Simplify Christmas: 7 Steps to Maximize Joy and Minimize Headaches


The holidays can seem like a whirl of lights, bells, parties, and sugar. It can be hard to slow down and appreciate the wonders of the season in the midst of the Christmas chaos. With a new baby due any day and a chronic pain condition that is exacerbated by stress, this Christmas I’m planning to draw on all the tools I’ve found to maximize my family’s joy and minimize our holiday headaches. Here are seven ways I plan to simplify Christmas in our family this year.

simplify christmas

1. Shop Early

Waiting for Black Friday to start shopping inevitable makes me feel like the clock is ticking. I get caught in the rush and spend more money than I mean to spend. Try shopping year round, when you see ‘that perfect gift’ for ‘that perfect person!’ If it’s too late for you to shop early this year, or if you really enjoy shopping during the holidays, that leads me to the next one…

2. Make A List & Check It Twice

Before heading out to the mall, I simplify Christmas shopping by making a list, otherwise I’ll end up with a shopping cart full of Snuggies. Deciding what gifts to seek for each person on my list before I set foot in a store or click on a website makes for a shorter trip (and a shorter receipt!).

3. Deck the Halls

This year, we’re only going to pull out the decorations that have the most impact and make us the most happy. One year, we had three Christmas trees, including a kitchen tree bedecked with vegetables and utensils! But this year one tree, some lights, and a wreath will probably be it.

4. Check “Yes” or “No”

There’s always another holiday concert, office party, or church play, so we’re bound to say no to a few events this year. I’m going to simplify our Christmas commitments by saving “yes” replies for events that we really want to attend instead of going out of obligation or fear of missing out. 

5. Prioritize Experiences

Since we aren’t traveling to the East Coast this year, we made a list of things to do that are unique to Portland. The Polar Express train ride, ice skating at Lloyd Center, a visit to Hipster Santa, and a trip the The Grotto are at the top of our list. Check out this to make your own winter bucket list!

6. Lighten Santa’s Load

In the long run, giving our daughter a few gifts that she will actually use and enjoy is much better than piles of toys that she will forget on December 26. One of my favorite strategies to use is the ‘four gifts strategy,’ in which each child receives (1) something to read, (2) something to wear, (3) something wanted and (4) something needed.  I also try to scope out what her grandparents, aunts and uncles plan to give her so there’s no duplicates.

7. Give to Receive

It’s important to my husband and me that our daughter develops a sense of gratitude and philanthropy, so we seize every opportunity to practice charitable giving. Before Christmas, we purge through toys and clothing that she has outgrown or hasn’t used, and pass them on to someone who will appreciate them. Each year we also add a child, a senior citizen, or an organization to our gift list. 

By keeping the focus on joy—our own and others’—we hope to celebrate Christmas this year with the most fun and the least fuss. What do you do simplify Christmas?

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Aside from being a writer, Kendra is a Birth Trauma Doula at KarysMa Birth, where she helps moms find their joy after birth trauma. A former middle school English and theatre teacher, she has an insatiable love for learning and a flair for the dramatic. Among the best moments of her life, she counts marrying her husband Steve during a dream rainbow wedding, planning a princess picnic on the beach with her eight year old daughter Karys, giving birth to her one year old daughter Saryn in the middle of a blizzard, and sitting on stage with Glennon Doyle. A Navy brat for the first 13 years of her life, Kendra settled in Virginia for eighteen years before she was finally ready to move again, relocating to Portland in 2014. You can find her work on Portland Moms Blog, The La Leche League Blog, and The Not Your Average Mom Project, as well as the hard drive of her computer.


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