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Mom Confidential: How I Manage Holiday Stress


I’ve written about the benefits of minimizing clutter, whether you’re a Marie Kondo fan or a Swedish Death Cleaning type. With the former, you keep what brings you joy; with the latter, you toss everything to spare your kids the job after you go.
When we think of clutter, we think of mismatched socks, paperwork, dead batteries, old magazines, or the box of cords for obsolete electronics. Getting rid of these things lets us see what we really have and enjoy it more. Clutter can cause stress. Eliminating it can be calming.
For me, the holidays can cause stress. I know we’re supposed to be bathed in a holiday-happy glow from the moment a pumpkin-spiced latte hits our lips right through to New Year’s Eve. Sure, it can be a magical, joyful, sparkly time with carols and candy canes. But everything from political disagreements with your favorite uncle to the inability to find little Timmy’s preferred gaming system to unearthing the gravy bowl from the basement can cause emotional strain. Combine all of these with the pressure to festoon the house inside and out, and the holidays can do a number on the blood pressure. (Did I mention holiday traffic?)
Recently, in an effort to manage holiday stress, I applied my decluttering philosophy to the holiday season. I looked at my rituals, obligations, commitments, and expectations. Do they bring me joy? Do they bring my family joy? If not, perhaps they should be set on fire and pushed into the sea, like a Viking funeral. (The holiday commitments/expectations, not the loved ones, mind you.)
Christmas Dinner

I asked myself, whose idea of the holidays am I trying to emulate? My core memory of what Christmas should look like was formed by the Osmond Family Christmas Specials in the 1970s. I realized the key to finding my joy was giving up the idea that perfection looks like Donny and Marie smiling around the tree while Merle plays the piano and Little Jimmy opens presents.
Holiday stress is a combo platter of internal and external forces. Some of the holiday things I was doing were for no other reason than they were expected. I didn’t particularly like doing them. Getting rid of the things I don’t enjoy lets me have more time with the people and rituals I do love. 
Every year, usually in October, someone says to me, “I’ve got all my shopping done.” This is the same as saying to me, “I lost weight on vacation.” While I’m happy for you, I also hate you a tiny bit.
I’m a last-minute gal. I don’t have all my shopping done ahead of time. But instead of comparing my progress or trying to change when I shop, I’ve begun to look at my last-minute rush as part of the fun. Just because I slide down the Bat Pole to get the gifts purchased and wrapped in time, doesn't mean I don’t love my family as much as the next person. That hustle and bustle to the finish line is my tradition and I like it. I’m going to start saying, “I’ve got NONE of my shopping done,” with gusto! No shame in my week-of-Christmas game.
Celebrating on your own
I’m the one who puts the decorations up and takes them down. For years I had wreaths on every window and a manger scene and a centerpiece and two trees outside and a tree in the kids’ room, and more. Do you know what I like? A wreath and a tree. I will gladly enjoy my neighbor’s efforts at outdoing the Griswolds. But for me, a wreath and a tree do the trick. And they don’t leave me dreading the taking-down tasks.
Another holiday tradition of mine is ignoring ALL the good-health habits I’ve worked hard at during the year. I eat more, sleep less, and drink, uh, more, during the holidays. This year, my gift to myself is regular sleep and to hydrate with good ole water. A little fitness with my fa-la-la will also help me manage the pitfalls of too much holiday family fun. That said, cookies do bring me joy, so I’m keeping those.
The simple act of being together is the gift. Declutter the rest of it, and you find yourself at the corner of comfort and joy.
Happy Holidays!