Around the time Thanksgiving was wrapping up last year, I discovered minimalism. As we said our goodbyes to visiting family and geared ourselves up for the inevitable hustle of December, my heart gently whispered.
Simple. Simplify this. Let go of that. Say no.
I wasn’t sure about it at first because, well, it was the holidays and isn’t this supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year? You can’t get around the busyness no matter where you go: the mall, the post office, school programs, church activities, holiday parties, and all the festivities going on.
Honestly, there seemed to be a little less “merry” in my Christmases each year. And still, it was my favorite time of year. I loved the idea of a wonderful and merry and jolly Christmastime, I have since I was a kid, but I never slowed down enough to notice that it never was. I didn’t think simple was an option.
The thing is, simple is always an option. At least it is in the things we control, like our attitude, schedule, priorities, and purpose.
Sometimes it gets hurried by festive intentions and buried under expectations, and maybe even trampled across the threshold of a big box store at midnight on Thanksgiving night. The hope and wonder of the season falls flat as we lay in bed Christmas night surprised that we survived it all.
I wondered if I could pull off a simplified holiday season with no experience in living simply; if I could do it right. I thought maybe it was too ambitious to experiment with minimalism during the time of year that’s about all the things under the tree.
“How are we going to do this?” I asked my husband. “Are we crazy? Maybe we should wait until…”
Change is never easy, but then Simple gets its antlers into your soul (that’s one of Santa’s new reindeers) and you start noticing the change that seemed so hard doesn’t compare to the hard of untangling the lights and the hearts and the anxiety.
We simplified some things last Christmas. We allowed grandparents and extended family spoil our kids as we limited our gift giving. We minimized toys and other household things before we brought more things in. I cooked a small, but traditional meal for lunch and for dinner we ordered take out Chinese (the only thing open on Christmas day, of which we were very grateful).
I think this time of year is the perfect time to start simplifying and minimizing your life. Sure, there are a lot of events on the calendar and it’s likely you will spend more money this month than the others, but those are not stumbling blocks. As Steven Furtick says, they are stepping stones.
This is the time of year when peace and cheer blow on the winds of Advent and our hearts are tender with good tidings of comfort and joy. Simple has never been more welcome.
If this holiday season is shaping up to overwhelm and your Noel is threatened, consider these three alternative ways to celebrate this holiday season:
1. Give yourself permission to say no to some traditions.
I love Christmas traditions as much as the next person. Those from my childhood, from my husband’s, and creating new ones with our young family are high on my holiday priority list. That doesn’t mean, however, that incorporating every one, every year, is a good idea.
Cook less, play more, decorate simply, spend less, give more, stay home, love and laugh a lot. Maybe this year, choose two or three that mean the most and enjoy them to the absolute fullest.
Let go of the expectations and half-hearted attempts to perfect Christmas. Choose joy over stress and presence over perfection. You’ll discover that joy everyone is singing about.
2. Focus less on what’s under the tree.
With young kids in the house it’s hard to not completely fill the space under the tree with wrapped boxes and ribbon and bows, big and small. It’s a joyous sight—for kids and for parents. It invites the wonder into our kids’ lives and sparks whimsy in their hearts. But honestly, it doesn’t take much to do that if we’re mindful and engaged.
In the few years that we’ve been parents we’ve seen our kids be as happy with few gifts as they are with many. In fact, they are probably happier with fewer. The same way we as adults are discovering the more of less, kids display the same phenomenon; maybe instinctively.
Allow your kids or grandkids to truly receive the gifts they are given, not just unwrap with curious fervor and move on to the next. In this way, they will learn appreciation, gratitude, and what sincere generosity looks like.
3. Make your holiday your holiday. Stop comparing.
I’m guilty of this. I bet you might be too. With all of our hopes for the season and the pressure to make it perfect, we can easily fall into comparison cycles that remove all joy and cheer. We face the season with shame and bitterness because of the nagging voice, “you’re not good enough”.
The neighbor has better lights, or their kids get better gifts than yours, or your family gatherings are not even close to what you see in the Christmas movies.
I beg you to let that go this Christmas. Let this be the year you snuggle into the holiday that brings you comfort and joy. No shame, no fear, no regrets.
Without a doubt this time of year will always be a little busier than usual, and that’s okay. Because the celebrations and the greetings and gatherings are swollen with spectacular hope. The goal is to hold this time of year in the palm of your hand, with tender care for its significance and purpose.
If your hand is overflowing, it might be time to simplify.