Ten tips to simplify your holiday

Ten tips to simplify your holiday {Clean.}

We're on a serious simplicity kick over here.

Our house is consciously small, and that means we have to filter out things we already have and stay on top of how much new stuff comes in.

Recently Lupine and I were tucking into bed and as she cozied up to her two favorite dolls, both made by me.

She looked up at me and said, "Mama, don't ever make me another doll. Because if you do I'll love it so much that I'll forget how much I love the dolls I already have."

And, whoa.

Because, yes. It's like that, isn't it?

Too much stuff means we lose track of what we already treasure. We get buried. Overwhelmed.

We become consumers in a big and mindless way.

The truth is, two dolls is probably one too many.


So this holiday we're keeping it simple.


It's a path we've been on for years.

And yes, I'm blessed with my own parents who "get it" and keep things simple.

And we have a small family. Very little stuff comes into our life every season.

But even without a like-minded family, you can take strides toward simplicity. And see measurable changes!

Here are ten tips to keep your holiday as simple as you can this season, regardless of where you are now.

Ten tips to simplify your holiday {Clean.}

1. Be honest with family

The holidays can be hard.

So. Much. Stuff!

And for many of us, we find ourselves buried in things to give and receive.

If the holidays leave you feeling a little sick with all the buying, be gentle and honest with those you love.

Year after year if you need to.

I have a few friends who have taken this step as far as being honest that much of what is given is not kept. It's a tough message, but an important one, too.

Request that they give less, or give consumables or non-tangible gifts for the holiday (think museum membership, restaurant gift certificate, or some special ingredients for your kitchen).

Sometimes it takes our family a while to catch on, so be patient as they move towards the path of less with you.

Ten tips to simplify your holiday {Clean.}

2. Create meaningful traditions

If your holiday revolves around what is under the tree, simplifying can be uncomfortable.

Create traditions that your family looks forward to more than the presents.

We love dipping or rolling candles every Solstice eve, decorating our gingerbread houses, and staying up far past our bedtime.

And this year we're serving dinner at a soup kitchen on Christmas day. We can't wait!

Yes, gifts are lovely, but they aren't the center of our celebration.

Ten tips to simplify your holiday {Clean.}

3. Ask for and give experiences

Gifts like a pottery class, a one-on-one day with someone special, or a trip to the museum are among the best around.

These are – hands down – the most treasured and remembered gifts my kids receive.

Remind your family that gifts of yourself are remembered for far longer than a new toy.

And keep asking.

Year after year if you have to.

With loving persistence most of them will catch on.

Ten tips to simplify your holiday {Clean.}

4. Live your truth

Be a good example!

Start this year by toning down the stuff that comes into your own celebration.

The first year we had a super simple holiday I was nervous. Will the kids be disappointed?

And the answer was a resounding no!

No one noticed how simple our giving had become because we took it a little at a time and we replaced things with experiences. 

(You can read about our super simple celebration from last winter here.)

Ten tips to simplify your holiday {Clean.}

5. Love coupons

Love coupons are wonderful filler if you are worried about there being not enough under the tree.

And they are a treasured gift in their own right.

My parents began this tradition when our budget was tight when I was a child, and I still love it today.

A Love Coupon is simply a promise – to shovel the snow or take a picnic together; share a trip to the movies or a night camping in the back yard.

Simple gifts of yourself or experiences to share.

One year I gave Pete a dozen date coupons. Sweet, simple, and stuff-less.

Often they are things you would have done anyway, but creating a coupon for it makes it even more special, and something to look forward to.

Ten tips to simplify your holiday {Clean.}

6. Shop small

If you are buying some gifts (or have a family member who is) give or request handmade.

Ditch the big box store madness and shop small. Shop local. Shop family-owned. 

You can even register for what you want at the Alternative Gift Registry and share the list with your family.

As someone who owns a small business myself, I'll attest to the impact of each and every purchase. You make a difference when you shop small. 

With a bit of searching all kinds of treasures (like this gorgeous doll) will appear.

(Art pictured by local-to-me artist Tammy Olson.)

Ten tips to simplify your holiday {Clean.}

7. Create it yourself

A gift made by you is the best gift of all!

And you don't have to be crafty to enjoy a DIY holiday.

I have collected some great (arguably crafty) holiday project ideas here and here, but consider a gift of infused olive oil or vinegar, canned goods, homemade mustard, bath fizzies, chocolates, or other simple kitchen wizardry.

And framed kid art is always a hit.

Trust me when I say that people flip when given a small, handmade treat from your heart.

Ten tips to simplify your holiday {Clean.}

8. Give to charity

If your family loves to buy, request items for a charity you love.

Gifts of pet supplies for the local animal shelter, a Heifer Project donation for a family in need, shampoos, soaps, and lotions for the women's shelter, food for the food pantry.

Make a habit of giving of the abundance your family enjoys.

If your message is not heard this season and more gifts come in than you want to keep, those can also be donated. As one friend put it, "Keep the love and pass the gift along."

Ten tips to simplify your holiday {Clean.}

9. Be patient

Remember that your partner, your dad, or your grandma might not "get it" the first year.

Or the second.

Or the third.

But trust that they are doing their best with the tools that they have.

Remember that for many buying equates love. And it can be a hard story to re-write.

Keep the spirit of love and compassion in your heart as those you care about (yes, maybe even you!) stumble along this new road.

Change is hard. Give it time.

And for perspective, while my parents give simply, my grandparents did not. When I was a kid I got more gifts than I could count every year.

And I turned out okay.

Ten tips to simplify your holiday {Clean.}

10. Enjoy this holiday

And when all is said and done, enjoy the holiday – whatever it brings.

Reach for gratitude for your family, your community, your life, and this season.

Go with the flow, as best as you can.

And then next year, begin again.





20 thoughts on “Ten tips to simplify your holiday

  1. Amber says:

    Do you happen to have a link for that doll pattern? The old one on the old post no longer works and I so love that baby!!! So simple and perfect!

  2. Rachel Wolf says:
  3. Holly Dean says:

    Handmade gifts and simple treasures became the usual when our financial circumstances changed and we just didn’t have any money to buy things for Christmas. Little did I know it was a blessing in disguise… My kids love the toys I make for them -and it’s the best feeling in the world when they open a gift that I’ve made for them..and I can see it in their eyes that they really like it. I wish more families would trust that buying less really does feel good. And crafting is addictive!

  4. Knitting Mole says:

    You’ll be so proud! I smartly remembered that what I really wanted this year was to have my vintage sewing machine tuned up! So when my mom(grandma)asked at breakfast this weekend I was prepared 🙂 Can’t wait to start crafting!!! (Now we just have to have the talk about what she gets for my daughter)…I finally ordered some silk hankies for T and can’t wait to get dying 🙂 Now I just need Kool-Aid…

  5. Brynn says:

    The picture of your daughter with her grandmother (? I’m assuming ?) is just priceless. How much they look alike! Both are so obviously happy to be together. It is just wonderful!

  6. Emily says:

    I`m curious to know, because we are also always simplifying, but we also homeschool in a similar way to you, and I find it hard there. I feel like project based homeschoolng needs so much supplies or things to inspire, and I struggle with that. How do you live minimilistically(is that a word??) and also homeschool in this way? Sorry- sort of off topic a bit, but I`ve been wondering.

  7. Rachel Wolf says:

    Simplicity seems out of reach sometimes when homeschooling. My goal is to have stuff around that serves a purpose and isn’t just clutter. Project-based homeschooling does require access to stuff. And an abundance of it. I find that chaos is the name of the game here. I recently told Pete that my sister (who has no kids) had a gorgeous house. With a cohesive decorating theme. Our house, on the other hand, is decorated with the homeschool theme. We try to keep it somewhat orderly (a microscope on the sideboard next to some slide trays, a basket of math tools, a nature corner, a basket of chemisty stuff, robotics supplies, etc.) but yes – it’s there – it’s everywhere. That’s just how it will be for the next several years. And I can live with that as my ‘decorating theme’. 🙂

  8. renee~heirloomseasons says:

    That is so funny!!! “Our house, on the other hand, is decorated with the homeschool theme.”
    We decorate with books, fabric, and wool.

    Speaking of gifts and homeschool and stuff… We have always been gentle but firm with our requests to parents regarding gifts and holidays. We live very simply and do not keep just “stuff”. Our homeschool budget is super small, so for christmas and birthdays we ask for help building up our family library and re-stock some of our handwork supplies. This has worked well over the years.

    And really, honestly, we never have extra money for gifts. Handmade makes our girls happy, thank goodness!!!

  9. Amy says:

    Thank you for your wisdom. I could feel the patience oozing from this post. This has been a year where our Christmas season seemed to start so early and the heavy obligations and expectations began to pour forth early with the onslaught of “what can I buy them” requests close behind. I fear that the extra time this season will equal more stuff for the kids. They are so lucky to have all of this love for them from their family so I make an effort to teach them that fewer things are enough. On your advice I will try to continue teaching our family that fewer things are enough too. My husband and I asked years ago to forgo the gifts for us and I only answer the “what can I buy them” request with two items each, insinuating a choice for the buyer. Simplifying and gratitude seems to take some careful planning this time of year. Thanks again for your thoughtful post Rachel.

  10. Tamika says:

    I was just going over my Christmas list and a lot of he what you say is what I have been trying to do for years! My family’s does not get it. Now that we homeschool, I’ve mentioned the kids miss the outings that I cannot always afford, I asked for parents to gift us activities, I.e. Swimming lessons, swimming memberships, music lessons, tickets to the zoo or robot world…I still end up with a lot if stuff.
    I am making a stand this year and not buying gifts for moms and dads or siblings, we are making things to gift, and hopefully they are appreciated! My 7 year old is teaching herself to crochet, and wants to gift items!
    In going simple this year, I see I am still spending a good deal of money, but I do feel my gifts for my kids will be more appreciated. We are making felt food and a kitchen east out of tv stand for them to share. I also got a jumbo checkers rug, I know when it is all laid out it looks like a lot, but it is all creative play or family fun that we are gifting this year. The whole family is getting a telescope which is way too expensive, but it is our splurge towards family time and schooling!

  11. Karen C says:

    Thanks for all the great ideas. I decided a while back that I was giving mostly, if not all, handmade gifts this year. My knitting needles have been flying as I have knitted slippers, cowls, scarves, and hats for my loved ones. It is hard when the rest of the family doesn’t get it (and mine doesn’t), but hopefully with time, they will see the holidays for their true meaning…love.

  12. Corrabelle says:

    Great Ideas! I’ve enjoyed Christmas so much more now that our family (extended as well) decided buy used, (thrifted, or vintage etc) and handmade. It’s made everyone’s season more enjoyable, and we love seeing what awesome bargains people have scored, or the lovely things that they’ve made.

    For our own children, we follow a very simple rule-
    Something they want,
    Something they need,
    Something to wear,
    And something to read.

    And then, we make sure that there is also something to “do”…because they all like to have something to mess with christmas day. A crafting kit or tool, a game, some form of activity.
    And yes on the experience gifts as well. These are the perfect gifts for people that already seem to have all that they need, or have minimal space etc. I’ve started doing this for my parents, and they love it.

  13. Rachel Wolf says:

    Tamika, I know your kids are a bit younger, but I wonder how they would feel to donate some of the extra you get from family to a women’s shelter. My kids really appreciate the idea of giving something extra to someone who has less. Perhaps yours would go for this idea as well. Love your handmade ideas – and the telescope is generous and fabulous!

  14. Rachel Wolf says:

    Years and years ago I asked my parents if we could exchange only handmade gifts. To say I got a blank stare would be accurate, but I decided then that I could still do it, even if the rest of my people don’t. And so I do! Cowls and slippers and bulk food bags and… you get the idea. Love that your needles are smokin’ this year!

  15. Alyssa says:

    I love this. Our family has been slowly working toward a simple holiday. We all exchange consumable gifts in a Yankee Swap and have so much fun thinking up creative ideas. Last year I wound up with coffee, quiche and fruit for an easy brunch thanks to my sister and she went home with the two lobsters that my brother bought and left on the cold porch. I think we contributed a case of beer and some salted nuts. It’s way better than another _____ that nobody wanted or needed.

    I wrote a post about the perfect last minute gift for your “someone special” a couple of years ago. This post reminded me of that, so I thought I’d share: http://aurorashoeco.blogspot.com/2011/12/final-gift-guide-someone-special.html

    The simplest gifts really are the best, especially when they are thoughtful and free.

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