Simplify the Holidays by Managing Expectations

Stockings hung at the chimney
Photo: Jeff Turner

One of the first steps to simplifying the holidays is rethinking our expectations. Some of the things I’ve done over the years were borne of my own perfectionist tendencies, and others reflect old habits I’ve repeated over and over.

See if you can relate to any of these statements about the holidays:


1. I need to give a holiday present to anyone who gives me a gift.
2. To avoid embarrassment, I should even keep some spare, pre-wrapped presents on hand for surprise gifters. It would be nice to arrange these gifts in a vintage, hand-carved wooden bowl on a small table by the front door.
3. My gifts should be equal in price and scope to any gifts I receive.
4. Our family’s gifts should be wrapped in pretty paper, adorned with bows, and finished with matching gift tags. If possible, they should have a coordinated look under the Christmas tree. If they match the tree skirt, all the better.
5. I should wrap, pack and ship presents for all of our immediate family.

The Christmas Tree

1. The tree should be fresh and perfect, with no scraggly branches or bald spots.
2. The lights should be strung evenly and fill the entire tree.
3. We must hang every single ornament we own on the tree, and they should be evenly spaced.
4. The smaller ornaments should go near the top, and the larger ornaments should go near the bottom.

Interior Decorations

1. The bathroom towels should be replaced with Christmas towels. Never mind that the red towels leave a faint pink cast on everyone’s hands.
2. Each bathroom should have a special holiday decoration on the counter, and Christmas-themed soap dispensers.
3. The throw pillows should be replaced with festive holiday pillows.
4. The stair railing should be trimmed with pine boughs (preferable fresh-cut) and little white lights.
5. We must put out every single holiday decoration we own, from the Christmas salt-and-pepper shakers to the entire Snow Village.
6. A second Christmas tree — say a kitchen-themed tree hung with cute holiday cookie cutters — is a nice touch.

Exterior DecorationsHappy Clark Griswold

1. The front door mat should be replaced with a special Christmas-themed door mat.
2. A wreath of pretty greens — perhaps some that I gathered in the woods and attached decoratively to a wire frame — should hang on the door and look fresh throughout the holidays. It would be especially nice if I decorated it with an assortment of seasonal fruits, nuts and pinecones.
3. Our exterior lights should be hung evenly, nicely accenting our home’s distinctive architectural details. No unsightly extension cords should be visible. Our display should be about the same scope as the others in the neighborhood — or perhaps a little better.
4. It’s a nice touch to decorate the mailbox for the holidays.
5. We should enlist the children to make special hanging holiday treats for the birds from pinecones, peanut butter and sunflower seeds.

Holiday Food

1. We should bake an assortment of cookies to keep on hand. These should be baked from scratch, rolled out and cut with an assortment of festive cutters that we have collected for generations, and decorated with frosting that somehow manages to be both sturdy and tasty.
2. We should cook special homemade goodies — preferably arranged in festive plates and wrapped in cellophane tied with red-and-white-striped kitchen string — to give the neighbors, mailman, our children’s teachers, and often-overlooked helpers like our manicurist and insurance agent.
3. I should cook a special Christmas breakfast that is comforting, nourishing and memorable. If it includes a holiday-theme — say a pan of homemade cinnamon rolls baked in the shape of a Christmas tree and decorated with red and green candied cherries — all the better.
4. Our holiday dinner should be impressive and feature a selection of our family’s most treasured recipes. Ideally, this should be prepared from local, organic, sustainably raised foods.


1. As a family, we really should have cute matching holiday pajamas. And slippers.
2. The pets need holiday outfits, and they should each have their own needlepoint stockings — personalized with their names, of course.

How about you? We’ll be bombarded with retail messages in the weeks to come, urging us to do more and buy more for the holidays this year. But what if we do a little less this year, and spend the extra time enjoying our families and friends — or putting our feet up?

Is there a task you could let go of this holiday season? Leave a comment below about something you’d like to do differently. I always love hearing your thoughts and experiences.

Here’s to simplifying, letting go of perfectionism in favor of the things that really matter, and being All Done By December One,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is the author of 16 books, including Small Bites, 101 Things To Do With Bacon, and BERRIES. She enjoys sharing ideas to simplify cooking, gardening, and home projects. She is also the owner of Cross Media, Inc. and founder of the BENSA Bacon Lovers Society.

6 thoughts on “Simplify the Holidays by Managing Expectations”

  1. The biggest stress reducer I put into place was saving money for the holidays throughout the year. The only thing worse than the mad rush of gift buying is the mad rush of gift buying while wondering if you can afford what you’re buying. By saving throughout the year, the money is right there, and believe me that makes a huge difference.

  2. I like your suggestion, Money Beagle. It’s a great feeling to have no debt at the end of the holidays! Thanks for sharing this.

  3. Hi Eliza,

    A few years ago I stopped accepting suggestions from others that involves work for me and none for the person making the suggestion. You know the type. The conversation usually begins, “You know what you should do?…) It works for family and co-workers alike. It might sound a little grinchy, but it saves a whole lot of stress. And it sometimes (though rarely, I’m afraid) results in active participation from others.

  4. Good to know I am not alone!

    One stress reducer I adopted last year was to save my children’s drawing and painting and set aside the favorites, of course, but use the majority of them as wrapping paper. Each gift is unique and special that way.

  5. I am learning that it is ok to say “No”. I don’t have to attend every function or overspend buying gifts for people I only see one time a year.


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