If Christmas is an overwhelming time that leaves you drained and broke, use this guide to slowing down the holidays so that you can reclaim love, joy, and togetherness. A simple holiday season focused on gratitude, mindfulness, and slowness is all you need to live intentionally and recharge this winter. Slowing down the holidays is easy if you are intentional about it.
The holiday season can be overwhelming.
In an attempt to create the perfect Christmas morning, we miss an entire season of joy by replacing it with chaos, overspending, and stress.
In a materialistic society focused on having bigger, newer, more expensive things, we trade in the real joys of Christmas for a competitive frenzy of buying things we don’t need.
And I get it. It can be hard to go against the grain when the world around you is not bought in to a simple, happy holiday season.
I’ve tried to simplify the holidays before and it did not go well…
I heard of a simple gift giving strategy for the kids: something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read. It sounded simple and I fully embraced it… until 2 days before Christmas when ALL OF THE GUILT set in and I went on an INSANE Amazon shopping spree and filled the house with boxes because I felt like a bad mom.
My guilt was relieved for about 3 seconds, but it didn’t last.
Those toys didn’t get played with a mere 2 weeks later, and I was once again back where I started: wishing I had a good strategy for slowing down the holidays and enjoying time with my family.
This year has been a pivotal one in my life, full of making intentional changes to find a balance that works for me: I’ve changed jobs, started a business, decluttered my home, created routines that work for me, and started replacing perfectionism and anxiety with simplicity and love. You can learn more about me here.
This holiday season, I intend to create an atmosphere of peace, joy, and laughter.
I envision us spending our days in our pajamas cozied up in front of the fire place, reading books and playing on the floor. I see us spending time together in the kitchen baking healthy treats. I picture a lot of time outdoors, bundled up in our winter gear, enjoying all of the simplicity nature has to offer. Christmas morning will be happy but calm.
At the end of the holidays, our hearts will be filled with gratitude for the time we got to spend together.
In order to make this vision a reality, I want to share with you my top 10 tips for simplifying the holiday season. This is what I will be doing to make Christmastime last a little longer and feel a little more joyful.
If you want to avoid stress, debt, and nonstop consumerism and instead focus on the people you love and the time you have to be together, I hope this article inspires you to make some changes to ‘how you do Christmas.‘
And also, remember to give yourself grace. Your’re unlikely to undo 30 years of materialism in one season. You will fumble and make choices you wish you hadn’t, but that’s okay.
It’s all part of the process of moving to a simpler lifestyle… one slightly simpler Christmas at a time, you will soon get there.
Pick out the traditions you love
If your calendar is usually filled with commitments you rarely enjoy doing, scratch them off the list. Pick out the traditions that you and your family love, and prioritize them above all else.
A few of the traditions we keep close to our hearts include
- Christmas Eve Boxes: each family member opens a little wicker basket on Christmas Eve that has new jammies, cozy socks, a book to read or a board game to play, and a special kind of tea. We all cozy up together and spend time slowing down together on Christmas Eve.
- Christmas Morning Cinnamon Rolls: we make cinnamon rolls together on Christmas Eve, and we eat them the next morning while we’re opening presents. It fills the house with delicious smells and because we don’t make cinnamon rolls at any other point throughout the year, it’s something everybody looks forward to.
- Christmas Dinner: we get together with my husband’s family and enjoy a big feast at their house. It works for us because that means no cooking and no cleaning at our house!
- Boxing Day Hike: the day after Christmas, we all bundle up in our snow gear and go for a big morning hike in the woods. We pack some hot chocolate and some hammocks and we hang out, embracing nature and slowness and togetherness.
These are the things that we all enjoy doing together and bring true joy to our hearts. They are not something we do because we feel like we have to check some box off a list.
We’ve had plenty of these ‘box checking’ traditions that we’ve let go of over the years. They include things like
- DIY Advent Calendars: I hated pumping chocolate into my kids every morning; I did not support the industry of tiny plastic toys as little gifts every day of December; and it was a lot of work to think up 31 acts of kindness to do every single day. This tradition was adding more work than it was bringing joy, so we scratched it off the list.
- Church on Christmas Eve: although the idea sounds lovely to me, and I enjoy the togetherness of the church community, we don’t go any other day of the year, and nobody wants to get out of their cozy new jammies on Christmas Eve to dress up for church. This one didn’t feel right for our family and no matter how hard I tried the past few years it didn’t end up happening, so I let go of feeling like we had to do it and we embraced being homebodies on Christmas Eve.
- Work parties: I do not enjoy giving up a night of freedom to mingle and chit chat with people I barely know, so I don’t go to my husband’s work parties, and we avoided going to mine when I worked in a job I didn’t like.
For whatever reason, the Christmas season comes with all of these obligations that we feel we must conform to… but do we really have to?
Write down all of the different traditions, obligations, and commitments you make during the holiday season, then grab your favorite hot beverage and sit down with your family to talk about which ones add love and light to your life, and which ones drain you of your energy. Then, politely decline any invitations that aren’t on your list.
Don’t feel like every weekend has to be filled with commitments. It is perfectly acceptable to decline an invitation even if you aren’t busy on that day. Busy is not the standard of success that everyone makes it out to be.
Leave white space in your calendar and protect that time with your family.
That’s what the holiday season is all about.
Simplify your home
When my environment is cluttered, my life is chaotic, and vice versa. When I am craving slower days, it helps to simplify my home.
A simple home allows me to relax and be present, instead of feeling like I have a long to do list and should avoid it by going out shopping.
Take some time ahead of the holiday season to simplify your home. Don’t make more work for yourself than you can handle, and don’t feel that you have to do your entire house or nothing at all.
Tackle one space at a time until you feel content with your surroundings. This could be anything from one kitchen cabinet, to the entire kids’ playroom. It is up to you. I’ve spent over a year simplifying our entire home, so remember to give yourself grace and time.
In November I spend an afternoon touching up the playroom, the closets, and the kitchen to make sure nothing unwanted has made its way into our lives.
It’s a great opportunity to involve the kids and help them part ways with toys that no longer bring them joy.
We don’t spin this as ‘let’s get rid of your old stuff to make room for all the new stuff that’ll show up on Christmas morning‘ because that’s not how we do Christmas, but we do emphasize passing things along to other families that would use them more than us so that we can have an organized space to play with the toys we really love.
And there’s just something about having a spotless kitchen that makes me feel calm. I’m getting the urge to go declutter just from writing this…
Create a cozy environment
Slowing down and being present with your family is so much easier when you WANT to spend time in your home.
If you’re a type-A, go go go, personality like me, it can be hard to let go of that desire to check boxes off a list, and just sit and be with your family.
Creating a space that you love to be in is the solution.
- Put up twinkle lights
- Throw cozy blankets and pillows across all of the couches
- Light candles with wooden wicks in every corner of the house
- Throw some wood in the fireplace
- Play spa music
- Make fancy hot beverages
- Arm knit a giant blanket
- Put on those cozy socks and fleece bathrobe
- Bring nature inside (real Christmas tree, foliage and greenery, plants, etc.)
Start with one space in your home and make it the coziest spot in your house and then spend time there.
- Read books
- Play board games
- Make puzzles
- Color an adult coloring book
- Practice calligraphy
- Play an instrument
- Listen to a podcast
- Play with your kids on the floor
- Watch a Christmas movie
- Bake healthy desserts
- Do some yoga
- Snuggle your dog
If you are craving longer days of peace and relaxation, cozy up your home and spend time in it.
For me, there is nothing better than a morning relaxing in the living room,.. bonus if snowflakes are falling outside.
Find a gift giving strategy that feels right
All we want to do at Christmastime is show the people we love that we love them.
In recent years, we’ve been leaning more and more on spending money to achieve that goal. The average American household spends $1,536 on Christmas. The more you spend, the more you love, right? Wrong.
The amount of money spent on a gift does not represent your relationship with that person.
In my opinion, the ideal gift is one that shows that you’ve been thinking of them. It has nothing to do with money, and everything to do with love.
I am fortunate enough to have everything I need, so the most meaningful gifts to me are homemade, because you’ve taken the time out of your day — time you will never get back — to create something for me that you thought I’d love. That’s pure magic. However, another set of cutlery means nothing to me…
The biggest stress of the holiday season is definitely shopping. If you’re craving simplicity this Christmas, you need a gift giving strategy that makes you feel GOOD so that you don’t go on a list minute spending spree (like I did last year) out of guilt.
Here’s how I approached gift giving this year
- Narrow down your list
With some friends we agreed ahead of time that we would not do Christmas gifts for each other. These are usually people that are likeminded in their desire for simplicity and minimalism, and instead of giving gifts at Christmas, we scheduled a day in the calendar for us to spend some time together.
Who can you agree to not exchange presents with?
- Create a theme for non immediate family
For people that are not my husband and kids, I am going to write a letter of how they’ve positively influenced my life and how grateful I am for my relationship with them. I will pair this with a watercolor painting that I make with a quote on it that makes me think of them, and I’ll select a frame for it.
What talents do you have that you could use to create hand made gifts for friends/family?
There is plenty of inspiration on Pinterest for making candles, or soap, or coasters, or hot cocoa kits. These are all cute, and you can add a personalized touch by writing a thoughtful letter or creating a home made card.
- Find a rule of thumb that works for your kiddos
As I mentioned above, ‘something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read‘ didn’t work for us last year, but it might work for you. This year, we are focusing on
– a good book: reading and learning are important values in our family. I’m not getting the latest Paw Patrol book, but I am going to find something special with beautiful illustrations and well written stories that take the kids on an adventure.
– a special experience: there are things that we don’t do very often because they are slightly expensive, or out of town, but that our kids would love. We are giving home made ‘gift cards’ to these places for them to redeem throughout the year. These are things like a trampoline park a few hours away, a performance at the theatre, a pass to the zoo, etc.
– money to donate: loving and giving are important values in our family as well, so we will be giving our older child 20$ that he can contribute to a cause that is important to him. He will get the gift of giving and it will help him hone in on what he cares about and feel empowered to contribute to bettering the world.
– supplies for creativity: quality crayons, new paints and brushes, a tinker box, a book on crafts for kids; we are a big crafting family and giving this gift allows us to then spend quality time together using our imaginations throughout the rest of the year
– something home made: this year we are making our kids some special hiking sticks, with their names carved into them and a whistle in the top. We love spending time outdoors together and they love sticks, so this is a thoughtful gift they will adore. In previous years, we’ve also given knitted socks, homemade quilts, framed pebble art, etc. Little things that the kiddos can keep and feel the love.
– one toy from Santa: kids are kids, and although we value minimalism, we also know the feeling of getting a new toy. We’ve inundated our kids with an overwhelming number of toys in the past, and it’s only led to forgotten and broken toys cluttering the house. This year we are giving one quality, sustainably-made toy that they can enjoy for years to come. For my daughter it will be a wooden cradle for her dolls. For my son it will be a rock science kit where he can use little tools to learn about geology and uncover gems.
– things they need: my daughter needs a new mattress, so that will be a Christmas gift. My son is growing out of his jeans, so those will be under the tree. They both need new water bottles. Little things that they need and we’ve purchased in the weeks leading up to Christmas we save up and put under the tree as well, because for kids, anything is exciting.
– stockings: our kids to get a stocking from Santa and we fill it with things they need. New (wooden, sustainable) toothbrushes, non-perishable treats that we don’t buy often (pistachios, Nutella, peanut butter, a chocolate bar), an ornament for the tree, a new comb, hair elastics/headbands, little craft supplies like beads or googly eyes, etc.
So yes, there are more than 4 things on this list, but they are thoughtful and they promote creativity and learning and bonding in our children.
We don’t unravel a thousand toys from plastic hell on Christmas morning. Instead, we each get a few things that are thoughtfully selected and will be cherished for years to come.
I think the biggest part of simplifying Christmas is getting ahead on presents.
In a materialistic society, it can be hard to shift away from spending hundreds of dollars to show your love, but if you start planning early you will have enough time to create thoughtful gifts that will be well received.
Simplify the decorating
Giant light up inflatable decorations in my front yard have never brought me joy, only the pain of having to set them up in the cold.
A Christmas tree with one set of white lights around it, and a few hand made ornaments has made me smile every time I come upstairs.
Your decorations don’t have to be over the top in order to bring you joy.
Go through your boxes and pick out the things that make you smile when you think of them. Donate the rest.
You will save yourself so much time by picking one space in your house to decorate with only items that you really love.
A simple, joyfully decorated home will bring you more happiness than last year’s rack of clearance decor ever will.
Focus on everything you have
For the majority of the year, I am very content with what I’ve got. I’m happy with my life, how I spend my time, and the things I own. But at Christmastime there is this pressure to be unhappy and wish you had more of everything.
In order to avoid panic-fueled shopping sprees, focus on all of the things you already have this holiday season.
In December, I am extra diligent about my gratitude practice because to me that’s what the season is about. Spending a few minutes every morning listing 3 things I am grateful for keep me in a positive mood throughout the day.
Whenever I am feeling like I’m not BUYING enough at Christmastime, I write down all of the things I am grateful for to recenter myself on what matters.
Gifts aren’t what makes something special.
Some of my happiest and most meaningful memories come from simple moments spent with family. A walk in the park where my Dad made me laugh. A snuggle on the couch where my Mom played with my hair. Getting dressed up for a special excursion to the theater. These are the positive memories of my childhood. I couldn’t tell you what I got for Christmas when I was 9, but I can remember the feelings of stress and short tempers that set over our household when Christmastime came around.
Make Christmas about happiness and joy and togetherness. Don’t make it about the spending and the wrapping and the stress.
If you feel like you aren’t doing enough, take a deep breath and focus on spending time with the people that you love.
In the end, that’s all we really want.
Intentionally building a life you love to live can be hard work, especially if the people around you don’t share your mindset.
This is doubly difficult around Christmastime when the world shifts into a season of busy, frivolous, overwhelm.
If your heart is telling you it’s the right time for a simpler Christmas, listen to it.
Simplify your calendar, your home, and your gifts and Christmas will bring you joy.
Give yourself grace when you fumble, because changing the way you’ve always done something is hard work! Especially when there is so much emotion and so many memories tied to it. But you are on a journey that will bring you even more joy, so take it one step at a time and do what feels right.
Merry Christmas everybody!
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What obligations are you letting go of this Christmas season? Let me know in the comments below!