7 Easy Ways to Simplify Christmas
I LOVE Christmas. Possibly more than any fully grown adult should. I love the music, the decorations, the magic, the thrill of finding the perfect present for somebody, and – of course – the time spent with family and friends.
What I don’t love is the stress that comes along with this time of year. The crowds, the over-the-top consumerism, and the over-scheduled social calendar threaten to suck all of the joy out of the holiday season.
Last year – I kid you not – I ended up getting shingles right after Christmas. I’m 99% sure that it was caused by the self-imposed pressure I put on myself to make everything perfect.
This year, I’m making a concerted effort to simplify Christmas. Here are the steps I’m taking to keep Christmas simple this year.
7 Steps to Simplify Christmas
1. Focus on what’s important
Before you allow your calendar to fill up, determine what’s most important to YOU this holiday season. My priority is to make Christmas magical and memorable for my kids. The focus on creating a memorable Christmas for my kids will be informing every single thing I do this holiday season. If it doesn’t fit with this priority, it’s not happening. That doesn’t mean I’m passing on adults-only events that I enjoy, but if it’s going to cause more stress, I’m skipping it.
When I think back to the Christmases of my childhood, what made them special was the simple things: decorating our perfectly imperfect tree, baking with my Mom, looking at Christmas lights, and spending time with family. And of course, the excited anticipation of Christmas Eve, and the magic of waking up on Christmas morning and racing downstairs to see if Santa had come.
Pinterest-perfect decorations or cookies do not make Christmas magical, nor does a pile of presents under the tree. My family travelled quite often for Christmas when my siblings and I were older, and I can assure you that Christmas was just as special when there were only a handful of presents under the “tree” and the “tree” was a floor lamp that we had decorated with Christmas lights in our vacation rental. The important thing was that we were together.
This year I’m trying to keep my stress level low – and focus on the simple things – so I can give my kids the kind of Christmas I want them to remember.
2. Make time for traditions that matter
We all know the feeling of overcommitting ourselves then realizing that we haven’t left enough time for activities that are important to us.
Creating our own family traditions was big priority for my husband and I (ok, mostly me!), and there are a few that we look forward to every year. I hesitate to list mine, as I don’t want add to your to-do list, but some of our favourites are:
- Listening to Christmas music and decorating the tree as a family
- Choosing our annual Christmas ornaments
- Counting down to Christmas Eve with an advent calendar (my boys LOVE the LEGO advent calendars)
- Driving around to look at Christmas lights
- Baking Christmas cookies
- Decorating a gingerbread house (store bought – keep it simple!)
- Watching Christmas movies (we incorporate this into our regular Friday night family movie nights)
- Unwrapping matching Christmas PJs on Christmas Eve, leaving a letter and snack for Santa, and reading The Night Before Christmas
Look at your calendar to make sure you’ve left enough time for the traditions that are special to you. If cozy nights in front of the fire listening to Christmas songs are important to you, make sure you’ve left yourself time to do that!
3. Cut the obligations that don’t matter
Are Christmas cards a task you dread? Skip them.
Are you creating elaborate scenes with your Elf on the Shelf because you and your kids enjoy it or because it makes for good pictures on Instagram? Scale it back – or skip the darn elf together!
Are you dragging your kids to the mall so you can fight for a parking spot for 20 minutes, then stand in line with 30 other families for a picture with Santa? Is it really worth it?
Do you enjoy all of your decorations or does the extra stuff just make your house feel cluttered?
Are you making gifts for certain people in your life (your children’s teachers, neighbours, hostess gifts, etc.) more complicated than they need to be? I’m willing to bet that your child’s teacher would be just as happy (or happier!) with a gift card to Target or Starbucks!
Take a critical look at the tasks and activities you’re undertaking during the Christmas season. If they don’t fit with what’s important to you, skip them! I want my kids to remember a Mom that had time to enjoy the magic of the season with them, not a Mom that was so stressed trying to get everything done that she was miserable for the entire month of December.
The past few years I’ve spent the better part of a weekend baking cookies for neighbours and kids’ teachers. I enjoy it, but inevitably I get frustrated with my kids when they try to “help”, because they’re primarily interested in licking the spoon (and then trying to stick it back in the cookie dough). No more! This year, I may spend an entire day baking, but I’ll do it to make memories with the kids, NOT to put together a perfect box of cookies.
4. Shorten the Christmas list
Is your Christmas list a mile long? Are you stressed out by the giving AND by the receiving? (after all, who needs more stuff to find a home for?)
Consider where your Christmas list can be cut. Chances are many people will be relieved when you suggest foregoing exchanging gifts this year.
If cutting certain people from your list isn’t an option, consider whether a gift exchange makes sense. In my family, there are four of us siblings, and each of us has a significant other. That’s EIGHT people to buy for (six if I exclude my husband and myself). A few years ago we switched to a Secret Santa exchange. Not only has it cut down on the stress and excess consumerism, it’s been a ton of fun. We use Elfster to make the exchange easy (it draws anonymously, and you can set restrictions on who each person can draw so that we don’t get our spouses). I highly recommend it if you’re looking for a way to simplify gift-giving amongst your family members.
5. Cut down on the stuff
For the people who remain on your list, can you reduce the amount of stuff that you’re exchanging?
My brother called me a few weeks ago to hesitantly ask whether I wanted to limit the gift exchange between our kids this year. I think he was a bit taken aback by how enthusiastically I agreed! Our kids have more toys than they know what to do with already. Cutting down on the excess is a good thing for all of us.
Admittedly, I’m terrible at limiting gifts for my kids, but my husband does a good job of making sure I’m not getting carried away. I keep a Google Sheet where I track my gift ideas, what I’ve bought, and how much it costs. It helps keep me organized, makes sure I’m keeping things fair between my kids, and helps keep my spending in check.
Another option that I know many people are big fans of is want, need, wear, read. I tend to include practical gifts as a rule, but I like the idea of want, need, wear, read to prevent me from going overboard.
My favourite way to simplify Christmas shopping is doing as much as I can online. I have no desire to fight the crowds at the mall unless I absolutely have to. If you’re not already an Amazon Prime member, this is a fantastic time to take advantage of their 30-day free trial, and unlimited free two-day shipping.
6. Make time to give back
While I’m all about skipping obligations that cause unnecessary stress, if you’re in a position to give, it’s important to remember those less fortunate at Christmas time.
In this stage of life, donating toys is one of my favourite ways to give back. It’s something tangible that my kids can easily understand. I put aside any duplicate toys that we receive at birthday parties throughout the year, and also stock up on toys that are favourites of my kids when I catch them on sale. We talk to our kids about why it’s important to donate, and try to involve them in the act of giving as much as we can.
If you have suggestions on how you involve your kids in giving back, I’d love to hear them! I’m looking for some new ideas for my kids – especially my oldest, who’s six.
7. Just say no
Finally, my number one piece of advice to simplify Christmas is just say no. You don’t need to attend every Christmas party, or bake every variety of cookie that you’ve pinned on Pinterest. The magic isn’t in the perfectly curated moments, but the simple ones.
Last year I printed a craft worksheet that I found on Pinterest, where the idea was that kids would glue cotton balls on a piece of paper to make Santa’s beard. I thought it would be a fun activity to complete with my oldest.
The activity took about 10 minutes for us to complete, and I got the sense that he was doing it just to make me happy. Afterwards, he spent more than half an hour creating a Santa out of construction paper, which he had come up with all on his own. Not only was he exercising way more creativity, he was much prouder of the Santa that he had created by himself.
The simple moments that make Christmas magic will happen if you let them. If you’re focused more on making things perfect – if you’re overly scheduled with no downtime – that’s when those simple moments get lost. Don’t be afraid to say no if the activity is going to cause you more stress than it’s worth.
On a similar note, it’s ok to limit the family gatherings that you attend. If you want to attend every one, by all means do so! But if you’re killing yourself trying to be in three places at once, in an attempt to keep all sides of the family happy, it’s ok to say no.
We have a tradition in our house that we spend Christmas morning at home, with just our little family of five. I love it. There’s no stress, no rushing to get out the door, and we get to focus only on our kids. Your traditions may look very different, but the point is it’s ok to limit the events you attend or host, so that you get to enjoy the holiday season too.
Are you focusing on making Christmas simple this year? What steps are you taking to simplify the holiday season?