4 Powerful Ways to Minimize Holiday Stress

I’m a mix of emotions when I think of the holidays.
First, I love the food.
So there’s that to look forward to.
When I think back to the days before minimalism, there were a lot of things that I expected of myself that added a lot of unnecessary stress to the holiday season.
And reducing or eliminating them has made the holidays much more enjoyable.

1. Decorations

Going minimal with my Christmas decor happened purely by accident and it happened before I even embraced minimalism.
In 2001 I was a single mom with three little boys, at that time they were 3, 4 & 5 and I had moved from Washington State to Montana.
I was renting a small basement apartment, and I had a small storage unit to keep things like my piano and my Christmas decor.
In 2002, Brian and I got married, and since we didn’t have much room for his collections, we put all his stuff in my storage unit.
That was July.
Christmas came and we headed to the storage unit to pull out the boxes of Christmas decor.
But there was a bit of a problem.
I hadn’t considered Christmas decor when we stacked all of Brian’s boxes in the storage unit and all the Christmas stuff was beneath boxes of comic books, old trophies, and college textbooks.
It was all the way on the back wall, at the very bottom of EVERYTHING.
Since there were 6 feet of clutter between me and the Christmas decor, I decided we were just going to have to do something different this year.
I bought a string of Christmas lights for the tree, but everything else, we made.
We made a paper chain garland and cut out snowflakes and hung them on the tree with thread.
The tree looked so pretty!!
And the boys LOVED doing it.
From that point on, we didn’t hang traditional ornaments, instead, we all pile around the table, listen to Christmas carols, and cut out snowflakes to decorate the tree.
As the years went on, we found more enjoyment with making all the decor and not storing very much.
I’m down to 2 small boxes, the hold lights, stockings, and a few small things, like a music box from my grandparents and a few other family pieces.
These days (aside from the tree) it takes about 10 minutes to set up the Christmas decor and then 10 minutes when I decide to put it all away.
The boxes are easy to get to in the basement so I don’t have to convince myself to decorate, or to put it away again.

2. Expectations

If we think about all the times we’ve been disappointed, it’s because our expectations weren’t met, right?
This applies to all of us: What we expect of ourselves, how we expect our loved ones to respond when they open gifts, what our children expect for gifts, what our community expects us to be involved in…
We can start with our kids.
Tell them what they can expect.
Coming from a strained marriage and bad communication patterns, I decided to not allow hinting in our home. If you want something, you had to say it outright.
And this included how I communicated with the kids as well.
When Christmas came and I had teens in the house, I would take out the calendar, figure out what days we were going to the mountain to cut down a tree, what day we would cut out snowflakes and decorate the tree, and what day we would make gingerbread houses.
I would let them know what days to not make plans with friends, and I would let them know if I had any other expectations like whether or not we will have cell phones present.
If we were reducing the number of gifts exchanged, or when we decided to do a name drawing instead of gifts for everyone, we talked about it and were clear about what they can anticipate.

3. Traditions

I love traditions. I love that our family has traditions. And I believe traditions are very important, they give us a sense of belonging and something concrete to hold onto of this is part of our family, part of who I am.
But there are a lot of things that we do for the sake of tradition, that doesn’t add value to our lives, and often, instead of just not adding value, they take away value.
Things I have let go of:

  • Making homemade candy & popcorn balls. (Yes, it was grandma’s tradition, but none of us actually liked popcorn balls anyway)
  • Sending Christmas cards and family updates.
  • Participating in the Christmas Cantata
  • Hosting a Christmas party
  • Hosting a kid’s Christmas party
  • Participating in a cookie exchange
  • Making homemade food gift baskets for everyone I know

The things I did keep?

  • Going to the mountains to cut down a Christmas tree.
  • Cutting paper snowflakes to decorate that tree.
  • Making gingerbread houses from scratch and getting together with family friends to decorate them.
  • Having homemade cinnamon rolls for breakfast Christmas morning
  • Filling stockings
  • Cooking a big turkey dinner with mashed potatoes and gravy.
  • Watching the all the Lord of the Rings movies over Christmas break

Should we keep traditions? Yes, I believe we should.
But don’t continue traditions just for tradition’s sake.
Talk to your family, write down all the traditions and the things you feel like are “chores” related to the holiday, get everyone’s opinion on them: Should it stay, should it go? Is this something our family enjoys?
Don’t allow traditions to be like the old fruitcake jokes where no one wants it but everyone knows it’s coming.

4. Perfection

I know this is my soapbox issue.
But most of us have this idea that in order to be the best person we can be, we have to have all these holiday things done perfectly.
For some people, that’s making 5 different pies from scratch. For others, it’s having a tree in every room, possibly even decorated by theme.
I know people that take a full 3 days, working ALL day to decorate their homes. Their garage wall is nothing but Christmas storage.
Now, there is nothing wrong with this. I don’t mean to condemn it in any way.
But if you do it, do it because you ENJOY it.
And if you don’t enjoy it, or you’re like me and you are so overwhelmed by the idea of putting the Christmas decor away you consider it a feat if it’s boxed up before March, then don’t do it.
This comes back to expectations again.
We expect so much from the holidays and from ourselves during the holidays.
Here’s the truth:
Even if we could create the perfect holiday season for our family, it won’t transform our family. It’s still difficult to raise children, there are still disagreements between spouses, there are still inlaws that don’t respect boundaries.
The holidays aren’t magic.
So instead of requiring ourselves, our homes, or our families to be perfect, say no to things that don’t add value.
It might be uncomfortable.
If you have sent Christmas cards every year for the last 32 years, it will be weird and uncomfortable to not do that.
But if you spent the majority of Decembers stressing about writing a family update letter and addressing all 87 cards (I lived a lot of places, and attended a lot of churches… I sent A LOT of cards!) then allow yourself the freedom of not having that stress in your life this year.

About Rachel Jones

Hi there! I’m Rachel Jones, and I founded Nourishing Minimalism in 2012 at the beginning of my minimalist journey after I'd been doing a yearly decluttering challenge for 4 years and started to see a change in my home. If you're looking for encouragement in your journey, please join our FREE Facebook Group: Nourishing Minimalism Facebook Group


  1. Melinda J Mitchell on 11/05/2021 at 6:09 pm

    This so timely right now. With all the new stress of shared custody decisions for my grands, SImple is gonna have to be the name of the game this year! In my Mama’s family, we have decided to only do gifts for Mama, of course!! And the kids. Singles under 25 are still kids! lol Cut down on so much stress!!

Leave a Comment