The holiday season is rolling in, whether you’re ready for it or not. As your to do list gets longer and longer and the days (and your patience) get shorter and shorter, a stress-free Christmas might seem impossible.
Unfortunately, I can’t bring back summer weather and 9 p.m. sunsets. But I can offer some practical tips for a shorter to do list. And a little more patience...
Is a Stress-Free Christmas Even Possible for a Busy Mom?
Ask a little kid how many days until Christmas and watch their eyes light up as they yell out “11!!” with glee.
Ask a mom, and I bet she’ll also know exactly how many days are left ‘til Santa gets here. Probably even down to the hour.
Only instead of a Star of Bethlehem-quality shine in her eyes, you’ll see either the panic of Christmasses Past or the glaze of total shutdown.
While I can’t tell you how to avoid the emotional stress of holiday sibling squabbles, high-priced-gadget-filled wish lists, or unresolved childhood holiday issues, I can provide a few practical tips for a stress-free Christmas.
These tips for combatting stress at Christmas time will reduce some of the anxiety surrounding amped-up mom responsibilities that arrive with the holiday season. Responsibilities like:
- Fancier cooking
- Deeper cleaning
- Extra shopping, and
- Nearly impossible scheduling
I know you have plenty of extra “To Dos” right now.
So instead of yet another “To Do” list, here’s a “Don’t” list.
Read on for the 12 “Don’ts” of Christmas…
1) Don’t Give Up On What’s Already Working
The number one “don’t” for a stress-free Christmas is “don’t backslide.”
If you’ve finally managed to get into a morning household chore routine (making the bed, unloading the dishwasher, etc) or have resigned yourself to religiously tackling the sticky kitchen floor every Thursday evening without fail for the last 2 months, don’t give it up now.
It’s tempting to forego baby steps when you’re faced with overwhelming deep cleaning and kitchen-destroying bouts of baking.
After all, why bother with a daily bathroom sink wipe-down when you know you’ll need to totally overhaul the bathroom before company comes next week anyway?
Because that baby step routine will keep you going. It will keep you motivated.
It will keep you from curling up into a ball in your master bedroom closet with all the stocking stuffer candy you bought early and a bottle of the brandy meant for the eggnog.
And if you never get the time for the total scrub-down, at least the basics are done.
You’ve worked hard to get those baby steps set into habit mode.
Don’t give up on them now.
2) Don’t Keep Beating a Dead Reindeer
Don’t keep dragging out traditions nobody cares about anymore. Talk to your family and find out if they’re still interested in the annual sock puppet manger scene reenactment.
If not, skip a year and see if anyone misses it.
You can always add it back in next year.
Don’t worry, there’s a 90% chance your kids won’t be scarred for life. If they bring it up as adults, tell them Dad lost the puppets…
3) Don’t Make a Huge Mess
Seriously, this should be a big duh, but for those among us with impulse disorders (yours truly), it’s apparently too much for my brain to realize a major renovation isn’t the best idea for a stress-free Christmas.
So I’ll state it here in black and white (okay, technically in hex #959595 gray font on a #ffffff background):
Don’t start any new house projects right before the holidays.
If you didn’t get that embarrassing, peeling 80s wallpaper off your bathroom wall by Thanksgiving (at the latest), make peace with it until at least January.
And while you’re at it, decluttering your storage room and reorganizing your entire kitchen are also both out once December pushes onto the scene.
Moving stuff around to fit Christmas decorations or Christmas storage is fine, but I’m officially declaring “time” for the more involved stuff.
Instead, make a note to do what you can in January, put “decluttering and deep cleaning” on your October calendar for next year, and just deal with what you have for now.
4) Don’t Try to Shake Things Up
I get it. You’re easily bored.
As am I.
But Christmas isn’t the time to attempt a complicated new recipe for any crucial holiday parties or meals.
If you need a change or are dying to impress your in-laws with your culinary skills, choose an out-of-the-norm appetizer or dessert. Preferably one that can be made ahead so you’re not burning your regular-old-sweet-potato-casserole while you’re trying to whip gelatin into heavy cream for the home version of Black Tie Mousse cake.
Just don’t mess with an untested entrée or major side on the day of.
Unless you’re fine with takeout from Denny’s for Christmas Eve dinner…
For the record, I’ve attempted Black Tie Mousse cake on three separate occasions. Thank God none of those times involved a party or time constraints, because that gelatin heavy cream layer fails. every. time.
I’ve learned to just fork over the $30 to Olive Garden for half a cake and call it a day.
Also for the record, I, personally, would love Denny’s for Christmas Eve dinner. Just gotta get my family on board for that one…
5) Don’t Layer Your Clutter
Even if your house isn’t already super cluttered, dumping 10 years’ worth of Christmas flotsam into the mix is probably too much.
So don’t try to decorate for Christmas alongside your regular decorations (or everyday clutter). Instead, pack away all your regular coffee table and bookshelf doodads and temporarily replace them with your Nightmare Before Christmas ceramic collectibles.
Your house will look (and feel) much better than if you simply shove your Hobby Lobby tchotchkes to the side and cram Jack and Sandy (not to mention Zero and Oogie-Boogie) into every spare inch of leftover table space.
You can even store your everyday decor in the same totes you took the Christmas junk out of.
And if you normally have kitchen countertops loaded with paperwork and heaps of chip bags and droopy sacks of store bread, move that stuff elsewhere for now to make room for all those holiday gift tins of homemade cookies you’re trying not to eat.
Before I started making intentional room for Christmas to push itself into my house, my home always felt a little suffocating during the Christmas season.
6) Don’t Forget Everyone Else Is Christmassing Too
Don’t forget about all those other stressed-out shoppers.
When you plan anything at all involving OTHER PEOPLE, add a cushion. Once Black Friday is upon us, long lines, crowded parking lots, and customer service hold times are a fact of life.
And when you’re out and about doing all the stuff you procrastinated on, try to remember everyone else is just as stressed as you are.
7) Don’t Accidentally Make Underwear the Grand Finale
If you’re like me, as soon as something’s wrapped you have no idea what it is. It could be the Disney Princess kitchen set you scorched the earth to find, but as soon as it’s covered in grinning snowman paper, you have no freaking clue what’s in that overly large and oddly-shaped box.
Don’t lose track of what’s what. Come up with a code to scribble on the back to jog your memory.
At the very least, mark the big ticket items so gift-opening can end on one of those.
8) Don’t Set Yourself Up for After-Christmas Stress
Don’t stuff receipts any which where.
Designate a box or envelope for Christmas receipts and make sure you PUT THEM THERE.
And don’t get cute with where you store the receipt box. Put it with the gifts so you don’t lose receipts between unboxing online orders and getting the papers to your desk or kitchen.
9) Don’t GO “Grinch” When You’re Trying for “Elf”
Okay, so maybe you’re actually a Christmas fanatic? The mom who dons an elf hat on Black Friday and doesn’t take it off until New Year’s Day?
So in an effort to Christmas HARD and soak up all that Christmas spirit, you say yes to everything:
- Yes to attending every holiday gathering and event,
- Yes to conquering every family activity, and
- Yes to attempting every adorable Christmas craft that catches your eye
Until you hit a wall and all that Christmas spirit knocks you on your butt.
Instead, pick the stuff that’s important. And know that it’s okay to stay home and watch Rudolph while drinking store bought hot chocolate packets (although you probably should mix them with hot water).
Even if overscheduling yourself doesn’t wipe you out, disrupting your kids’ sleep schedules and routines over and over isn’t good. For anyone.
10) Don’t Let the Mundane Suck Up All Your Time
Don’t overload your calendar with anything that’s not time-sensitive.
Do your best not to schedule your cat’s yearly shots or your kids’ dental checkups in December. If you must, try for the week after Christmas.
If you’re reading this early enough, put all those visits you want to squeeze in before the end of the insurance-deductible-year in September or October.
Mid-November at the latest!
And don’t rely on scraps of paper to remember events and parties and school events. Move all dates over to your main calendar as soon as you possibly can.
If you don’t know how to use a calendar, check out this post for planner newbies.
11) Don’t Rely On Your Goldfish Memory
While you’re at it, don’t rely on your memory to keep up with all the events, tasks, and expectations.
We’ve already talked about your calendar for keeping track of scheduling, but don’t forget to use checklists.
Even if lists normally overwhelm you, simple holiday checklists will keep anxiety at bay because you know you’ve covered all the bases.
If you’re looking for a Christmas checklist, I have a post coming soon with a free, printable Christmas Eve checklist to set you up for a super smooth Christmas Day.
12) Don’t Be a Martyr
Don’t try to do everything yourself. You’ll just get resentful.
If your kids and spouse aren’t incredibly reliable with “To Do” lists, then at least give them the stuff that’s “extra.”
Then if it doesn’t get done, you can scoop up those tasks when you get time or let them go altogether.
Conclusion With a Bonus “Don’t” (a Stress-Free Christmas Must)
Chances are, most of your stress comes from worrying about keeping everyone happy – fulfilling expectations and making memories.
So it’s totally ironic that we end up turning into the Mom from Hell right at the time of year when we’re trying hard to be the best mom ever.
Whether you’re religious or not, I’m assuming if you’re reading this that you care about having a peaceful, family-fun-filled Christmas.
Just try to remember that goal when those cute, crafty reindeer candy canes you’re making for the Cub Scout party start to send you over the edge. Buy a box of brownie mix and call it a day.
Or when Buddy Junior can’t even stuff his big toe into his old dress shoes. If squeezing in a shopping trip before Christmas Eve services means less sleep for Mama, let him wear his magic-marker-covered sneakers to church.
I know you don’t want to look like a flaky mom to the ones who seem to have it all together, but sometimes we have to choose. Which choice will win out? Caring about Meanie Mom Judgment or avoiding being so tired you lose sight of the peace you wanted in the first place?
So my bonus “Don’t” (lucky 13) is (and I mean this in the most empathetic, understanding, and guilt-free way possible):
Don’t forget why you’re doing it all in the first place.
Wishing You and Yours a Stress-Free Christmas
From my house and heart to yours – I’m wishing you the calmest, most peaceful, most stress-free Christmas possible.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!