How to Simplify the Holidays for Less Stress and More Joy

Last Updated on February 12, 2024 by Candi Randolph

Ahhh…the holidays. That time of year when we gear up for Thanksgiving and don’t stop to take a breath until New Year’s Day ends. It’s exciting, heartwarming, bustling, colorful, tasty…and pretty doggone stressful!

But it doesn’t have to be quite that traumatic, my friend. Some wise planning as well as creative thinking can provide huge benefits. There are 10 actions you can take to enjoy the holiday season so much more!

How to simplify the holidays for less stress and more joy

Author’s note: We’ve been through so much since this post was originally published; our world was turned upside down. Now, we live a little bit more carefully but still enjoy those special times with those we love.

As for the tips and suggestions in this post on how to simplify the holidays, many of them are still applicable in today’s uncertain world. In fact, many of us have embraced a simpler pace of life (we’ve had no choice!) and plan to continue the trend.

So go ahead and plan for a simpler, less stressful holiday season with family and friends in 2021. It might be out of necessity, but the memories will be priceless and last forever.

So much to do for the holiday season, so many places to go, long lists of gifts to purchase, schedules and calendars to coordinate with family, friends and business associates, and that’s just the beginning.

I think I’m tired already just from writing it down. So let’s take a few minutes and consider how to simplify the holidays so we can enjoy them more and feel less stress.

As women over 50, most of us have lived through four, five, or maybe even six decades of the holiday season, so we have lots of memories of the wonderful, irreplaceable times, and memories of the not-so-happy occasions when things got a bit out of control, or became more than we could handle. I can relate to both.

I know that some of you reading this will not relate, as the holidays are precious times that you anticipate all year. Memories are made, hot chocolate abounds, carols are sung, and life is wonderful. Keep it up!

For those who nodded, “yep, that’s me” when reading about the stress of the holidays, it’s never too late to take a step back and see how things can change, even if it doesn’t seem so on the surface.

I believe that some, if not a lot of the stress we feel between the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays is because we put the pressure on ourselves to perform:

Decorate the House…pull out all the stops. We’ve had years to accumulate the holiday decorations, and boy can they pile up!

Make the Food…find the best, new recipes. Don’t repeat or lean too heavily on the tried and true menu items. Search Pinterest for each and every ‘new’ holiday thing.

Buy the Gifts…don’t leave anyone out. That list seems to grow exponentially as the family expands, and with it comes the pressure to please everyone.

Arrange the Parties…we’ve always done it this way so let’s maintain the status quo, even if it nearly kills us.

Fulfill the Holiday related obligations…fundraisers, church programs, neighborhood get-togethers, all of those annual events that seem to land on the same day, or at least within the same week.

Do you feel your palms start to sweat just a teeny bit, thinking about what’s coming around the corner as you read this?  If the thought of learning how to simplify the holidays for less stress and more joy sounds like music to your ears, grab a beverage, have a seat, take a deep breath, and read on.

By the way, I’ve got a free printable for you at the bottom of the post, so if you want to keep these tips handy it will save you some time!

If you click on a link and then make a purchase, I may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you!

10 Ways to Simplify the Holidays for Less Stress & More Joy

1 | Clear the Mechanism

How to simplify the holidays with a fresh perspective

That phrase comes from the movie, ‘For Love of the Game’ starring Kevin Costner as an almost washed-up major league pitcher. He uses that phrase to block out all of the noise and distraction when he’s preparing to throw a pitch.

I’m suggesting that we ‘clear the mechanism’ of the past expectations and anticipated obligations that we place upon ourselves over the holiday season.

I’ll bet that for some of you, the calendar is already filling up for the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. Am I right?

How about a fresh perspective this year? Turn the entire holiday season on its head and approach those weeks with a calm, collected view, almost like it’s your very first time experiencing these special days.

2 | Think Outside the (Holiday) Box

Think outside the holiday box to reduce stress and increase joy

Keeping the cool, calm collected approach to the season ahead, ask yourself this question:

If I could do anything I wanted to during the holiday season, what would it be?

Write down your thoughts and see what happens. For some, the honest responses will be quite similar to how you currently spend the holidays, because you love them, love the people you spend time with, and don’t want to change much about how they roll.

For others, though, that list might look very different from the actual holiday history in your life. There are no correct or incorrect responses, only honest reactions to the question.

Once you’ve recorded that list, consider how many of your desires might become actual realities.

For example, you might honestly feel that pulling out all those holiday decorations is more work, and stress, than you can handle. But, you do it anyway ‘for the grandkids’ or ‘because everyone expects it’.

Hmmm…let’s think outside the holiday box for a moment.

  • How about if your Christmas tree, for example, was smaller than in the past, with some simple decorations. Maybe you’ll use 1/4 of what you have, but it’s enough.
  • Pull out a few of your treasured holiday pieces, such as the Santas, the Angels, the Carollers, etc. Just a few.
  • Remove the small decor items you typically have on display and replace them with the limited holiday decor you selected. (I like to use the holiday boxes to store my non-holiday chachkis)
  • Hang a wreath on the door, put some solar activated candles in the windows, and call it done.

I’m guessing that your family members, those whom you think have such expectations of you and how your home looks over the holidays, will think your decor is just great. And if by chance they don’t, it’s not your problem to worry about. It’s theirs.

This is just one example of how to simplify the holidays for less stress and more joy.

Pin Me!

How to Simplify the Holidays for less stress and more joy

3 | Let Go of the Control

simplify the holidays by letting go of the control

My friend, it doesn’t have to be all up to you to get things done over the holiday season. It really doesn’t.

Actually, you might be surprised at who steps up to the holiday plate if you take a step or two back.

Sometimes we keep doing something because we think no one else can, or will, do it right. There are many, many ways to ‘do it right’ when it comes to planning a meal, organizing an outing, directing a program, scheduling an event, or any other holiday-related activity.

And, as women in midlife we have experience, we have wisdom, we have the know-how to do so much, because we’ve lived life for half a century. Yay for us. It still doesn’t mean that we have to be in charge or do all of the hosting over the holidays.

Bottom line? Think and ponder over how you’ve approached holiday activities in the past. Trust me. Everything will carry on whether you take the lead or not. And if something doesn’t happen? It’s not the end of the world.

4 | Divide & Conquer

Share the responsibilities of holiday planning

One way to reduce holiday stress is to reach out and ask for some help with the responsibilities.

It could be a family gathering, a church program, a fundraiser, planning a holiday itinerary, researching the best venue for the family dinner…it doesn’t really matter what the tasks are.

Maybe you’ve always made six pumpkin pies for the Thanksgiving soiree. This year you really don’t want to put those pies together, but you’ve always done it. Guess what? It’s okay to let that go and find a new way to get the pies made.

You could:

  • remove yourself totally from the responsibility
  • agree to make some, but not all, of the pies
  • ask a family member or friend to come over and help (could be fun!)
  • buy the pies 🙂

There is almost always more than one way to get a task done, and many of those solutions involve asking for help.

Try it. It’s a wonderfully effective way to simplify the holidays and reduce stress.

5 | Start Planning Now

Start planning early for holiday activities to reduce stress and increase joy

It’s amazing how planning ahead can help to reduce the stress that can overtake us, particularly during the holiday season.

Think of that list you created above, the one where we “think outside the holiday box”. There might be a few items on that list that you’d love to take action on. Just the thought of doing those things for a change takes some tightness out of your shoulders.

Shop our Best Selling Journals Now Available in Powdered Lilac

Well, my friend, why not start planning for them now? It might involve some communication with others, sharing of ideas, a bit of compromise all the way ’round.

But the result could be so much fun, very rewarding, less stressful on everyone and well received!

Just do it. Sooner rather than later. Procrastination is never your friend, especially during the holidays.

6 | Create New Traditions

Create new holiday traditions to simplify the holidays and reduce stress

This is where the season can become fresh, exciting and new! Think about what the holiday means to you…the positive feelings you experience or wish you had more of…here are some descriptive words to get you going:

simple, natural, organic, unhurried, playful, charming, nostalgic, loving, creative, slower, calm, warm

Embrace those words and feelings that speak to you, and plan your holiday times around them.

What could you do differently, not just because the holidays cause stress, but because a new tradition would be a welcome change or addition to what you already have in place?

Here are a few suggestions to simplify the holidays:

7 | Rethink the Gifts

My family has always taken a very simple approach to gift-giving. For as long as I can remember, the holidays, Christmas in particular, were more about being with family than the number of gifts under the tree, or how much they cost.

How about you? Is it time to pare down the gifts? How about a hand made gift exchange? Or a donation to a local charity to benefit those in need in lieu of buying gifts?

8 | Establish New Traditions

a holiday memories journal

One way to make the holiday meaningful is to record the memories of that year’s celebration. How about a Holiday Memories Journal? Each family member could write down (yes, write…with a pen…not in an app or on the computer) something they love from the holiday, and those memories could be kept and added to from year to year.

I love to see thoughts, feelings, and memories recorded in someone’s actual handwriting. It’s priceless, particularly when they are no longer with us. It’s like a small piece of them remains, to share the holiday.

This is just one example of a simple tradition that would be easy to establish.

9 | Prepare Your Home

I’ve been in hundreds of homes. Literally. Between my 20+ years as an Interior Decorator and the 5 years as a Home Stager, including offering Christmas decorating services, I’ve seen a little bit of everything.

One way to ensure that your holiday is less stressful is to declutter your home before the decorating starts. For you, it could be Halloween, or Thanksgiving, or the week before Christmas, or whatever holiday(s) you celebrate.

If you add your seasonal decor to what is already out and on display, it’s very easy to end up with a bunch of stuff that can hardly be appreciated because it gets lost in the crowd, and ends up looking cluttered.

Clutter can be stressful.

So do yourself a favor and spend some time before the holiday season is upon you, to clean up, clear out, declutter and prepare your home for the added stuff that is brought in, set up, and put on display.

10 | Practice Self-Care

There is only one of you to go around. And, it’s up to you to make sure that you are cared for, inside and out.

If self-care is a new term for you, maybe it’s time to learn more about how to make sure you are in tune with your body, mind and spirit, particularly in those hectic times we call the holidays.

Take a few minutes to ponder these helpful posts:

The holidays can be the most wonderful season of the year. By taking the time to ponder what’s best for us, what we really and truly want for ourselves and our loved ones, we can create activities and memories that will simplify the holidays, give us more joy, and less stress.

Here’s Your Free Printable: Simplify the Holidays

[convertkit form=1009366]

Like this post? Share it!

how to simplify the holidays to lessen stress and have more joy

20 thoughts on “How to Simplify the Holidays for Less Stress and More Joy”

  1. All good points, Candi. I started scaling back a few years ago. Now, we put up a small tree for the grandchildren and a few other treasured decorations. As for gifts, I let go of neighbor and coworker gifts, and my extended family does a name draw, so we’re each only shopping for one gift each. My husband and I host a Christmas Day open house, which I love too much to let go of, but I have moved away from homemade food to shrimp and sandwich trays from Costco (which everyone seems to enjoy just as much, by the way). I used to make four or five different kinds of cookies. Now I still make my two specialties and buy gingerbread and sugar cookies from a wonderful bakery. That’s not to say I don’t get a stressed at times in the midst of the holiday madness, but as a whole, I relax and enjoy more than I used to. I’ve shared this post for those who may need a nudge in the direction of less is more. Thanks!

    1. Hi Christie, I think the family/guests at your Open House just want to be there and share the holiday with you, so the food is secondary. Wise changes that you made! I agree that the holidays always bring some stress with them, but if we do our part to calm that down we can enjoy them so much more! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Great post and points. Every year I try to cut down on the decorations as that takes the most time, but then my family acts all disappointed and then I give in. It can be hard being the matriarch of the family and all the responsibility always falls on you.. Visiting from MSTL.

    1. Hi Amy, yes, it can be challenging when the family voices their expectations and you feel the pressure. Maybe you can start a new tradition of everyone pitching in, to help you get it done if they feel that strongly about the holiday decor. Just a thought. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by, I appreciate it!

  3. HI, Candi – Thanks for the great tips and wonderful printables. I’ve been mulling around several of these topics (e.g. rethinking gifts and establishing new traditions) so your post is very timely. Less stress, more joy — I’m totally in! #MLSTL

  4. Some great tips here Candi. We’re taking a completely different turn this year and heading to the UK for Christmas. Christmas lunch will be at a pub with friends walking (or should I say staggering?) distance from our accommodation. I can not wait! #MLSTL

  5. Hi Candi – I’m in the process of writing a post about having an Unbusy Christmas this year – I’ll still do the little pared back parts I like, but I’m pulling out of the extended family Christmas lunch (too many people and too much fuss) and focusing on my own little family unit – more joy, more love, and a lot less hassle!
    Thanks for linking up with us at MLSTL and I’ve shared on my SM 🙂

  6. Several years ago, I gave up having the live Christmas tree that took all day to decorate. Now I have a smaller, artificial Pink tree (yes! Pink!) that has a little whimsical Whoville bend to it at the top. I’ve downsized my ornaments, too. I only put memories on the tree. So you’ll see a skeleton key chain because it came from a Christmas trip to NYC that I took with my son. You’ll find ribbons and necklaces that he made for me when he was a child. Old ornaments that came from my parent’s tree (not the expensive collectible kind, but the cheap 60’s and 70’s mass-produced kind that remind me of my childhood with my sisters and brothers.) And you’ll find items that my husband and I have collected. I love Christmas memories.

    1. What beautiful Christmas memories you create with your simple tree and ornaments, Jennifer, I love it! Some of my most treasured ornaments are the old, 1930’s & 40’s ornaments from my grandmother’s tree. I only have 5 or 6, but they’re priceless.

  7. Great timing for this post, Candi. I love the words “simplify” and “holidays.” I can also relate to both types of memories. “Clear the Mechanism” is a new phrase for me. Thank you for giving me a fresh perspective on the holidays. A great list!

  8. Christmas gift giving aggravates me to no end!! I hate having to buy for adults and our adult kids as you never know what they want or like. Hubby’s mother has anything and everything and needs nothing! I say give them a gift card or cards and be done with it, hubby hates giving gift cards or cash! The grandbabies are the exception. I love shopping for them and surprising them with their wishes ♥

    1. I always enjoy shopping for the grandkids, too, Dee…it’s so much simpler than some of the family gift-giving traditions. It sounds like you’re caught in the middle with yours, which is frustrating for sure. I hope you find other ways to enjoy the holidays and make happy memories. xo

  9. We always have good memories Candi with the grandbabies and the pics and vids to look back on whether it’s time spent at home or away on a trip. Another frustration though is those that ask you what can they get you. They don’t want you to say “anything would be fine” or “don’t bother with getting me anything.” Geez, give me a gift card and be done with it!!

  10. Great tips! I’m a planner, so I try to do as much as I can BEFORE Thanksgiving, which makes a huge difference. I also am pretty picky with what I fill my calendar with so that I am enjoying all the holidays. 🙂 I love your advice. Pinning!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top