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Less Holiday Stress, More Memories

How to Overcome Holiday Stress and Make More Memories

During the month of October, I’m following along with Edie & Ruth on their 31 Days of Less & More journey. I’d love for you to join in by reading the posts and completing the projects, or just sit back and read along each day.

Less Holiday Overkill

I love the Christmas season. I love the sights, smells, tastes, sounds… all of it. But you know what I don’t love? That so many people feel rushed, hurried, and frazzled during Christmas.

The heart of Christmas is not about impressing people or running around at a crazy, frantic speed. And making either of those things your focus is certainly not going to help you celebrate and savor the season!


Here are three ways you can simplify the busy holiday season:

1. Pare down the gift-giving.

Evaluate your gift list: Do you really need to give a gift to your uncle’s neighbor’s dog? I’m pretty sure Fido will survive just fine without another fancy chew toy, so save your money and use it to buy gifts for those you really care about or want to bless.

Creating limits for how many gifts you buy helps to simplify things. I know some families who give their children three gifts in three different categories (such as: something to wear, something to read, and something fun).

Our family doesn’t have specific limits or categories for what we give our children, but we’ve opted to just keep it to a few really meaningful gifts for each child. This allows us to really savor each gift as it’s opened, instead of being overwhelmed by a massive pile of presents.

2. Prioritize.

If you want to have a stress-free and simple season, you aren’t going to be able to do everything. Take 15 minutes sometime in the next few days to sit down and write out what the important things are for you and your family this Christmas season. Each person’s list is going to look different—and that’s perfectly okay.

Maybe you love to make homemade gifts but you really couldn’t care less about sending out cards. Perhaps you want to volunteer your time to bless those who are less fortunate but you really don’t have any desire to attend a lot of parties with people don’t know very well. Or, you really want to do fun and meaningful activities with your children but you really don’t enjoy baking at all. Know what you want to invest your time and effort into this holiday season, then say no to opportunities and invitations that aren’t in line with your priorities.

Free Holiday Planning Workbook

Download free Holiday Planning Worksheets from

3. Plan ahead.

After you’ve decided upon your priorities for this holiday season, it’s time to make a game plan. Look at your calendar and commitments for the next eight weeks and think of everything you can do to prepare ahead of time so you’re not scrambling at the last minute.

Make sugar cookie dough ahead of time and freeze it so it’s ready for that cookie-decorating party or to give to your neighbors. Go ahead and buy all of the necessary items to make the goody baskets for the homeless shelter. Buy or make hostess gifts to have on hand for last-minute party invitations. Check your closet to make sure you have outfits for the holiday parties you’ll be attending. Finish your shopping early and avoid the mad rush of crowds and traffic the final few days before Christmas.

The more you pare down, prioritize, and plan ahead, the more you’ll be able to relax and soak in all the memories and moments of the holidays — and focus on celebrating the reason for the season. And that’s what will really matter long after the elaborate decorations, fancy parties, and expensive gifts are forgotten.


More Memories

One thing that has helped us to slow down and just enjoy December is to create a Christmas Bucket List. We all sit down as a family and choose a few things that each of us really wants to do for Christmas.

Last year, the girls wanted to build a snowman, play in the snow as a family, decorate Christmas cookies, and go ice-skating. I wanted to do an Advent project and take the girls to the Nutcracker, Jesse wanted to go look at Christmas lights as a family and watch one of our favorite Christmas movies together.

By the time we’re done discussing our Bucket List, we’ve come up with a great list of memorable activities to do together and since everyone gave their input, there’s something (or more than one thing) on the list that each person will really enjoy.

We spread these activities out during the whole month of December, doing a few items each week. Because our list is not long and overwhelming and because we have four weeks to do it, we’re able to really take time to enjoy each thing and create beautiful memories.

This tradition has been one of the best things we’ve ever implemented to help us stay focused, calm, and intentional during the Christmas season. And it also helps us to say “no” to most of the other ideas and opportunities that come up that aren’t already on our list.

Related Articles:

For more on this topic, check out Ruth’s post on Less Holiday Overkill and Edie’s post on More Memories. I promise you’ll be inspired and blessed!

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  • Kim Hansen says:

    What is that yummy treat in the picture?!

  • Jen says:

    I LOVE that rusted metal nativity scene. Is that your photo and, if so, do you mind sharing where you got that set? Thanks!

  • Becky G says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I love the Christmas bucket list idea. I will get one going this year! My family consists of two adult daughters still living at home & two lil ones. It is very hard to plan something that involves the entire family anymore because the older girls have their own plans. In spite of the crazy busy schedules we still like to do things together & make Christmas memories. think the bucket list idea will help. Thanks again!

  • Need A Nap2 says:

    I usually love to send Christmas cards but we haven’t the last 2 years. Much less stress and expense. My husband likes to make sure each child has at least 3 gifts: one spiritual, one they need (might be clothes, sheets, etc) and one they really want (preferably something quiet that can keep them occupied for a while).

    • Anitra says:

      With little kids, we’ve decided that we love sending photo cards. We already try to get family pictures taken in the fall, anyway – so we spend about an hour picking the best few and using an online card site to design a card to send out.
      Later, we print out labels on our printer and stuff all the cards in envelopes. It’s less personal than the handwritten cards we used to do before kids, but worth it.

      • Rose says:

        I love Christmas photo cards! We have such a large family and everyone is so busy all year it’s hard to juggle schedules to get together. I love the photo cards and little notes to catch us up on how their year went. I put them on a corner wall and I leave them up all year until the next batch of Christmas photo cards and letters start to arrive. And any time I need a little “happy”, I stop and look at all those smiling faces. I am so fortunate to have so many gorgeous and talented family and friends. 🙂

  • Mrs. W says:

    I love shopping for gifts, especially for my children, but this year I’ve decided only to do 5 gifts per child. 5 still seems like alot for the children, but it is making me be very intentional and give great consideration to the 5 things I pick out. Plus, it will keep me from overspending by buying extra things that are cute or look fun at the last minute. The 5 things aren’t all expensive either. One might be a coloring book I know my children will love. For one of my daughters, I got a book that I know she will love (it was bargain price on new book for only $5/free shipping with Prime). And one of my other daughters I got a doll toy for with a Target gift card I was given. I am also trying to keep my shopping budget to $150 for everyone. For Grandparents, they get personalized t-shirts that I have made up on for $10/each with pictures of the grandkids on them- and they love it! Plus, maybe a few other small things they might like.

    Anyways, great post! I love the bucket idea and we will definitely try that out this year.

  • Deanna says:

    Love the bucket list idea! We are going to have to implement that. Love keeping things simple.

    I just looked at your candy recipes (because that picture make me drool) and noticed the Chocolate PB Bark has 1 cup of butter and the World’s Easiest Christmas Candy recipe has 1/2 cup butter. Which way do you prefer the caramel – with the 1 cup or 1/2 cup? How does it change the texture?

    • Crystal says:

      I’d say that they PB Bark is much richer — and you can’t eat much of it. Unlike the Christmas Candy which I can eat way too much of. Not sure what that means exactly but it is what it is. 🙂

  • CarolC says:

    I celebrate with extended cousins and we did stop the gift giving, but it is slowly creeping back in. One cousin is married into a very large Italian family who rents a hall for a huge Christmas party. There are no gifts and they have alot of fun just being together. I wish my family would do that. I try to plan holiday activities that focus away from buying. We attend local plays and concerts. The local school holiday concerts are always free and you don’t have to have kids attending that school to go. I started taking my daughter at 3 years old, she loved watching the other children perform. Check into nearby college performances for the holidays, many low cost or free. My daughter has invited friends over for a cookie decorating party. I can’t bake, so I use the slice and bake cookies and let the kids do the work and then they can take them home! I watch for the sales at AC Moore or Michaels and buy those flat wooden shapes that are outlined to paint for Christmas tree decorations. Spend an afternoon letting the kids paint a few every year, have them write their name and date on the back and then spray with clear spray, they will be the most precious ornaments you will own! We also have Holiday Movie Night. Starting at Thanksgiving, we watch a holiday movie either Fri, Sat or Sun evening (if we aren’t at a free show!). For the poster who doesn’t have time for cards, I still love to get them! I have narrowed my list down to 20 people who get the photo cards. Use a photo that you took earlier in the year, or even last Christmas (no one will know). I never use a studio photo, use your own, it doesn’t need to be formal. I buy one of those 20 card pckage deals for $10. Anyone else who needs a card gets one from a box. Have the kids fill them out if they are old enough. One year my daughters Brownie troop went caroling at a nursing home. I can’t sing, but the adults realized that we had to help out those suddenly quiet girls, so we sang and it was the highlight of my holiday!

  • Victoria says:

    Great ideas. Our family keeps the holidays really simple too. One thing I have found that really slowed things down for me is to stop making all the holiday treats at once and have them out for the big day. Instead starting at Thanksgiving I make one persons favorite holiday treat at a time, we enjoy it until it is gone and then I make another persons favorite and I keep this going unit New Years. My family loves it and I enjoy not spending one rushed day in the kitchen only to have half of it go stale because there are only 5 of us eating it all.

  • Kathryn says:

    I love the bucket list idea. I always feel like there are things that we want to do, but we never “get around to it.” And I don’t want my children to miss out on experiences that they really care about!

    I’m curious, does “Santa” visit your house? I never wanted to implement the “Santa visits;” I hate the idea of lying to my kids when it’s totally unnecessary, and I can remember feeling so hurt and upset when my parents told me Santa wasn’t real. I wasn’t upset that Santa wasn’t really coming to our house, I was just upset that my parents had been lying to me for years. My husband and our extended families always felt that we should let our kids “believe in magic” while they were young, and that not giving them that opportunity was mean. Now I have a 7-year old who truly believes that Santa comes every year and I don’t know how I feel about it. I’m not sure if I should get my little one started on this belief or not.
    I guess I’m just curious about how other moms handle this.

  • Jen Krausz says:

    Last year we went from over a dozen gifts per kid to just 6. One larger gift, one special gift from mom, one special gift from dad, one from Santa, and one smaller gift from each sibling to the other 2. We also do a fairly big stocking. It went over well last year.

  • ClareC. says:

    I was just curious what your favorite Christmas movie to watch together was…

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