Simplifying The Holidays

The holidays can be such a stressful time for all of us when they really should be joyous.  We’re spending quality time with loved ones, celebrating generosity and experiencing the magic of the season.  I’m guilty of letting the holidays stress me out sometimes, but this year I was determined to change that.  Here’s a rundown of what I’ve learned and how I simplified my holiday season this year.

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The Best Ways to Simplify the Holiday Season


Focus on the memories

Ten years from now, no one is going to remember the sweater you bought them.  They will remember the time you spent together… the cookies you baked, the carols you sang, the traditions you’ve shared.

Focus on doing the things that make you smile when you look back on holidays past and forget the rest.

Don’t allow gifts to overwhelm you

If I’m being completely honest, this is an area in which I’ve failed time and time again.  I LOVE buying gifts for people, and I have a tendency to go overboard.  In years past, I would place SO many online orders that I couldn’t keep up with what I had ordered, what had arrived, what was missing in transit, and what I still needed.  I’d have too many gifts for some people and none for others and it was STRESSFUL.

My first step to overcoming this overwhelm was to STOP going so crazy on all of the excessive gift buying.  Kevin & I exchange a few special gifts and we buy for our parents, siblings, a couple family gift exchanges, and special kids in our lives.

I created a SUPER easy tracker for my gifts via a Google Doc and it’s as simple as a single-page document with three sections:

  • Gifts Ordered but Not Received
    • Name of the recipient – gift description – order # – tracking info
  • Gifts Purchased and Received
    • Name of the recipient – gift description
  • Things To Buy
    • Name of the recipient – gift description

Once I buy or receive a gift, I move the person’s info to the appropriate category.  This is obviously a VERY simple hack but one that I didn’t use for years and have found very helpful since implementing.

Use special decorations

The decor is another area where we can get a little extra.  There’s nothing wrong with getting excited and decorating every nook and cranny of your house if that brings you and your family joy.  If it’s a days-long stressful event, you might want to reconsider.

For me, as a new homeowner, I didn’t have a lot of decor for my house.  I was tempted to go out and buy a bunch of random decor to fill empty spaces, but I decided to take my time and fill my home slowly and intentionally with pieces that will bring us joy for years to come.

My mom gave us a Christmas tree, and I still had a lot of ornaments from our apartment.  My favorites are the sentimental ones that we’ve picked up on vacations or that celebrate milestones like our first Christmas as a married couple in 2016 or our first Christmas in our home this year.

The only decor we’ve added this year has been garland and stocking hangers, a wreath on the front door and a small lit tree on each side of our front door.

After Christmas, I’ll hit up the deals and pick up more garland for our banisters, wreaths for our windows outside.  There’s just something really special about a slow and intentional approach to the holidays, decor included.

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Photo credit:  Jimmy Riley Photography

Start new traditions

I wrote an entire post with fifteen awesome holiday traditions to start with your family.  I’ve been personally giving many of them a try this year, and have had so much fun with them.  You can read the post here to get some ideas!

The point here isn’t to add a ton of new things to your to-do list.  The point is to rid yourself of the tasks on the to-do list and focus on these simple things that bring so much joy instead.

Experience it all through the eyes of children

I often think about how much better the world would be if adults acted a bit more like the kiddos.  What if we approached the holidays and life in general with wide-eyed wonder?  What if we left behind the cynicism of adulthood and focused on the sheer joy that life can bring?

Let yourself get excited about the childish things… growing up is overrated.

Stay organized and use time-saving tricks where possible

Even if our hearts are in the right place, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of tasks we have to complete.

This time of year I REALLY lean in on using my planner to stay sane and keep up with everything I have going on.  If your to-do list and all of your events and appointments are contained in one place, it’s so much easier to keep track.  I have used my Emily Ley Simplified Planner for several years now and can’t live without it.  I use the premium version of the planner available on the Emily Ley website but have linked a much more affordable option from her line through Amazon.

If you prefer digital, you can use Trello for project management or even just your Google Calendar and Google Tasks to keep up.

One thing I do to save time this time of year is to use grocery pickup instead of fighting the crowds.  Lately, I’ve been using Walmart’s pickup because it’s FREE with a $30 minimum order and Walmart also has good prices on household items.  If you’ve never tried it, you can get $10 off your first order here!

Be charitable & be grateful

Approach the holidays with kindness in your heart, focusing on what you can do to make those around you happy.  Think about all of the good things you have in your life already and be grateful for what you have.

The holidays have a way of reminding us of what we are missing, loved ones who have passed, a family of our own we long for, etc.  The reality is that life can be hard.  It can also be really good.  I’d never discourage you from allowing yourself to feel the feelings of loss and processing them, but I would also encourage you to think about all of the blessings you do have in your life and try to focus on those.

Find ways to give to those less fortunate than you.  It can truly make your season bright and it also helps you keep things in perspective and focus on what matters.

Do the little things that make you really happy

This sounds simple because it is.  Don’t buy into the rush and the hustle and bustle.  Slow down and enjoy the special moments.  For us that means baking cookies, hosting parties, spending quality time with friends and family, decorating our house, etc.

Conversely, think about all of the things you’re doing that you don’t enjoy… and as much as possible, stop doing those things.



I’m curious…. how do you simplify your holiday routine? What are the most important things you’d never give up?

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