It’s the most wonderful time of the year! That is until your holiday meltdown comes along somewhere between 1 and 3 weeks ahead of Christmas as you realize your schedule, your sanity, and your waistline are completely overflowing. We’ve all that that moment where we feel irrevocably sad or overwhelmed during the holidays, and we feel guilty because it’s supposed to be the most joyous time of the year.
For many of us, the reason for this is that we are trying to do WAY too much. We are saying “yes” to everything in the hopes of making the most out of the season and avoiding FOMO. But all of those yes’s lead to what feels like a rat race of Santa visits and holiday parties and baking and gift shopping and wrapping and IT’S ALL TOO MUCH YOU GUYS.
I’m here to show you another way. An approach that will allow you to actually experience the splendor of the holidays without feeling mowed over by them. I’m going to share how to apply Minimalism to your holidays. By doing less, you’re going to enjoy this time so much more. It’s like unlocking a world of simple holiday pleasures, and once you’ve tried it, you’ll wonder why you ever did it any other way.
Now, if you enjoy the frenzy of the season and love every minute of it, this isn’t the post for you. But if you’re already dreading the holidays a teensy bit, read on.
When you hear the term Minimalism you might be thinking of a sterile white house devoid of character and fun. That’s not what I’m talking about. The Minimalism I’m referring to is the removal of all of the unnecessary things to make space for what’s most important. And while that is definitely true when it comes to designing your home, it has larger applications in creating a life you love.
Here’s how to apply the principles of Minimalism to simplify your holiday season.
1. MINIMALISM IN YOUR SCHEDULE – avoiding holiday burnout
Cookie decorating parties, Santa visits, work parties, friend parties, church, the neighborhood potluck, parades, and on and on and ON. There seems to be no end to the amount of invitations we receive during the month of December. The way you may have approached these invitations in the past might have looked like this: getting invited to a thing, opening your calendar, seeing if the night is free, and if it is, filling it with said thing, until every waking hour of December is filled.
Try this instead. Before all of the invitations start rolling in, really think through the holiday traditions that are the most memorable and bring you the most happiness. Ask your family for their feedback too. For us, we have an annual tradition of drinking hot chocolate and walking/driving around to look at Christmas lights that is top priority. Also church on Christmas Eve with a tamale dinner, baking cookies, visiting Santa, my girls night Christmas party, and our office work party are favorite activities that I look forward to. That’s already 6 days where we know we’re going to have something going on. Book those in your calendar as best you can now.
Next you want to layer in buffer days. I know myself well enough to know that if we have a big party Friday night, I’m not going to want to get up early Saturday morning to do something else. Your threshold for activities might look different than ours, but considering there’s just 3 weeks in December before Christmas, that is already 2 activities a week. Legitimately fill in your calendar with appointments to do nothing but enjoy time as a family. That leaves you MARGIN for watching Christmas movies, drinking hot cocoa, and if all the stars align, maybe even taking a nap. Resisting the temptation to overfill your schedule will lead to more relaxed holiday enjoyment and allow you to breathe and enjoy the season.
2. MINIMALISM IN GIFT RECEIVING – curbing the influx of presents
Whew, this is a big one. If you’re like us, despite your best efforts to keep your possessions under control, stuff (especially kid stuff) is constantly trying to get a foothold to take over your house. And each year around October 1st the dread begins as kind, loving family members start asking for your kid’s Christmas lists. And all you want to do is scream “they don’t pick up the crap they have now, please don’t buy them more crap for me to deal with!!!!” But that isn’t really a Christmasy attitude. So how do you deal with taming the influx of stuff?
Three tips around this:
Purge ahead of the holidays. Have your kids (and yourself) go through the house and collect items that are no longer loved or needed and donate them. This is a great opportunity to remind your kids that giving is more rewarding than receiving. Identify anything around the house that is worn or in need of replacement, and note that.
Ask for consumable and experience type gifts. Game tickets, passes to the zoo or amusement parks, contributing towards summer camp. There are so many things you can ask for that aren’t things. One of my kids’ favorite things to receive are gift cards to restaurants and movie theatres. Going out to eat for a family of 5 can get pricey, so they feel extra special when they can go to a restaurant and treat their siblings.
Have a good attitude anyway. Despite all of your best efforts, you may still find yourself under mountains of gift wrap and Amazon boxes come Christmas morning. BE GRATEFUL ANYWAY. What a blessing it is to be surrounded by people who love you and your kids. Enjoy the gifts while the kids are enjoying them and do another wave of purging after the holidays if necessary.
3. MINIMALISM IN GIFT GIVING – simplify gift shopping
The flip side of the coin of receiving gifts is purchasing them for everyone on your list. There are some wonderful people out there who are incredibly talented at picking out that just perfect gift for every single person on their list. I am unfortunately not that person, so I try to set up systems to help me in this deficiency!
To keep things as simple and un-stressful as possible, I use Trello throughout the year to capture all of my gift ideas as they pop up. I have a board specifically for Gift Giving (it’s secret, so nobody else in the family can access it). I keep each recipient on the list and throughout the year if they mention something or I have an idea for them, I drop it here, along with any links to purchase. Then when I’m ready to buy I can track what gifts have been purchased and what is still hanging out there.
If this is intriguing to you, you can access this template for free here.
I’ll also often try to find something universally appealing and apply it to as many people as possible. All of our teachers get the same gift each year. My brother and brothers in law will often get variations the same thing. The same cute sweatshirt for my BFF and sisters in law. One year we got Hello Fresh gift boxes for half the people on our list. This saves brain power that I need for other areas of my life!
4. MINIMALISM WITH COOKING AND BAKING – do less, and be intentional
Do any of these sound like you? How many times have you waited until the day before Christmas to start baking cookies for Santa?! Maybe you reserve one day for a holiday baking bonanza but end up completely wiped out? Or make an extravagant dinner for Christmas only to spend half the day in the kitchen while everyone else is relaxing on the couch?
This is another area where you need to be really honest with yourself. If you love cooking (like I do), feel free to go for it, but set yourself up for success. I know that we’ll get home late and hungry on Christmas Eve after church, so we always have tamales. They steam on the stovetop for 15 minutes with minimal effort. I warm up enchilada sauce, refried beans, lay out chips and salsa, and I’m done. On Christmas Day I want a delicious meal, but don’t want to miss all the fun of hanging out with the family to make it happen. I make the same Mississippi Pot Roast (recipe coming next week!) year after year. It feels special and delicious, but only requires me to be in the kitchen for a couple of short burst of time. And it smells so good cooking slowly all day.
The moral of the story is this – if spending 8 hours baking sounds awful to you, bake a different batch of cookies 2 or 3 times throughout December instead. If spending 8 hours making homemade pasta and sauce with your kids fills your soul, do that! Do what will serve you and your family and don’t worry about how you’ve always done it, or how everyone else does it.
5. MINIMALISM WITH DECORATING – know when to stop
Christmas decorations are MY JAM you guys. I looooove filling my home with all of the sparkly lights, vintage treasures, and festive trimmings. Some years I can’t wait to get it all out, but other years - like last year when we were in our rental house, or when we’re going to be doing a lot of traveling - I just didn’t have it in me. Come in close and hear me – you don’t have to put it all up every year. You have agency over your house and your time and you can do less.
Pull out your best and favorite items and just do that. You can continue to layer things on until it feels right and you fell the holiday magic, and then stop. Don’t let other people’s expectations of what your house looks like dictate your time. If your kids want the holiday magic, they can help put it up, and more importantly, take it down.
6. MINIMALISM WITH DIET + BOOZE – avoid feeling rundown
Ah, the part of holiday minimalism that you may not want to hear, but might help you a whole lot. It’s similar to what a lot of us experienced at the beginning of the COVID lockdowns – eating comfort food and drinking too frequently. The holidays are filled with the very best food, and alcohol is often free flowing. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s important to keep it in check so you don’t feel gross. When I was in my 20’s I could eat anything I wanted and have 2 drinks every night and be fine. This is sadly not true in my late 30’s. Much like with minimalism in scheduling, I approach holiday eating and drinking in the same way. If I’m going to a big party that I know I’ll want to enjoy a couple of cocktails (like my favorite It’s A Wonderful Life cocktail!) I’ll be sure to have a big salad for lunch, drink lots of water, and not drink the night or two before. While for some this may feel limiting, for me it’s about enjoying those times more because my body doesn’t feel weighed down. Eating better and drinking less also helps you to sleep better, so there’s another bonus.
7. MINIMALISM WITH CHRISTMAS CARDS – you're allowed to pass
Getting controversial now. A few years ago I was in the midst of a high risk pregnancy and running a business. The holidays are our busiest time of year as we try to wrap up as many projects as we can for our clients to get them settled before Christmas. I had been an avid custom photo Christmas card maker for years and years, but that year I reached the end of my rope.
So I just didn't send any Christmas cards. And guess what? Nothing bad happened.
I think maybe my Grandma noticed? But there was zero backlash. Because many of us get dozens...maybe even a hundred Christmas cards per year. Are you REALLY going to notice if one doesn't come through? If you do it's probably the card of a person you really care about, and you'd forgive them for it, because you're a kind person.
I took 3 years off and it was such a blessing not having to schedule a family photo (even if it was just getting everyone looking cute for an iPhone picture), going online, finding the right template, updating all of the addresses and trying to figure out who moved, and spending hundreds of dollars. Not to mention the years I addressed and stamped them all myself. It sounds so small, but that one task ate up so much of my mental energy each year.
Last year I was feeling somewhat recovered and I bought a pack of 12 regular old Christmas cards from Target and send handwritten notes to our very closest family and friends, expressing actual personal holiday greetings to them. And guess what? I received a text or phone call from nearly every single recipient because it was so unexpected to get a personalized card. And it cost me about $8 and less than an hour. Totally worth it.
Maybe this year you need to let go of the big Christmas card production all together. Or perhaps you think about trying the smaller scale store-bought card approach. Either way, it might be worth lightening your load.
Choosing even one or two of these areas to experiment with doing less this holiday season can be life giving. Give them a try and let us know if it helped you! Also drop other ideas in the comments section for how you’ve done less and enjoyed more at the holidays! Merry Christmas!