Christmas for our family this year will have an uncanny feel.
Instead of spending the winter holiday visiting family or hosting friends, we will spend it… packing.
Yep. We’re spending the “most wonderful time of year” in complete transition mode.
Our project this year has been building a house—comparable in size to our apartment home, but with space for my husband’s home office. The original move-in date of mid-September steadily slid back month after month, securely stopping on the week of Christmas.
Not exactly what we had in mind.
At first, I’ll admit I wasn’t thrilled with the timing. But then, I realized this was the perfect moment to experiment with some “next-level” holiday simplicity.
Not this year.
This year, I was doing the “stirring” and nothing holiday-related would get the upper hand.
So what am I doing this last week before Christmas to simplify? How am I making space for more presence and meaning while minimizing seasonal stress?
Here are 4 ways to simplify the rest of your holiday season:
1. Give yourself permission to do things differently
If the idea of a simpler holiday is alluring, first give yourself permission—full permission—to have one. You don’t have to do things just because that’s the way you’ve always done them. Ask yourself: “What traditions or activities make my holiday more meaningful? Which ones overwhelm or drain me?” Write them out in two columns if it helps. Then allow yourself to choose well.
The Latin root words for “tradition” mean “to give” and “across.” Are you doing things just because that’s what has been “given” to you “across” generations? Do you stop and ask if they actually work for you and your family?
This Christmas, we’re doing about half the activities/traditions we usually do. When we’re not rushing to get to the next thing, the traditions we do choose to engage in become more meaningful and memorable.
It’s not too late to pause, recalibrate, and recreate your customs to make your holidays more simple and meaningful.
In the words of Rachel Jonat, “We don’t have to continue holiday traditions that leave us broke, overwhelmed, and tired.”
2. Embrace stillness
Society puts on a full-court press this time of year. Do more. Buy more. Commit more. The message of more is ubiquitous. Realize it’s okay to step away from all that and focus on less.
Do this by taking time immersed in stillness and silence each day. The busier you feel, the more this might serve you. Ask yourself during this time, “What do the holidays mean to me?”
In my experience as a Christian, the point of Christmas is to celebrate Jesus’ birthday and make space in our hearts for Christ’s coming. For others, it may be to connect deeply with family and friends.
Clear goals will shape your holiday-related choices, making them more intentional and meaningful.
My goal is to start each morning this season with at least 20 minutes of meditation/prayer, hot drink in hand. It’s not always as silent as I’d like (our kids are early risers), but I stick with it anyway, knowing I’m also modeling slower, intentional living to our children.
It’s not too late to anchor your days in stillness and live out the rest of the holiday season more focused on your values.
In the words of John Mark Comer, “The solution to an overbusy life is not more time. It’s to slow down and simplify our lives around what really matters.”
3. Say No
Once you’ve given yourself full permission to simplify your holidays and you’ve identified what truly matters during this season, then say “no” to anything that isn’t that. (Remember that a “no” to one thing is always a “yes” to something else).
Consider your remaining holiday commitments and decide what you can opt-out of. “Obligatory” pictures with Santa? Buying gifts for neighbors, teachers, friends, or extended family? Cooking all day on Christmas?
Or, maybe you choose to take on more holiday-related commitments and say “no” to your routine commitments during this season. Saying “no” to something you don’t feel 100% called to allows someone else to step up and say “yes.”
This year, I’m saying “no” to buying gifts for any extended family, except grandparents. Along with any school volunteering or party planning. These “no’s” are a yes to more time at home connecting with family.
If a commitment is causing you stress or overwhelm, it’s not too late to say no.
In the words of Courtney Carver, “I don’t say no because I am so busy, I say no because I don’t want to be so busy.”
4. Rethink gifts
One thing you may want to say “no” to is the over-commercialization of the holidays. Again, go back to your values for this season. Did they include accumulating tons of more stuff? Probably not.
Resist the need to buy stuff for people just because you think you should or just because you did last year. Consider if those people even want more stuff. Sixty-one percent of Americans report receiving unwanted gifts over the holidays (that totals to 154 million people).
This year we’re buying gifts for half the number of people we did last year (we will still send them cards to show we’re thinking of them). We are buying one large gift for our three kids to share and have asked grandparents to buy each child one gift from their list.
I once figured that if every relative bought one gift for each of our kids, there would be over 25 new items in our home Christmas morning (and that’s without counting relatives who buy multiple gifts or the fact that our oldest daughter’s birthday is the day after Christmas).
Gift-giving is a great holiday tradition if that’s not the season’s focus and the acquiring doesn’t go overboard.
If you’ve overspent or bought certain gifts for people you now wish you didn’t, it’s not too late to return them. And it’s not too late to give more experiences and less stuff.
Memories don’t usually stem from our stuff. They’re made by living out moments that matter.
If you’re looking at the week ahead and feeling overwhelmed, it’s time to simplify. Try implementing one (or all) of the suggestions above and see what happens.
It’s not too late.
You deserve a simple, meaningful holiday season. One that ushers in more feelings of celebration and fewer feelings of obligation. One that’s true to your values.
This week, give yourself permission to spend less, stress less, and do less so you have more space to enjoy the real gifts of the season.
About the Author: Julia Ubbenga is a freelance journalist whose teachings on minimalism, simplicity, and intentional living have reached thousands of people worldwide through her blog richinwhatmatters.com. Julia practices what she preaches in her Kansas City apartment home with her husband, two extremely lively young daughters, and one-year-old son.