4 Simple Ways to Declutter The Holidays

November 1, 2021
The holidays stress people out so much. I suggest you keep it simple and try to have as much fun as you can. ~ Giada De Laurentiis

The roller coaster ride of the end-of-the-year holidays is on its way—the sights, sounds, and smells are all around … as are the demands, expectations, and anxiety. 

And while there are likely to be many articles on how to declutter your HOME for the holidays, let’s talk first about how you can simplify your experience and participation in the holidays first. 

Because the holidays promise a time of joy, happiness, and peace, but don’t often deliver on that promise without often serving up an overwhelming heap of stress as well. 

And you can’t finish celebrating one holiday before being surrounded by store displays selling decorations for the following one.

With all of the consumer-driven noise and tumult around every corner, it is no wonder that it is harder and harder to simply celebrate the holidays by relaxing and spending time with loved ones instead of getting swallowed up in the race to find the perfect gift, racking up unsecured debt and trying to impress people with your decorating skills. 

But we’ve got some good news for you—you can reverse this compulsive trend and start enjoying the simple, essential things that make this time of year special.

AND you can do it while stripping away all those stressful and unsatisfying tasks and expectations before they ruin your holiday joy …

Here are 4 simple ways to declutter the holidays.

4. Rethink an Unhealthy Mindset

Your mindset can play a major role in amplifying the feelings of stress and dread that often come up this time of year.

Here’s an example of how a mindset focused on what’s missing or lacking, a glass-half-empty mindset, will not only make you feel worse BUT also likely lead to you racking up more debt which only adds to your stress level.

It starts by buying into the idea that you (and everyone) always have to have the latest, most remarkable things that money can buy, no matter how much they cost, how much you already have, or how much debt you are already in. And if you don’t go along with this concept, then your life is not only somehow lacking, it’s “basic” and it sucks.

The reality is that continuously buying things you do not need and can not afford is a financial drain. And owning things you hardly use overloads your life and your spaces with things. 

The stuff that was supposed to make your life better is complicating it instead. 

And while hoarding money is only nominally better than hoarding stuff, it is ironic in this scenario that instead of emptying out your closets and banking your money, when you’re in the depths of this mindset you’re actually emptying out your bank accounts and filling up any free space you have.

Instead, cultivate the mindset that you are not what you own—that stuff, at any price point, does not define you. 

Your values and your relationships, the way you live your life, is what defines you. 

So, let go of the mindset that buying things will somehow make you better and take on a new mindset based on expressing generosity and gratitude. 

That shift will save you money, heartache and allow you to relax and enjoy the holidays more. 

3. Let Go Of Expectations Of Perfection

Chances are, Elle Decor or Better Homes & Gardens is not coming to photograph your home for the holidays, right?

And you’re not in competition with Martha Stewart or Ina Garten for delivering the perfect holiday meal, correct?

So chill out. 

You only make yourself and everyone around you a nervous wreck if you are demanding perfection from an event that only happens once a year. 

For many people, the holidays are one of the few times each year when they can spend time with extended family and friends. 

As lovely as it would be to create a glamorous holiday with picture perfect and delicious food and Instagram-worthy decorations, the anxiety of creating and sustaining that degree of perfection requires either a dedicated team OR so much micromanaging and control that you’ll destroy any joy all of your efforts were trying to achieve. 

Not every dish has to be made from scratch, and not every decoration has to be hand-crafted by 4th generation artisans from a recently discovered indigenous community using all organic materials you can later eat or compost. And every present does not have to be perfectly wrapped. 

It is all too easy to get caught up in outdoing YouTube “influencers” or established celebrities as if they actually care what YOUR holiday looks like?! 

Instead of chasing after unrealistic outcomes and your maniacal idea of perfection, focus on what would actually delight your friends and family that also doesn’t stress you out. 

2. Prioritize Obligations

When you think of the holidays, does your head start hurting just imagining all the extra obligations that will be required of you? 

You know, all those little “favors” you get tasked with or willingly pile on your back just so no one has a meltdown or blow up another family gathering.

The holiday season comes loaded with events, gatherings, and parties AND you are not solely responsible for whether everyone has an AWESOME experience and everything goes off without a hitch.

“No,” is definitely a complete sentence and you do not need to take on more than you can handle—if it isn’t a matter of life or death, then no one is going to die if you say, “No, thank you, I can’t.” 

In addition to saying no, prioritizing the things that you CAN and LOVE to do … or are willing to do that won’t steal your time away from things you value more, is a way to take care of yourself and minimize your stress.

Here are 5 questions you can ask yourself as you prioritize if and when you will do something on your lists:

  1. Does this have to be done today?
  2. Is this a step in a larger project or a one-off?
  3. Is there something more important to do first?
  4. Does this get me closer to my goal? How?
  5. Can I delegate this task? To whom? 

Based on your answers to the above questions, you’ll either prioritize a task to do it TODAY or commit to a day when you will do it, and then move on to more pressing matters.
Whatever you do, you should do it with either joy or a sense of service and gratitude—that’s the best way to avoid resentments.

Either you love what you’re doing or you love who you’re doing it for … with those as your two guiding principles, anything you do will not feel like an unreasonable or unwelcome obligation. 

And that will prevent you from feeling angry, resentful or taken advantage of and free you up to celebrate the holidays with a light and open heart.

1.    Give With Intent

Another place people often get tripped up during the holidays involves the giving of gifts. 

Chances are you have found yourself standing in the middle of a bustling crowd staring at your list of people to buy gifts for drawing a complete blank on what you should get them.

Somewhere along the way, Madison Avenue and manufacturers cooked up a narrative that the holidays were all about extravagant gift-giving and that spending more meant you cared more.

Which translated to bigger profits (or at least ending the fiscal year less in the red) for them and over-spending and over-indulging for you. 

And it was surprisingly easy to spread the message that if you do not buy expensive gifts for others, even if you can not afford them, it means that you do not care about them. 

Of course, this is bullshi*t, because we all know that some of the best presents cost little to nothing at all. 

And just because you spend a lot of money on something doesn’t make it a great gift.

We go into this in greater depth down in the next section—for now, just focus on giving from your heart and sharing experiences as much or more than you buy something out of obligation and you’ll be on the right track.

You do not have to break the bank during the holidays OR at any time of the year to demonstrate to others that you love or care for them. This is truly an opportunity to prove that it IS the thought that counts.

The Bottom Line

While the holidays can seem diabolically designed to stress you out and deliver you to the poor house, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Shifting your mindset, letting go of unreasonable expectations, properly prioritizing obligations, and right-sizing your approach to gift-giving are all ways you can immediately reclaim this and every holiday season.

You can swap them from being a source of consistent agitation and anxiety to one where you relish the natural rhythm of the season as the days grow darker and time seems to slow down a bit more.

This holiday season, no matter how, what, or where you celebrate, make a conscious effort to simplify and declutter HOW you celebrate so you and your loved ones can do less and enjoy each other more.

Instead of giving in to the powerful marketing campaigns that surround us 24/7, pushing us to buy, buy, buy—take the time to appreciate what you already have. 

Make memories, not debt or clutter.

When you and your family think back on these as well as other holidays past, you’ll be able to remember the fun times that you had together and the experiences you shared.

For any of the expensive gifts that you have to exchange or how angry you got when every dish didn’t hit the table at peak temperature, hopefully, those disappointments will fade much faster than your calm demeanor and the lovely way everything jst fell into imperfect yet perfect place.

If you need more ideas for coming up with holiday gifts that will not break the bank, check out our holiday gift-giving guide from 2020: 10 Free Gift Ideas To Restore Meaning To Your Holidays.

And do not forget to check out Andrew’s new podcast on Apple Podcasts: Declutter Your Life: Take Back Your Time & Freedom

Declutter Your Life Podcast by Andrew Mellen. Available on iTunes!