Get Ahead, Keep It Simple, then Relax & Enjoy - 5 tips for a stress free Christmas
How did Christmas become so stressful? Why does it seem to have become a competition as to who can give the most expensive gifts, have the biggest tree, be the best dressed, throw (or attend) the greatest number of the most lavish parties over the holiday period?
Let's consider the most important ingredients for a moment. The first thing for me is about remembering the origin of Christmas and why we actually celebrated it in the first place. This helps me to focus on what is and even more key, what isn't important.
Even if you're not particularly religious, sometimes it's nice to stop and think about what Christmas was traditionally, rather than the manic (two or now even three month) spending spree that the festive period seems to have become.
When I took some time out to think about it and also asked my family, these were the most important things we came up with, in no particular order: spending time with family and close friends - phone free time, playing games, watching films, playing music, catching up; food related rituals - baking Christmas biscuits and sharing them with friends, Christmas breakfast, Boxing Day trifle; non food rituals - Christmas Cracker making, donating to a chosen charity, singing Christmas carols, buying and decorating the tree.
No mention of presents there then, interesting...are we just odd (maybe we are!), or could it be that they've only become the centre of attention because over the years marketing and the media has made us believe that they're the answer to a happy Christmas. If only you can get your hands on "the toy of the year", everything will go smoothly and everyone will be happy, right? Or wrong, we know better don't we?
So how can we achieve a simple, stress free Christmas this year?
Organise your house - work out what needs to be done to make a calm and cosy space well in advance. If the reality seems a long way from the ideal, break it into smaller tasks, make a list and do an extra task from your list each day (starting today!) Have a look at these blogs to give you some tips and inspiration Christmas Is Coming - 6 Quick fixes for a tidy house
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Keep decorations simple - think nature rather than creating more waste. I'd take a small real tree any day over a huge fake one, it feels more atmospheric, smells more Christmassy and can be recycled instead of eventually ending up in landfill. Do you really need more tinsel? Go for a walk and see what you can find from nature to decorate your house, or join in with a natural Christmas wreath making workshop.
Rather than going overboard with the decorating in your own home, get into the festive spirit by embracing Christmas locally and sharing in the community decorations. There's usually so much going on, Christmas tree festivals, pop up ice rinks, carol concerts, Christmas theatre productions, check out your local listings for ideas.
Menu plan - do this well in advance, book your turkey and if you normally have your shopping delivered, book your delivery (you'll be able to add items nearer the time if necessary).
Plan some dishes that can be made from leftovers to ensure nothing is wasted. You can download my meal planner and guide here.
If you don't particularly like Christmas cake, don't have one. If no one likes the icing, make or buy one but don't ice it! If you would like a cake but don't have time to be "feeding it" for months in advance, here's a recipe for a quicker, lighter last minute version.
Sharing your Christmas meal? Share the burden, ask your guests to bring something specific to contribute, it makes things easier for them if they know what you'd appreciate and gives you one less thing to think about!
Scale down on presents - talk to your family well in advance and agree to give experience gifts this year. Failing that agree on a Secret Santa system so that everyone gets one gift to open (but hopefully more thought will have gone into it, as individuals/families don't have to buy for as many people). Avoid gifting anything that can be only worn or used at Christmas, Christmas jumpers tend to be worn once or twice, then either stored for eleven months of the year, or worse discarded! No teacher needs another Christmas mug, believe me, my mother in law was a teacher. Club together with other parents and get vouchers for a spa day or similar. Click here for decluttered and experience gifting ideas. If you do want to buy an actual gift, beat the crowds by shopping locally and support smaller, independent businesses.
Give rather than get, make up shoe boxes of useful items to donate to those in need, prepare a food hamper for an elderly neighbour, bake Christmas biscuits to give to friends. Get the kids involved so that they get used to giving and not just receiving. Hang an envelope on your Christmas tree and inside it pledge to donate to a charity that means something to your family (instead of extra gifts), make it a family decision and choose a different charity each year.
Embrace change - Don't do something just because you've always done it, or always done it a certain way (unless you love it). Reassess traditions that have become too cumbersome, or that you no longer enjoy, or feel to have become inappropriate. Think about why you no longer enjoy them and how they could be adapted. Christmas cards, for example (and by the way I'm sitting on the fence with these), but I do know that I'll only be sending out a fraction of the number I used to and probably only to the older generation.
Introduce new traditions which suit your family better and/or produce less waste.
Some years ago we introduced Christmas cracker making, initially as a nice kids pre Christmas activity, but we've continued it as it's become a ritual and most importantly now, avoids the "plastic tat" in shop bought crackers. Last year to avoid wrapping paper waste we potato printed Christmas trees etc. onto brown paper, this year as gift wrap, I've bought some festive fabric and we'll be wrapping our gifts Japanese style!
I actually know of a family who spend Christmas Day in their pyjamas eating sausage and chips! Now that's quite extreme...and as we go to church on Christmas morning, I can't see pjs working for me any time soon!
Prepare well and simplify Christmas this year - less stuff doesn't have to mean less fun!
Jo Hall is a Berkshire based Declutterer & Organiser
For help with decluttering & organising your home: Less Is More
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