9 Ways to Simplify This Holiday Season

You might already have two questions about this post:

(Read these in your best Jim Gaffigan voice-in-the-audience’s-head tone)

1. Why is she talking about the holidays? It’s only November 3rd. Is this going to be one of those “Christmas Creep” things where we’re supposed to pretend the Christmas season starts the day after Halloween?

2. Does this have to do with food? If not, why is it on this blog? I thought the name was “A Love Letter to Food.” If it doesn’t have to do with eating, I’m going back to Paula Deen’s Miracles of Cool Whip on Food Network.

Well, that was significantly more than two questions, but the short version of the answers goes like this:

1. No, I am not participating in Christmas Creep! I am participating in the opposite! (Which for the sake of this blog, let’s call “Christmas Drag.”)

2. No, it doesn’t particularly have to do with food, but It’s my blog, so I can still write about it. 😉 But I promise this won’t happen too often.

The reason I bring all this up in early November is that this weekend I went clothes shopping at a couple of department stores and was totally overwhelmed with the craziness of Operation Christmas In Your Face. You know about this, right? As soon as the doors close on the trick-or-treaters, stores all around the country haul out their holiday bells and whistles and start trying to brainwash you into believing Christmas is just around the corner. Which, okay, it sort of is–but going into these stores seriously stressed me out. I felt like it was December 23rd, not November 3rd. The lines were long, there was Christmas music playing, Christmas decorations and ads everywhere, AND the lady behind me in line banged her cart into my ankle so hard I almost started crying in line. 

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.™

I came home with a resolution to simplify my holiday season this year. No one wants to feel harried, stressed, and bossed around by someone else’s agenda–commercial, familial, or otherwise–at the time of year that’s supposed to be about peace on earth and goodwill toward men. I know this is not a new story. It’s a repeat problem, one we all lament year after year. But my sense is that the lamenting doesn’t get us very far. This thing has to be approached with a PLAN.

So I gave it some thought and here are 9 of things I plan to do to this year to keep the sugar plums dancing in my head from driving me nuts…unless we’re talking about candied almonds. Then I’m on board. 

1. Shop Online (aka Stay Away From Retail Stores in November/December)
No parking, no crowds, no lines, no annoying music, no overtired children (except for my own, but I can just put them to bed since, hey, I’m at home). Buying online, you are less likely to make impulse buys like those Godiva chocolates that seem to be at so many registers. Plus, I’ve learned there is SO much more selection of original gifts available online than at the mall. Etsy.com is one place to start; also check out the personalized gifts at Zazzle.com.

2. Plan Ahead. 
It is only still November! If you get shopping and planning done little by little starting now, you have a guarantee of less stress down the road.

3. Keep an Excel Spreadsheet of Gifts and their Cost, Recipients, and Total Spending.
For me, part of the stress of Christmas gift-giving is the feeling that I’ve spent too much–though I don’t really know how much. Ugh, that’s a bad feeling. So this year I’m keeping tabs with a simple Excel spreadsheet. I enter the above four categories and it not only calculates my total, it helps me track who I’ve purchased for.

4. Buy handmade / local / edible / experiential / second-hand gifts, rather than STUFF.
Another part of negative emotion that can cloud Christmas is the feeling that you’re merely contributing to the overproduction/overconsumption cycle we Americans are so famous for. Buying gifts that don’t come from a department store and won’t clutter up someone else’s home helps you opt out of that. Plus, supporting local businesses, artisans, farmers’ markets, etc. helps your community.

5. Make Your own Simple Gift Wrap.
This may sound like a small thing to stress over, but buying gift wrap is one more expense around the holidays, and using it can be one more waste. This year I plan to follow the example of my inventive neighbors and take apart Trader Joe’s paper bags to use as wrapping paper (blank side out), stamping the front of each gift with an inexpensive but pretty Christmas stamp from Michael’s. The stamp will be reusable in years to come. This may not be practical with gifts for someone you really want to impress, but for any like-minded recipient (like my husband) it should be fine!

6. Pare Down the Decor
As Dr. Suess once said, “If decor is a chore, less can be more.” No, he actually didn’t, but if he ever wrote a children’s book about lowering stress levels at Christmas, this is what he would have said. Pick some of the your beloved decorations to put out and leave the rest in the garage this year.

7. Opt Out.
If your office / play group / 75-person extended family / Lithuanian Kazoo Players’ Guild does an annual gift exchange, would it really be so bad to opt out? Certainly most of us want to give meaningful presents to the people in our lives who mean the most, but if you’ve been invited to do a gift exchange with people you don’t see that often and/or aren’t major players in your life, maybe opting out is the lesser of two evils. 

8. Limit to 2-3 Top Activities for December.
The great thing about Christmas is that it comes around every year. Sometimes we can feel the need to pack every fun Christmas-y experience possible into those three to four weeks leading up to the big day. But at a certain point, it simply becomes busyness. Pre-selecting only a small handful of activities to commit to (a performance of A Christmas Carol, ice skating, and one party, let’s say) adds more breathing room to the season. There’s always next year for the life-size gingerbread house making extravaganza.

As you limit your calendar in December, take advantage of the extra time to find a way to serve others in need. There’s nothing like it for putting Christmas craziness in perspective. You can be sure local homeless shelters, St. Vincent de Paul, nursing homes, and those they serve will be thankful for your help–and have lots for you to do. 

On that note, I’ll leave you with a song that captures my point with this post:

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