10 Simple Ways to Create A Happy Minimalist Holiday

SMART Living 365.com

Kloe surrounded by too many toys.

Earlier this week I had lunch with a girlfriend I hadn’t seen in a while.  Barely two seconds after we sat down, and even though it is only a few days into December, she immediately launched into how upside down she was about the approaching holidays. I did manage to get in a question or two when she paused to take a breath, but it was clear she was looking for sympathy, not solutions.   After spending over an hour being as supportive as I could, I was relieved when she said she was late for another obligation and simply had to go.  Of course I can’t really blame my friend because it wasn’t so long ago that I was a lot like her.

         I know that the Christmas season can be very stressful.  I know it because I used to make myself crazy trying to squeeze everything in.  But there are solutions for anyone who is ready for a change.  By approaching the holidays from a more minimal or simple living perspective, we can each stay focused on what the holiday really means to us, without allowing the hype to drown us in expectations.

With that in mind, here are ten relatively simple things we can do this month:

  1. Stop giving gifts.  The Christmas holiday did not start out as a gift-giving extravaganza.  It’s only been within the last 50 to 75 years that the retailers began to realize how much money was involved and started planting the habit  (or should we say addiction?) to giving and getting presents.  While it may be sweet to give someone you care about something special–flooding anyone with too much stuff is a reflection of a out-of-control consumer society (not love.)   If  you just can’t go cold-turkey, try to make your gift-giving circle very small.  Tell everyone you’ve exchanged gifts with in the past (as soon as possible) that they won’t be getting anything from you this year and you’d prefer the same from them.  Just try it for one year to see how it goes.  This activity is the biggest stressor (not to mention the biggest money suck) of the holiday season so whatever you do or don’t do, please, at least try it out.
  2. Forget Christmas cards or a Christmas Letter.  This old-fashioned activity takes loads of time, costs lots of money and is bad for the environment.  Fewer and fewer people read them anyway, so don’t stress over them!  If you have to send something, try the internet variety.
  3. Minimize Decorations. Give up trying to outdo yourself or others with your tree and decorations.   Your house will never look like Macy’s no matter what you do, so keep it simple with a few festive pieces.  Better yet, make your decorations and save tons of money.
  4. Don’t make promises or commitments you really don’t want to make.  What’s the old saying?  If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a person complain about having to get together with “you-know-who” during the holidays I’d be rich.  Forcing yourself to be around people you don’t like, or over-committing to do things you don’t enjoy is NOT behind the sentiment of the season.
  5. Refuse to spend any money that you don’t have for anything.  One of the best things about the minimalist movement is a focus on carefully managing your finances.  However, all retailers and their advertising machines are hell-bent on getting you to spend as much money as possible.  It takes a determined effort to not be dazzled into the vision of the holidays that every single television and print ad is hoping to convey.  Just remember—all the presents in the world cannot make someone happy or make someone love you if they think otherwise.  After all, the best things in life aren’t things anyway.
  6. Manage your time carefully.  Avoid trying to cram too much into the days leading up to the holidays.  Also avoid letting those around you do the same.  Obviously we will all enjoy Christmas more if we aren’t tired, overworked, or sick, and all those can happen when we are addicted to busy-ness.
  7. Decide what the holiday means to you personally and then celebrate that.   Most of us will agree that we don’t live in the world of our parents, our grandparents or past generations.  Yet many of us continue to celebrate Christmas the way we were taught, by parents who did it the way they were taught.  Sure traditions can be joyful and comforting, but if they aren’t, don’t be afraid to create new ones that suit the new you.
  8. Stop comparing your holiday with anyone else’s—that includes Made-for-TV movies, memories of your past, or even your friends and neighbors.  Remember, most celebrations look better from a distance.
  9. Do something nice for someone else without any expectation of return.  Regardless of how you celebrate I suggest that you include an act of service to others. Kindness and charity are underrated gifts for many of us during the holiday season but they always bring back the greatest reward.
  10. Experiment with the idea that the very best holiday gift you can give others AND yourself is a happy and joyful you.  Can you imagine waking up on Christmas Day filled with a sense of peace and tremendous joy?  Can you then imagine how everyone around you would also be more peaceful and happy just being around you all day?  Chances are good that if you asked the people who love you and know you if they would like a fancy gift or a chance to spend time with a “happy” you, they would pick the happy you.  (Of course if they would prefer a fancy gift you might want to look at that more deeply too!) As I said above, let’s always remember that the best things in life aren’t things.

I’m sure many of you have other great ideas that can lead to a simple and happy holiday, and I’d love for you to share them in the comments below.   Regardless of whether you choose to embrace all ten of my suggestions or just pick out one or two that might be helpful, you can be sure that these have the power to change the way you look at Christmas forever—and I mean that in a good way!  As for my lunchtime friend?  Whether or not she ever changes is entirely up to her—as for me, I’m sticking with what is simple and SMART!


Here are a couple of other SMART posts about ways to re-create your Christmas:

* Five Ways To Rethink Christmas Gifts Without Being a Scrooge

*Christmas 2013…More STUFF or a Meaningful Experience?


Filed under Aware, Meaningful, Responsible

25 Responses to 10 Simple Ways to Create A Happy Minimalist Holiday

  1. Great post indeed!!A very well written .I am happy to consume my time to read the post .Everything is perfectly done .A big thanks for the article .Keep sharing 🙂
    Carol Martin recently posted…Cider’s the new Beer on GabriolaMy Profile

  2. Now that is some smart advice Kathy. Decide what the holiday means to you and celebrate that. Me…I love finding and giving gifts. I feel totally joyful in choosing the gift that I think will lift someone’s heart and spirit. I can live without a lot of the other stuff that, but that one really resonates with me.

    But as always, isn’t it about the way we choose to look at it? Is it a chore, or a joyful experience. Whatever we choose is how we’ll experience it. As you can tell I choose to find the joy.
    Elle recently posted…5 Reasons Happy People Are (Almost) Always HappyMy Profile

    • Hi Elle…and so true! Whatever we choose is what we’ll experience. The trick of course is to stay awake and aware to what we are choosing. When it comes to so many things, many of us go on automatic without really thinking. But hopefully with a few posts of mine (and yours too!) we can help to remind each other of what’s important and then do that. May we all be guided to whatever it is that makes our heart sing and celebrate that…and then I think we are closer to the real spirit of the holiday. ~Kathy

  3. Great suggstions! Some years I’ve been better than others. The one exception is the Christmas “letter”…I write it as much for me as I do for others…it’s actually a passion of mine!
    Phoebe Wulliman Graber recently posted…Annual Holiday Letter 2013: Infographic PostcardMy Profile

    • Hi Phoebe! Thanks for stopping by SMART Living and joining the conversation. It’s probably no surprise that I’ve never been a big fan of Christmas letters…but you know what? That’s the beauty of going with a minimalist or simple living approach to the holidays—just do what YOU really enjoy and celebrate! A big part of what I do with SMART Living is remind myself (and hopefully all my visitors) that we get to make it up. That anything that brings great peace, happiness and wellbeing to our lives is one of the best things we can do for others and the planet too. Whatever your “passion” this Christmas…be sure and include THAT…just let all the rest drop away. Thanks again for stopping by and leaving a comment! ~Kathy

  4. Wow Kathy, awesome post 🙂

    I was getting ready to write a similar post about spending Christmas simply, but you’ve pretty much covered all that I had to say so I think I’ll skip it 🙂

    Here’s to a stress-free holiday season!

    Take care and my best to all.

    lyle recently posted…3 Simple Actions To A Greater Life!My Profile

    • Hi Lyle! Thank you! I feel pretty passionate about all the choices we have to make this year so I hope some of my “list” will appeal to most people. But other than that I KNOW you would also have valuable insight into this idea so never let that scare you off!

      As you say the holiday can be such a lovely AND stress-free experience. I too hope we all are able to enjoy it that way. ~Kathy

      P.S. Now I have to pop over and see what you choose to write about instead for your recent blog post! ~Kathy

  5. Love this post and have shared. Comparing ourselves to every Hallmark special makes for a guaranteed fail.

    For me, it’s like kudzu. I cut my holiday to-do’s way, way back, then find “mission creep” after a couple of years. My to-do’s start growing back and it becomes stressful rather than joyful, so another trimming is in order.

    What works for me is honestly evaluating how important something is to me, and if it IS important, keep that thing. I found I began resenting sending cards to all these people who rarely returned them, or trying to do what my ex did, tracking who hadn’t sent cards and crossing them off my list. After I re-evaluated, I realized that *I* like doing cards. *I* like taking a few minutes every year to think about each of my family members and friends, revisiting old memories of them, and sending them love and wishes for the New Year, with every envelope I sealed. Whether or not I ever get a card back or not has become irrelevant; it’s now about honoring MY feelings toward these people. The card “thing” isn’t right for everyone, but for me, it’s become joyful again.
    Beverly Diehl recently posted…Mistletoe, #Menday, & Medical Centers #USCMy Profile

    • Hi Beverly! Thank you for joining in AND for sharing 🙂 You KNOW that is always appreciated!

      And what a GREAT analogy…Kudzu…Christmas clutter…just like Kudzu is a creeping vine that does take over if we aren’t paying attention! I do believe we all start out with the best intentions of creating a happy holiday and it takes on a life of it’s own. And yes, I completely agree that if one of the practices really makes you happy and feel good then by all means go for it!

      Unfortunately I think a lot of people are like me (or at least the me I used to be!) who just end up doing things because we think it is expected….and then don’t know how to stop. I obviously gave up the Christmas Card thing because it didn’t suit me…but I do absolutely enjoy sending email Jibjab cards…have you seen them….they make me laugh like crazy and I hope they do the same for the others I’m thinking of. As you say, it is most important to honor your own feelings and do what is particularly “joyful” to you!

      Thank you so much for expressing that because my intention with this (and just about all my blog posts) is to have us look at and think about the things we commonly do without awareness–and adjust when necessary. And now I’m going to check out your blog post cuz that title definitely has my attention. ~Kathy

  6. Kathy,

    These are great tips. I think we do fall into the trap of comparing our holidays to previous memories to someone else’s version. Remembering to live in the present and relish what is now guides me in reveling in what is in front of me instead of longing for another alternative.
    Rudri Bhatt Patel recently posted…Watch The Whole World Around YouMy Profile

    • Hi Rudri! Thank you so much for stopping by SMART Living and joining the conversation. Isn’t comparison a tricky thing? I think when we are younger it is very tempting to create our holidays by what we see others doing but then hopefully after a while we start realizing what is important to us and create that. And as you say, living in the present is critical for knowing what is dear to us. Your website is a lovely example of staying true to yourself. Thanks again for your comment. ~Kathy

  7. Great suggestions to minimize the hecticness of hollidays. I think that there is such a hugh push to decorate, gift and spend, that it is easy ti feel discouraged and stressed. I have cute down on my decorating so that it does not take away from the fun and purpose of the holiday.
    Raquel recently posted…My New Makeup CrushMy Profile

    • Hi Raquel…Thanks for stopping by and joining the conversation. It’s great to hear that you too have been able to cut back on your decorating and perhaps some of the other hectic-ness of the holiday in order to better enjoy it. As I’ve said before, I think it helps when you’ve done it the opposite way and know the difference. ~Kathy

  8. One of the great things about adult kids is you only have to get one great gift instead of lots of mediocre ones. I love your ideas about simplicity!
    Sharon Greenthal recently posted…The One Rule About Raising Children That MattersMy Profile

    • Hi Sharon! Thanks for stopping by. I imagine that the gift “thing” is much less complicated when your children are older. I also think that as we all (mid-lifers) get a little more experience under our belts that we also realize that the over-the-top spending for Christmas that we may have gotten into in the early 2000s was/is unsustainable for us and everyone else. I also like that happiness research now proves that people actually enjoy “experiences” more than stuff, so hopefully that tide is turning.~Kathy

  9. I loved every single one of your ideas on how to handle the holidays. Cutting back on the gifts is huge. Most of us don’t really need anything anyway, at least not in my house.

    We like to have a special dinner, but since I’m not a big fan of cooking, I tell everyone – kids, husband, parents, whoever’s coming – to make something. It ends up being so much nicer for all of us. We all help and spend that time together. My middle son tries to sneak out of it, but then I just make him vacuum LOL.
    Amanda Fox recently posted…Dancing For His DinnerMy Profile

    • Hi Amanda! Thanks for stopping by SMART Living and joining the conversation. Good for you for cutting back all the excess of the holiday and focusing on what makes you happy. I do believe it is likely more difficult with children and the desire to see there eyes sparkle when they get something they want…but in so many ways I think we teach others what to “expect” about the holidays and you are probably setting examples in your children that will serve them for a lifetime.

      And even though I really like to cook just about every gathering I host I ask people to contribute….and likewise when I go to others house I like to help too. It makes it more fun and less work…and that’s always more important (at least to me!) Thanks for stopping and sharing your thoughts… ~Kathy

  10. Hi Kathy…we are working on reducing our gift giving and sending the money to the Philippines…the total amount is rising as each person buys into the idea. It makes Christmas about people and not so much about gifts. So we eat and talk and drinking and share magic moments!

    • Hi Kelly! Do you have a regular place that you send money too in the Philippines or is is different all the time? Thom and I have also found that finding some cause that we are passionate about and then donating to that is a wonderful way to experience the holidays. AND then yes to getting together with friends to talk, eat, drink and share magic moments is DEFINITELY a sweet way to experience the season.

      I do think that my age helps me in this category. I know when I was younger I experienced many holidays trying to recreate that memory from the past OR from the comparison of either books, movies or TV of the “perfect Christmas”. Sure, I do have a few nice memories from all that, but once the holiday was over I often had to ask myself if all the craziness what worth it. Sometimes yes, but just as often no. I can honestly say since Thom and I both started down the path of rightsizing both our lifestyle AND our holidays, I now experience the BEST holidays ever. It is my sincere hope that my suggestions help others recreate the holiday in a way that works for them. ~Kathy

  11. You have some very good suggestions, but I don’t think I agree with no giving gifts at all. I definitely believe that Christmas has become much too commercializes and that you shouldn’t spend money you don’t have, but in my viewpoint it is an expression of love and even making homemade gifts is a good choice for some people. Cutting back and not giving to every one you know I do agree with. But some how I feel that giving gifts is part of what make Christmas special. Thanks for sharing and Happy a Happy & Blessed Christmas and Holiday season.
    Marla recently posted…“Detox Your Body Daily By Living Green And Healthy!”My Profile

    • Hi Marla…thanks for stopping by and contributing to the conversation. AND for admitting that giving up gifts is not something you want to do. I actually have tried it both ways–one year we did absolutely NO gifts even for each other (Thom and I) but most years we just give each other one or two deeply meaningful gifts. We have also made each other gifts and/or given donations in each others name for a good cause. Because we do not have children we have made our gifting circle very small, we prefer to either buy donations or sponsor experiences rather than buy stuff.

      I think my point is that it is important to try things out and then make up your mind for yourself. I just have witnessed far too many people buying gifts for others because they felt they HAD too, even if they couldn’t afford to, and I don’t think that is behind the spirit of the holiday. Plus, I think it is really important for us to encourage each other to try out different modes of generosity and “gifting” that isn’t tied to a monetary idea or obligation.

      Thanks again for speaking up and expressing your thoughts. I would never recommend anyone embrace my whole list anyway, but hope that each person decide what is super special to them and then practice it. ~Kathy

  12. You’ve made some excellent points here Kathy. It is sad how much ‘tradition’ simply starts to feel like obligation. I made a decision several years ago to do away with all the traditions that added no value or joy. Much less stress at holiday time for me now.
    Nancy recently posted…hurts so goodMy Profile

    • Hi Nancy! Thanks for your confirmation that anything that feels like obligation should be scrutinized before including it in our holiday. As you say, if it doesn’t add personal value or joy then maybe it’s time to let it go? And isn’t the experience of less stress worth it? Some might find it difficult to believe but I think if they give it a try they will never go back! Hope your holidays are happy, VERY healthy and produce lots of sweat! 🙂 ~Kathy

  13. Such wise and important reminders…I especially like #8 & 9. Happy holidays to you! May they be stress-free and joyful.
    Sheryl recently posted…Do You Fake It?My Profile

    • Hi Sheryl! Thank for checking in and letting me know you too believe that it’s possible to trim away the excess and still have a great holiday. I think it’s very important for us all to remind one another that it is not only possible, but very likely superior to an unconscious way of celebrating. And yes…I think #8 and #9 are very important too (because of course I’ve been-there-done-that!) Hope your holidays are also stress-free and joyful in every way! ~Kathy

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