Tips for a Clutter-Free Holiday: Simplifying Meals and Gift-Giving

holidays Dec 08, 2023


Joy comes to us in ordinary moments. We risk missing out on joy when we get too busy chasing down the extraordinary.” - Brene Brown


By simplifying our holiday traditions, meals, gifts, and decorations, we've discovered we gain more time to savor moments with friends and family, as well as to rest and relax. Giving ourselves permission to let go of old traditions or others’ expectations and plan a holiday that brings us joy, helps us reclaim the true spirit of the season and embrace the magic that’s abundant during this time of the year.

Last week we shared tips for creating an intentional holiday, simplifying traditions, and decluttering your home for the holidays. If you missed it, click here. For tips on how to simplify gift giving and holiday meals... read on!


Simplifying Gift Giving:

Giving gifts can be one of the most exciting parts of the holiday season and also the most overwhelming. While it feels great to make someone happy when you give them a thoughtful present, buying or making gifts can also deplete our time, energy, and finances–as well as add to the clutter. Here are a few ideas to celebrate the season with gifts, while still maintaining our sanity and keeping the excess to a minimum!

1) Gifts of time: Instead of material gifts, consider giving your time such as cooking a dinner or babysitting for a friend or relative. In our family, the adults have decided not to exchange gifts as we feel making the holiday season easier is the best gift we can give each other. But we still enjoy giving all the kids presents!

2) Gifts of experience: You may also consider giving someone the gift of an experience such as a night out, a trip, a surfing lesson, a wine tasting at a local vineyard, a painting class, etc…

3) Consumable gifts: Candles, soap, scrubs, tea, chocolate, fruit, wine, jams, baked goods… there are so many to choose from! The great thing about consumables is that they will get used up one way or the other, so you don’t have to worry about adding to someone else’s clutter. We also consider a restaurant gift card a consumable. Before the adults in our family stopped exchanging gifts altogether, we would give gift cards to restaurants (or stores or spas) that we knew the receiver frequented. 

4) Simplify wrapping: Cloth gift bags, reusable gift boxes, Furoshiki wrapping cloth are not only more sustainable options, but also save money and time. A few years ago, Alison chose material and made cloth bags that she now reuses every year. Or go one step further and forego wrapping altogether.We have a friend whose tradition involves placing Santa's presents under the tree unwrapped. The excitement was to see the toys instantly and start playing. Think of all the money and time saved on gift wrapping–why didn’t we think of that? 

5) Tips for parents: When the kids were young, after a few years of way too many presents, we wised up and created a new system. We realized that while as parents we might have purchased a reasonable amount of gifts, we hadn’t considered all the other presents coming from relatives. Along with our kids’ input, we created a wishlist. We found that most of our relatives were eager for suggestions, so we could divvy up the list. Relatives are happy to purchase something they know the children (and parents) truly want. 


"Your children know you love them by your presence, not by your presents." - The Minimalist Plate 


Simplifying Holiday Meals

Even those of us who enjoy cooking can find preparing all the holiday meals overwhelming. But when we simplify, we not only alleviate the stress of cooking, but also enjoy more time with our loved ones.

1) Consider non-traditional meals: Consider whether or not you still love the traditional meals you are accustomed to making. Sometimes we get stuck in the ritual and don’t stop to consider whether it still brings us joy. Also keep in mind that holiday meals don’t need to be large feasts, unless of course you love cooking.  We discovered that we like the appetizers the most, so at least one of our holiday meals is appetizers, soup, and salad. If you make a simple meal, you can use the time you would have spent cooking to do something you really enjoy.

2) Cater or purchase already prepared food: You don’t need to cater the whole meal (although you may want to), but even ordering parts of the meal such as the soup, the side dishes, or a dessert can lighten the load. Cook the things you enjoy cooking, and buy the rest. 

3) Divvy up dishes or have a potluck: Ask each person attending to contribute a dish. It’s a wonderful way to learn about other people’s traditions and perhaps discover a new recipe. This way, people can also bring their special dishes and you don’t need to worry that they won’t have their favorite part of the meal!

4) Create natural, consumable, or 'use-what-you have' inspired centerpieces: You don’t need to make an elaborate centerpiece – unless that brings you joy. Depending on where you live you might have many options in your backyard, such as pinecones, branches, greens, flowers, seashells and more. A consumable centerpiece such as a row of apples down the center of the table or a bowl or clementines along with candles or votives is also easy. Our recent favorite centerpiece is gold waxed red amaryllis bulbs and beeswax candles. Another idea is to let the kids be in charge. Some of our standout centerpieces were designed by our kids with gingerbread houses and even LEGO creations! 


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