With Thanksgiving behind us, those living in the U.S. can expect to be swamped with messages of consumerism for the next 34 days. In fact, Black Friday, which many retailers have named as the most heavily shopped day of the year, is today. If you are anything like me, even with the best of intentions it’s easy to be mesmerized by the glamor of things being advertised everywhere—even when we know better. But rather than give in to the impulse, I instead decided to sit down and write out a few simple, but important, ways I want to stay rightsized over the coming holiday season. If you could use some help with your resolve, please check out my list and add some of your own suggestions in the comments below.
If you are new to SMART Living 365 you may not be familiar with what I mean by “rightsized.” I started using the word about ten years ago to describe the lifestyle that my husband Thom and I began practicing. At the time, we felt a strong draw to a more simple and minimal existence, so we considered the popular step that many people refer to as “downsizing.” We didn’t need such a big house and certainly didn’t need all the stuff that we had accumulated over the years. But rather than calling it downsizing (which implies sacrifice) we decided to call it rightsizing. Rather than a focus on giving up things, we took steps to eliminate everything that wasn’t adding joy and contentment to our lives. Of course, it wasn’t just about getting rid of stuff we owned, it was mostly choosing to focus on the things that truly mattered to us.
One great thing about rightsizing is that there are no hard and fast rules. You don’t have to become a minimalist and sell your house to move into something smaller—although that often happens. You also don’t have to give up those items in your home that you consider precious to you—only that other stuff you keep around “just in case.” In addition, you don’t have to give up your job—although if your work makes you miserable why not? In fact, one of the best benefits of rightsizing is that it allows you to design a life as unique as you are. And the best way to be “rightsized” is to first find what is deeply important to you and your family, and then commit yourself to that pursuit.
Furthermore, there is a “rightsize” for every area of our lives—and that includes the coming holidays. So, if you love Christmas and are convinced it is the best holiday ever—then celebrating the holiday your way should take a priority. If you are Jewish and only observe Jewish holidays this time of year—no problem—rightsize your holy days without regret. Prefer the Winter Solstice, Mawlid an-Nabi, Kwanzaa or Saturnalia? Again, no problem because rightsizing is the permission to celebrate and practice whatever faith or non-faith you choose.
Therefore, no matter how you decide to observe the holiday, the challenge is to do it in a way that brings you joy and peace of mind. If you experience other emotions like guilt, stress, anxiety, pressure to conform, overwhelm, anger, resentment, jealousy or other toxic emotions, then that is an indication that you aren’t rightsized in some way. I know this because I have been there myself.
So, what can you do? Here are ten simple (but not always easy) ideas that can lead to a rightsized holiday.
1. Decide first and foremost what you enjoy most about the holiday and what you dislike. Then, to put it bluntly, do the things that bring you joy and STOP doing the things you dislike. And please don’t say that you “have” to do some things even though you hate them. There are very few things we actually “have” to do—but most of the time we do them out of guilt, obligation or thinking we need to prove our love. Even with things like going to work, or taking care of others, we have choices. We might not like all the choices we have before us—but we have them. How we choose to direct the time and energy of our life is up to us.
The problem with doing things that we hate is that we end up feeling victimized and resentful, and that bitterness is evident to everyone around us—including our own soul. Far better to be true to ourselves and seek our own peace of mind than to force ourselves to celebrate and behave in ways that bring out the worst in us rather than the best. If there is really something you believe you must do for a variety of reasons, find a way to reframe that experience in a way that allows you to let go of the resentment. Otherwise, stop doing that thing that is making you miserable.
2. Once you have a list of what you enjoy most about the holiday, commit to only putting those activities on your calendar for the next 34 days. That means that if you love decorating the house to look like a Hallmark Holiday then do it! If you never liked sending out Christmas Cards—stop it!!! If you are dreading that office holiday party—just don’t go. Instead of whining about having to cook the same old turkey dinner just because everyone expects you to—let someone else cook for a change. Focusing on a couple of the actions that you enjoy most of all this time of year, and letting go of all those others, is pure rightsizing.
3. Don’t spend money you don’t have. Going into debt for the holidays completely misses the mark on what most people say is the “reason for the season.” No matter what holiday you celebrate, only spend money you can easily afford. Refuse to spend money out of habit, or perhaps worse, allow yourself to be hypnotized by the push of advertisers trying to convince you that you must buy more and more (for yourself or others) to be happy.
4.Consider going gift-free this holiday season. Even before Thom and I rightsized our lives we began feeling the pressure to buy gifts every time a holiday rolled around. I understand that it is pleasurable to think of those we love and try to make them happy by buying them something we think they will enjoy. But most of the times the gifts we received were just token items because people felt they were obligated to get us something. And often, our own gifts to others were clearly not that appreciated. At some point, we made the decision to stop giving or receiving gifts during Christmas.
It wasn’t easy in the beginning. After all, gifts are expected, right? It was especially difficult when someone went ahead and gave us a gift even after we asked them not to do it. But instead of feeling powerless, we began attempting to provide experiences rather than items. What do I mean by that? Instead of roaming the stores looking for something they may or may not like anyway, we took our loved ones to lunch, dinner, a concert or a play. That way we spent time with them doing something we both enjoyed. That, or I baked them something or made them something as a gift. Not only does the elimination of traditional gift giving ease up your time and money during the holidays, it also helps you remember what you value most in your life—including the “why” behind your holiday in the first place.
5. Put taking care of your body, mind, and soul at the top of your to-do list. In other words, if you eat healthy of most time, don’t start gulping down fudge and eggnog just because someone brought it to work. It’s also wise not to forget our normal exercise routines. Meditation and other spiritual rituals are extremely helpful all year long, but nearly essential during busy times like the holidays. Whatever form of beneficial self-care fits into your regular lives, be sure and continue them throughout the holidays.
6. Focus on appreciating what you do have instead of focusing on anything you think you are missing—in other words, practice gratitude. Unfortunately, I sometimes allow myself to get so caught up in doing things that I forget to just stop and appreciate what is right in front of me. Rightsizing keeps me focused and grateful for what matters most to me.
7. Refuse to compare your way of celebrating and enjoying the holiday with how others are choosing to do it. A phrase in yoga says it well, “Keep your eyes on your own mat.” Those of us who spend time on Facebook or any other form of social media are exposed to everything all our friends and acquaintances are doing. Sure, some of it looks fun or just downright amazing. But, let’s keep in mind that what we see on Facebook is usually the “best” of what they are doing, not the whole story. Sure, it is wonderful to admire things about our friends—let’s just not allow ourselves to feel envious and unhappy because we don’t have or do the same.
8. Surround yourself with the people who love and support you, and avoid the rest. Hey, I have a family too so I know that there is bound to be a person (or two) that shows up during the holidays that we don’t care to be around. So, when I say avoid them if at all possible I really mean it. It is far better to refuse an invite than to hang out with people who will suck the life out of you. It is also very important to stay away from people who love to shop, overspend or over-indulge during the holidays. We are all highly influenced by the people around us so it is best to find people who practice the same values and intentions as we do. The holidays are no exception.
9. Accept the fact that you can’t do it all–but be aware that in most cases, doing less will actually bring you MORE positive results. A few weeks ago, I blogged about tradeoffs, or the PTV (poop-to-value-ratio), of everything. Holiday fun, chores, and activities need to be considered the same way. Some will have a high tradeoff value and others have very low PTV. Take the time to figure out which return the highest benefit and let go of all the rest. Refuse to believe you have to (even if you could!) do every single thing that comes along to make it a great holiday.
10. The simple living and minimalism approach is all about decluttering and letting go of unnecessary things. Holiday decorations, activities, food and family have a way of expanding to the extreme limits of our lives if we let them. A strategy invented by Joshua Becker in his book, The More of Less is, “Only the best.” Using this process, he suggests that we consider everything in our lives (and holiday related) and then asked ourselves, “Is this the very best of what I have or could be doing? Is this the very best I could be spending my money on? Is this the very best use of my time?” If we vowed to do “only the best” this holiday season, our experience would be rightsized—and there’s a good chance it would make this holiday season the best ever.
These are just a few of the rightsizing ideas that I intend to implement in the coming days before Christmas. Remember, rightsizing isn’t about sacrifice. Those things I will be avoiding will instead offer me so much more of what matters to me. This year, I plan to stay focused on those things that truly bring me joy and happiness—and then share my joy and happiness with everyone I encounter. However you decide to celebrate the coming holidays, it would be SMART to make sure your plans are rightsized.
Okay, your turn. Do you have any suggestions on how we can all rightsize our holidays? If yes, please share them in the comments below.
Kathy, I love many things about Christmas. I love to decorate a Christmas tree with the ornaments we have acquired over the years, and to put lights on the house. I love cooking a turkey dinner for the family. I love having family members come to stay, and doing things together like going skiing or tobogganing.
But I do not like the commercialism of the season, or the pressure to buy gifts for many people and to spend way too much. I have too much stuff already (I don’t need anything), and most of my loved ones also have too much stuff. Last year, my adult daughter suggested that we draw names. Although we had done name draws for the extended family before, it was the first Christmas that I did not buy gifts for all my kids (and their partners). It reduced the stress factor! Also, as per your suggestion, whenever possible we gave gifts of experience rather than stuff. Often we have travelled at Christmas to see family, and winter travel can be so stressful. One other part I do not like is making up and sending parcels (but this is somewhat unavoidable as I love to send something to my Mom, and she would feel hurt if I did not. However one parcel is okay; five or six parcels like I used to do is not.)
There are always challenges, because not everyone shares the same expectations. For example, on Rob’s side of the family, Christmas is a really big deal, and they go all out on gift giving. As another example, one of our kids & family are vegetarians but everyone else loves turkey, so we accommodate that in the menu (e.g., I make two versions of stuffing and two versions of red cabbage). But I think give and take is a necessary part of being part of a large and complex family. Ultimately being together is the most important part.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Jude! It sounds to me like Christmas at your house is a wonderful place to be. I realize we may all have different experiences of the holidays–that’s why I think it is so important for us to take the time to recognize what is most important to us and then build on that. Again, isn’t that all one of the advantages of getting older? We’ve had practice doing it both ways and now we get to choose! Thanks for your thoughts on this. ~Kathy
Hi Kathy, I enjoyed reading your post. I “rightsized” my holidays many years ago. We make donations to help those in need, and enjoy simple activities at home like baking cookies and a potluck family dinner on December 26. No frenzied shopping, no endless list of parties to attend, no new stuff that we do not need. Our home in December is calm and relaxing just the way we want it to be. I’m fortunate that my family and our extended family are on board with my simple approach to the holidays.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Natalie! GREAT! I’m also very happy to hear about how others have taken the holiday to a deeper level and made it work for them (instead of against them!) Isn’t there so much peace and freedom when you find your own rightsized way to celebrate. When some others arounds us are already rushing around and stressing themselves out, it feels good to know there is another way. Thanks for sharing your experience. ~Kathy
Because of our lifestyle, the holidays are usually very easy for us and on us. No family/friends around to buy gifts for or obligations for work, since we are self-employed. When it comes to exchanging gifts to each other, Mark and I believe in experiences being more satisfying than things. That being said, we do always have a list of things needed for our camper or “survival” and just turn those into birthday or Christmas gifts. And, I know how much my family members love the personalized calendars I make for them, so I’ll try to repeat that endeavor as well.
When it comes to food, we allow ourselves to splurge a bit over the holidays. And, when it comes to cooking, once in a while, we feel like making a big deal out of it, usually for ourselves. It would actually be nice to invite others this year. No pressure at all. 🙂
Enjoy the holidays, in your own satisfying way, everyone!!!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Liesbet! The more I read about your lifestyle the more I am convinced that you are a perfect example of rightsizing. As you say, your experiences are far more rewarding than collecting stuff. And even when you “splurge a little” in honor of the holidays it is a recognition that you have the ability to focus what is most important to you and build on that. I also love your calendar idea. Something small, but personal like that, is a perfect gift to let others know that you are thinking of them. You don’t say who you might be inviting to join you for the holidays just yet….but if you are looking for friends to join you…let me know 🙂 ~Kathy
The calendars take quite a bit of time, and I have been postponing them this year. But, I’ll get to selecting, resizing and personalizing photos real soon! 🙂 Are you seriously considering coming to San Diego over the Christmas period? We will definitely prepare dinner when you are here in January, regardless. 🙂
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Liesbet! We still haven’t decided where, when and how we will be celebrating Christmas this year–so who knows? And it looks like January might be off for us. I will send you an email and we can chat! 🙂 ~Kathy
Rebecca Forstadt Olkowski says
I’m thinking this year, in light of all the disasters, it would be nice to make a donation to help hurricane, fire, and shooting victims rather than spend money buying gifts.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Rebecca! Thank you! I completely agree that a great alternative to buying gifts for others is to make a donation. You can make it for yourself in honor of all the money you’ll save not buying traditional gifts OR you can “gift” it to another person. Such a nice way to honor others AND be of service. ~Kathy
A very timely reminder as we enter this crazy time of year. We have tried to say “yes” to fewer events each year and hope to pass this lesson on to our three children. We spent Thanksgiving Day at the uncrowded North Carolina Zoo, which was lovely, and simply had turkey & stuffing meatloaf the next day. This has been our tradition for several years now as traveling to visit family was just too stressful. I was also encouraged when my oldest (10) didn’t bat an eye when he discovered that two Christmas events were scheduled the same day. He knew which one he’d rather do (luckily the same one his siblings prefer–and the more low-key one) and didn’t waste a minute on FOMO. He’s doing better than I am on that sometimes! Now to continue trimming the list of “think-I-have-to-dos!”
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Laronda! Thank you so much for sharing your own personal experience of rightsizing with us. I realize it is much more challenging when you have children because there are more needs and expectations to manage. But it sounds like you have done a great job so far in helping your kids make wise and happy choices for themselves. A great example of how those around us pick up on the messages we send every day huh? May you continue to focus on what brings you “less stress” and greater happiness for the rest of the season! Thanks for your comment. ~Kathy
Laronda, we spent Thanksgiving at the San Diego Zoo! 🙂 But, it was still quite busy here. We were invited by friends for dinner, so, this year, we lucked out and “had it all”.
Hi Kathy, did you write these tips in another life and I read them? These are easy to implement even if folks just focus on 2-3 to try. I’m happy to say I follow many of these, and spent many years feeling obligated at work and at home during the holiday season. When my hubby entered my life 9 years ago, one of the good things that happened, was we spend Christmas in southern California where most of our family lives. Not having Christmas in my home anymore, took a lot of the pressure off of me. Why put up a tree when we won’t be here to enjoy it? I do put up a few minimal decorations, and we stopped buying gifts for most of the family, except for the kids. Saving time and $$ really reduces my stress this time of year!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Terri! One of the best things about rightsizing is how well it works in just about every area of our lives. I know that you and Hans have already rightsized so much in your life that these seem just like second nature to you now. Good for you for finding a way to celebrate the holidays that takes away much of your stress AND saves money too. And like so many other things to do with rightsizing, it doesn’t matter what you do or don’t do, only that your choices “fit” you and your family in the best way possible. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us! ~Kathy
Hi Kathy, we are in our new “rightsized” house on our first set of holidays. I’ve been very focused on identifying what are the right traditions for us here and now. I still love a real Christmas tree, filled with ornaments we’ve gotten through the years together – often on our travels. Setting it up together with my hubby (just the 2 of us), it is walk down memory lane with lots of “remember this”! With Christmas music on and then hot chocolate when it’s done – this is my favorite holiday tradition and one we have not had the pleasure of for many years because of others being involved.
Hubby convinced me not to host Thanksgiving dinner this year. He rightly pointed out the whole thing always stresses and exhausts me. The only thing I enjoy are the leftovers. So one weekend in December, I’ll cook a small turkey with the sides I love… for the leftovers! No stress on setting the table, making sides others like, or worrying about timing.
I loved your #1 point, which is so true about life, not just about the holidays! Your point about things you do because you think you have to – guilt, obligation, proving your love… I’d add: thinking it’s expected and thinking it’ll get you love in return as 2 other reasons you think you have to. This so resonated with me – thank you for that reminder that I don’t have to do things I don’t like to do.
Happy Holidays to you and yours!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Pat! Thank you so much for sharing some of your own “rightsized” holiday traditions. That is the beauty of rightsizing IMHO because it let’s us celebrate those things that are really important to “us” (and yes the hubby is included!) And good for hubby for encouraging you to let go of the Thanksgiving Dinner thing too. Sometimes our close loved ones can point out our blocks better than we can. One of the best things about aging is the growing awareness of what has motivated us in the past in ways that didn’t work so well–and then redirecting our choices in the future. Thanks again for making this even more clear. And YES! to happy holidays for us both. ~Kathy
Leanne | www.crestingthehill.com.au says
Kathy you have such a similar view to me about these things! Christmas has become so consumerized (is that a word?) and I am paring it back further every year. We’ve bought a present for our grandchild and a couple for a gift tree for the children of prisoners and that’s it! I’ve come to terms with our daughter and S-I-L not coming this year (kills my heart a little) and I’m focusing on the other good bits and the joy and love – because that’s really what Christmas is about – simple pleasures.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Leanne! Thank you for sharing your own plans with us. And I completely agree about the over-commercialization of the holidays. Good for you for finding a way to break away from the “traditional” and for finding something that is rightsized for you and your family. I get that not everyone is on board with it, but for those of us who understand why, I don’t think there is ever any going back. May we all find and enjoy those simple pleasure that mean the most. ~Kathy
These are very important points and when the Christmas season starts at Thanksgiving, they become even more important. We rush through life as it is. Why can’t we enjoy each season for what it is, not for what is coming. It’s like assuming your life will be perfect on that day, and in the meantime, you are missing out on the days your are living. The future is always in doubt. So to your points here, this year we decided for the first time in our amazing an long marriage, we are not sending a Christmas card. The time and expense we will give back to each other will be for us and those close to us. Thanks, Kathy.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Beth! Congratulations for deciding to end a practice that doesn’t mean as much anymore–and instead deciding to find a better way to spend the time and energy. And thank you for pointing out that a big part of rightsizing is appreciating the moments of life that make it all so special instead of running around like crazy trying to fit it all in to meet our expectations. May this holiday bring us all closer to realizing how precious those moments are. ~Kathy
I so agree with you. I like to celebrate the winter solstice and the coming of the light. I always say that everyone needs a celebration in the dead of winter. I still trek out in the bush to find the perfect evergreen tree. The Christmas holiday is becoming more and more low key in my household. “Christmas” doesn’t happen on one day for me but is spread out over the weeks with get-togethers and activities. I will enjoy my evergreen tree with its lights and eat Lindor chocolates in front of the fire. And that will be enough.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Mona! Thank you so much for sharing your personal way of celebrating the coming holidays. It sounds very lovely and inviting and surely points out the advantages of “rightsizing” it so that it brings you peace and happiness. And the contentedness of “enough-ness” is a gift that holds true all year. ~Kathy
Janis @ RetirementallyChallenged.com says
I gave up the whole gift thing long ago and haven’t looked back. I don’t have anything I want or need that I can’t just buy myself… why put that burden on others? My Christmas card list is down to just a few (mostly older relatives). I do like to decorate a little, but we haven’t had a tree in years. I feel that we’ve rightsized our holidays so we can actually enjoy ourselves as opposed to it being just one big stress-fest. I’d like to think that more and more people are starting to realize that the guilt and commitment overload is a choice… and they can choose to say “no.”
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Janis! Yay! Good for you for offering an excellent example of the freedom, peace of mind and fun it can be to let go of celebrating in any way that doesn’t feel “right.” And I agree that once a person gets into the “swing” of the thing it feels so much better that we seldom “look back!” And I also have avoided a traditional Christmas Tree for so many years that I am considering throwing out the majority of my decorations in true “minimalist” fashion. After all, why am I even hanging on to them if I can’t see myself using them again anyway? Thank you for confirming how great the “rightsizing” choice can be and that yes, it really is a choice. ~Kathy
These are awesome tips, Kathy…and very timely! I have also been attempting to make some subtle (and not so subtle) changes this holiday. LIke both you and STLF mentioned, it isn’t always easy. A few months ago, we arranged with our 4 sons, 3 DILs (+ 2 grandchildren) and my parents to rent a nearby ski chalet together this holiday instead of giving presents. In a nutshell, the younger a family member was (yeah millennials!) the better the idea of ‘presence over presents’ went. I still need to send gentle reminders to some family members who have not completely boughten into this idea (preferring instead presence and presents!) Sigh!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Donna! I love that idea of renting a cool place and inviting the family to visit in lieu of gifts. And yes, it does take a while to retrain people about traditional habits–but think of the wonderful example you are providing to everyone about a new (and likely more fulfilling!) way of celebrating. When it comes to it, I think deep down most of us know that what we really want is love and connection anyway. Thanks for sharing your example! ~Kathy
Yikes. I meant ‘not completely bought into this idea’! Too much multi-tasking for me!
Kathy Gottberg says
no worries! We all knew what you meant! 🙂
Great suggestions Kathy. Knowing that guilt is a motivating factor to do things I often ask myself what I really want to do or is it the guilt talking. Likewise if someone accepts my invitation I accept them to really be present because they want to be here. If they would rather stay home, I say no guilt, please stay home!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Haralee! Such SMART advice. I used to feel sad when people would decline an invitation from me and would try to convince them to come anyway. But as I’ve matured (gotten older!) I realize like you that rather than try to convince someone to come and perhaps instill guilt, it is far, far better not to have them around. Really! As you say, who wants to be around anyone that is only there out of guilt? Time is to precious to spend it with anyone who is only there out of guilt! Thanks for that reminder! ~Kathy
Great minds think alike, Kathy! (so they say). The commercialism of Christmas has been bothering me for the past few years. This year, I’ve taken a step to change a few things, and you are right, it’s not easy. (I’ll be touching on it in my blog this week). So glad you broached the subject!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Diane! It is no surprise that you read my posts here on SMART Living and I read your posts on your blog because we do share many common ideas. The support of that is good for us all don’t you think? I believe we are all inspired by the people we hang out with and/or read about–and I certainly find that to be true here in the blogosphere. May you find your perfectly rightsized holiday this year! ~Kathy