The older I get, the more I want to simplify my life. Less “stuff”, fewer commitments, a focus on close relationships…it all helps make me a happier person.
It’s not always easy at Christmastime though, when it seems like we’re encouraged (or pressured) to go over-the-top for gifts, food, decorating, partying and more. Here are ten tips to help simplify your Christmas this year, and how I apply them in my life.
Purge your decorations. If you haven’t decorated yet, you can do this as you go. Throw out or add to your donate box (as appropriate) anything that’s just not working for you anymore, or items that you haven’t put out for the past couple of holidays.You won’t miss anything…I can almost promise! If you’ve already “Christmased” your home, you may want to leave this until it’s time to pack everything back up again. It was a great feeling when I did this last year and ended up with two empty bins that I didn’t need – you could set a goal for yourself, like eliminating 1/4 of your boxes! (Too ambitious?) I’ve also stopped putting up three trees (yes, I used to have the “nice” one, the kids’ one, and the small one). Though to be fair, my trees aren’t up yet, so who knows what I will decide this year?
Buy fewer gifts. I bet there are several people in your life (coworker, adult sibling, friend from high school) who would be relieved – if not thrilled – if you suggested an end to a gift exchange. You could also honour your relationship at holiday time with a baking day/Christmas craft day/drink wine and watch a Christmas movie night…whatever works for you, and adds to your enjoyment instead of your stress! When you need to give a gift, there are some situations where cash is perfectly appropriate (for example, service providers like a housecleaner) and I don’t think any recipients actually find that tacky, though many givers worry they will. Gift cards are also welcomed by many people, especially if you don’t know what “the perfect gift” would be. (Hint to anyone who can’t decide what to buy for me: I love gift cards. Book store, restaurant, movies, department store, dollar store, coffee shop…I will never accuse you of being impersonal, I promise.) Charitable donations are another fantastic and simple idea – more on that later.
Remember “store-bought” is not a dirty expression. If it’s your the-kids-look-forward-to-it-all-year-long shortbread/stuffing/spicy eggnog recipe, then yes, go ahead and make it yourself (Dad: this includes your fudge). If it’s cookies for the church potluck/school bake sale/block party and no one will know who brought what anyway, then by all means, head to the store! Homemade gifts can also be lovely, but sometimes cost just as much in materials (and even more in time) than their store-bought counterparts. Don’t feel like you’re any less of a giver for purchasing something rather than making it yourself.
Take your family’s temperature. No, I’m not steering into flu-season territory, I’m referring to their tradition temperature. Find out what traditions actually mean something to your partner, kids and/or extended family and then prioritize accordingly. As an adult I still look forward to my dad’s chocolate fudge (am I making that clear?) as well as Christmas Eve Mass and dinner with my side of the family. Our girls still want new jammies and to make a birthday cake for Baby Jesus with their dad that they have for breakfast Christmas morning. I have learned, though, that other things I thought were non-negotiable actually don’t mean as much to them as I thought…so they’re gone.
Say no. As cute as my kids still are, I decided several years ago that I’m done with mailing out Christmas cards. I share our Christmas Eve family photo on social media, and absolutely look forward to seeing everyone else’s. The time-drain involved with sending hard copies out just stopped being worth it for me. I also say no to some of the parties and functions that my family is invited to…there just isn’t time for everything, and I hate the feeling of rushing around (and can’t stand being late). I’ve also been a grinch about the Elf on the Shelf that Eva has been begging for since 2014. My biggest concern has been that Liv stays awake fairly late and I’m afraid the Elf’s shenanigans may interfere with her sleep. Ahem.
Plan ahead. If you’re reading this on December 24th, I’m sorry. But there’s still lots of time as of this posting to take out your calendar and plan out your budget, start shopping for gifts/outfits/nonperishable ingredients, jot down baking timelines…whatever applies to your experience of Christmas.
Focus on experiences. In terms of gifts, our girls will be receiving tickets to two different events this Christmas morning (I won’t specify here so there’s no chance of you letting it slip!), and even leading up to Christmas I think it’s so important to try to enjoy the moment, and remember that savouring the holiday concert is more important than your daughter’s hair being perfectly curled or your son’s shirt staying tucked in while they’re on stage belting out their sweet little song. On the same note (and this one’s a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do tidbit) don’t strip all of the joy out of a holiday moment by morphing into overzealous-perfectionist-photographer mode. (My girls would tell you this is the biggest, if not only, disadvantage of being the daughters of a blogger.)
Embrace imperfection. Your cookies are not going to come out of the oven looking like the ones on Pinterest. No one really cares how perfectly the gifts are wrapped. I also disagree with people who assert that children need wrapping paper on their presents – I’ve been using gift bags for almost everything since our girls were born and they’ve never once complained about how their generous gifts were presented to them. (And if they did….) Santa doesn’t even wrap gifts for our kids, which has also simplified the holiday greatly. And back to that sneaky Elf on the Shelf…don’t take it personally if your household friend hangs out in the same place for two (or more) nights, or moves without creating a hilarious, Instagram-worthy photo op.
Related to the tip above: Accept help. My daughters have roles in a local Christmas panto that has school day performances. We can’t possibly get them there ourselves, so my parents are on the job. If your sister-in-law has an amazing idea for your parents’ Christmas gift and offers to take care of it, you’d be crazy to say no. (Thanks, Ash!) Here’s your homework: think of something that you need to get done before Christmas that someone else might actually be happy to help you with (think: who loves shopping/baking/driving/sewing/spending time with their grandkids?) Now ask them to do it, thank them profusely, cross something off your list, and breathe a sigh of relief.
Do something for someone else. Maybe you want to do this through your gift-giving. I know as a teacher I love to find out that a student has donated to the toy drive, Christmas hamper or another cause on my behalf. Also, I’m 40 years old and can buy any (reasonable) thing I want; it’s not like I have my heart set on special gifts from anyone…except maybe my husband. (If he actually read my blog I would inset a link to the Kate Spade site here. If you know him, maybe mention it?) Perhaps you’re more of a time-giver: serving a meal at the food bank, knitting mittens for kids, or shoveling a neighbour’s driveway. No matter what route you choose, the joy of giving usually overrides any effort it might take (plus think of the bonus lessons you’re passing along to your children), and I don’t think it gets any simpler than remembering the reason for the season.
What are your tips for simplifying Christmas? I would love to hear them!