Simply Living: Protecting my time

I have to admit, I find it mildly ironic that I’ve decided to start Simply Living so close to the holidays, the very time of year when madness is considered conventional. One has to wonder how we’ve let the holidays, a time when our lives should be filled with love, happiness and good tidings, become charged with stress, anxiety and frustration. Arguably it speaks to our sensibilities as mothers and parents and our desire to create a little slice of magic for our children and extended families. But I think it also comes from a tendency to measure ourselves critically against a standard that is diluted with commercialism and impracticality. I freely admit I’m as guilty as the next person. 

So here we are, on the cusp of another busy season filled with endless obligations and preparations. Parties, baking, decorating, shopping, wrapping, well, you get the picture. Already my blood pressure rises when I open my calendar and see the growing number of evening and weekend commitments. Last week I did an informal Facebook survey asking who uses lists to organize for Christmas. I was amused by how many responded that they make lists of their lists.  The sentiment is, though humorous, I’m sure not far from the truth.

So I ask why? Why do we let the holidays take hold of our lives, causing sleep deprivation and exhaustion in mothers who are already beyond tired. In a world where there is so little we can actually control day to day, here is the perfect example of something that we truly can. There is no real reason to say yes to every invitation we get and to set a standard that is unhealthy to achieve. These pressures are fueled by unreasonable expectations that matter little if you consider the whole picture.

So here it is, my first goal in my quest to live simply : As the holidays loom and life becomes more frenetic than usual I will consicously recognize the value of my time and prioritize how I spend it. In fact, I won’t restrict this resolution to Christmas, I’m making  it a whole life priority to protect weeknights and weekends as much as possible in favour of down-time, catching up, and for enjoying my family. Starting now, I’m choosing to put me and my family before outside social obligations more often. As much as I value time away to regenerate, I prefer unstructured and worry free time with my family to unwind.

Parenting is all about setting examples. As Carl Jung so aptly said: “If there is anything that we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves.” In this age of hyper-parenting and over-scheduling our children, I think there is a lot to be said for setting an example and placing value on quiet time, relaxing at home as a family.

And so I realize there is some merit to starting this project during the busiest time of year. I’m hoping that if I can pull it together and reduce stress in November and December, than I’ll have conquered an important hurdle.

 Do you have any holiday traditions that you could let go of in favour of simplicity? How do you manage this time of year?

Image: ‘Almost there‘ via a Creative Commons license.

21 thoughts on “Simply Living: Protecting my time

  1. Lindsey says:

    Generally, I say no to a lot of things. All year Matt and I stick to a one-night-out-per-weekend rule, and try to spend big chunks of the daytime weekend hours just hanging out with our kids. I say no to lots of birthday parties and playdates to protect that time. Truthfully, I am more adamant about this than is my much-more-social husband, so sometimes he goes out with friends while I stay home.
    We also do gifts just for the children in our families, and he and I don’t really exchange gifts. So for me the gift-buying part is relatively easy. One tradition I adore is our holiday card, so I do throw myself into that, but I do it early (it’s done) so there is time not to panic.
    We have a hard-and-fast rule that we alternate holidays, so one year we do Thanksgiving with my family and Christmas with his, and then the next year vice versa. We still have to travel, because Matt’s family is in Florida, but we aren’t trying to cram two family traditions into a single holiday. This helps a lot.
    I look forward to reading what others have to say here too!

  2. Julie says:

    I use the “categorize events” option in my Outlook calendar, so I can see if I am doing too much of one thing or another, at a glance, just by the mix of colours on the calendar. Too much orange and green means I’m overdoing work and networking, need to add more blues, which are my personal time and events initiated by my husband, or vice versa.

    I like baking, so I do at least some every year, but Christmas cards sometimes turn into week-after-New-Years emails, depending on how I feel and how much news we have. I don’t wrap, only use bags, and if it’s just hubby and I for the holidays at home, we don’t even bother with tags, just green bags for him and red for me or some other easy colour coding.

    I don’t have kids, but I was one, and I don’t remember the events and parties or carefully wrapped presents and elaborate dinners; I remember rowdy Christmas Eves with neighbours and friends and Christmas mornings that slid into afternoons of just the family sitting around in pajamas, eating chocolate, watching Don Cherry’s Rock em Sock em hockey that my brother received every year. Regardless of the experts’ views, I think *quantity* time is important.

  3. Kate says:

    Simplifying Christmas is big here too. It’s part of why I am writing lists. I don’t know if ghat makes sense, but having a plan now for what we’re getting makes it simpler and will help us get less. I love the cheer of parties and gatherings, but too much is too much. I have been told I don’t do enough activities with my girls, but they are happy and healthy and I am not maniacally driving everywhere.
    Saying no is scary at first, but then you start to feel in control and that is awesome.

  4. Just...Kim says:

    I used to absolutely hate the holiday season. My kids are late teens and young adults and when they were young I too wanted to create something magical for them as I guess most mothers do. Then I realized that I wasn’t creating any magic for myself and that I was teaching them to have a stressed out holiday season. I have read and agree that children do best when they have parent(s) who are happy and healthy. For me that was learning balance. My tool of choice has always been my Franklin Planner ( The system can be used in Outlook (as I saw someone mention above), on a hand-held device, or on good old fashioned paper. I’m an extreme techie myself and yet I am drawn to the paper version, despite the teasing. The beautiful paper and writing with a pen bring me joy, the gadget did not. Twelve years later I still have to work at balance. My mantra this year….Just say NO! However, I now look forward to the holidays and all the magic that comes with it. Good luck to you!

  5. Finola says:

    I find I don’t enjoy the holiday until Dec 27th when all of our family obligations are finished. Even though I keep things as simple as I possibly can, it’s still hectic. Things that help a little for me are that I don’t like to bake, so I don’t bake. We only buy presents for the children of our siblings, and we do not over-commit to social events either. Decorating is kept simple, and if we are hosting dinner we do a roast beef instead of turkey because it is a lot easier.

    Still, just seeing our immediate families is a lot over those few days of Christmas, but after that part is over, we hang out, go tobogganning, do jigsaws and watch movies. That part is the best part of the holidays for me.

  6. I am so appreciative of your perspective in this post, Christine. Most mothers are overstretched during any “normal” period of time. Somehow, at the holidays, our performance expectations of ourselves are off the charts.

    We simplified of necessity – some years ago. We were able to keep some of our usual traditions, just toned down. Our holidays are more fluid and spontaneous. Overall – a little decorating, lots of good cooking, cutting way down on cards and gifts… it’s made the holidays more about being together, and less about “stuff.” Keep us posted on how you do…

  7. Good for you! I don’t know that I spend that much time doing extra social things during the holidays, but I do think it’s important to enjoy the time rather than stressing. The other area to simplify as well is with the gifts we get for our kids. I think it’s important not to go overboard, because that only feeds into the problem of an unsimple life.

  8. I think this is an excellent idea, Christine!! And a great time to start.

    Because of Ben’s work schedule, I am very jealous of his time. We hardly do anything on the weekdays/nights (mostly because he works then) and we rarely travel. We like it this way, spending time with just each other and the kids. So I guess the holidays aren’t any better or worse than the rest of the year.

    And, since we don’t really celebrate holidays, there isn’t that much stress this time of year. The only stress is dealing with the cold and the darkness, but at least we have a warm house to live in!

    I think that simplicity is the way to live. Over complicated and busy schedules leave me cranky and an even worse mom than before. I’m sure I’m not the only mom who feels this way.

    I think that you are doing a wonderful job of simplifying your life and I really enjoy reading your journey.

  9. Amber says:

    Hmm, good question.

    I feel like our holidays are very overscheduled, and I would like to change it, but I always feel at a loss for HOW.

    But maybe it’s time for me to just PICK something already. Perhaps exactly what I choose matters less than just choosing.

  10. I just realized last week that the holidays were coming–it was not a pleasant realization. I think I might have peed my pants a little. I tend to be a crank during the holidays, so my goal is to weather them with minimal crabbing. hahahahhaha. Riiiight. Who am I kidding. Eggnog, anyone?

  11. For me, it’s not about eliminating any of the Christmas traditions but rather eliminating some of the excess gift buying and ‘need’ to make complicated holiday dishes. I’m taking a class this holiday season called The Advent Conspiracy, and it’s Christian-based, so may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the idea behind it is universal: spend a little less (not in a Scrooge way), spend a little more time, and give a little more this holiday season in order to ‘uncomplicate’ your winter break. We’ll see how I go. I need this.

  12. Wendy says:

    Kudos for going simple this year! I believe it is absolutely the best time to start!

    This is a particularly stressful time of the year for me because we also have 5 of our 7 birthdays from Thanksgiving to Christmas (one is on Thanksgiving day this year!) I try to keep things as simple as possible and focus on family more than on things. While we travel for Thanksgiving, I say no to travel on Christmas Day. We stay home in our pjs all day and play. We drink hot cocoa, do puzzles and read stories. It is my absolute favorite day of the year!

  13. denise says:

    One year, we abandoned all store-bought gifts and instead, could only give gifts that we made. And any piece needed for the homemade gift had to already exist in our home. (Interestingly, it was I who had the hardest time without the holiday shopping. I’d allowed myself to believe, hook, line and sinker, that my holiday cheer came in packages.) The results were truly magnificent and I seriously regrounded myself in the true spirit of the holidays.

  14. harrietglynn says:

    My rule of everything is, if it’s stressful and no fun, don’t do it. That even extends to presents. I’m now known for being a random gift giver even to my family. Sometimes they get a gift; sometimes not. Keeps things interesting!

  15. The holidays can be the worst, can’t they? There are so many socially-constructed expectations about what we’re supposed to do during this “joyful” season – so many of us end up not feeling any joy at all!

    I’m not worrying about baking cookies. For Christmas with my extended family, all the ladies bring platters heaping with cookies. Decadent, ridiculous, cavity-causing varieties of cookies. But why? We all get sick from eating too many – and there are so many leftover because we’re each trying to outdo ourselves and one another. If I feel inspired, maybe I’ll make my caramels. They’re my personal favorite and my signature that no one else makes. But I am not making 6 different kinds of cookies this year!

  16. Sarah says:

    I almost don’t want to comment because we have the most laid-back holidays. We have a lot of family to juggle, so we set expectations early. We are on a 3 year cycle… my mom, my dad, and just us. Ted’s parents get us on Boxing Day when we are in the area and New Year’s when it’s my dad’s year and we are out of town.

    I guess what I’m saying is that we manage expecations early and are consistent. That frees us up for last minute invites, but commits us to none.

    It also helps that I don’t bake and put up minimal decorations. We get festive listening to Christmas songs instead of doing things that take a lot of time and energy (though, I think that is mostly because I am lazy…)

  17. becca says:

    I’m just not going to let guilt kick my ass this year. I’m going to say no if I don’t feel like doing something. And I’m going to enjoy the quiet moments and look for more of them. I love quiet nights during the holidays. I choose that over the big hooplah.

    I strive to live simply. Love simplicity.

    Love and miss you!

  18. Justine says:

    Christine, I admire you for tackling this during the holiday season. I have to admit, it does stress me out, but since I’ve pretty much written my in-laws out of the picture (one of whom is usually the cause of much of my anxiety), this year seems like it will be easier to handle. But that also means we won’t be near family members on Christmas, so I’m not sure how much pressure I am going to feel in trying to make this special for us despite the little “glitch”. Good luck to us both huh?

  19. Kimberly says:

    Hey Christine,
    I just found you! Long time no see! 🙂 You have a great blog and living the holidays simply is something that has been on my mind a lot recently. We are already so exhausted with our 4 1/2 month old that I just can’t imagine adding the pressure of the amount of running around we typically do. So… unapologetically we have decided to not do it this year. I have been feeling bad about it since we let our families know… your post help remind me why it’s ok. Why it’s more than ok and best for us. Looking forward to reading more!


    • Christine says:

      Hi Kim! So glad you found me. Such a pleasant suprise to read your comment. Having children teaches us a lot of things, for me learning to say no and to put my own family first has been hard, but necessary.

      I’ll be by to check our your blog for sure.

  20. Beneficial info and excellent design you got here! I want to thank you for sharing your ideas and putting the time into the stuff you publish! Great work!

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