It is December. And I’m not in a frantic tizzy about the holidays.
Holy cow!! Why not?!?!
It wasn’t always like this.
At one time I not only worked in retail management (if you don’t understand why this is a horrible holiday season job, I’m not sure I can explain it to you), but I over-committed, overspent, and generally spent the holiday season panicking, cultivating resentment and feeling defeated.
Several years ago, I said “eff it. this is nonsense!” And I began changing the way I spend the holidays and deal with the chaos that comes with it. While I can’t promise to change your life overnight – it took me a few years to work my way up to this level of end-of-year calm – I put together a few suggestions that I think are pretty solid.
They work for me! I hope they work for you too.
1. Remember the reason for the season
If you are a Christian, your faith is probably a pretty good reminder of what to focus on this time of year. For the rest of us, the secular focus on the season should be about wrapping the year up, spending time with loved ones, and doing some good deeds. At least in my humble opinion.
If there are a few fun gifts, a couple of great meals, and some twinkle lights thrown in – great! But if your season is sidetracked with stress-filled trips to crowded retail establishments, guilt over lack of perfection, or any kind of thought process that sounds like: “this has to go right or Christmakwanzakah will be ruined!!,” then please revisit your priorities.
I know I sound a little soap-boxy here but I think it’s highly worth considering. It certainly puts things into perspective. Cultivating this mindset within your family is also a big win. You’d be surprised at how easily kids can get on board with the real meaning of the holidays.
2. Recognize that you CANNOT do it all
The reason that Martha Stewart can do it all? She has staff. If you’re like me, you do not have staff. So don’t try superhuman Martha Stewart-style holiday feats.
Pick the things that are most important to you and let the rest go. Is orchestrating a cookie exchange really important to you? Then commit to it. Is hosting your family for a holiday meal your big thing? Then forget the rest and just do that.
If the house is a mess, if the holiday cards don’t go out, if your kids’ teachers don’t receive thoughtful little presents from you, if your Halloween door wreath is still up on December 24th… guess what? The earth will keep revolving and life will go on.
Shoot for less that you think you can accomplish. Stuff has a way of coming up. Worst care, you can always find something to add to your To-Do list if you get bored, right?
Side note: If you do have staff or a dedicated army of followers, you are most likely very rich or a cult leader and don’t need this advice. But can you send your minions to my house? (smile!!!)
3. Consider ditching gift-giving
A number of years ago, my husband’s family decided to dispense with present exchanging. We still get gifts for the little ones and sometimes do some small “stocking stuffer” things for each other. But it’s more about enjoying each other than anything.
Each family also picked up some charitable projects for the holidays and shared the stories of our efforts.
Rob, Connor, and I assembled toiletry care packages for our troops in the Middle East for several years. My sister-in-law and her kids picked several different projects – one led to my nieces volunteering at an animal shelter long after the holidays. My brother-in-law – sometimes a little short on time and resources – goes the food bank/soup kitchen route.
Serving others during the holidays, or anytime, feels a lot better then receiving a gift. Really. I know it sounds cliched but it is much better to give than to receive. It’s a wonderful thing to teach our children. Plus we’re probably going to buy ourselves the stuff we didn’t get as gifts anyway, right?
4. Make it a year-round activity
Although we don’t do any major gift exchanging, there are a few people who I do make or buy gifts for. And of course there are always those unexpected work or hostess-type gifts that come up. For these situations, I keep my eyes open year round.
When I see something I know a person on my list would like, I buy it. (Especially if it’s on sale!) Then I tuck it away until the holidays. Same goes for sewing and crafty projects – when I have time to make something, I make it and stash it.
This strategy helps spread the financial impact and time-crunch out across the year and I’m not slammed in December.
As a bonus, post-holiday sales are a great time to stock up on holiday accoutrements. I just have to remember what I have stashed away and not forget when the new stuff gets stocked after Halloween!
5. Take a social media holiday
This is a tough one, particularly for creative peeps. But I’ve learned that seeing all the cool things that other people are doing, and sharing and pinning tends to sidetrack me. They lure me into starting unplanned projects which inevitably leads to a time-crunch and stresses me out.
I also get feelings of guilt and inadequacy when I see other people’s projects. (I still can’t figure out how people with 4 dogs and 7 children have such beautiful, perfect houses!) But if I’m not looking, then I’m none the wiser!
In the event that I do run across something cool, I save it (yay for Pinterest, Pocket, and Evernote!) to check out after the holidays and to work on throughout the year.
6. Make a written plan
It doesn’t sound very glamorous, but writing things down is a really powerful way to focus and get shiz done.
Before the end of November, I start writing down the things that I want or need to do. Then I loosely schedule major tasks over the month of December. Remember that I can’t do it all, and that stuff is sure to come up, I make every effort not to over-schedule.
I also prioritize so that if something major does crop up and I have to eliminate any plans, it’s an easy call to figure out what gets postponed or dropped.
I keep the plan on my desk and make mini-lists (ie. shopping lists, daily task lists, etc.) off of it. And I revise as necessary. Over the years, I’ve found that I can make a pretty reliable and accomplish-able list. It feels SO good to cross tasks off that list!
For another take on this very topic, check out this NY Times piece!
No matter what you do during the holidays, from my heart to yours, I hope that it is merry and bright!