12 Ways to Have a Simpler, Happier Christmas

Christmas cat | Happy Simple Living blog


Dear friends,

What if this year, our holidays were a little easier?

What if we did fewer things, and enjoyed the season more?

What if we spent less, and didn’t take on even one dollar of debt?

What if we felt rested and content, instead of tired and stressed?

These are some thoughts and ideas to enjoy a more mellow Christmas. See what you think:

1. Practice the art of less

One of the most popular posts on this blog is “One Family’s Real Simple Christmas,” about my friends who decided to try a radically simple holiday. You might discover, like the McDonalds did, that letting go and simplifying will actually make your Christmas a whole lot better.


Peaceful church


2. Focus on what you truly love.

Grab a pen and paper, and spend a few minutes thinking about the traditions that are truly important to you and your family. Focus on those, and modify or let go of the rest.

I used to festoon every inch of this house for the holidays. My move toward minimizing began one year when I didn’t feel like putting out the special red Christmas towels. Guess what? Nobody cared or noticed. After that I started giving away decorations, and today we treasure our edited-down collection.

Would anyone really care if you left some things in the garage or basement this Christmas? One of my friends decided not to put out her 78-piece Snow Village last year, and she was downright giddy from all the time and effort she saved.

You might enjoy “Simplify the Holidays by Managing Expectations.”

3. Do small daily tasks.

For the next two weeks I’ll try to tackle a few holiday tasks each day, so that most of the decorating and shopping is done by the first of December.

Every little thing you do in November is a Christmas gift to yourself, so you have more time to enjoy the holiday season next month. Perhaps you’d like to address a few Christmas cards each day, or hang the outdoor lights now, or make and freeze a batch of Cinnamon Crispies for your Christmas morning brunch.


Beautiful deer in snowy field | Happy Simple Living


4. Freeze your credit cards.

I mean this literally. Take your credit cards, put them in a plastic container, fill almost to the top, and freeze solid. Put the block of ice in the furthest depths of your freezer. Then, explore ways to save and simplify without spending a lot of money.

You might enjoy “7 Debt Free Holiday Gifts to Give This Year.”

5. Cut back on gift giving.

Most people already have plenty of stuff. If you’re part of a group that traditionally exchanges gifts, why not suggest doing something fun instead? You may find that others share your desire to cut back.

Don’t get caught in the last-minute rush to buy stocking stuffers. You’ll find some good ideas in this article, “15 Inexpensive, Last Minute Stocking Stuffers.”


Christmas dogs at Happy Simple Living blog


6. Schedule fewer events.

Don’t over-commit and try to make every party. Put some fun family nights into your calendar, and block out some unstructured relaxing time, too.

7. Plan make-ahead foods.

Prepare foods in advance for things like Christmas morning brunch, dinner, parties, and gifts. You’ll find lots of ideas in this article, “Make a Holiday Food Plan.”



8. Give something away.

As we all know, it’s the giving that makes Christmas truly joyful. Even as we’re trying to be mindful about money during the holidays, we can look for opportunities to give to others… our time, our caring, our listening, and even a smile.

9. Explore sustainable choices.

Christmas tends to generate a lot of trash. For some frugal, green wrapping ideas you might enjoy the Happy Simple Holidays Pinterest board.

10. Reconnect and reflect.

During this Advent season, perhaps you might like to set aside a little extra time for prayer and meditation. Last year my mom and I both read a book called The Greatest Gift during December, and it helped me focus on the spiritual side of the Christmas season.

You might enjoy reading “7 Ways to Slow Down and Savor These Precious Days.


Snow and weeds


11. Embrace nature.

Take a walk on a frosty morning. Breathe the cold air. Collect pine cones. Put out bird seed. Look for ways to enjoy and appreciate winter’s quiet season of rest.

12. Practice Dolce Far Niente – the “sweet act of doing nothing.”

Make time to do nothing. Sit in front of the fire and watch the flames dance. Enjoy the sparkling lights of the Christmas tree. During the busy days of the holidays, make a special effort to give your soul and spirit a rest.


Dolce far niente

How About You?

How have you simplified the holidays? What are your hopes for this Christmas season? Have you cut back on gift-giving in favor of experiences? What are some of your favorite traditions? I always love to hear your thoughts and ideas.


The signature for Eliza Cross

Grateful thanks to Michael Cote, Forest Wander, TRF Mr. Hyde, Lottie, Alosh Bennett, and Phil Roeder for the use of photos.

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

12 Days of Holiday Stuff for 2016

‘Tis the season for holiday shopping, when our friendly retailers try to convince us that every surface is fair game for Christmas decorations.

Back by popular demand, we present our annual “non-shopping guide” to help you resist the retail call and enjoy the gift of a simple, peaceful Christmas season.

Here are this year’s picks for 12 holiday things we probably don’t really need:

1. Holiday refrigerator handle covers.


Christmas fridge handle covers


2. A poinsettia sofa cover.


holiday sofa cover


3. A snowman family decal for your garage door.


holiday garage door


4. A pair of green Christmas tree tongs.


Christmas tree tongs


5. An inflatable holiday wreath that counts down the number of days remaining until Christmas.


holiday countdown wreath


6. A set of Santa hat chair covers:


santa hat holiday chair covers


7. A Santa toilet tissue holder.


holiday toilet tissue holder


8. A festive solar lighted mailbox gift box cover:


festive holiday mail box cover


9. Sports-themed nutcrackers:


sports nutcrackers


10. The Santa hat condiment set.


santa hat condiment set


11. Holiday curtains.


Christmas drapes


And finally…

12. A Christmas Tree toilet plunger.


Christmas tree toilet plunger


How about you? Have you discovered any unique holiday items that should have been included in this collection?

Whether you’re decorating to the nines this year or keeping things simple, here’s to a joyful advent season and more time for the things that matter.


The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. The Happy Simple Holidays Pinterest board has ideas for simple, natural decorations, plus easy recipes and more.

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

A Roundup of Thanksgiving Recipes and Tips


Dear friends,

Happy Thanksgiving countdown! Here are some of the articles and recipes I’ve been enjoying this week, plus a few posts from the archives:

We’ve all heard the story of the pilgrims arriving at Plymouth Rock, but have you seen the actual rock? View the (somewhat underwhelming) rock here, read a factual account of the journey, and hear Jeffrey Lewis’s song about the Mayflower.

Make a pretty toilet paper tube decoration for your wall. I’m not kidding! This fun craft project is one of Happy Simple Living’s most-pinned pages.


decoration toilet paper tubes


Have you ever massaged your turkey? It might sound a little kinky, but this roast turkey recipe (shown at the top of this post) makes a bird that’s golden and crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. Includes a brine recipe, too.

These wonderful conversation starting questions from the Six Sisters might help you foster a dinnertime dialogue that doesn’t center on politics.

Oh, how I love the Pioneer Woman…let me count the ways. I love Ree’s recipe for luscious, creamy mashed potatoes, which can be completely prepared ahead of time.

How about adding a little bacon to your green bean casserole?

Bacon elevates Brussels Sprouts, too.


carving turkey


It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without our Pop announcing that he is going to “disassemble the turkey.” Here’s how to carve a turkey just right.

Make your own easy cranberry sauce.

One of my dream assignments last month was developing this Chocolate Praline Pumpkin Pie for Honduras Chocolate Company.


chocolate pumpkin pie


For a cool change, how about a Pumpkin and Butter Pecan Ice Cream Pie?

Whether your Thanksgiving celebration is large or small, classic or nontraditional, I wish you a peaceful day with love and laughter around your table.


The signature for Eliza Cross
P.S. Be sure to wrap up and refrigerate your turkey bones and scraps. On Friday, I’ll share a delicious homemade turkey soup recipe plus 14 other ways to use leftover turkey.


About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

9 Ways to Enjoy a Happy Simple Holiday Season

Peaceful church

Photo: ForestWander.com

Two weeks ago, I wrote about enjoying more peace during the holidays. Many of you have shared your stories about simplifying, which I love hearing:

“Last year, I decided not to put out the 85-piece snow village,” writes Lauren F. “Instead, I arranged some candles and fresh pine boughs on the credenza. My family hardly noticed!”

“Money’s tight, so I bought everyone on my gift list a used book last Christmas,” Mindy A writes. “I stayed within my budget, and everyone was excited to have a new book to read.”

“My best friend and I decided to stop exchanging Christmas presents and do something together instead,” writes Ellen M. “Last year we took our daughters to see the Nutcracker Ballet, and it was such a festive, memorable evening.”

Here are some ideas for ways to truly enjoy this special season:

1.  Do a little less. Commit to fewer holiday parties, events and obligations. Cut back a few tasks here and there. Block out some unstructured time for YOU, when you can simply relax.


"Do we have to go to the Ugly Sweater party?"

“Do we have to go to the Christmas Sweater party?”


2. Make a commitment not to incur any holiday debt. Make a budget, and explore creative ways to enjoy the season without spending too much.

3.  Rethink and retool traditions, especially those that add stress to your life or involve a lot of work. This year, my cookie exchange group is having a “cookie-less exchange” because one of our members is on a special diet. We’re each giving away our favorite book from 2016 instead. It might be my imagination, but the girls seem positively giddy at the prospect of taking a break from baking and wrapping all of those cookies.


Photo: Susanne Nilsson

Photo: Susanne Nilsson


4.  Don’t put out every decoration. Perhaps this year you could honor your most special pieces in simple arrangements. If you don’t miss certain decorations, this might be the year to give some holiday stuff away.

5.  Make a holiday To Do list, and save it on your computer for future reference. Tackle as many tasks and errands as possible in November. Whittle that list down a little bit every year.

6.  Agree with friends and families to give fewer gifts. Have fun together instead.

7.  Celebrate the spiritual side of the holiday season. Perhaps you’d like to read a special scripture or story together as a family. (My mom and I are reading The Greatest Gift during Advent.) Or set aside a little quiet time so that you can think and pray and meditate. Perhaps your heart is to help those who might need a little extra this season.


winter sunset

Photo: Bert Kaufmann


8.  Spend time outside. Enjoy the beauty of winter’s quiet rest. When I am outdoors, I notice how much easier it is to forget about troubles and feel grateful for simple things like the Canadian geese flying overhead or a pair of squirrels scrambling up a tree.

9.  Allow for down time. Watch a family holiday movie in your pajamas. Play a board game. Sit by the fireplace with a cup of hot chocolate. Enjoy a leisurely walk.

What do you think of these ideas?

Here’s to a peaceful, joyous holiday season filled with love, laughter, and the things that really matter.


The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. If you need ideas, I have a “Happy Simple Holidays” Pinterest board with natural decorations, easy recipes and homemade gift ideas. I welcome your suggestions for this board.

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

5 Ways to Simplify and Enjoy a More Peaceful Holiday Season

Beautiful deer in snowy field | Happy Simple Living

Preparing for a Guest Inspires the Best Christmas Ever

Some years ago, my friend’s mother in Norway decided to come for a Christmas visit. She would arrive for a long stay on December 1, so my friend worked hard to get the major holiday tasks done ahead of time. Her November was quite busy and she felt a little stressed, but then she had a nice surprise.

When her sweet Mama arrived, all of the holiday “chores” were done. Because my friend had done everything early, she was able to relax and enjoy the holiday season — for the first time in her adult life. They did fun things like sledding and decorating cookies and watching movies, and mostly, they simply enjoyed time together — sweet, un-busy time.

How About You?

Perhaps you’ve already figured out how to enjoy a low-key, peaceful holiday season. For others, the holidays can be a stressful season of excess spending, over-scheduling, not enough sleeep, and impossible expectations.

My friends, let’s quietly and purposefully reverse that trend. If you’re reading this blog, you’ve probably already taken some steps to simplify your holidays.

December first is four weeks from today. What if eliminate the holiday stuff that no longer brings us joy, and aim to have the extra things done by month’s end? What if we cut back, simplify, and tackle the important tasks early, so we actually have time to relax and enjoy the season?

Holiday Christmas lights - photo by Michael Gill.

Here are 5 ideas that might help you create a more relaxing holiday:

1. Write a list or a few sentences about the experiences that would make this Christmas season feel really special to you. What would put the joy and meaning back into your celebration? You may want to read “Your Best Holidays Ever” for some ideas.

2. Make a budget for gifts and festivities. Keep it realistic, and commit not to take on even one dollar of credit card debt this season.

3. Make a gift list. Whittle it down. Talk to your friends and family, and challenge any tradition that involves mindlessly exchanging gifts. Chances are, everyone will be in favor of having more fun and spending less on stuff.

4. Simplify. One of this blog’s most-read posts is the story about the McDonald family, who decided to drastically simplify their holidays—with very satisfying results. Check out “One Real Family’s Real Simple Christmas,” and you might be inspired to do the same.

5. Think about you. What would you like for Christmas this year? A new novel? Cozy slippers? Chocolate-covered caramels? Let’s all commit to finagling a little something special for ourselves this season, even if we have to do the buying or making.



What’s On Your Wish List?

These are the things I hope to do this Christmas season:

*Simplify and have time to relax.

*Make memories with my loved ones.

*Find ways to be generous.

*Have quiet time to meditate, read and pray.

*Seek to experience the true spirit of Christmas.

*Spend less, and end the year with NOT ONE PENNY of new debt.

*Find less wasteful, eco-friendly alternatives whenever possible.

*Eat well and get plenty of rest.

*Experience peace, comfort and joy.

*Have fun!

I’d love to hear your thoughts about how you celebrate the holidays in a meaningful way.

Ho, ho, ho and a hug,

The signature for Eliza Cross


P.S. Grateful thanks to Nina Matthews Photography for the wonderful Hope photo, and to Michael Gill for the crazy Christmas light photo.

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Learn From My Mistakes This Holiday Season

Poinsettias | Happy Simple Living blog

Since you’re reading a happy simple living blog, perhaps you hope to simplify your holiday celebrations and have more fun this year. Me, too! Let’s join hands and vow to have an easier, more joyful, peaceful holiday this year. We can do it.

Be Vigilant in the Coming Days

The decisions we make in the next week or two could greatly affect our collective holiday happiness. Pay special attention to the holiday invitations that start to roll in. We have three December weekends before Christmas – how do you want to spend those precious days and evenings?

I love making lists, so I wrote out a list of people I want to see for holiday celebrations. Just jotting down the names of special friends and family took me all of two minutes, and really helped clarify my thoughts.  As a result, I decided to skip a couple of my organization-sponsored holiday parties so I can spend more time with those I love.

Christmas cat | Happy Simple Living blog

I’m also working on a gift list, and a ‘Holiday To Do’ list. Both of these lists are short and sweet. Yippee!

Guess what? I also made a list for you because I want your holidays to be merry and bright. Let me save you a whole bunch of trouble and spare you from these holiday blunders I’ve made in years past:

Eliza’s List of Things Not To Do This Holiday Season

* Don’t commit to consecutive parties on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights with no down time. Leave some space in your schedule to relax.

* Don’t go to several parties in one night and “make an appearance” at each.

* Don’t run out and spend $50 on more stocking stuffers two days before Christmas.

* Don’t go to the shopping mall during the week before Christmas. In fact, try to avoid the mall completely during December if you can. (Have you noticed that, like the Hotel California, the roads lead freely into the mall — but you can never exit the parking lot when you want to leave?)


* Don’t feel like you need to give a reciprocal gift to everyone who gives you a gift. If you receive a present and are empty-handed, let go and express your grateful, gracious joy in receiving a surprise.

* Don’t stress if your gift is less expensive than a gift given to you (even if someone surprises you with, say, a diamond and aquamarine necklace, and you present them with, say, a wooden dreidel).

Barbie-Shower* Don’t dash into Toys ‘R’ Us at 5:55 p.m. on Christmas Eve for something you had firmly decided against, like, say, the plastic Barbie Shower your daughter wanted but you knew would lose its appeal within 10 minutes. (Little-known fact:  The Barbie Shower was the lamest toy ever manufactured.)

* Don’t buy last-minute gifts because you worry that you didn’t do quite enough. Remember that big, sickening pile of Christmas morning wrapping paper? Stick to your budget.

* Don’t go into debt buying holiday presents. Ever, ever, ever.

* Don’t drink one too many eggnogs at a holiday party, and waste the next day feeling tired and crappy.

* Finally, my dear ones, don’t wear yourself out with so much shopping and cooking and wrapping and running around that you wake up sick on Christmas morning.


Winter sunset | Happy Simple Living blog

How About You?

What do you plan to do this year to have a happier, simpler holiday? Are you cutting back on the shopping and craziness, and spending more time with your loved ones having fun? I’d love to hear your thoughts and strategies for celebrating this season of peace and joy.

Ho ho ho!

The signature for Eliza Cross

Grateful thanks to Jamie McCaffrey for the lovely winter sunset photo, Michael Cote for the wonderful kitty photo, Shimelle Lainel for the pretty present photo,  and H. Matthew Howarth for the festive poinsettia photo.

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

10 Ways to Enjoy a Happier, Simpler Holiday Season This Year

Beautiful deer in snowy field | Happy Simple Living

Some years ago, a friend’s mother-in-law traveled from her native Norway to spend Christmas with the family. She was to arrive December 1 and stay for 3 1/2 weeks, so my friend spent November in a frenzy of preparations so that everything would be ready for her mother-in-law’s visit.

But then something extraordinary happened. With the decorations up and packages shipped and shopping done, my friend discovered that — for the first time in a long time — she was able to really enjoy the holiday season without last-minute trips to the mall, overspending, or stress. The family later agreed it was their best December ever.

This story resonated with me, and caused me to re-think my own holiday habits and try some new tactics. My goal is to be “All Done By December One” so we can have fun during the holiday season.

What do you think about these ideas?

1.  Simplify. Do less. Commit to fewer holiday events and obligations.

2.  Let go of traditions that aren’t working, especially those that involve a lot of work.

3.  Make a list of holiday tasks, and save it on your computer for future reference. Get as many holiday tasks and errands done as possible in November.

4.  Agree with friends and families to give fewer gifts. Have fun together instead.

5.  Don’t put out every decoration. Honor a few special pieces in simple arrangements instead. Declutter the holiday bins and give some stuff away.

6.  Make room for the spiritual side of the holiday season. Read a special scripture or story together as a family, or set aside a little extra time to pray and meditate.

7.  Allow for down time. Watch a family holiday movie in your jammies and drink hot chocolate. Play a game. Go for a walk.

8.  Spend more time outside. Enjoy the beauty of winter’s quiet rest.

9.  Don’t incur any holiday debt. Make a budget, and don’t overspend.

10.  Look for opportunities to give to those less fortunate.

If you need ideas, I have a “Happy Simple Holidays” Pinterest board with easy recipes, homemade gifts, and simple, natural decorations. I welcome your suggestions for this board.

If you’re a Type A like me, you might enjoy the process of breaking down holiday tasks into a daily routine. The Coach.me app is free, and if you search for my profile (Eliza Cross) you can join a group of people working on the daily goal of “10 minutes doing holiday-related tasks.”

For a real-life perspective, “One Real Family’s Real Simple Christmas” is a story about my friends the McDonalds, who tried a drastically simplified Christmas with great results.

How about you? Will you be simplifying your holiday celebrations this year? I’d love to hear your thoughts and plans.


The signature for Eliza Cross

Grateful thanks to Jan Tik for the use of her beautiful photo.


About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Remembering Those We Love and Miss on Dia de los Muertos

Dia de los Muertos | Happy Simple Living blog

I used to think that the Latin American holiday of Dia de los Muertos was a bit morbid, with its parades of skeletons and people painting their faces like skulls. However, I’ve come to appreciate the beauty of remembering and celebrating the lives of those we love who have departed this earth.

For the past several years on November first, I’ve created a small arrangement of photos, flowers, remembrances and candles to commemorate Dia de los Muertos.

This year, the bookshelf holds photos of Dad, my brother Jorma, and my maternal grandparents, Nanny and Poppy, along with religious icons and mementos like Nanny’s pin and Poppy’s fishing flies. Flowers and roses represent dear ones we lost this year, including our friend Dale’s sweet son Billy Betts, my daughter Gracie’s friend Chris Mullinex, and most recently, our friend Abbie’s beloved father who died just last Wednesday.

The candles will burn all day today, and I find such sweet comfort in celebrating these precious lives.

How about you — are you thinking of someone special on Dia de los Muertos?

May our loved ones rest easy and know that we hold them in our hearts, today and always.

Hugs and happy November,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Don’t Fall Off the Christmas Eve Day Spending Wagon

Red birdfeeder in snow

I love Christmas Eve. We always go out for a festive dinner and attend the candlelight service at church, and my inner child still feels the excitement and anticipation of Christmas.

But Christmas Eve day is another story. I’m acutely aware of some mysterious force that tries to draw me and my wallet out for some last-minute purchases. The little voice sounds something like this:

“You didn’t buy enough for [insert name here.]”

“You need a few more stocking stuffers.”

“You really should pick up one more gift for [name].”

I’ve been known to plan thoughtfully throughout the season only to blow the budget on Christmas Eve day. One year I dashed to Toys ‘R Us on December 24 five minutes before closing to buy my daughter a Barbie Shower.  I’d been firmly convinced that she wouldn’t play with it, but I succumbed at the last minute because she said she wanted it.

My dear daughter played with that Barbie Shower for approximately fifteen minutes before abandoning it for something else.

On this precious day before Christmas, may we all know that whatever we’ve done is just right.

Our preparations are perfect, and we don’t need more.

Merry, Merry Christmas from our house to yours,

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. The sixth annual January Money Diet begins next week, and you can join free here.

Photo:  Walt Stoneburner

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.