Downshifting the Holidays

I work at the post office. December is not a good month for me, time-wise or stress-wise.

Over the years, I’ve learned some strategies and shortcuts to slow down and simplify the holiday season. Feel free to adopt as many of them as you wish in order to help you maintain your sanity and good cheer during this busy time of year!

Gift Box
Gift Box (Photo credit: Maeflower72)

1. Prune Your Gift List

We draw names for gift-giving each year in my family and in my husband’s family. I cannot begin to tell you how much this practice has simplified the holidays for all of us. We still spoil the kids (a little), but the grown-ups appreciate simply spending time together while receiving a few thoughtful gifts.

2. Give Unique Experiences and Happy Memories

In their book Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending, Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton explain how people tend to derive greater pleasure from using their money to buy memorable experiences rather than spending it on “stuff.” As a downshifter trying to have less clutter in my life, I am a huge fan of holiday gifts that leave lasting memories, and don’t collect dust or take up space.

Who wouldn’t love a gift certificate for a massage, or a relaxing spa day? Or how about gift certificates to your favorite locally-owned restaurants? The recipients get to enjoy some good food and a special night out, while you help support your local economy.

Take your Mom out to lunch. Take your brother to a Celtics game. Give your nephew a lift ticket for his favorite ski resort. My husband and I like to give each other gifts that we can enjoy together: concert tickets, reservations for a weekend getaway, or plane tickets for a winter escape to a warmer climate.

3. Give the Gift of Time

We all have our to-do lists of household chores and projects. We all want more time to spend with our friends and families. Why not combine these two things into a win-win for everyone? Help your favorite neighbor clean out his garage or split and stack his firewood. Help your best friend organize her closets or paint her living room. Do you know any busy working mom who wouldn’t appreciate having her home professionally cleaned for the holidays?

4. Give Practical Gifts

I love to give, and receive, practical, useful gifts. Winter boots, warm socks, and long underwear make me a happy woman. One year, my husband got a grocery store gift card in a yankee swap. I was ecstatic! For downshifters living a scaled-back and basic existence, especially those with limited incomes, gifts of necessities like food and warm clothing, or even gas station gift cards or heating oil, go a long way.  I have also found that the poor college students on my list always appreciate cold, hard cash!

5. Breeze Through Parties and Get-Togethers

I’d rather spend my limited time enjoying the company of those near and dear to me than slaving in the kitchen, so I like to bring good, simple food to share at holiday gatherings. A nice red wine, a shrimp platter, a variety of gourmet cheeses, and warm “homemade” bread fresh from the bread machine are a few of my potluck staples.

But remember: sometimes it’s OK to just say no. You don’t have to accept every invitation. You don’t have to be the last one to leave every party. Get plenty of rest to be at your best, and hopefully you’ll avoid the flus and viruses that seem to stalk us all during this time of year. (Bonus!)

Christmas lights on Aleksanterinkatu.
Christmas lights on Aleksanterinkatu. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

6. Remember What It’s All About

Smile at strangers. Be patient with your fellow humans. Stuff some cash in the kettle for those less fortunate. Let someone cut in front of you in line. Sing Christmas carols. Play in the snow. Breathe.

And don’t forget to tip your mailman.




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