10 Simple Ways to Create a Happy, Minimalist Holiday

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.
12/08/2014 11:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

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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 10 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.

  • 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.
  • 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 own decorations and save tons of money.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 10 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!

    Kathy Gottberg believes in living healthy, authentic, fearless and SMART. Follow her journey at SMART Living 365.com.