Three Steps to a Simplified Holiday

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Robyn Devine of Minimalist Knitter.

When I was a little girl, I used to love heading to downtown Chicago on Thanksgiving to watch the tree lighting ceremony outside of Marshall Fields, and then squeeze in around their storefront windows as they displayed their holiday scenes.

It was a night that marked the start of the holiday season for me: crowded into a square and on sidewalks, wrapped up in coats and hats, and holding hands with loved ones – both so we wouldn’t get lost and for some sort of extra warmth.

Seeing those window displays filled not of merchandise for sale but of elaborate holiday scenes marked time for me. The holidays weren’t about presents and parties and scheduling, but about family and big reveals and crisp winter evenings.

Now that I’m all grown up, that focus has shifted, and I’m not happy about it! For far too long, Western culture has convinced us that the best types of holiday celebrations involve more – more decorations, more presents, more time commitments, more stuff.

While out scouting a craft store for one skein of yarn this past August, I saw a huge holiday display packed full with ornaments, menorahs and tree toppers, and I almost lost my mind. It was still hot outside, and my nieces hadn’t even gone back to school yet! Who needs to be thinking about the holiday season?

The easiest way to put a stop to this sort of consumerist view on the holiday season is to decide here and now to simplify. By choosing not to freak out in August, not shop until November or December, and instead to leave room in your schedule for those magical moments of togetherness, your holidays will be simpler and happier.

It can seem hard, but simplifying your holiday season can be done with a few swift decisions and then just a few minutes a day of triage and maintenance. You really can simplify your holiday to the point of doing only what you want to do, giving freely without concern of a consumerism take-over, and finding time to sip hot chocolate by a fire with loved ones!

Three Steps

  1. Decorate Less. Easier said than done for some, but by making the decision to decorate fewer parts of your home, or to put up fewer decorations than normal, you’ll simplify your holiday almost instantly. Donate the supplies you don’t use, and you’ll be storing less, dusting less, and packing/unpacking less each year!
  2. Shop Less. Instead of buying arm loads of presents that most people on your list will promptly stuff in a closet or drop off at the Goodwill, commit to purchasing only one present per loved one, and making those presents consumable. Gift certificates to restaurants, wine, and memberships to museums come to mind – all can be enjoyed without the problem of clutter!
  3. Travel Less. You don’t have to attend every party you’re invited to. You don’t have to drive halfway across the country to spend a few short days with people you hardly know. Commit this year to spending your time with your immediate family and closest friends, and use Skype to your advantage to send your love to those living far away. You’ll spend less on gas, hotel stays, and plane fares, and you’ll be far less stressed!

These three steps can help you cut bucket-loads of stress from your December, and free up hours upon hours of your time! Now, go to bed early, snuggle under blankets, drink hot chocolate, and enjoy all your free time this holiday season!

** For more tips and tricks to simplify your holiday season, pick up my e-book Holiday Made Simple!

Robyn Devine blogs at Minimalist Knitter, where she spends her time knitting more with less.



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  1. Julie says

    These are great suggestions. We get so caught in the “have-tos” at the holidays. That said, however, I would say that personally I don’t follow #1. For us, decorating our whole house is a tradition that we look forward to. We have been married nearly 30 years. Decorating the tree in particular is an important ritual for us as our ornaments include ornaments that decorated our the Christmas trees of our childhood, ornaments made by our children and grandchildren. Christmas decorating for us is about remembering and connecting to Christmases past and dreaming about future Christmas memories. Putting Christmas lights on our house was a tradition my daughter and my husband shared, a special moment both looked forward to. Now, when she visits with her family, her son is now a part of that ritual. But our Christmas decorating is motivated by family traditions and memories and not about trying to keep with the Clark Griswold’s on our block!!

    • says

      I love that you’ve got a tradition that doesn’t weigh you down! My theory on the holidays is to do what brings you joy, and let everything else go – if decorating brings you joy, then by all means do it!

      I would challenge you then to find your own personal “decorate less” – what can you do less of this year that you’ve always felt you “had to do”?

  2. says

    Thanks, Robyn, for a thoughtful post. Like you, my early memories of Christmas involve going into New York City to see the tree at Rockefeller Center, and seeing the window displays at Sachs Fifth Avenue. The magic of those memories!

    My husband and I relocated to Michigan for his work, and both of our families are split between Connecticut and Virginia respectively. There is nothing more I want than to spend my holidays with my parents, and he with his. This means 35 hours of driving broken up over three days. This means gas purchased, and perhaps a hotel stay so we stay safe. Our gifts to our parents is our presence, not our presents. For us the holidays wouldn’t mean the same without family.

    Plus it gives me at least 22 hours of knitting time to squeeze out those last handknit gifts for siblings, and brothers-in-law.

    • says

      yay for knitting time!

      i think it’s good that you’re choosing how you want to spend your “presents money”, and that you’re choosing a way that gives you what you love best about the holidays: time with family!

  3. says

    It seems to be a theme this year, toning down and simplifying. Rather than pulling out my old decorations (which includes a large Santa collection) I decided to do something different. I purchased a few bouquets of artificial poinsettias and used them to decorate the mantle and the kitchen bar. Simple, uncluttered and beautiful!

  4. says

    So very true – all of it Robyn! Christmas does not start til 1st Dec in our home! I have made ‘My Simple Christmas Pledge’ on my blog, and I wish you all the simplest and happiest Christmas ever! Now if I could just transport my family to ‘Simple Christmas island with like minded people’ it’d be perfect (with snow of course!) – Jo (simplybeingmum – “family life simply done”)

    • says

      “Christmas does not start til 1st Dec in our home!” – this is the hardest part of all of it for me, honestly. i love putting up our simple tree and listening to as much Christmas music as possible, but we wait until after Thanksgiving – despite the fact that many of our family members and neighbors have lights and trees going around November 10th.

  5. says

    A great article. This is my first minimalist christmas and also my first christmas without my parents and sister. However I’m determined that my partner and I will create a wonderful day just between the two of us. New traditions in line with your new values can’t be anything but good. I like your tip about skyping to loved ones you can’t be with. I’m sure I will be teary at some point not being with my family. Merry Christmas everyone!

    • says

      starting new traditions is such a fun thing – not that you won’t miss your family, but you can look at it as a chance to try out a new way to do the holidays! could be exciting …

  6. says

    downsized my ornament collection by letting daughter take what she wanted for her new home, but still have enough that I only choose some to use on the tree each Christmas: red/white one year, clear glass/lucite another, shiny metals another, etc.

  7. says

    I loved your 3 Steps to Simplify the Holidays. My wife and I have been putting these 3 things into practice for the past number of years. It took some work to get to where we wanted to be in simplifying the holidays as we faced resistaence from family, particularily around gift giving. We had to go in baby steps. Our first steps was to convince the family that we could draw names and just buy one gift for the adults. To sweeten the deal we set a dollar limit and each person provided a list of things they wanted. We have now moved on so we only buy gifts for the children. Everyone seems happy with this arrangement now.

    Each year my wife and I decorate less, we are really starting to embrace the minimalist Christmas. We did away with the Christams tree years ago and now just put up a few things that have meaning to us.

    Less shopping and thus less gifts means spending less money, less debt and more time to enjoy family and friends. Afterall, I believe that a simplier life, one that requires less money and give you more time is the key to happiness. So it only makes sense to apply this to the holiday season.

    • says

      baby steps seem to also be the best way to help changes like these stick. had you just suggested not doing presents for the adults, people may have balked – but now you’ve got a much more manageable holiday season on your hands!

  8. says

    We’re doing a handmade Christmas this year, making the gifts we’ll give to family and friends, and the only decorating we’ll be doing is the tree. But visiting family and friends is one area in which I’ve found it much harder to cut back – I have more guilt associated with that one, when we don’t make the trip to see all of our parents and grandparents. One more suggestion I would make to simplifying the holiday season is cutting back on the cooking – there’s no reason a holiday meal has to break the bank, involve 19 sides and three different kinds of meat. Simple can be beautiful (and quite tasty)!

  9. Lisa Mattscheck says

    I like the idea of simplifying the holidays but for me I think the decorating and the gift giving/receiving should be based on the “want” to decorate and give gifts. It seems as though society today “needs to gets things done” and the idea of spending the quality time with family to decorate or just be together is lost in the mix. That’s what I miss the most about the holiday season — Families getting together to enjoy each others company over a well prepared meal; watching the kids get excited over the prospect of a filled stocking; seeing your loved one’s face light up because you were able to think of the right gift for them; and yes, even being surprised because someone actually heard your words and was able to think of the right gift for you. So, I think it’s the holiday spirit that needs to change, because simplifying without holiday spirit doesn’t cut it either.

  10. says

    I like the pure simplicity of this list and they are three things that we can forget and then kick ourselves for getting caught in the circle again. We absolutely do these on our end. One thing that really helped was just to remember that it my life and I do not have to do anything out of a sense of obligation – it is ok to say “no” and spend this precious time with your family, just chillin’ out.

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