipt and it was great ??

    Thanks so much??

  7. Krista Avatar

    Shared Christmas Dinner. We rotate who hosts. The host makes the turkey. Everyone else brings the rest. That way no one is cooking instead of visiting!

  8. Alexa t Avatar

    The last few years left us disappointed that we couldnt do it all. This year we decided to not have traditions. Instead we will start each season with a family meeting to decide what we will do in december. We used your experience list for inspiration this year! Then we put it all on the calendar. This way everyone knows what to expect. We also dont exchange gifts anymore. The extended family sends so many that it becomes a problem. We go through everything we own and donate all the excess in december simply to compensate. We open all the gifts on christmas eve and we dont do santa. (we’re not anti-santa) then on christmas we try to do something to help further spiritual growth. After church this year we took communion and goodies to shut-ins.

    Also a note about the ads, i use the mobile site and have never seen an ad. I do have an ad blocker on my phone but it usually leaves blank space where the ad was. It doesnt do that with your site. If people have an issue with the full version, you might suggest switching to a mobile device.

  9. Debra Avatar

    Our family started with simplicity. We drew names at Christmas and set dollar value at $5.00, however with today’s cost would change. A lot of the gifts were usually handmade. Crotched vests, knitted slippers, or embroidered hankies. Sure some were bought, but they were always well thought out gifts. My grandmother was a master at crochet, I still have and cherish a filet crocheted horse picture that she made me as a child, as I was, and at 60 yrs. old, still am a horse fanatic. Christmas was always alternated at daughters houses and grandma’s so no one was stuck with doing Christmas every year. Everyone was assigned to bring a dish, which helped with all the cooking chores. At the end of the day, names were drawn, dishes decided upon, so that the following year everyone knew what was expected of them. It was simpler then, everyone conversed with each other without having to compete with smartphones & Facebook postings. Us kids, played together and not with controllers in hands and eyes fixed to the TV.

  10. Tara Avatar

    Love the article and your blog. I used to love it and read every article, couldn’t wait for the next one came out, But rarely read it anymore due to hundreds of ads. I remember a post from you asking about adding ads to your blog and that if you chose to do so it would be the odd ad tastefully placed and relevant to blog. It’s the opposite, yet another blog plastered with irrelevant annoying ads out to monetise from people.

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar

      Hi Tara, thanks for your comment. I really value the feedback on them and am still trying to find the balance of making the site super user friendly but also allowing advertising to help pay for the expenses of running a popular website. It’s a tough balancing act to be sure and I plan to reduce the number after the new year. Thanks again for reading and providing valuable feedback!

  11. Rachael Avatar

    We have also pursued simplicity. Our kids get one gift from mom and dad (usually a book) and one from a cousin and grandparents. I still feel like it’s a lot. We do food in stockings not toys, treats that they don’t often get. This way they get to open a stocking but I don’t end up with piles of junk toys.
    We also have changed our Christmas feast to pizza on paper plates. (Which is way out of the ordinary for us) Very little work and clean up. I love it!

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