How To Embrace a Simple Christmas
It’s not that I hate Christmas, I just don’t love it. I do, however hate what it’s become. Christmas is like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It’s portrayed as the happiest time of the year filled with gifts, cards, endless get togethers and plenty of eating and drinking. But there’s another side, endless to do lists, feeling like there’s not enough time in the day, not enough money in the bank, not enough left on the credit card limit and not enough energy to keep up with all those things you’ve said yes to. Exhausting!
The best Christmas I ever had as a child was when I was 9 years old – and gifts had nothing to do with it. It was the first year I got to stay home instead of going out for Christmas lunch. Every year my entire family went out and every year I despised it. It wasn’t the food or the fact I couldn’t play with my new toys, but it was the arguments and stress that the whole ordeal caused.
Sure there was a Christmas lunch to prepare which made more work out of that Christmas, but the truth is it could’ve be a frozen microwave meal and I wouldn’t have cared. All I cared about was the fact we were all together, I didn’t have to get dressed and my mum wasn’t nagging me about my the outfit I wanted to wear – I could relax. It was bliss. What’s interesting about my favourite Christmas story, is that it was all thanks to less.
There’s a way to tackle this aforementioned wolf – by doing and having less. I wanted to share how I embrace a simpler Christmas to make it more bearable. I’m hoping it may help you too, if you find it overwhelming and want to minimise the chaos, simplify it and slow things down. Once I embraced curating my own version of what feels good and simplified it, the true meaning of Christmas crept back in.
Being clear and upfront
I think about the Christmas I want, that being the small and meaningful kind. The wolf I mentioned earlier, that’s the Christmas I don’t want. I think about what my ideal Christmas looks like, how it makes me feel and then I do my best to create it. It can feel daunting but it’s important to share that vision with my friends and family so they know what to expect.
Tell people why you want a more minimal Christmas and be clear so they understand – an example would be, you don’t want to get into debt, you want to cherish what’s really important, you don’t want to clutter up the house.
I make it really clear to my family and friends (early!) that I don’t want to receive gifts at Christmas. Some listen and some don’t, but if they do insist on buying me something I forewarn them that I’ll give it to someone who I think would get value from it. This used to make me feel guilty but now I make it clear that the reason I don’t want them to buy me gifts is because I don’t need them and I just want to spend time with them, that that’s enough for me.
At the same time I have to respect that they find it difficult to not buy me gifts and they’re my family after all. In reality I usually find myself with a cheque to open – and that’s ok. We can’t control every little thing. You have to let life happen.
Learning to say no
We’re never under as much pressure to say yes to everything as what we are at Christmas. The meals out, the parties, the work events, the presents for everyone and their kids. We can do all this and more, but we cannot do it all at once. We can only do so much – make sure it’s what we want to do. Finally realising I had the choice to say no to those events made the world of difference. It’s ok to do Christmas your own way.
It’s easy to worry about hurting people’s feelings when we say no to them. Trust me when I say that being a people pleaser will not get you anywhere. I’ve been there, and this side of the fence is so much better. We are being unjust to ourselves by saying yes to things we don’t want to, because we aren’t saying yes wholeheartedly. If you’re saying yes to things you want to say no to, you aren’t being true to yourself. This approach cannot make us truly happy.
Feel free to borrow the advice in this post I wrote on saying no without guilt and how to do it gracefully if that’s something you struggle with. It’s still the most shared piece of content I’ve ever written.
Forgetting what other people think
We’re hardwired as humans to care what people think of us. It’s normal and you’d be a psychopath if you didn’t so don’t worry about having those worries. If you want a more minimal Christmas, think about why and then think about how important that is compared to what others think. For example, is spending more quality time with your family more important than attending that work event you really don’t want to go to because you’re worried you’ll let people down? You can only do one, make sure you’re doing the one that aligns with your values.
I stand out like a sore thumb at Christmas more than any time of the year. There are no outside lights on my house like the rest of the houses on my road, no decorations on my tree (fairy lights only please!) and when people ask what I want, I answer ‘nothing’. Weirdo is the word my family enjoy using most! It’s the hardest time to live a minimal lifestyle thanks to all the expectations we’re subject to. I used to question myself and my wants for a simpler life when judgement and questioning came my way.
FOMO (fear of missing out) has a lot to answer for. It’s become part of our culture and keeps us as busy as physically possible, constantly over scheduling and over filling our lives with things we don’t really want and definitely don’t need. Those impulse purchases we make are a perfect example. It still rears its head every now and then, but with practice it gets easier to lean away from.
Now, I’m ok with going against the grain and being different, I’m even proud of it. I’m proud of the fact I don’t want to get into debt by buying gifts I can’t afford, I’m proud of knowing myself well enough to not put myself through another painstaking Christmas party, when I’d rather be snuggled under a blanket at home watching White Christmas.
Last year was the first year I got serious about decluttering the decs I didn’t love and I’ve never been happier with the way the house looked. The question when it comes to decorations is, do we really need them all? No, of course not! You can have a wonderful Christmas without any decorations, if you wanted. We may as well throw in all the other stuff we’re lured into buying here too. Think Christmas themed home accessories and clothing that we’ll only ever use for a month at the most.
I love the smell and look of a real tree but the decorations never did it for me. They stressed me out so they had to go. Lashings of fairy lights on my real tree in a white washed wicker basket… perfectly good enough in my opinion.
That’s not for everyone but I can’t stand those decorations, they drive me mad. I love the smell of the tree and the warm glow of the lights so that’s what I say yes to. You don’t have to decorate your house like Santa’s grotto to make it a great Christmas. By all means, if that’s what you love, then do it, but make sure you’re decorating with intention.
I’ve got a Pinterest board stacked with minimal Christmas interior inspiration for you. I like to think of it as proof that there’s beauty and sophistication in simplicity, even at Christmas.
RE-FRAMING gift giving
Gifts aren’t necessary. That’s so important it feels worth repeating – gifts aren’t necessary. We think they are because the adverts, magazines and tv shows tell us so and then we can’t bare the thought of how guilty we might feel if we didn’t buy them. Associating gifts with love is the slipperiest of slopes.
Although the gifts aren’t necessary, that doesn’t mean they have to be avoided altogether. I’m not afraid to suggest a no gift policy with friends, most were relieved. My ‘people to buy gifts for’ list has been heavily edited over the years, but I still buy gifts for my family because they’d be hurt if I didn’t. It means something to them and the last thing I want to do is hurt their feelings on Christmas day. Unless there’s a specific request, I opt for experiences they’ll enjoy over more stuff they simply don’t need. I feel that’ll last longer and they’ll get so much more value from it.
It isn’t the gifts you’ll remember when all the wrapping paper has been thrown away, the tree comes down, the leftovers are gone and the credit card statement arrives. It’ll be the little things that didn’t cost a thing. This article by Joshua Becker on gifts your children will never forget is brilliant for parents.
Ten practical tips for a more minimal & meaningful Christmas
It’s OK to start small. I guarantee that even just one of these tips will make your Christmas less stressy and more meaningful.
1.Give to a charity instead of buying, writing and sending Christmas cards
2.The day after boxing day, take those unwanted gifts to the local Charity shop. The appreciation they have for them will wipe out any guilt you feel
3.Make sure any gifts you do give are useful and can be experienced. Think experiences over things
4.Keep your decorations simple and manageable. One Christmas tree is plenty!
5. Create a Christmas vision and write it down. Think about the kind of mood you want and how you want Christmas to make you feel. Keep coming back to this for focus
6.Agree a price limit on gifts (early on) with family and friends. Then stick to it! Constraints breed creativity
7.Don’t spend what you can’t afford. Nothing is worth that
8.Instead of catching up with friends over yet another meal out, go for a winter walk instead and spend quality time together
9.Take some time to switch off technology, it’s the easiest way to get some breathing space and stop comparing yourself to other people
10.Say no to something you really don’t want to do and use that time to do something you do
We’re groomed to want the best Christmas ever. But what does that really mean? The best gifts? Better than who’s? Our family to be the happiest we’ve ever seen them? What will that take? How long will that last and what is that worth? It’s easy to opt for instant gratification over satisfying our core values. I can assure you that new smartphone will not = happiness. Surrendering myself to less, but with more meaning, is where I found the Christmas magic really happens.