The holiday season is usually characterized by excess: packed social calendars, spending sprees, full bellies and overflowing to-do lists. Personally, it’s when I find myself getting swept up in an overly ambitious craft project or by a too-good-to-miss sale.
Except this year things have changed, as I’m a first-time mom to a 6-month-old baby girl. In multiple areas of my life, from my job as a freelance writer to my desire to play hostess for my friend group, having a small child has forced me to slow down and do less.
The holidays have been no exception. Over the past few weeks, my seasonal DIY projects have sat dormant on my Pinterest board. My social calendar remained clear. I have yet to cook even one bite of holiday food.
Instead of feeling like I’m missing out or falling short, this shift has given me an unexpected gift. I’ve reevaluated how to make this season less of an expensive, stressful whirlwind and more a simplified time of lower expectations—and more joy—for me and my growing family.
Learning to Take Things One Day at a Time
My holidays used to be about doing: putting up the tree right after Thanksgiving, baking all kinds of cookies, hosting home-cooked meals around a perfectly set table (with a bespoke centerpiece foraged from the farmer’s market and personalized place cards) and collecting pine cones to create Instagram-worthy décor.
While I loved all of these activities, I can’t say they made me feel merrier than if I hadn’t spent the time, money and effort doing them. After the work of researching and writing articles and then shopping, doing and cleaning up, I often felt depleted … and sometimes wished I’d just put my feet up and chilled out instead.
Instead of all that effort, these days I’m more apt to Google “no-cook 5-minute dinners” while holding my napping baby than I am to search for holiday tablescape ideas. I feel accomplished if I’m able to check off a few tasks—even if it’s just the ambitious goal of taking a shower. For the record, our tree sat in its box in the garage until mid-December, when it finally got dusted off.
Now that I’ve dialed my holiday to-do list way back, I’m bemused by my former expectations. Take the recent trip I took with my daughter to get her photo taken with Santa. Initially, I planned to use the photo for a holiday card or a gift to family members. But then I remembered: I don’t have time to make cards or frame pictures anymore.
Instead, her photo with Santa was just that—a photo with Santa. I chose to be fully present, watching to see if she smiled at the guy in the red suit or cried in fear. I wasn’t preoccupied with making sure we were on schedule and that the picture came out perfect. And I didn’t have to worry about how much printing and mailing cards would cost in the end.
Simplicity Means Less Spending
Instead of traveling to see family or making formal plans for Christmas Day, my husband and I have a loose idea of waking up, brewing coffee, taking a peaceful neighborhood walk and helping our daughter open her presents. That’s it. If we can get a picture of all three of us in our (non-matching) PJs to commemorate the day, that will be the cherry on top.
There’s an added bonus to temporarily hanging up my apron: I’m spending less on pricey recipe ingredients and craft supplies. Plus, my husband and I are forgoing gifts for each other to focus on spoiling the little one this year. Even though my workload has scaled back some, we’re devoting fewer funds to dinners out and other pre-baby slush fund expenses. Since we’re spending less overall, we’re saving more.
I’ve also realized that my self-worth doesn’t hinge on the food I’m able to cook or the pretty details I can hand-make. I’m at my best not when I’m doing, doing, doing but when I’m giving my loved ones my full attention. They say the best things in life are free, right?
When my daughter is older, I’m confident that I’ll get back to cookie-baking and project-making—with a little sidekick cooking and crafting alongside me. But I hope I’ll do so mindfully, choosing only to complete the tasks that will inspire joy, not those taken on out of obligation. To me, that’s what will ultimately make the holidays meaningful for all of us in the years to come.