Goodbye, Stress! A Guide To Keeping The Holidays Cheery & Bright

If current Instagram feeds are an accurate indication, it's safe to say that parents are equal parts creators and revelers in the magic that is the holiday season. This time of year is THE BEST, even for those of us living in summer-loving beach towns, and doubly so when you get to see that wonder through the eyes of a child. So we make the magic, and we love it, but sometimes it is exhausting and overwhelming. Enter this list of ways that we all can simplify and prioritize right now to keep that joyous feeling around and stress way less in the coming weeks.

Savor More, Stress Less Over the Holidays | Southwest Michigan Kids

Leave half your decorations in their boxes.

We did this last year and it was a really simple yet significant move. I now decorate for every holiday this way, pulling out our favorite decorations and leaving the rest behind (or better yet, donating them). Once those are up, you can be done (pat self on back!) or add to them bit by bit as you please.

Buy the cheap chocolate advent calendar.

There are SO MANY options for making a specialized advent calendar and stuffing each day with either treats or fun activities. We have some too. If you're looking to dial it down this year, just pick one up at the grocery store and be done. I remember those little chocolate calendars from my childhood fondly and never once have wished my parents had done anything different.

Skip the Christmas card.

Maybe just this one year, if you were starting to fret at the thought of it, let the annual Christmas card go. My sister skipped hers last year and donated the money she would've spent to a fabulous local charity that helps immigrants in need. Anyone can do the same! Think of all the time you will save by not planning the photo shoot, coordinating outfits, putting together a mailing list, addressing the cards, getting to the post get the point.

Set a budget and stick to it.

Before you buy your first gift, sit down and plan out how much you want to spend, including charitable year-end giving. Create a list of people you plan to give gifts to and how much you would like to spend per person, then tweak if necessary so it doesn't exceed your budget. Carry it with you (a screenshot on your phone should do the trick) and resist the temptation to overspend.

Make a big batch of goodies to give out.

Some people have been doing this for years, but it has been a recent revelation for me after a friend invited us to make candy cane bark at her house and said she hands it out every year. It's just the thing for teachers, mail carriers, neighbors, aunts and uncles, hosts -- who doesn't love festive sweets? You could also make peanut brittle, fudge, truffles, vanilla extract (takes some time so plan ahead) or for non-edible treats try bath bombs, candles, sugar scrubs, wool dryer balls or even winter bird feeders. Anything you can make in one large batch and package nicely will do. I am fully on board with this.

Host a cookie swap.

Instead of baking a ton of different cookies, plan a small gathering of fellow parents or friends and share in the homemade goodness. You can even do this instead of giving gifts. If the kids are coming, let them decorate gingerbread houses while the adults catch up. Everybody wins.

Get outside.

Balance the daily hubbub of the holidays by reconnecting with nature on a regular basis. You can go for a hike, go sledding, try snowshoeing -- bring those awesome little hand warmers to keep the cold at bay. We like to do a twilight hike with lanterns and hot cocoa to mark the Winter Solstice, but any day is a good day to get outdoors.

Have a Yes Day. If there's any one thing that might make your life easier as a parent, it is saying yes to your children. Pick a day with nothing much on the schedule, and first thing in the morning let them know that they are in charge for the entire day -- what to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, where to go, what to do, what to wear, every little thing (as long as it's safe, of course). It is incredibly fun for everyone and a nice break from being the household joy killer.

Also, learn to say no.

This time of year is as hectic as it is magical, but with a little assertiveness you can take back the season and spend your time doing what is most important to you. So, when faced with an onslaught of school, work and social obligations, get comfortable saying no with a heartfelt smile. It is a game changer.

Skip the Santa lines.

Similar to the above suggestion, this one is about paring down and prioritizing. One quick look at the upcoming Facebook events is enough to drown any person in a panicked cocktail of scheduling nightmares and FOMO. There's so much to do and we want to make these moments magical for our children. But there's no need to go to seven holiday parades and see Santa on five different occasions (I'm talking to myself here too). Pick a few things that are the most important or special to you, and let the rest go. It's all about quality, not quantity.

Pare down the presents.

It's easy to go overboard, but it is actually pretty refreshing to scale things back. There are tons of good methods to pick from (want, need, wear, read is one). We give the kids a pair of pajamas and a new book on Christmas Eve from Santa's elves, then on Christmas morning one big and one small present from Santa, two or three from us, including an experience and usually something homemade, and stocking stuffers. Do whatever works for your family.

Do good deeds.

Make the holidays about showing kindness and spending time with loved ones. Take the kids to pick out a couple presents to donate to Toys for Tots, shovel your neighbors' sidewalk, head to the local humane society to foster an animal in need, donate to a food or winter clothing drive. Have the kids pick how they want to give back to the community as a family.

Get away.

Take an overnight trip to Chicago, pick a small town within an hour's drive and head there to see the Christmas trappings, or even pick a restaurant outside of your typical comfort zone and drive there for dinner. A temporary change of scenery can be enough to lift your spirits through the remainder of the holidays.

Treat yourself. Get a massage, buy a new book or gourmet tea, take yourself out for coffee, do a puzzle. Just give yourself a chance to unplug and unwind for a couple hours. Everything will survive without you for a few.

Bust out the old photos. The days are such a blur that there's hardly time to reflect on the past 24 hours, much less the years gone by. But it's nice to pull out old photographs and let those fond memories back in, whether they're from when your kids were little or from your own childhood. It's also important to carve out some time to think about the year that is coming to a close, the milestones and lessons learned. It will be gone in a blink.

Do you have any tips for keeping stress at a minimum over the holidays? We'd love to hear them!

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