If you want to start simplifying your holidays, start thinking about it now.

Changing your approach to Christmas may be a challenge. 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. 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.

First, decide what your holiday goals are and write them down. (Yes, this is goal setting.) Do you want to have a more spiritual celebration? Do you want to build family traditions? Create family memories? Have close times with family and friends? Do you want to make your Christmas a more meaningful? Do you want to feel more in tune with nature? Or, do you want to be more actively involved in the spirit of giving? What else?

Next, write down what hasn’t worked so well in the past. What overwhelms you every year? What frustrated you about last year’s get-togethers? What menus or cookie recipes didn’t work out? This year you are working from memory, but next year you will have this year’s notes to work from which will be helpful.

What could you do to simplify your holiday and move closer to your ideal Christmas? Focus on core relationships, activities, and traditions. Get input from your family. Yes, ask spouse and children. See if there are things you strain to get done every year that your family may not even care about.

Consider what extras you would like to drop (one year I made too many Christmas cookies so I wrote that down). Are there social events you don’t enjoy or that put too much of a strain every year on your time or your budget? On the other hand, get out the calendar and schedule events you want to be sure to include—perhaps there are certain friends or family members you really want to make an effort to be with during the holiday season.

Maybe this year you can begin to be in the driver’s seat of your holiday time. Don’t overbook. Even though you are trying to make a plan this year, try to stay flexible enough to change plans and be prepared to take time to enjoy the unexpected. A plan is only an intention not a straight jacket.

This year get a commitment of help from spouse and children. Start early and plan ahead. Try to choose realistic and flexible goals. If you want to cut back gift giving or turn Christmas dinner into a potluck, now is the time to approach family and friends with your thoughts. They may be relieved someone finally said something. Or, they may not be ready to make a change, but you will have planted a seed that may sprout in a following year. A word of warning: stay away from any ideas that would add more to your holiday “to do” list. Try to make meaningful substitutions with ideas, rather than additions!

Try to set a budget for this year. Many Americans are still paying for Christmas in March. Are you one of them? Include gifts, events, entertaining, and food in your estimates.
Try to be creative and reduce the budget a little each year. Be honest this year and record what you spend so you can track how you do from year to year.

My holiday folder includes holiday goals, family activities, gifts exchanged each year, a budget, menu plans and recipes that worked with notes on how to improve them next year, and cookie recipes I want to do every year (I have a few “don’t make again” notes too).

It would be difficult, but possible, to go from a five-alarm Christmas to a quiet simple family Christmas in one year. Keeping notes allows me to make gradual changes from year to year. If something doesn’t work one year and you have notes, you have a chance to fix it the next year! This year take one or two days for yourself to make plans to simplify your holidays. You can do it!
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