5 ways to keep from going insane during the holidays

I love the holidays. After all, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” right? I love the nostalgic images in that famous song: “There’ll be parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting, and caroling out in the snow…” However, sometimes when I hear those lyrics, I get more stressed than cheerful as the song lists all the things going on in the month of December. I start thinking about all the work that does into those “parties for hosting,” and how I need to buy the “marshmallows for toasting,” and the list goes on. I could add countless verses of my own lists.

“There’ll be school holiday parties, and shopping for the person you don’t know what to buy, and lugging boxes of decorations upstairs.” It doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it? If we’re not careful, though, the holidays can quickly go from the happiest season of all to the most stressful time of the year.

Two years ago, we were planning Christmas dinner at my house for twenty-seven people. We also had extended family staying with us, and I had a five-month-old baby who was going through a sleep regression at the time. That year, I was busy, sleep-deprived, and not feeling all that jolly.

One night a week or so before Christmas, while planning schedules, menus, and shopping lists with my husband, I asked myself, “What am I doing all this for?”

I love Christmas. I love the food, the music, the family time, the traditions. But somewhere in all the preparing and hosting, I lost sight of the simple meaning of the holiday. I decided in that moment that I didn’t want to miss enjoying Christmas because I was too busy doing everything I felt obligated to do.

Enjoying Christmas is not negotiable,” I told my husband. That night, we made a plan to simplify Christmas as much as possible and ensure that we made time for the important things. Christmas that year was still a bit crazy (twenty-seven people is A LOT under one roof), but we made it a great holiday.

How did we do it? Here are five ways to simplify this holiday season and keep your sanity this year.

1. Spend less

In a survey conducted by MagnifyMoney, more than one in four (26%) Americans said they plan to rack up holiday debt during the 2016 holiday season. Additionally, the average shopper surveyed who added debt during the 2015 holiday season racked up $1,073. With interest rates averaging 17%, that financial burden will be a source of stress for families long after the new year.

Many people go into debt in order to make the holidays “perfect”, but Christmas doesn’t have to be full of expensive gifts to be special. Set a budget that you can truly afford (without a payment plan), and stick to it. It’s that simple.

Many of the gifts I give my little kids are purchased second-hand. They don’t know or care where their gifts came from; they’re just thrilled to have something new (to them) and fun. For older kids, make them aware of the budget you’ve set and ask them what their priorities are. Keep everyone’s expectations realistic, and focus on making memories together instead of filling your home and your life with more stuff.

2. Plan ahead (even just a little)

There is nothing worse than last-minute Christmas gift shopping. Wandering the mall on Christmas Eve and settling for a gift that you don’t really want to buy for more than you really want to spend just because you feel obligated.

I love buying gifts for my family and friends, but I have a bad habit of agonizing over whether or not I’m getting the best deal on the most meaningful, life-changing gift ever. Because of this, I sometimes find myself spending hours and hours searching for gifts, then I still delay buying something in case I find something better, and in the end I find myself stressed a few days before Christmas when I still have shopping to do.

I’m learning, however, that there’s a better way. Just like it’s a good idea to set a budget for shopping, it’s also helpful to set a deadline.

For my family this year, I made a list of ideas for gifts. My husband and I set a budget for each person, and I have purchased things as I have found good sales. However, I have a deadline set for when all presents need to be purchased by. On my deadline (I chose one week before Christmas), I will buy the items I haven’t found on sale yet until I hit the limit of my budget, and then I will stop. No guilt about what I did or didn’t buy. This way, I’ll be able to spend the final days before Christmas enjoying family and traditions instead of rushing around trying to find last-minute items.

3. Shop online

There was a time in life that I enjoyed the luxury of wandering through stores, humming along to my favorite Christmas carols, and searching for the perfect, unique gift. Now, any trips I take to the mall include my two rambunctious little boys, and shopping with them is less than relaxing. Because of this, I shop online now as much as possible.

These days, shopping online is so convenient. You can find just about anything, from big box store discounted items to handmade gems from small businesses on Etsy. You can quickly compare prices with other stores and know if you’re getting the best deal.

Rather than spending countless hours searching and researching the gifts you want to buy in stores, simplify the process online. Do a little price comparison, check for promo codes, and then make a decision. Remember that your time is as valuable (or more so) than your money. Be wise with how you spend both.

4. Prioritize family and service

December tends to be a busy month full of family get-togethers, holiday parties, community events, and long-standing traditions that “need” to happen. However, most of these activities are not essential. Don’t let yourself fall into the trap of over-scheduling your family to the point that you’re so busy you don’t actually enjoy all the festivities you attend.

Make a list of what traditions and activities are most important to you, and schedule them. Recognize that some events are not going to fit into your family’s calendar, and that’s okay. Allow yourself to let go of unrealistic expectations and feel free to forgo old traditions that don’t fit with your current priorities.

5. Schedule down time

While you’re scheduling your holiday parties, trips to look at Christmas lights, and other activities, also block out some time to just stay home and relax. Pencil in a family movie night once a week, or plan an evening of reading Christmas stories together.

One of my favorite parts of the Christmas season is snuggling on the couch with hot cider and watching the lights twinkle on the tree. Most nights in December, I try to take a little time to listen to Christmas music, enjoy the view from my favorite spot on the couch, and think about life and Christmas. Making time for these quiet moments helps me to slow down and enjoy the beauty and magic of this time of year.

A little bit more

Ultimately, we would do well to remember Dr. Seuss’s Christmas lesson: “Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store? What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!” We don’t need to do more or buy more to have a more meaningful Christmas season. This year, choose to simplify your holidays and make time to celebrate with those you love.

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