French lifestyle

26 ways to simplify the holiday season

snow covered Alps

Are you ready to simplify the holiday season this year once and for all? If you’re like most of us, between Thanksgiving and New Year’s day, your weeks are full of dedicated hours rushing around to shop, bake, plan, eat, attend parties, concerts, office parties and much more.  On top of it, you might have quotas and projects to finish at work! Here are 25 ideas on how to say “no” to everything that is unimportant and simplify the holiday season once and for all.

Forget the cards

I admit, this is easy for me because the tradition does not exist in France.  But once I let it go, I realized the time spent thinking and implementing this tradition was not making me happy. If you think of the time, cost, and environmental impact of the card tradition, it starts to seem like an obvious obligation to let go unless it’s your passion. Instead, send an online card, email your photo (make it low resolution), or post on social media platforms. The only individuals I send cards to are elderly relatives who are not connected to social media or email. 

Free family portraits

Smartphone cameras today take pictures that rival professional ones. Instead of having a fancy photographer take your family portrait, have a friend take a family photo. Since it’s free, you can do what you’d like and get creative. Then send or post your favorite photo (or photos!) online.

One present policy

This is probably the easiest way to simplify the holiday season. We enacted the one present policy years ago when the children were young. When kids have only one gift to choose, they think hard about it. Imagine the savings of money, time, energy and, once again, environmental impact?  I make up for it by having a stocking with fun little surprises that aren’t costly and usually useful.

Creative wrapping

In order to reduce holiday waste, we no longer buy wrapping paper.  We wrap presents with what is already available – a pretty piece of material, newspaper, already used wrapping bags.  The list is endless and here are some more creative ideas.  Help the environment and your budget!  It’s also one less item on your shopping list and helps to simplify the holiday season.

The gift of time

For spouses and partners — a wonderful way to simplify the holidays even more is to decide to not exchange gifts at all. Instead, agree to spend special time together after or during the holiday season. Try a couples massage, a weekend away, shared sessions with a personal trainer, a holiday themed date night, your favorite hobby together that you normally don’t find time for. 

Choose invitations wisely

Instead of accepting every holiday invitation you receive, politely decline all but the most important ones with the people who mean most to you. Quality is more important than quantity.  Go see your children in the holiday concert or play, but maybe skip holiday drinks with coworkers that you can see any time of the year.

You cannot save the entire planet

During the holidays, charities go full force collecting money or other donations. Don’t feel you have to be involved with every good cause out there. Choose the one or two causes that resonate the most and get as generous as you can or like.  Like parties and gifts, less is more and better for everyone involved.

Make a holiday potluck

If you host big holiday dinners or get togethers, ask your guests to contribute different parts of the meal. This is no time to be superwoman or superman. Don’t be shy and ask for help. If you are a guest, bring a contribution. If your children are old enough, have them help you decorate for the holidays, take coats at the entrance, help serve or do dishes. Assign holiday tasks to each member of the family. Post them on the fridge or write them on a chalkboard.

Downsize your decorations

It shouldn’t take you more than two or three hours to put up decorations and another two or three to take them down and store them (at the most). If it takes longer, start simplifying! I have a friend who leaves her decorations up until February or March because it takes her so long to take them down. While you are going through your decorations, declutter the ones that aren’t special or nostalgic and take a box or two to your local donation center.

Commit to occasional indulgences

Sure, the holidays are a time to indulge in special food traditions and eating in general. Make sure to indulge when you want to. Just keep it moderate (choose the great stuff, not every reindeer cookie on site) and make sure to include lots of vegetables, fruits, and whole foods. Your waistline, your mood, and your energy level will all be positively affected! Simplify the holiday season while enjoying occasional treats.

Limit alcohol consumption

Champagne, wine, eggnog — the holidays are riddled with celebrations, and that almost always means alcohol. If you can minimize alcohol intake during this period, it’ll help you keep sleep patterns regular, mood positive, and energy level high! Who wants to go through the holidays hung over? Like holiday foods, choose only certain times to indulge. And make sure to drink loads of water as well!

Get out daily

Simplify the holiday season while simplifying your fitness routine. Make sure that every day (whether or not you have the day off), you get outside and at least take a walk or run, or get to the gym — even if it’s a different hour or class than you are used to. If you’re stuck indoors, get on YouTube and find a 15- to 20-minute fitness video (here is my favorite fitness YouTuber) you can do as soon as you wake up! And my other personal favorite is the 7-minute app (free or paid version).

Create a festive capsule wardrobe

Have one or two great outfits for the holidays and wear them to all your parties and celebrations. Changing your accessories and shoes, your hair, makeup, nail polish, and jewelry will make it seem like a whole new outfit. Basta!


Take the time to reflect on the ending year. What were the highlights? Did you accomplish your goals? Would you like to improve anything this coming year? What have you learned? Can you get rid of anything to help focus on the most important parts of your life – the people, the causes, the work.  Look at the big picture and make your time off more meaningful. 

Let go of perfection

Forget scrubbing the house from top to bottom in preparation for the holidays. Table decorations can be simple and menus can be downsized slightly. The outside Christmas lights don’t have to be seen from an airplane.  Let go: No one will judge you. Simplify the holiday season and stop caring what others think of you (this goes for the whole year). 

Get spiritual

Whether or not you are religious, take some time out during the holidays to pray, meditate, or find stillness in nature. Is there anything more spiritual than a snow-covered mountain on a quiet winter morning? Focusing on the bigger picture and connecting with nature are certain to bring some inner peace during a busy month.

Find reasons to be grateful

Violent world events and tragedies are a poignant reminder that life is precious and fleeting. Gratitude for everything from our families and loved ones to the little luxuries, such as delicious coffee, a great book, or a fabulous yoga teacher, is the true heart of the holiday spirit.


Decluttering your home can make you feel lighter, accomplished, energized. The holidays are no time to start a massive decluttering campaign (save that for January!). However, while you are taking out decorations, digging around for holiday wrapping paper, and searching for table linens, keep an eye out for items you never use. Put them in a bag and drop them off at the local donation center during your next errand run. It will make the rest of your holiday less stressful and give you a head start on post-holiday cleanup. Here’s a list of 28 places to drop off all different kinds of donations.

Up your soup intake

Copy the French and alternate days of indulgence and rich food with days of vegetable soups and loads of water. Go ahead and have your cake, but the following day try a delicious, nutrient-dense soup like this one.

Think about yourself when you cook

Some people bake nonstop for weeks (or months!) before the holidays. Instead of baking around the clock, why not spend that time preparing healthier meals that you can freeze in the weeks leading up to the holidays? Then, when you need a quick meal, you can defrost one at a moment’s notice! You can still make your famous apple pie. Just spend more time investing in food that’s going to be satisfying and nourishing to you rather than the food you think other people want or expect.

Don’t stay out late any time you don’t want to

Don’t feel pressured to be the last guest to leave a celebration! Like food and alcohol intake during the holidays, choose wisely when you will make a real night out of an occasion. If there is no reason to stay late at the office Christmas party, Christmas Eve, or even New Year’s Eve, then come home and hit the sack early. 

Reconnect easily

Send a personal email or text message to a handful of people you have been thinking about recently and have not been in touch with. You (and they) will feel so happy to reconnect. Don’t feel like you have to update them on the last five years of your life. Just “writing to say hello and tell you I’m thinking about you” will do the job! This is especially relevant to older relatives who might be living on their own or feel “forgotten” by the younger generations. You can change their holiday with just a quick phone call.

Show gratitude to the people you see every day

If someone is in your daily sphere, send a quick message, or tell them in person that you appreciate them. Even if they aren’t close to you, your child’s teacher, your sports coach, or a grocery store clerk will enjoy being told they are appreciated.

Resolve to no resolutions

Instead of writing down a few cliché, overblown resolutions (quick weight loss or other unattainable goals for example), try resolving to be good to yourself in the new year. Feed yourself healthy food often, move often, and take time to relax every day for at least a few minutes. Realistic, moderate habits will change your life drastically compared to outrageous resolutions that will likely be discarded in a matter of weeks.

Schedule a personal day

Between Thanksgiving and the New Year, if it’s possible, schedule a “personal” day where you take time by yourself to recharge, relax, reflect and pamper yourself.  Depending on your situation and obligations, this may be tricky.  But start calling on babysitters, family members, co-workers, or whoever can help out so that you can take a breather in the middle of a busy season.

Show your love

When it comes down to it, is there anything more important in life than spending time with loved ones? Keeping this in perspective will help all of the above happen more naturally. When you focus on the essential, everything else (expectations, duties, and obligations) starts to dissolve on its own.

If this has inspired you to simplify your life and make positive changes to your wellbeing and self-care routines, please sign up for my newsletter and I will send you some helpful tips, trends and links to keep you informed and motivated!

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