147 Things You Don’t Need to Do During the Holidays

Have you hopped on Pinterest lately?  It’s a feast for the eyes and the imagination!  You’ll instantly be reminded that it’s Christmastime when you see loads and loads of pins with an abundance of ideas — 42 New Traditions to Make Christmas Magical, 239 Ways to Position Your Christmas Elf, 96 Christmas Songs to Download Now, and 63 New Cookie Recipes You Can’t Live Without.  So many great resources!  I have to admit I love being able to hop on and find new inspiration with just a few keystrokes.

But perhaps the real brilliance is not in finding all the best new stuff to do this Christmas, but in choosing what NOT to do.

Christmas may seem to come earlier every year, but there are still only 24 hours in the day, and you can only run on eggnog and exhaustion for so long.

I’m not advocating a Grinch-like abdication of all things festive, I’m simply suggesting that instead of trying to take in every sparkling thing that catches our eye, we spend a little time thinking about what we really want.  It’s back to my usual themes of using intention while also cutting yourself some slack.

It’s about simplifying.

As Tsh Oxenreider says in her book, Organized Simplicity:  “Simplifying your life is meant to make things better, not worse.  It’s about choices — about saying no to the things in your life that aren’t the best so that you are free and available to say yes to those things you truly want.”

I’m not actually going to enumerate 147 things you can do to simplify (though I’m sure there are 147 at least!) but I want you to think about what the holiday season is really about for you, your kids, your family.  I want you to give yourselves permission to say “no” to some of those really amazing, exciting lists, so that you can say “yes” to one or two things that you feel really matter.

That’s not going to look the same to every person, or in every season of your life.  Let me give you an example.

Once upon a time, I was crazy and I made a gingerbread house from real, homemade, gingerbread.  I’m talking raw ingredients from my pantry and pieces and parts that required sharp knives, straight edges, and a little bit of math to construct.  With little kids at the counter, it was quite the undertaking.

I felt very Martha Stewart as it all began, but by the end of the task I realized I needed Martha’s staff as well.

I’ve ridden atop that pendulum swing all the way to the other side of the spectrum.  These days, I buy a box of graham crackers and glue them together with my hot glue gun, and set the kids loose with store-bought frosting and bowls of candy.

It’s not glamorous and you won’t likely find any of our creations wowing people on Pinterest, but when I took a second to think about what my family really enjoyed about the whole gingerbread house activity, I realized it was about being together, being creative, and  –let’s admit it– snitching as much candy as you could in the process.

My kids couldn’t care less about what the house was made out of, and I could care a whole lot more about where I was putting my time.

When I talked about this experience with a friend of mine, she recalled the year she discussed Christmas traditions with her own brood and discovered they didn’t really want to do gingerbread houses at all.  It had served its purpose for a season, but they didn’t need it anymore.

I’m sure there are also those who feel the from-scratch-experience holds all the sentiment of the season, and that it’s worth every ounce of work.  I’ve just realized that isn’t me.  Not right now.  And I have decided to make my choices based on that reality, and let all the Pinterest-Perfect expectations fall by the wayside.

There are other areas where I have to make these same decisions.  How the tree gets decorated, whether or not we’ll get a Christmas card out before May, what to serve for Christmas dinner.  And the answer for us may not always seem the simple route for someone else.  (In spite of thumbing my nose at homemade gingerbread, I will ALWAYS opt for the homemade route when it comes to rolls!)

What about you? 

What could you use less of?  Less stuff?  Less shopping?  Less frenzy?

What do you want more of?  More time together?  More service?  More face to face and one on one?

The answers are different for each person and each moment.  But use those answers to select wisely from the abundance of brilliant ideas out there.  Say “no” to the perfectly wonderful ideas that don’t really mean too much to you, so that you can say “yes” to the imperfectly wonderful moments that do.

Maybe there’s someone out there who really can’t live without trying all 63 of those new cookie recipes, and some families I’m sure will enjoy seeing every one of those 239 different ways a Christmas Elf can get into mischief.  But I think my family’s Christmas will still be merry and bright if we pass for now.

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43 Responses to 147 Things You Don’t Need to Do During the Holidays

  1. I love this so much!! I am really striving to say NO to some of the stuff I used to say YES to because I finally realized I cannot do it all AND enjoy this wonderful time with the people I love. I really appreciate the point you make that one person’s list of what really matters during the holidays may not look like another person’s list. What a beautiful way of encouraging us all to reflect on our time and our energy without judging how other people might choose to use their time and energy. Thank you so much!!!!

  2. notjustcute

    Thanks so much, Rachel. That means a lot to me. I’m glad to hear it came across the way I intended — not as a judgment of others, but permission to let go of the pressure and make it really work for you. Thanks for your example and influence in my own quest to simplify and be intentional!

  3. What a wonderful post. My goal for this season is to say no more than yes so that we actually have time to enjoy the yeses!

  4. Rebecca B

    This is a helpful post. Thanks for putting things into perspective. With my husband being from Germany, I want to do both German and American traditions. But really thinking about it, it’s a lot of work that may be too stressful for me. There’s St. Nicholas’ Day on December 6th, but then should we also do stockings on Christmas Eve? This is just one question that we’ll need to figure out as our children get older.

  5. christine

    As family traditions have lingered, yet families have grown, we are now buying gifts for *everyone.* Not just kids, but grown ups, grandparents, great grandparents, girlfriends….Plus neighbors and teachers and our charitable giving. I’m terribly overwhelmed managing all this shopping, which I have been doing since the summer and I’m still not done, not to mention trying to make things special for my own children at home! We’ve tried getting some family on board with name draws or grab bags in the past, but it was not met with any enthusiasm. But I realize that until I say NO, its just going to continue. So despite what other family member want to do in the future or if they still feel the need to gift us, I told my husband that in January, and ever so nicely, he’s to inform his siblings that in 2013, if you are out of highschool, we will not be giving gifts at Christmas as we have done in the past. Just thinking about this makes me so happy! We may opt to do some donations in their names, special baking or crafting for them, or surprise my college/20-something aged nieces and nephews with special gifts at other times of the year, but I’m stepping off this December roller coaster! Say yes to saying no!

  6. Yes! Yes! Yes! Genius – sure takes the pressure off. Now if I just wouldn’t have made so many commitments. I do not like putting together Gingerbread houses. But now I”ll get out the glue gun instead of looking for some gluey icing recipe on Pinterest. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas season.

    • notjustcute

      Funny, isn’t it? I had used gluey icings before, and then suddenly realized no one eats the house. The candy, maybe, so we attach that with the frosting. But the house? Hardly. The glue gun seems to work just fine! I laugh as I do it, because I’m sure I look like a crazy person, but somehow I feel so much more sane doing it that way!

  7. Jennifer

    As I scroll through all the Elf on the Shelf pictures that fill my newsfeed, I thought to myself, first, what in the heck is all this about and second, I would be so terrible at moving that silly elf around to a new place every evening. I usually fall asleep putting my kids to bed. :/

    • notjustcute

      I had to laugh, as I can totally relate to falling asleep while putting kids to bed! I’m sure the Elf on the Shelf is a great tradition for many families, and I’m fairly certain my boys would absolutely love it. I don’t fault anyone for doing it, it’s just that like you, I don’t know that it would be wise for me to try to squeeze one more thing in. Not right now anyway!

  8. Excellent. Thank you !
    I am still trying to figure out what Christmas for me and my family really is about compared to what it used to be with my parents and grannies. This is a great reminder to think what is really important to us and how to get there as easy, smooth and still enjoyable as possible.
    This year I am also pregnant with my second child so I really need to save my energy for what really matters.
    Great. And yes – I am SURE there are 147 things you shouldn’t do. At least!

    Merry Christmas to you then :)

    • notjustcute

      Nadine — Congrats on your pregnancy! You are wise to conserve your energy. It’s a hot commodity at that stage! Have a fantastic, beautiful Christmas, and good luck with the rest of your pregnancy!

  9. Our family can definitely do without the Elf on the Shelf. And standing in line for an hour to wait to sit on Santa’s lap. We can also do without 25 Christmas books, one to read every day during the Advent season (as much as I love books we can’t buy then store 25 books just for one holiday). Like you, we will also be making a “gingerbread” structure out of graham crackers, although ours will be a gingerbread nativity instead if a house.
    Thanks for the reminder that less is more!

    • Jenny

      “As much as I love books we can’t buy then store 25 books just for one holiday…”

      But you can check them out of the library! A couple of trips to the library during Advent (with or without kids) will provide you with plenty of fresh reading every year with nothing to store. Every children’s section I’ve ever been in has a Christmas section this time of year, so it’s easy to stop in and pick out something new and interesting.

  10. I loved this post. So well put. I too have felt the siren call of Pinterest at times and I’ve found some great things there but it gets overwhelming. Christmas cards is where I always feel so much pressure. I have lofty goals and see beautiful ideas, but really my talent and time limitations always makes me feel like I fall short. This year I realized it’s just a Christmas card, it’s not that big of a deal. I tried really hard to take a look at what was important to me this year and what was really appropriate for Harper’s age. I’m only doing stuff that makes us happy and I think are worthwhile to continue through the years. Yes I crafted some things but because I wanted to and not because I felt like that’s what good moms do. I also loved your caveat about not comparing lists. Thanks for writing this.


  11. Thanks for this post! I’m a working mom, so it’s really hard to find quality time with my two preschool-aged children, and when we have time together, we often aren’t relaxed enough to do huge projects. Simple does it, thought! BTW, for those looking for easy gingerbread houses, Trader Joe’s sells a fantastic kit – real ginger bread in pre-cut shapes, with all ingredients included: my kind of gingerbread house, and the children love it :)

    • notjustcute

      Great tip, Heike! We just got a Trader Joe’s here this past week, so one of these day’s I’ll have to make my maiden voyage!

  12. Great article! So much stress comes from what we think we “should do”. Putting the focus back onto what’s really important can help us enjoy our families more and help us keep our sanity.

  13. Jill

    Thank you for this thoughtful article… I say “yes please” to a simple and loving Christmas time!

  14. Elizabeth Kane

    Yes! I love the way you said it. And it’s so true: some things aren’t for me – at least right now.

    As much as I want to embrace more joy and excitement into my plans this month, I’m feeling the need to go into hibernate mode and scale back. I’ve found I do this when the holiday season gets too hustle, bustle or I’m overwhelmed scrolling through too many Pinterest boards. I think I’ll write a “this is what I want to enjoy” list, instead of a “this is what I HAVE to-do” list this weekend.

    • notjustcute

      “Not right now” works as a mantra for me. It’s hard to say “no” sometimes, and “not right now” feels better. I’m not saying “no” forever, it just doesn’t fit where I am now. Someday, maybe, but not right now.

      I love your idea of changing your list heading. Refocusing that little bit can make all the difference. Enjoy the holidays!

      • That’s fabulous. I was just telling an overwhelmed friend this very same thing the other day. She has several young ones and felt badly that she wasn’t doing “more” in a variety of areas. I told her there is a season for everything and right now, her season is to care for her little ones. I found out she later told this advice to another overwhelmed parent. So I think there are lots of parents who need this message and when they hear it, it does relieve the pressure and provides a new perspective. How wonderful you are spreading it, too. Thank you!!

  15. Megan

    Love it! I glue my gingerbread houses too! I always want to do so much for the holidays and never get it done. When the holidays are over I am disappointed because we didn’t do what I wanted to do! I took a new approach this year, and I am so happy I did! I made a list of things I wanted to do this season and then I made a shopping list of what I would need to do ALL of those things and went and bought everything. Then I made a paper chain out of basic red and green construction paper. I put all the things I wanted to do on the paper chain, while looking at a calendar. The stuff that takes time I scheduled for weekends and on the days of my kids Christmas program I put something like “call grandma” on the countdown included putting together goodie bags for teachers and all those kinds of things. We are loving it so far. We are getting the things done that I really want to get done and we are only doing one thing at a time. Purchasing everything ahead of time has been great! This has been a huge stress reliever for me!!

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  18. Yes, yes, yes! I often look at something on Pinterest and actually say out loud! That’s really nice, but it’s not for me! For some reason saying it out loud makes it sink in better. :)

  19. Kamie

    This is so funny, because I actually just found this on Pinterest! I love it there, but it can get overwhelming. As for our family, 4 out of the 6 of us have birthdays between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and three of them are still little kids. So, between Christmas and birthdays, it can get a little insane. I have learned I just need to plan ahead and realize I can’t possibly do everything I would like to, and that is OK. We actually had a half-birthday party for my son this summer at a water park, partly so he could have an outside party, and partly to make Christmas time a little easier for me. It is hard for me because I know how I want everything to look, and everything I want to do with my kids, and all the presents I want to make and buy for everyone. But then I step back and see how excited my kids were today that I put a few bows on the banister, and I know they don’t even know it is about 1/3 of what I would like to do with it. It is perfectly beautiful to them, and that is enough for me.

  20. Brie

    You have just given me the mental freedom to go to Costco and buy neighbor treats instead of spending the whole weekend making them or spending the whole weekend feeling guilty that I didn’t! Thanks:)

  21. Ellen

    I appreciate this. We have been blessed by flexibility in creating our Christmas traditions – my family never really celebrated Christmas and my husband’s family is far away and he is pretty casual about ‘must-dos’.

    So… we decorate a tree that we borrowed from a friend who got a real one this year. The kids have nearly free rein with the tree and my five year old keeps adding crafts to it. I’m finding I like it… I do tweak occasionally.

    We are doing ‘Truth in the Tinsel’ for advent. It is simple, planned out for you, and bible focused, so I love it. And since we did it last year, most of the ornaments are made and we can just hang them.

    The girls get stockings with two or three small items in them. Each family member gets to choose one item from a Compassion or other such gift catalog and we send that donation the week before Christmas. I bring small thank-yous to teachers and bosses.

    We go to the Christmas Eve service at our church, then afterwards we have soup and the men of my extended family design, bake and assemble a gingerbread house with dough I have made. We all decorate it on Christmas day – adults, mostly so relaxed fun, even incorporating our kids. And on Boxing Day, we have breakfast together, do a bit of sales shopping, and play games and eat oven appetizers for the evening.

    It is lovely, simple, low-stress, and non-materially focused. I like it a lot.

  22. I mainly read your blog for your sensory info- but loved this one- so TRUE on the Gingerbread house. I tried to make one this year from scratch! not only did it not really turn out, I destroyed my kitchen (the mess was awe inspiring) and all the kids wanted to do was eat the lollies- but i was too cranky by that point to let them LOL! so next year no gingerbread house for me!

  23. Nancy

    Even though I am reading this after Christmas it still hits home. Thank you!!!

  24. So glad you wrote this … it’s on my mind. I feel like I’m not doing enough and so it’s easy to feel that guilt for not making this the most magical yet. Today we are baking cookies … that should be enough.

  25. I LOVE this post, Amanda! Thanks for reminding us all to just settle down. Like you, our first gingerbread house was from…scratch! Gasp. I think I just needed the experience of making it. But now we are quite happy with our gingerbread graham cracker houses, which are also more economical by the way. We are also enjoying our store-bought advent calendar and simple crafts that the kids initiate and make themselves. Phew!

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  29. One of the things I love most about you is that you never shame other mothers & parents for the way they live and/or what mattra most to them. I love that you are supportive to whatever someone ultimately wants, and still encourage people to let go of whatever extra baggage is unnecessary to them this time of year. We have definitely honed in on a few things that really matter to us and most of them matter most because we are together making memories as a family and serving others. Thanks as always for your wise perspective-you always inspire me to want to stretch myself and grow and to do it in a way that’s best for me and my family Instead of someone else’s expectations.

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  31. Mparker

    I loved this and the glue gun idea. I have had a gingerbread kit from ikea on my shelf all month and have been paralyzed at the thought of trying to make frosting thick and strong enough to hold it together…but I can do a glue gun! Made my day!

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  33. Ann

    Several years ago we started making the gingerbread house after Christmas — often in that long week between holidays Dec 26 – jan 1! It ends up being fun, not pressure, stayng around for a month or so, photographed during and after, then put our for the crows and squirrels.

    My daughter and husband, with 5 children, started way back with the first 2 — Each child get 3 gifts from the parents — for the Three Wise Men. That’s it.

    Also, a healthy reminder — label your big gifts from YOU not Santa! Less fortunate kids at school may wonder why Santa can give an X-box to their classmate but they get boot and mittens.

    Finally — Give to your local “giving tree” It does make a difference in lives.

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