They are already selling holiday lattes at Starbucks and putting up decorations in the stores -- so I think it's entirely appropriate to begin discussing simplifying the holidays in mid October! I'm actually going to go on a 2-month tear -- a whole series of posts about making this festive season a bit more sane and reasonable. Let's start by taking a look at all of those traditional holiday "to-do's" -- and whether or not you need to actually be doing them all!
Know Thyself, Know The Season
Do you spend every holiday grumbling about all the work that you have to do? Complaining about the cooking, shopping, decorating, and entertaining? I hate to seem unsympathetic to your plight, but I don't understand ruining the joy of the season with a lot of bitching! If you dislike an activity so much that all you can do is whine about it, why do it? If your answer is, "Because it's a holiday tradition," my response will be, "So what?!"
The first key to creating a peaceful holiday season is identifying those holiday rituals that you enjoy and those that you don't. When you spend your precious time and energy on activities that you don't find rewarding, you are destined to become frustrated and cranky -- and probably make those around you unhappy, as well. So go ahead and be honest with yourself about your likes and dislikes before the season even starts. Make a list of every possible holiday "obligation" that you can think of. Your list might contain (but not be limited to) the following:
send greeting cards -- bake holiday goodies -- decorate the house -- shop for gifts -- wrap gifts -- make the holiday meal -- attend church services -- go caroling -- volunteer -- visit extended family -- visit friends -- spend time with spouse -- plan family get-together -- spend time with kids -- decorate the tree -- clean house -- shop for food -- attend a concert/play -- watch holiday TV -- visit Santa -- look at lights -- host a party -- attend a party -- take a walk in nature
Now, here's the fun part -- circle those items that you enjoy doing and absolutely don't want to miss this holiday season. Then cross out those that you hate, despise, and dread. Be honest here! If you loathe baking, don't try to convince yourself that this year you will turn into Donna Reed with a batch of homemade gingerbread -- ain't gonna happen! And you can get very specific if you need to. You might love visiting with your parents, but can't stand seeing your critical Aunt Louise. That's fine -- make visiting your parents one activity and seeing Aunt Louise another. It might be a good idea to have everyone in your family make their own lists -- everyone has different ideas about what activities are joyous and which ones are miserable.
Fitting In The Joy
Which items did you circle? Did you feel so strongly about some activities that you double-circled them or put a star by the side? Those are your true priorities -- no matter what else happens this season, you need to make time to fit them in. Notice I didn't say "find" time -- you have to MAKE it happen, actually scheduling that activity into your calendar! If walking around your neighborhood with your family singing carols and looking at holiday lights is a priority, sit down together and pick an evening and have everyone block it off. It's as simple as that.
At the start of the season, decide which activities are the most important. Of course, you'll have to be realistic about what you have time for -- you might need to limit each person to three priorities instead of eight. And you may have to do a little trading with your loved ones -- "I'll go to Christmas Eve services with you, and in return I'd like for you to go for a nature walk on Saturday with me." Creating harmony in any situation is about compromising -- just don't allow yourself to bend so far that you give up all of your priorities for someone else's. Each person should feel that his or her needs are being met.
Let Go Of The "Have-To's"
The big question now is "how do I fit in my priorities when I've got chores to do?" It can seem hard to make time for the good stuff when you have so many other obligations. Those "have to's" will absolutely kill you! But why do you "have to"? Are you being graded on how much you accomplish during the holidays? Will you be judged if you skip out on the cards or parties or baking this year? (and why do you care what others say about you in the first place?!) A simple "no" should suffice -- especially if you run across an activity that everyone in your household has crossed off of their lists. Remember, the only things that you "have to" do are pay taxes and die -- putting up a Christmas tree isn't required!
Let me share a story to illustrate. A while back, my husband and I had a really rough year and decided to skip out on the traditional family Christmas get-together for the first time in our lives. We chose to go on a trip by ourselves -- cross-country skiing in the middle of nowhere in Colorado -- instead of spending the holidays with relatives. And since we were going out of town so early in December, we only put up minimal decorations and didn't send any greeting cards. We worried and worried that we were going to offend someone with our crass insensitivity -- but do you know what happened? Everyone we talked to (family included) said, "Boy, I wish I had the courage to do that!" It turned out that 90% of the people we knew had considered doing the same thing at one point in time, but had never been able to walk away from the pressure of the "have to's." Well, we had a marvelous time (one of our best Christmases ever), everyone loved hearing about our trip, and we now take a holiday vacation every other year.
The lesson here? Just because you think that you "have" to, that doesn't necessarily mean that everyone else feels the same way. Most people are overwhelmed by the holidays and would like for them to be easier -- but no one seems willing to make the first move. Be honest with folks about what you want and don't want this year, and you may find your to-do list dwindling all on its own!
Ramona Creel is a modern Renaissance woman and guru of simplicity -- traveling the country as a full-time RVer, sharing her story of radically downsizing, and inspiring others to regain control of their own lives. As a Professional Organizer and Accountability Coach, Ramona will help you create the time and space to focus on your true priorities -- clearing away the clutter other obstacles and standing in the way of that life you've always wanted to be living. As a Professional Photographer, Ramona captures powerful images of places and people as she travels. And as a travel writer, social commentator, and blogger, she shares her experiences and insights about the world as we know it.
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