9 Ways to De-Stress and Spend Less Over the Holidays

Sofia taking a picture of Luke

“Memorize this word over the next four weeks: simplify,” said community leader and grandmother to six, Joanie Derrenbacker, at our last Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) meeting in Syracuse, New York.

“Do our kids want a stressed and frazzled mom?” she asked us. “Will people care if we don’t send a seven-paragraph treatise about how smart our children are and how many trips we took this year?”

As mothers of young children, we are growing into the role of orchestrator of the holidays, but sometimes we still need mothering ourselves. It was soothing to hear advice from someone who has big-picture perspective and Joanie has the warmth, confidence, and calm of someone who has been through it all.

“Will our kids care if we don’t make 10 kinds of cookies?”  Joanie continued. “Don’t let Martha Stewart intimidate you.  Yes, every single one of her cookies are perfect.” But if baking and decorating is not our thing, we can marvel at their beauty and then simply turn the page.

“Everyone has different talents,” she reminded us. ”And most kids would be thrilled with the same old cookies with red and green sprinkles on top.”

It’s easy to turn on auto-pilot when the holidays roll around and simply repeat exactly what our own families did. But sometimes that’s not always right for our time, when we might feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of stuff in our houses or the ever-quickening pace of modern life.

Joanie suggests, take a moment to ask yourself:

  • What is my goal this Christmas?
  • Do I want my home to reflect wonderful foods and traditions?
  • Do I want my kids to be caring and thoughtful?

“Make this Christmas a time when your family will remember feeling special,” she implored.

Here are some of Joanie’s ideas for simplifying the holidays so you can enjoy them (and save money too):

1.  Make your Christmas list early.

Pare it down wherever you can, and stick to it.

2.  Shelf Christmas cards.

Skip them this year, or send an emailed photo and one line about each family member.  Or send Valentine’s cards instead.  What else is there to do, and who wouldn’t need a bit of cheer in the mailbox, in the deep gray of February?

3.  Stop the flood of stuff.

Agree with the grandparents on one gift per child or a dollar amount per person.  With extended family, agree not to exchange, or draw names and have each person give a single gift to one other person. Ask your child to select one or two (new or old) toys to donate to kids who don’t have much.

4. Turn off the TV.

Commercials tend to make us feel bad that we haven’t bought enough.  Instead, cook together, read books in front of the fire, wrap presents, or listen to holiday music.

5. Pay with cash.

Borrowing money to buy gifts beyond your means only complicates life.

6. Start stocking your freezer now.

Make up batches of lasagnas and spaghetti sauces so you don’t have to worry about every meal when life gets busy with guests and activities.

7. Forget wrapping paper.

The gift wrap industry accounts for approximately $2.6 billion a year in retail sales. Use what you have: children’s drawings, paper grocery bags turned inside out, comic strips, or last year’s saved paper and ribbons.

8. Make a big deal out of family traditions.

Honor the old or create your own: play up the Christmas carols, the hot cider with cinnamon, the tree-lighting ceremonies, the holiday specials like the Grinch Stole Christmas, or delivering goodies to neighbors.

9. Think of ways to give of yourself.

Invite an international student over for Christmas dinner.  University students who can’t afford to travel home are often lonely and longing for connection. Contact the international student services office of your local college or university.

“Affluenza is a disease of our culture and era that we have to battle all the time,” Joanie said, which made me feel better that I wasn’t the only one. “We are all prey to wanting more and more. As parents, we are training our children whether we realize it or not:  If we want a mountain of gifts under the tree, they will want a mountain of gifts under the tree.”

Sometimes it feels easier to just go through the motions and buy the gifts and continue the way we always have.  But we can make subtle yet deep changes in our lives if we remember that “love is not in a package, it’s in us.”

Think of ways to invest giving with your time and effort, and you’ll save money and make life richer.

Thank you, Joanie.  I couldn’t have said it better,

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  • asiljoy December 7, 2010, 1:00 pm

    I sincerely feel for the too close-to-Christmas-for-sanity birthdays with a brother whose birday is December 28th and a husband’s whose birthday is January 1st and for a long time we did some version of your plan and celebrated when everyone could be there. BUT my brother, who is now almost 30, mentioned recently that he felt shafted on his bdays when he was little because he felt it seemed like an afterthought to all of us. I know that’s our fault for not taking a proper breath from our own ridiculousness to help him celebrate, but I thought I’d pass the story along as a cautionary tale. We always did the family dinner thing and I think he was ok with that, just not so ok with everyone checking off their new year’s todo lists while he was trying to blow out his candles…. oh 2020 hindsight.

    • Amy December 7, 2010, 1:19 pm

      Thanks for the cautionary tale. I agree that Christmas birthday kids have it hard, and whatever we do is probably not going to measure up to their expectations. (Do parties ever really measure up?)

      One good thing about holiday birthdays, however, is that it’s much more likely that extended family are in town to help celebrate. Also, I do think it’s important to do it at a time when the parents can dedicate the most time and enthusiasm. We’ll keep experimenting for the best result!