How to Start Keeping Christmas Simple

Are you struggling with all of the things that need to get done this holiday season? Today I’m sharing my best tips for keeping Christmas simple this year.

Are you struggling with all of the things that need to get done this holiday season? Today I'm sharing my best tips for keeping Christmas simple this year. #keepingchristmassimple #simplechristmas #simplychristmas

Keeping Christmas Simple

Christmas is almost here and planning is in full swing now. Have you ever stopped to think about how much time and planning we put into one day? Yes, it’s one lovely day, but still, kinda crazy when you think about it!

It can get overwhelming. You want to have a nice day but you also know that you can’t break the bank. It’s not worth waking up in January with a pile of debt. So how do we do that? Have a nice sweet, simple holiday without having a completely stressful time getting everything put together?

Keeping Christmas Shopping Simple

Shopping for gifts can be one of the most stressful things that we do during the holiday season. But it doesn’t need to be that way. Here are some tips and ideas on how to set a budget and stick to it.

If you need a more structured approach to organizing your Christmas, grab this free printable Christmas Master Checklist here!

Set a Christmas Budget

No really…I mean it. Know how much you are going to spend on each person and don’t go over that limit. I’m sure you will have some on your shopping list that has a wish list a mile long but you don’t need to fulfill that. They may want those things now but in the long run, time, effort, and love are what they will really appreciate. Maybe that sounds a little cliche’ but in the back of our minds, we know it’s true.

Learn How to Make a Holiday Budget here.

Make a Gift List in Advance

If you create a gift list at the beginning of the year, you will always know what your gift recipient wants as they mention things throughout the year. Then if you see a special sale, no matter what time of year, you can grab it then, instead of being pressed to shop and bargain hunt all in the last month of the year.

You can find a gift list that you can keep throughout the year in my Homestead Management Binder pages.

Shop Easy

I know we all say that we would love to support small businesses and shop local but honestly, it doesn’t always work out with our budget and with our time. And that’s ok! This year I couldn’t get out as much as I could in previous years so I stuck with mostly Amazon purchases that I could get shipped right to my door. It definitely lessened the stress of shopping (no surprise here but I’m not in any way a big crowds person!) and I could stay under budget and still get great gifts.

It’s Ok to Not Give Homemade

There is nothing, and I repeat, NOTHING, wrong with giving homemade gifts! I think they are amazing! It means that you cared enough to put your time and effort into something special for your gift recipient instead of just picking something out at the store. (Of course, there is nothing wrong with that either although I would suggest putting your heart into both types of gifts!) If it makes your life and the life of your pocketbook easier by making and giving homemade gifts, then by all means, do it! If it’s more simple for you to buy something from the store, there is no reason to feel guilty about it.

Find some Simple Homemade Gifts to make.

Here are some of your Christmas budgeting ideas from the LHL Facebook page:

  • We make our gifts for each other and friends – Sandy
  • My family just does “secret Santa” so we can ensure everyone gets something and we focus more on our time together than in gifts. – Kim
  • I prefer to do homemade. – Dawn
  • Our family does a Pollyanna, too. On Thanksgiving, we draw names. The gifts are handmade and under $20. Family is more important than fancy gifts. – Naomi
  • Hubby and I always decide the amount we have to spend total on the 3 kids, then we divide that equally into thirds so that we spend the same amount on each kid. the kids know this and know that if they have an expensive item coming they will obviously have less total gifts. – Every Which Way But Down
  • We pick up stuff during the year and usually, we are almost done by Nov. I love to shop sales and clearances! – C Misty
  • Quite a few years ago we decided that Christmas was too expensive and, therefore stressful. We made a pact that our budget would be £10 per person. But we love giving LOTS of gifts to open so it gets terribly competitive as we try to outdo each other whilst keeping in the budget… You’d be surprised at what you can achieve… My Mum looks out for free samples and various collect X box tops and send off offers. My sister has an eye for a bargain and trawls the sales. And I am pretty crafty so do quite a bit of hand made stuff. This year Mum has rediscovered a passion for knitting so I daren’t buy a new woolly hat! We have way more fun than we did before our pact and don’t worry about how we are going to cope with the January overdraft… – Amanda
  • We started using the 4 gift rule last year. Something they need, something they want, something to read, and something to wear. – Aimee
  • We use points on our credit cards to get gift cards for our kids and older grandkids. We still buy for the little ones. Very stress free… – Nancy
  • We do black friday shopping every year. We bring 300 dollars with us and we can usually get the entire family done….both kids, my parents, Russ’s parents and my siblings and their spouses. Not bad… :o) – Krystal
  •  I try to set a $50 budget on my kids because I always spend the same on my kids and their significant other. I try to make it special for each one of my kids and get gifts that pertain to their interests or what I feel will be special to them. – Janica
  •  We do a bit of everything, really. We do buy some gifts, usually small things. I am always making something, be it a cross stitch, or this year I’m making skirts. We sometimes re-purpose things we got for other holidays that didn’t quite fit us, but always carefully and in good taste. We also give cookies, candies, and other home-made edibles, plus this year I’m doing up jars with cookie stuff in them. – Allyson
  • We use points on our credit cards too. I “buy” gift cards for the stores I know I’ll be shopping at, and then go purchase the gifts. We really don’t buy for many people. Mostly just our son, our few nieces and nephews and a small gift to each other. – Laura
  • We have an only child (expecting number 2 in April), and our rule is that “Santa” stuffs your stocking with candy/cheap trinkets/things you need (socks, gloves, etc), and you get three gifts from mommy and daddy. If three gifts were enough for baby Jesus, they are enough for you. Our total budget is $100 max. – Laura
  • I make, garage sale, and buy on sale all year long, and stuff in the closet. I take it all out the first of Dec and hope I covered all I need – if not, very little remains …. And starting Dec. 26, I’ll start sales for next Christmas. – Marci
  • Yard sales, thrift shops, homemade goodies. Three kids, six gifts each plus handmade items for them in their stockings. I also cash in on surveys, mturk, and swagbucks throughout the year. I don’t think I have spent out of pocket more than $100 so far, biggest purchase being a refurb tablet from brads deals for $50 for my oldest daughter. I sell on yard sale sites and trade as well. The stress and credit card debt isn’t worth it. The kids help make the homemade gifts, they also each have a 10$ budget to but for each other, handmade tokens as well from then to extended family. – Julie
  • Never really had one until this year….had a “family” meeting at Thanksgiving so everybody knew what to expect…set $$ limit at 25-50 and let everybody know from those of us that had “overspent” during the “off season” will be giving homemade gifts. – Mindy
  •  My husband and I set a $30 limit for each other who ever gets closer wins and the other person has to make a three coarse meal with ingredients the winner chooses. Kinda like iron chef. Then for the kids we do one gift for each child, one gift to them all as a family, and then we fill a stocking with small stuff. But that’s it! – Erica
  • We do 4 gifts each for our 4 children: Want/Wear/Need/ Read(Educational). The want gift we have the kids give that to each other. So they get to help pick the want gift. – Carlena
  • This year, we have a new nephew in the family (the first) and we aren’t buying gifts for everyone as we usually do, we instead are pooling our money and just buying gifts for the new baby. – Being at Home By Nature

I also have more ideas on Family Christmas Gift Exchanges here.

Keeping Christmas Baking Simple

I know we all love to bake during the holiday season, or at least eat fresh baked goods! But add baking to the stress of planning, shopping, decorating, family, and everything else, and where do you find the time? Here are a couple of ideas to make holiday baking a little simpler.

Plan a Baking Day

If you have a lot you are planning on making you might want to plan a big baking day instead of just making one or two things each day. Make room in your freezer and freeze the things that you don’t need right away to have for later. One big baking day and you are done!

Some make-ahead desserts to try are: Slice & Bake Sugar Cookies and Make Ahead Cookie Dough.

Participate in a Cookie Exchange.

Just because you want to have 12 dozen different kinds of cookies doesn’t mean you need to make them all! Gather several of your friends and make a dozen cookies per friend that is exchanging, make sure you are each making a different kind! Then get together and exchange your cookies so you all end up with several different kinds.

Just Don’t Do It.

If you don’t want goodies this Christmas or if you are perfectly happy with what the local bakery has to offer, just don’t bake. Take a year off! You want your holiday to be simple and if baking is going to stress you out, then come up with an alternative. We all know that we are going to fill up on plenty of goodies during holiday parties anyway. 🙂

Here are some of your tips on holiday baking from the LHL Facebook page:

  • I don’t do it! – Frannie
  • Bake? Who bakes??? LOL Since the kids left home I don’t holiday bake like I used to. Now I make only make a batch of cookies. I do still bake pies as my DH loves them. I’m considering adopting my mother’s method of pie baking. When apples are in season she’ll prepare enough pies (unbaked) to see them through the year. She freezes them, then all she has to do is pull one out, let it thaw a bit and pop into the oven. I’ve never been quite this organized…but I’m learning!! – Judith
  • I turn off the oven and go to Walmart. – Stephanie
  • I only make Chocolate Chip cookies, but then again, I do that all year round  I don’t make varieties, I just enjoy the ones everyone else gives us. – Janice
  • I don’t do baking, for the most part, because I live in a triad with a woman who adores baking and sees it as stress therapy. So she does all the baking (well, most of it… I do some, like shortbread). – Allyson
  • I choose one thing and make large batches. – Laura
  • I start out with the first quick and easy cookies making sure I have enough, and freeze then move on to the next. – Claudia
  • I gift myself with one cookie from every batch that goes in the oven! I like my treats so I bake more! – C Misty
  • I joined a cookie swap this year. 8 dozen cookies should get us through! – Debbie
  • Preparation, organization, and reminders that I am doing it for fun! – Sherie
  • my girls help me! we make about 5-6 different varieties and we all just work together for a day or two and knock ’em all out! – Heidi
  • I do it over multiple days. Making sturdier items and gifts for others first, and getting them on out the house. Then move on to more delicate and items that spoil the.morning of when people are coming over. Yummmmy! – Alexandra
  • Cookie swaps are great! You only have to make one kind and then you come home with so many different yummy cookies. I have done this the past few years with my book club. – Julie
  • I make several batches of dough & freeze it into serving size balls so that I can pop them into the oven at a moments notice!! – Lori
  • I’ve cut back to only what I know is truly cherished as a family tradition …. the Christmas morning quiches and Ma-ma’s date nut squares for gifts… And for cookies, only the reindeer with pretzel antlers that the grands love. – Marci
  •  I spread it out through the whole month instead of all in one week. Things that keep longer or can be frozen get done first. I don’t do a lot of baking except for pies for Christmas Day or maybe a batch of sugar cookies for the kids to decorate. I mostly make candy that I give as gifts. – Laurie
  • I have my 18 and 15 year old daughters do it. They love it. Made cinnamon raisin bread yesterday. – Ann
  • I make a list of what all I am going to bake; including for gifts. Then locate all of the recipes into one pile;(some are on index cards or cut out of magazines). Grocery list for all of the ingredients at once. Then a day or so later I start baking. this system works well for me; It is fun but can make you very tired. – Jan
  • Have my daughter help—that’s the first thing. We make our list and shop together. She usually does the mixing/baking and I do the cleanup. We’re pretty much like a well-oiled machine in the kitchen. – Let This Mind Be In You
  • By choosing one or two treats to make and saying “Oh well” and relaxing with a cup of tea if there’s a mishap or I run out of time. – Katherine
  • Bake with a friend – Tammie
  • I make Christmas cutout. I mix them, my husband bakes them and the entire family decorates. My hubby is a better baker than I am. – Cindy
  • Starting in late Nov/ early Dec I bake cookies and breads and freeze them. I usually make multiple batches of just one variety each day I bake so I’m not going back and forth with ingredients. I went gluten free this spring so I’m not as “enthusiastic” as I normally am, so haven’t started yet! – Tammy
  • I let my husband do it! – Brenda

Appreciating Christmas

Appreciation is something we seem to talk a lot about here. I think that’s ok. 🙂 If you don’t appreciate what you have you ill never be satisfied in life!

During Christmas, we can get many gifts. We can have lots of time with family members. And we can have many baked goodies and treats. But are we really appreciating all of it? I think the best part of Christmas is the realization of how grateful we should be for what we have.

Clean Out Things You Don’t Really Need.

Maybe the reason that we aren’t able to appreciate our new things and our new gifts is that we already have too much! Take a few weeks before Christmas and get rid of all the “extras” that you don’t really need.

If you need extra help with this task, my ebook 31 Days to Simpler Living is very helpful!

Set Extra Time for Fellowship.

Yeah, we all see each other and maybe even exchange gifts, but wouldn’t we rather have the time with each other than the normal short pleasantries? Take time to invite a family member for lunch or have your cousins over for a small impromptu dinner. Take the littles in your family to a local event. Make Christmas Eve family game night. Whatever you do, take the time to appreciate one another!

Having overnight guests? You will find this guide for How to Make Overnight Guests Feel Welcome helpful!

Donate.

Do we really appreciate all the special baked goodies we are making or are given? Do we appreciate our huge Christmas feasts? Take time this holiday season to work a day at a soup kitchen. Or grab some extras at the grocery store during all these great holiday sales and donate them to your local food pantry. Another nice idea is to take treats to a local senior center or to some seniors homes. They love the goodies and they often are forgotten.

Here are some LHL reader ideas on how to best be able to appreciate the holidays and what we have:

  • I try to not get so caught up in “getting it all done” and rather concentrate on making special time for our family. – Velda
  • Buy less “stuff.” – Sicily
  • I volunteer at the local humane society all year but during the holidays I adopt several animals from the angel tree and bring in cat litter, food and toys to help. – Teresa
  • Decorating the house and diffusing oils like Christmas Spirit, seems to help my beloved husband. He works so many looooong hours, so I do my best to make home a Haven of Rest:) – Marilyn
  • Focus on the reason for the season: Jesus. – Char
  • Celebrate them in February. – Kristal
  • Every single evening, I turn out the family room lights and decompress, by the light of the Christmas tree, with a hot cup of tea. – Dolled Up Dolphin
  • Look at the holiday they the eyes of my young grandchildren. – Colleen
  • Relax as much as possible – and plan for lots of leftovers so there is no cooking for a couple days. – Marci
  • With each holiday I try to do one big volunteer project (and more if I can) 1. It’s good for the soul 2. Reminds me what it really means to give. That giving isn’t about buying. Oh and drink lots of hot cocoa!! – Corey
  • Plan out baking and ingredients early and stock up. limit the amount of parties and festivities away from home. Mainly don’t spend so much time running around in the frey. make gifts; or buy at smaller shops. Stay home, relax and enjoy it. – Jan
  • We choose two names from the angel tree and buy gifts for them as a family. Helps to remind us of how blessed we are, and how important it is to give to others with no expectation of getting anything in return. We also wait until a couple of weeks before Christmas to get a tree and decorate. So it seems more special. – Carrie
  • Bake cutout Christmas cookies with my kids. – Gaylene
  • Spend time with family, decorate and take some time off!! – Tammy

What do you do during the holidays to help you appreciate them and what you have more? How do you budget for the holidays to make life easier on yourself?

This post on Keeping Christmas Simple was originally published as a series on Little House Living in December 2012. It has been updated as of December 2019.

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12 Comments

  1. Hubby’s girls came up with a great holiday gift idea for family. Each member draws one name and that person gets a handmade gift. One gift for the whole family. The rule is that it has to be at least 75% Handmade. And you have all year to make it. I drew my son-in-law and he got a upcycled denim and flannel quilt. Hubby drew his ex-father-in-law and we made a jam-a-month package for him (homemade jam!). It’s actually fun! And the one gift? Easy peasy.

  2. I like to bake some things earlier in the month and then freeze them. One big bake day would not be stress relief for me, though, because I try to get my baking done during my toddler’s nap times. Spreading it out over the month in small batches helps me.

  3. All good ideas.
    For me, the balance of fun & festivities and time for family and reflections leans more and more to the last two over the years..
    Other than buying supplies for the other adults favorite charities ( I get cat food for my rescue work, most years), we decided years ago to forgo traditional gifts (sweaters, hobby stuff, golf clubs, etc) as a group. Makes shopping simple and enjoyable.

  4. We (family of 5) started a new tradition this year…and it is simple. At least once a week we drive around different parts of town looking at the lights. It’s amazing to see my 3 year old twins and my 8 year olds faces and to hear their squeals of laughter and awe. It’s the little pleasures that bring the most happiness.

  5. This post keeps popping up when I drool over the sugar cookie slice and bake recipe…I would love to see a brownie recipe to go with that brownie picture. Is it here somewhere?

  6. I have 4 grown children and 3 grandchildren. I decided to go with money gifts last year so each couple got $75 and the singles got $50. Then I did stockings with beauty and hygiene products I bought throughout the year. The grandkids got a special gift, a book and a stocking. Kept my stress level way down. I also compile a calendar using pics from our vacation to give to other family members. I know that gets used.

  7. I also do the want/need/wear/read gifts. Everyone got a pj set/slippers and blanket this year. Everyone got something they wanted (in moderation) and everyone got something to read. I found some low cost kindle books along with used book sales this year. Something they need was individual so I got some goods deals and made some things as well. I spent about $200.00 for a family of 6.

  8. I actually did a lot of baking this year. I made cookies and pies and cakes. It was fun and it gave us goodies that we don’t ordinarily eat. We had fun and scrumptious things to eat along with hot cocoa, candy canes and a candy table. For me this is what makes holidays special so I don’t mind doing it.

  9. Being with friends and family and giving what I can makes all holidays for me special. I LOVE all that I do to make special but simple holiday.