11 ways to simplify the holidays without feeling like The Grinch

  • Rose Kennedy
  • For the AJC
1:38 p.m Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017 What To Do

Recognize this Christmas scenario from Simply Family Finance blogger Chris Tecmire?

"Think about it," he wrote. "Instead of simply celebrating with our families on December 25th, we have turned Christmas into a month-long whirlwind of work parties, gift exchanges and credit card stuffing trips to the mall. It has become a laundry list of to-dos instead of a time of celebration."

You can get off the not-so-merry-go-round and simplify Christmas with these tips from psychologists and financial planners to mom bloggers.

Here are 11 ways to simplify this holiday, without offending family or friends or sacrificing the joy of traditions:

Forget fears of disapproval. You know you'll feel better with a simpler holiday, but you won't be able to follow through with whatever good intentions you have for simplifying and de-stressing if you don't note what's holding you back, psychologist and family counselor Marie Hartwell-Walker advised on PsychCentral.com. The fear that others in the family or friend circle will disapprove is potent, but you'll have to proceed beyond it, Hartwell-Walker said. Odds are at least some of the family will embrace a simpler holiday. You never know how many of your relatives will think, "Paper plates? What a relief!" said Hartwell-Walker.

A graduate student displays Lisa Frank folders. (Flickr/Connie Ma)

Keep a holiday folder. "It is relatively easy to get rid of clutter and organize your closets or your drawers the way you want in the privacy of your own home," noted the Beliefnet blog. "It is very hard to make changes to traditions that involve your family, friends and even co-workers. My best suggestion to move toward a simpler holiday is this: Take notes about everything that works and doesn't work from year to year and keep them in a holiday folder." At the same time, detail what overwhelms you about the holiday, so you can choose what might be eliminated or altered in the quest for a more spiritual holiday, or a celebration that involves more time with family -- whatever your holiday goals include.

Find your Christmas sweet spot. Start your Christmas simplifying by thinking back on Christmases past and creating a list of your most cherished memories, recommended the Wellness Mama blog. Then create a short list of three to five "must-dos" for this year.

American-Statesman Staff
With her father, Chris Patten, watching, Catalina, 19 months old, reaches for a Christmas ornament hanging from the Great Tree at the Domain in 2014. Tamir Kalifa for American-Statesman 2014

Skip a year instead of eliminating. Especially if you're having a tough year financially, or have a new baby or an ailing parent, forgo a couple of traditions. Live poinsettias, for example, handmade wreaths, attending the town's tree-lighting activity or deep frying your own turkey are all holiday observations that you can pass on for one year. If you miss them, you can always add them back!

Buddy up with another simplifier. Another way to make sure you follow through with your simplifying goals is to tell someone else about your plans. The best pick is someone that's trying to simplify the holidays, too, so you can send a weekly text reminder or whatever else will keep you both on track.

Eliminate one traditional meal. Instead, go for pizza, paper plates and canned drinks or even just share some microwave popcorn and a DVD. It's amazing how much stress goes away when you have even one less night of cooking, cleaning and eating too much food.

Set a budget and number of gifts. This is easy to say and hard to do, noted the Wellness Mama blog, but it's a core part of simplifying the holiday.

Take pics of your purchases. This Wellness Mama tip helps the simplifying effort because you can look back at what you've already bought without ruining any secrets. It makes it easier to stick to the budget, too. She recommended apps like EvernoteRemember the Milk or a Google Keep folder for tracking everything, even small items like stocking stuffers.

Give to the group. "A Blu-ray player or an ice cream maker is a gift that everyone can enjoy together," New York City event planner David Tutera told Real Simple. Or surprise the gang with individually wrapped tickets to a shared activity. Either way, one block of shopping for multiple presents simplifies a few hours you can use to relax.

Spread out the tasks and celebrations. Part of the stress of Christmas is trying to cram so much into just a few weeks. You can do lots of Christmas prep ahead of time, though, and still experience the joy of shopping, crafting or even food prep. With forever stamps and cards on sale from last year, for example, there is no problem getting Christmas cards ready to send during your beach vacation. Handmade presents like mason jars full of chocolate chip cookie mix are still fresh after 6 months or more. (Check the expiration dates on the ingredients to be sure, but plan to prep them in early October.

You can take the concept even further by considering moving part of your celebration to another, calmer time of year. Turn your traditional gathering with neighborhood kids into a late January "hibernation" sleepover, for example, or ask your workmates if your holiday lunch could be an early thing -- right after Thanksgiving, for example, or even far, far away from the rest of the hustle and bustle, like a Christmas-in-July lunch.

Start talking about new traditions in January of the year before. Start looking for allies shortly after New Year's when credit card bills are rolling in, Hartwell-Walker advised. You'll meet with more success if you offer alternatives while there is still plenty of time to talk about them.

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