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Uncluttered Home for the Holidays

Would You Rather Be Decorating or Celebrating?

As children, we all loved the holidays. All the presents and decorations and wonderful tasty treats—the stuff of everyone’s childhood memories! Conveniently for us, we didn’t realize what a tremendous amount of effort went into the beautiful memories our families created. Now we want to make the season magical for our own families and friends, but we often pay for the sense of wonder with a to‑do list that squashes our peace of mind and compounds our stress levels.

Sparkling holiday candles

What if you spent the holidays in a spirit of family and celebration, instead of overwhelmed by stuff that doesn’t matter?

A big part of holiday labor is decorating. Given our predisposition to buy, buy, BUY, many of us have huge collections of holiday decorations already, and we add more every year. When it comes time to decorate, it can be like we’re opening a retail Christmas store in our homes. Tons of work, and then we’re drowning in decorations! Is it really necessary to go so overboard?

Maybe we overdo for the kids, or to conform to family tradition. Sometimes we do it because Christmas shopping is a great excuse to throw caution to the wind and give our inner compulsive shopper permission to come out and play. But “everything in moderation” can serve as a guide for holiday traditions. A few changes might make your holiday more enjoyable and less stressful, with more time for getting together instead of getting things ready.

I have a friend whose husband died in October after three years of battling cancer. She’s 76 and the matriarch of her family. She’s always hosted the big family gathering for Christmas, but this year she’s not up for it. She’s not feeling jolly, and it’s too much effort at her age to plan and prepare to host a party for 40 people. She sent an e‑mail to the family to say that it was time to pass the torch to the next generation—it was someone else’s turn to handle the huge affair.

Her announcement created an uproar! The whole family is freaking out. I believe that their panic arises from refusing to let their family tradition adapt to changing times. And they’ve never thought about the burden they were placing on my friend. They assumed that she would be in charge until she died. They’d be better off now if they’d shared the burden, reduced the effort required of any one person, and let their celebratory tradition evolve into something cooperative and flexible.

Are your family holiday traditions a source of joy or an annual burden? Do they still fit your available time, your budget, and your space? Now is a good time to ask these questions and make some choices—and maybe some changes.

What could you do differently? Every aspect of the season can be trimmed to lighten your load. Look at all the things that you normally do by default, and consider whether they still resonate with everyone. Your traditions may include some old habits that no one would miss! Could you enhance the magic of the season by reducing your workload and your seasonal clutter? What if you spent the holidays in a spirit of family and celebration, instead of overwhelmed by the stuff that doesn’t matter?

In the spirit of a clutter-free season, here are a few ideas for simplifying and streamlining the holidays for you and your loved ones:

For decorating:

  • Thin down your collection of decorations to include only your favorites.
  • Make a plan for the smallest acceptable amount of decorating.
  • Don’t add anything new to the holiday decorating collection this year.
  • Take time to experience other people’s holiday spreads in lieu of doing so much work yourself.

For gift-giving:

  • Give experiences instead of objects.
  • Give consumables, such as food and drinks.
  • Focus on a few special and carefully chosen items instead of going for volume.
  • Choose gifts that are portable and easily wrapped or bagged.

For activities:

  • Choose activities that include as many people as possible.
  • Everyone experiences the holidays in their own way, so be okay with those who opt out of an activity.
  • Don’t overbook! Even though it’s the holidays, there are still only 24 hours in a day.
  • Make an effort to try one thing that’s new and different. Maybe you’ll start a new tradition!

From The Clutter Fairy family to yours, have a peaceful and joyous holiday season and a happy—and less cluttered—new year! 


This article originated as the program notes from the December 8, 2011, meeting of the Houston Clutter Coaching Meetup Group. The group is free and open to the public. Visit the meetup group page for information about upcoming meetings.

The article was also featured in our December 2011 e-mail newsletter. To subscribe to our newsletter, please use the “Subscribe” form, above right.

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