How was your Halloween this year? The start of the holiday season sort of begins in the fall with Halloween—followed rapidly by Thanksgiving, Christmas/Hanukah/All traditions, and New Years. See? It isn’t so bad that summer is over. We have all these upcoming holidays to keep us busy. Do you like the “busyness” or do you feel stressed for several months? If “busyness” is what it has turned into for you, maybe it is time to reclaim your holidays. Make them work for you instead of the other way around. To do this, focus on what you really want and operate from your strengths.

My holidays aren’t perfect. I wouldn’t know how to tell anybody else how to have the perfect Halloween, Thanksgiving or any other holiday. We all have different goals, desires, and abilities. We all are at different life stages and have different family situations. Sometimes a family consists not of people that are related but people who have adopted each other in life. To improve and simplify your holidays, I have a few general suggestions.

First, take holiday notes from year to year. Write down what you spent (yes, this is a sneaky way to say “budget”). Write down what you liked about what you did for the holiday, and write down what you would and wouldn’t do again (yes, this a sneaky way to say “goal setting” and to prevent repeating past things that didn’t work well). Keep a holiday folder with holiday notes from year to year.

For Halloween, I keep a count of the number of children who come by each year so that I don’t buy too much or too little candy. My waistline doesn’t need the leftovers! Let’s just call it what it is “body clutter.” I also use the same decorations from year to year because it is traditional and frugal for our family to do it this way.

When the kids were little, we planned trips to the local apple orchard. We still find our pumpkins locally. We scoop them out and carve them together as a family and sometimes we even roast the pumpkin seeds. If we make the time, we drive around and look at the elaborate outside decorations that some people enjoy setting up. We tinker with our own decorations and costumes. What are your traditions?

Second, do what you want to do for each holiday based on what your talents are and aren’t. I am not a seamstress and I am frugal. Halloween costumes have been hand-me-downs, items purchased at garage sales, and household stuff that my children have applied their own creativity to use. Besides, this was the only day of the year they could help themselves to my make-up! I also am not much of a cook, but I might make apple crisp if I have time. Otherwise, we have sometimes enjoyed baking a frozen pumpkin pie purchased from the store. We heat up “real” apple cider and drink it hot. The kids who aren’t in braces eat store-bought carmel apples.

Does it sound pretty ordinary? I guess it is. These are simply little traditions that have evolved for our family around the Halloween and fall season. They are what we enjoy.

Next, develop traditions for the seasons and holidays that fit for you and your family. Each holiday is your holiday and your family’s. Talk to other family members. Ask what they like and don’t like about each holiday as it rolls around. Find out what aspects they look forward to enjoying and what aspects of each holiday that they dread. These will give you some good clues about how to simplify each holiday.

Finally, whatever you do for any upcoming holiday, do it because you want to do it. If you are doing things because you feel you “should” or because you “ought to” or because you need to keep up with the neighbors, these activities are not genuine and there will be little satisfaction from them for you or for your family. And, if you have spent a lot of money or time to do them, it isn’t money or time that has been well spent.

Sometimes in our desire to get it perfect and do the right thing, we forget to have fun. It isn’t about the stuff. “Perfect” decorations and “perfect” food aren’t what make holidays special. We forget the meaning of the holidays. We forget to enjoy our family, our friends, and the activities that originally revolved around the holidays for the purpose of fun. If it turns into drudgery and “busyness,” why bother?

Simplify all your holidays by taking and keeping notes for each one. Cut out what doesn’t work for you and your family. Create your holidays using the skills and abilities you and your family have, rather than beating yourself up for things you can’t or prefer not to do. By doing this, you can create simple holidays that fit joyfully for you and your family.

Barbara Tako is a clutter clearing motivational speaker and author of Clutter Clearing Choices: Clear Clutter, Organize Your Home, & Reclaim Your Life (O Books, 2010), a seasonally organized book of clutter clearing tips that readers can pick and choose from to fit their personal style and needs.

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