Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Less is More: Simplifying the Holidays to Make Room for More of What Matters

Welcome to the October 2012 Simplicity Parenting Carnival: Holidays

This post was written as part of the monthly Simplicity Parenting Carnival hosted by The Lone Home Ranger and S.A.H.M. i AM. This month we are discussing how we simplify the holiday season. Be sure to read to the end to see a list of the rest of the excellent carnival contributors.

I've been stressed by the Fall and Winter holiday season in the past, and a few years ago I decided I just wasn't going to go through that anymore. I want to spend the holidays enjoying myself, and I want that for my family, too.

The spirit of this time of year is to enjoy getting to spend time together with loved ones, to celebrate sacred religious holidays (for some), and to welcome the changing of the seasons from harvest to dark, cold Winter. (Right?!) So why then, do we often spend so much time fretting about getting the perfect gifts for everyone on our list, or preparing a pristine meal?

I've adopted a few strategies to guide me in simplifying our holiday task lists so that we can spend more time enjoying each other:

Keep It Simple

I don't enjoy the bustling pace of this time of year, so I try to avoid spending time with people who are stressing about the holidays, and I do less frequent shopping (even groceries) because I want to avoid all that anxious energy.

I am not a big fan of shopping in general, so that was the first thing that had to go. Going out in the holiday crowds to shop needs to be kept to a minimum for me to be able to enjoy this time of year. When we go out to shop during the holiday season, we try to:

  1. Group our errands together into fewer trips to avoid adding to congested traffic and to decrease the number of trips we have to make to purchase items.
  2. Walk, bicycle, or utilize public transit as much as possible when going out shopping to cut back on the extra carbon expenditure of holiday shopping trips.
  3. Be a duck. (quack!) Let the stress and frenzy of everyone around you slide off your back like drops of water. It can all continue to happen around you without you taking it on. Isn't that wonderful?

Shop Local

I want Daniel to grow up valuing people over possessions, so I strive to keep the things in our house few and higher quality (so they will last a long time). We opt to shop primarily at local small businesses—particularly for any large or specialty gifts—and I try to get all the gifts I want to purchase in a trip or two. It's important to me to patronize small businesses, to vote with my money by purchasing local.

Often this means spending more money on an item than I would if I bought it at a "big box" store, but I would rather put my money into our local economy and into small businesses than to give my money to companies that employ child laborers in China (and other business practices I don't support).

Because I have to spend more money, I end up being able to buy a fewer number of things, and I like that: it creates a built-in limit on the quantity of stuff that I bring into the house, and it encourages me to be more intentional and purposeful about each of my purchases.

Choose Handmade

Last year I decided to primarily gift handmade things during (what we are now lovingly calling) Solsticemas. I sewed kitchen towels and cloth napkins for our family, Daniel received a crayon roll and crocheted hat, and our extended families and friends got homemade jam and crocheted ornaments. I really enjoyed spending time creating a unique gift for each person on my list, and it made me feel good to know that I wasn't just spending money on people; I was giving them the gift of my time and energy.

Apparently, we had already lost
the yellow crayon by noon
on Christmas day last year.
I have new and different crafty ideas for this year's gifts, and I'm looking forward to getting started on them soon! Even if you're not particularly crafty, there are tons of tutorials out there for simple things you can make together with your children to gift to family. If you're not comfortable with even that level of craftiness, there's a lot to be said for sending a simple card with a thoughtful message along with a framed photograph of your family to relatives you don't get to see often.

If you're totally strapped for time and void of creative inspiration, you can always utilize Etsy to purchase beautiful, one-of-a-kind handmade gifts from small businesses (near and far!) without leaving the comfort of your home. (Please feel free to browse my shop, if you want to buy something from me this holiday season!)

Set Limits

One of the things that has helped me to decrease the number of gifts I buy or make for our immediate family is setting some limits. It's important to our budget and also for my peace of mind: tons of toys and things sitting all over the place don't make for a very peaceful home environment.

I decided to follow a guideline for gift-giving (particularly for Daniel and Jaymz), to help me to focus on choosing fewer high-quality items instead of just grabbing every cute little thing that catches my eye:

Something you want
Something you need
Something to wear, and
Something to read.

Last year, I bought Daniel a bunch of fidget toys,
but I made sure they all fit into his stocking.
I love it because it's simple and easy to remember, and there is built-in variety as well as a limit.

And if you can't resist buying cute little things you think your loved ones will like (I know I'm certainly not immune to effective marketing or a well-placed impulse item), try to limit their quantity to fit inside one stocking (or one small box, a special bag, etc.).

Most importantly of all, I try to focus on what is truly important to me in my life during this time of year instead of letting myself get swept up in the consumerism and frenzy of stressful energy that often overtakes us during the holidays. 

I want my memories of these times to be filled with peace, joy, and love. Don't you?

What do you do to help your family's holiday experience to be simple and low-stress? I'd love to hear your insights, strategies, and suggestions!

Thanks for reading the Simplicity Parenting Blog Carnival! We hope you’ll take time to read these other great contributors’ posts:

  • Choosing Your Battles - Molly at Molly Makes Do talks about ways to keep your holidays simple and remain on speaking terms with your relatives.
  • Making Halloween - JW at True Confessions of a Real Mommy says “No need to spend a lot this Halloween! Check out some easy, frugal ideas for dressing your family up!”
  • Hibernating During Halcyon - Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children and her family are gearing up for the Halcyon celebrations and enjoying some quiet time as a family.
  • Savoring Family Time (or, Simple Homemade Gifts) - Emily at S.A.H.M. i AM is trying to prepare for the holidays early so she can slow down and enjoy time with her family as the days grow shorter and a new baby enters their lives.
  • 7 Green Gifts for Toddlers - Shannon at GrowingSlower shares unique green gift ideas for kids this holiday season that are sure to be green mom approved.
  • Less is More: Simplifying the Holidays to Make Room for More of What Matters - Amy at Anktangle shares a few easy strategies she uses to keep the holidays manageable, stress-free, and fun!
  • buy nothing x-mas? - mama lola at bear & lion describes what christmas is all about to her and her family; treats, music, crafts and LOVE!
  • DIY holiday fun - Justine at The Lone Home Ranger revels in thrifting for and making her own holiday gifts and decorations.
Thanks to all the fabulous writers and readers for being a part of our simplicity parenting community! Stop by The Lone Home Ranger and S.A.H.M. i AM to see how to join us for a future carnival.


  1. i really like your suggestion on setting limits. dear hubby and i always set a budget and rules around what we're allowed to buy each other. and with one side of our family we do a secret santa, so instead of spending money on everyone, we only have to find or make a gift for one person (for $50).
    lots of people associate more gifts with more love, and the idea that the more you spend the more you must love them as well.

    good luck this season! i will check back as the season approaches for more ideas!

  2. I really appreciate this. I just realized how close it is and had an initial total body tensing moment. But I want what you describe here.
    Great list.
    It's so funny. Every time I come here now, you're having a carnival it seems!

  3. Great post. We also simplify during this time of year. When it's cold outside, sipping hot cocoa while playing board games as a family is a perfect activity for us.

  4. I like your version of the limited gifts! I hadn't heard that before but will adopt that because you're right, it's easy to remember. Lovely post, thanks for sharing all your ideas. I like that you support local businesses and that you said purchasing fewer but more expensive gifts "encourages me to be more intentional and purposeful about each of my purchases." So true!

  5. As much as I love the holidays I've been dreading them a bit too. Setting limits (especially with family members who want to buy lots and lots of stuff for the kids) can be so hard. See, I feel bad even writing that because I know they mean well...but it's hard when you want simple and other people don't! This year we've been setting limits for ourselves and trying not to worry if other people think we're cheap by giving homemade gifts : )

  6. I love your little rhyme for what to buy! So cute! That is a great rule when approaching holiday shopping.

  7. I love your ideas! I'll have to write that rhyme down. The past couple of years we've tried to give TOO many handmade gifts (made by me, mostly) and are now trying to back off a bit. Year before last we made nearly every single gift we gave. We were burning the midnight oil a few times--not easy with little kids to take care of! Last year we thought it'd be easier to just buy the kids a few toys at Toys R Us, but we regretted that when at least two of the toys broke just hours after being opened! I think the most draining part of Christmas for me is trying to think of the right gift for people who don't need anything, my kids included. This year we have a new idea for our kids. Instead of a bunch of toys, Santa is going to team up with us to give our kids a winter adventure. We are thinking of taking them for a long weekend to Hunting Island--a park in our state with a historical lighthouse that's open for the public to climb, and interesting wildlife to observe. If it goes well, we might do it every year, with the trips getting bigger and further away as the kids (and our budget) grow. Also, it counts as homeschooling!

  8. Thank you, Amy! I really appreciate the suggestion to use public transit when available and set limits with gifts. The bit about something you want, need, wear, and read is perfect. I love a simple, peaceful experience also and clutter (whether physical, energetic, or emotional) certainly does alter the way we experience family times.

  9. Thank you, Amy! I really appreciate the suggestion to use public transit when available and set limits with gifts. The bit about something you want, need, wear, and read is perfect. I love a simple, peaceful experience also and clutter (whether physical, energetic, or emotional) certainly does alter the way we experience family times.

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