Financially, physically, mentally, and emotionally, the holidays can drain us. Ironically, it can be a tough time of year on our spirituality, relationships and family, and even career. Would you like to get off the holiday bandwagon? It may be simpler than you think, and, guess what, you wouldn’t be alone! 

It happened at my November simple living group meeting one year. Two women, without so much as a twinge of guilt in their voices, "confessed" that they didn’t bake Christmas cookies! One said she buys them or simply let others bring them. The other woman said she makes banana bread for gifts instead because it is simpler. How dare they! I was more envious about their obvious lack of guilt than about the fact that they didn’t bake cookies. 

Another woman talked about the last time it was her turn to host the extended family Christmas dinner. She decided to forego the expected traditional Swedish multi-course extravaganza in favor of a make-ahead stuffed shell pasta dish, tossed salad, and garlic bread. The audacity! I had read this idea before, but I had never actually done it! 

Worse yet, this woman wasn’t feeling a bit guilty. She was happy about it. She talked about how everyone had enjoyed the simplicity of the food. She also said that, "After all, the big dinner was only a tradition, and her family could always go back to the tradition another year." Her idea was simple and also brilliant. She could choose to drop, change, or simplify a tradition. Another year, she could simply choose to go back to the tradition if she wanted. 

These women really got me thinking. When planning and organizing only take you so far, how do you simplify after that? Who would care if I didn’t make so many Christmas cookies this year? Who would feel bad if the meal wasn’t as elaborate as last year? Who would notice if the gifts were fewer or less extravagant this time around? I suspect the answer is me, maybe even just me. I let myself make Christmas too busy, complicated, and stressful because of my own expectations. 

In Christmas’ past, I have unintentionally run my family and myself physically and emotionally ragged to meet unimportant expectations that I clung to in my head. I felt like activities and events that were supposed to be fun just turned into more stuff to be gotten through and crossed off the holiday to-do list. I have been relieved when the holidays were over. Whew! We survived another holiday. We are off the hook for another year. 

I know there have been times during past holidays where I have foolishly exchanged fun and spirit for quantity just to meet my own expectations. I ignored my gut and pressed forward. Have you ever done that? 

This year we can choose to notice and heed the nagging twist in our hearts that happens when we strain ourselves to achieve overblown holiday goals. We can step back and pause to re-evaluate our choices and the impact those choices have on our family. 

The first step for me: I will make fewer cookies. That is, I will make cookies with my daughters, and when it stops being fun, we will stop. If I have spare time, I may make more by myself–if I feel like it. 

For my second step, I will buy some simple gifts from the heart, and when shopping gets too crowded or boring, I will say, " enough," and we will hop into the car, and drive around to look at Christmas lights. When holiday crafting gets frustrating for me or for my kids, I will say, "Hey, this is good enough," and we will stop and do something else. 

Finally, I will not whip myself or my family into an unhappy frenzy to prepare an elaborate meal or create a perfectly clean house. It just isn’t worth it. I don’t want my kids to remember their holidays or their mother that way! 

If it isn’t simple enough or joyous enough, don’t do it. Most importantly, don’t let yourself feel guilty for those choices. I will choose to feel peaceful and grateful for having the chance to make better choices. Maybe I am getting closer to the true spirit of Christmas. If so, it has taken years. I don’t know. I just know that when I have opportunities to trade guilt and frustration for peace and joy this month, I will take them–-for me and for my family, and you can too!

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. Sign up for her free monthly clutter clearing tips newsletter at


Clutter-Free Gift Ideas:

Sometimes enough is enough, and many people, even in challenging economic times, still have their basic needs met, even they still have some wants. This year, consider simple, non-material, functional gifts that people may appreciate more than “the usual” because these gifts won’t add to their closet clutter! Here are some ideas to get you started.

Teachers/Sunday school teachers/school bus drivers—Get together with several people to get one large item rather than pummeling them with knick-knacks. Or, try bookstore, restaurant, or shopping gift certificates accompanied by a kind note expressing your appreciation.

Families—If you have been buying for each person in a family, consider buying one gift for the entire family. Get a family game, DVD, or magazine subscription related to a hobby or activity you know they do as a family.

Adults—Make a donation in their name to charity, or try restaurant, theater, or shopping gift certificates, or lessons, or a magazine subscription for a hobby or interest that they have.

Seniors—Try donations, restaurant or grocery gift certificates, prepaid gas or phone cards if they go south in the winter, errand running, snow shoveling, the services of a handyman, audio books, or a large-type version of a newspaper.

Teenagers/college students—Find a lesson or event pertaining to a hobby or interest they have, minutes for their cell phone, concert or sporting event tickets, or gift cards.

Children—Consider gift certificates so they get to choose, or give the gift of time doing something they enjoy with them, lessons (Parents appreciate help with things like lessons, sports equipment, or savings bonds for education.), or homemade craft/dress-up kits.

Everyone—Purchase disposable gifts including restaurant, grocery, gas gift cards, perfume, lotion, candles, and food. These can be used up instead of adding to anyone’s clutter collection.