Decluttering Christmas

It has been said that less is more. This holiday season in the spirit of generally simplifying my life I thought I'd see if that's true. So what better way than to declutter what for most Americans is the jam-packed pinnacle of all holidays? Christmas. Christmas in particular can use a lot of decluttering. Two thousand years after the blessed event we celebrate, we've managed to turn the season into the Olympics of gifting, baking, mailing, decorating and travel. We've made it a month-long sprint of parties, shopping and shipping deadlines.

We even kill trees for it. I for one can live without fruitcake, egg nog, and a fresh evergreen in my living room once a year. Decluttering the holidays means decluttering your life by eliminating excessive or unnecessary holiday activities you have been conditioned to do, and taking more time instead to celebrate the holidays as your heart desires. But I admit, decluttering Christmas came for me this year out of necessity rather than reflection. Due to a cluster of December business trips - for both my husband and myself - further complicated by a mid-December weekend cruise we're taking (I just won it and it's a "use it now or lose it" deal), capped off by the fact that we'd be spending the entire week of Christmas and New Year's with my husband's family in a foreign country, I knew back in November there simply would not be time to accomplish all the Christmas and holiday rituals I usually undertake.

All told, out of December's thirty-one days, I would be home for fourteen. And did I mention we have a ten year old daughter (who still believes in Santa) and a dog? So when contemplating how I would "get it all done", I quickly realized the limited options available: 1)Don't sleep and go crazy from sleep deprivation 2)Cut back on sleep, thereby resulting in greatly increased crankiness and diminished holiday enjoyment 3)Try to get it all done but don't. Feel frustrated and guilty. 4)Do only the holiday things I enjoy and that are important to me, skip or short-cut all the rest, and damn the consequences. Not liking options one through three, I sanely selected number four. No sooner had I made my choice for happiness over obligation than the universe conspired to help me at every turn.

In fact, it conspired so well in my favor that this has been one of the most enjoyable holiday seasons I can remember. Even with limited time I have had enough space to do what I love and enjoy, and then some. And that, more than altruistic intentions or principles, is the main reason I'll stick with this approach for years to come and am inspired to share it with you. So here's what got kicked to the curb, what didn't, and some tips for how you can do the same: 1.Gift Shopping. I love playing Santa with my own kid and giving presents to the other children in my life.

Since I'm not very crafty, this necessitates shopping. Online ordering from Amazon and other established Internet retailers made this season's shopping easy if not effortless. Better yet, this year due to the economic downturn retailers aggressively couponed and discounted merchandise pre-holiday, so while I did make one four-hour jaunt to the local mall (and paid the price with a killer migraine by the end of it) the 50% off coupons, free $10 gift cards, and other assorted perks made it worth the trip.

The take-away: plan ahead and get it all done in as few visits as possible. Here's another idea: A few years back my siblings and I - all grown, married adults - decided to do away with our annual "Secret Santa" gift exchange. After all, how many more electronic gadgets, designer handbags and home décor items did we need? Instead, every Christmas we contribute a minimum of $100 per couple toward a charity of choice. We take turns selecting the worthy cause of the year.

2.Decorating. Since we knew we'd be celebrating Christmas elsewhere, this year we agreed (with our daughter's blessing) not to put up our artificial tree. As a result, I placed about half the normal decorations I usually do around the house. Without the usual complement of décor and the tree, our home feels much airier and my husband, himself a minimalist, comments daily on how he likes having fewer Christmas decorations around. And best of all, instead of taking up an entire weekend, the holiday decorating (including putting up outdoor lights for a two-story home) took four hours total.

The focal point of the few decorations we did put out is the nativity scene. How nice to truly have Jesus at the center of Christmas instead of an ornamented tree. The fewer decorations somehow are more subtle and valuable reminders of the holiday.

Declutter Christmas at your home by actually decluttering your home of its usual holiday décor. Instead, if you have quite a bit of stuff, rotate what you display from one year to the next. Then every year it will seem like you have something new. 3.Baking.

Usually I enjoy baking at this time of year. I like going to cookie exchanges and making my favorite recipes, many of which were my mother's. Yet this year due to schedule conflicts I couldn't attend the events I was invited to and certainly wouldn't be having any visitors. So why bake? Precisely. Yet one still craves Christmas cookies, so what to do? Here's a great short-cut that will give you the best of both worlds.

The grocery stores are loaded with pre-made Christmas cookies they normally don't carry at any other time of the year. BUY a few of your favorite varieties. Add to your selections one or two Nestle or Pillsbury "break and bake" cookie packages and pop those in the oven for 15 minutes.

There you go, plenty of variety, fresh-baked goodness, and minimal time spent in the kitchen. That's a treat if you ask me. 4. Christmas Cards & The Inevitable Holiday Newsletter. I love having sent holiday cards, but hate the process of doing them.

Luckily I have above average computer and administrative skills which have come in handy for automating this somewhat dreaded task. I've essentially reduced this into a labeling and envelope-stuffing process by computerizing the Christmas card address list, then computer-printing all return and address labels. I personally sign the cards, but of course you could order pre-printed ones to streamline things further.

Yet in being faithful to doing only what I love, I didn't want to skip the cards this year. They're the chance to reach out and touch the many friends and family I seldom have the opportunity to see. It was important to let them know they're in my thoughts even though they're not in my ZIP Code. In the age of the Internet and digital photography, automating Christmas greetings has never been easier. If you want a completely hands-free process, computerize your list, then upload it and your favorite family photos to the Kodak, PhotoWorks or Snapfish Web sites and they'll do the mailing for you. Or save some trees and send free email greetings from Hallmark.

com. 5. Visitors and Visiting. This one's easy. Visitors? Don't have any. If you must, ask them which hotel they'll be staying at while they're in town.

Or instead, go to them. Better yet, if budgets allow meet in the middle but keep it fun. The more fun you make the destination, the simpler all the other Christmas rituals will be. As an alternative to busy city winter travels or sleeping in twin beds in the guest room, plan a family vacation to a favorite surf or ski locale. This approach minimizes gift craziness as well since it's difficult to haul everything around. Think about it, no one has to cook either, and you might be left with a tan or a massage rather than stress and dishes to wash.

Decluttering Christmas has not only been an incredible gift to myself, it has also taught me that less is absolutely more at holiday time. When I don't buy into all the "should do's" dictated by modern society and reinforced by the consumerism of Christmas, I am able to enjoy the celebration at a deeper level. Correction: I am able to enjoy the celebration, period. This year we'll be with my husband's family in Mexico, and although I'll miss seeing my own family in the states, I'll be spending the holiday with people I love dearly in simple, uncomplicated relaxation. We'll be at a family home out in the middle of nowhere, away from television, cell phones and the Internet. Best of all, we'll be far away from the hyper-commercialization of Christmas in the US.

If that's not a gift, I don't know what is. Copyright (c) 2007 Karen Talavera.

Karen Talavera is a keen observer, critical thinker and aspiring book author with a passion for writing, learning and teaching. She lives in South Florida and sounds off frequently on her blog of the same name, Sound Off. Read more of Karen's writing at .

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