Simple Holiday Prep

If you are striving to simplify the holidays this year, take a listen to my chat with three of my favorite minimalist mamas, Erica Layne from The Life on Purpose Movement, Zoë Kim from Raising Simple, and Rachelle Crawford from Abundant Life with Less.

Between the four of us, we have 12 kids under age 14. But we carved time out to grab a virtual coffee (or tea) as we talked about simplifying all things holiday prep: decorations, traditions, gifts, the calendar, and holiday cards. You can listen to our chat on the podcast or watch the video of our conversation.

Show Notes/Links:

Find Erica online:

Find Zoë online:

Find Rachelle online:

Full Episode Transcription

Denaye:
Hi, this is Denaye. I'm the founder of Simple Families. Simple Families is an online community for parents who are seeking a simpler, more intentional life. In this show, we focus on minimalism with kids, positive parenting, family wellness, and decreasing the mental load. My perspectives are based in my firsthand experience raising kids, but also rooted in my PhD in child development. So you're going to hear conversations that are based in research, but more importantly, real life. Thanks for joining us.

Hello, it's episode 179, and today I have not one, not two, but three guests. Three of my favorite minimalist moms, and we're talking about pre-holiday preparation because the rest of the world is very much ready for the holidays. I'm not sure if I am, but when I look around I'm seeing it everywhere.

I invited three of my favorite minimalist mom friends, Erica Layne from The Life on Purpose Movement, Rachelle Crawford from Abundant Life With Less and Zoe Kim from Raising Simple. We are joining together in a conversation about how we handle simplifying the holidays.

The bonus is that this week there's actually a video, so if you'd prefer to watch the video of our chat, you can go to simplefamilies.com/episode179 and you can watch the video right there in the show notes. If you're anything like me and you feel more connected to people when you see their faces and hear them talking, then definitely tune into the video.

I'm excited to share this chat with my friends, Erica, Rachelle and Zoe, and after I recorded this conversation I realized that I didn't ask anyone to introduce themselves. I think that's because I've gotten to know these ladies really well over the past couple of years, which has been a complete pleasure and I just felt ready to jump right into the conversation. I want to stop for a minute and let you know a little bit about who you're listening to.

Let's start with Erica. Erica is the founder of The Life On Purpose Movement and she lives in California with her husband and her three kids. She's also the author of the book, The Minimalist Way.

And then there's Zoe, who is the founder of Raising Simple and she lives in Georgia with her four kids, and she's the author of the book Minimalism With Families.

Lastly, but not least, we have Rachelle, and she lives in Michigan with her three kids. And between the four of us, we have 12 kids under the age of 13.

When it comes to the holidays, we're doing things a little bit simpler than many families, at least here in the US, so we're sharing more about what we're doing and maybe even more importantly what we're not doing. In this episode, we're talking about decorating, when we're decorating, how we're decorating, how we store our decorations. We'll talk about traditions, the importance of imperfect traditions along with gifting, what we're buying for our kids, who we buy for, including hostess gifts. Lastly, we're talking about keeping the calendar simple and holiday cards. Spoiler alert, holiday cards are something that we are all consistently inconsistent about. Thanks for tuning in. If you go to simplefamilies.com/episode179, you can get the links to learn more about all these ladies. I hope you enjoy this conversation.

Let's start this episode off talking a little bit about decorations. I know that if we don't decorate or we don't decorate enough, we can get labeled as a scrooge. I want to hear from you. How much are you decorating? What do you feel like is enough when it comes to holiday decorations? Zoe, can you start us off?

Zoe:
Yeah, I'd love to. I have been simplifying for eight years, so I now have my Christmas decorations down to one bin. Most of the year, the decorations that I bring in now are going to just be fresh cut items. So flowers, the fresh garland and a little bit in each room. That way, I don't feel like I have to stay connected to all the clutter yet, each new year I feel like I have something fresh and inviting for the holidays.

Denaye:
What's in your bin if you only have one bin?

Zoe:
Well, I should say that one bin does not count my Christmas tree lights. I have a nativity scene that was my grandmother's that she got in Germany, so that's fun to get out and use every year. Apparently, I'm so not attached to my Christmas decorations, Denaye. I think I should've got the bin out because I legit can't think of every single item in there. I do have a painted coconut from Hawaii that's painted Christmas theme. I have that. We do do stockings. Those are about the bulk of it.

Denaye:
All right. And what about you Erica?

Erica:
Yeah, I'm pretty similar. We have one large tub, one of the oversize tubs in a closet in our garage like that under the stairs closet. It contains all of my decorations for all of the holidays, so Christmas, a few little things for Easter, like their Easter baskets, a few things for Halloween, just all, all of the holidays. We've got a nativity scene too that my husband's brother picked up in Jerusalem, children's books. My mom decorated and still decorates for all of the holidays to the max, and it was so fun to grow up with that. To put out like the tiny Tim village. There's a name for those, but I'm blanking on it. The little porcelain villages.

Denaye:
Oh yeah.

Erica:
The ones where they sprinkle snow over them. It was such a magical, fun feeling. I think I also remember we would be like, "Let's put out the Christmas decorations. Let's put out the Christmas decorations." My mom would kind of drag her feet. Now that I'm the mom, I understand that that's because it's not just magic for the person putting them out. It's a lot of work. I opted not to do the little porcelain village, and instead just keep things pretty simple. I do what Zoe does too, which is try to get fresh things that are more seasonal than like holiday, holiday, like pumpkins in the fall and some Garland from Trader Joe’s in December. That's pretty much it.

Denaye:
All right. What about you Rachelle?

Rachelle:
Yeah, very similar. I just have one large bin of holiday stuff, but it's really only Christmas. Christmas is the only holiday that we really decorate for. I had a bunch of stuff before. Nothing that I loved, just stuff friends would give me or I'd pick up at a garage sale cause I thought I needed a lot more. A few people in my life insisted I needed more, but I always felt so overwhelmed by it, and I didn't really realize what it was. I would set our Christmas tree up like the week before Thanksgiving because I thought that's what brought in the Christmas spirit. But the day after Christmas, I wanted to practically set it all on fire. I was so over it.

This year we're setting it up a little bit later, probably not until December. Hopefully, I'll be able to enjoy it and let it go back into the basement with a little bit more love. But I consider my Christmas tree to be a massive declaration that I don't feel like I need to have stuff displayed all over my house. The stockings, as well, I think are adorable. But other than that, I think I have a couple of candles, candle holders, and the nativity scene also from Israel, but that's about it.

Denaye:
Yeah, we just have one big bin too and it's mostly full of ornaments and we do souvenir ornaments when we travel, or we have an ornament every year of something that our kids are interested in or something new to us. Like the year we moved to New York, we got a New York ornament. This year we went to Greece and we got an ornament from Greece. They tend to be fun to pull out every year to remember big occasions and things throughout the years. We do really look forward to getting out the ornaments and looking through and talking through them all and telling the kids about them. Yeah, we do fresh cut greens too. Erica?

Erica:
Yeah, I wanted to add that. I love ornaments for that too, pulling them out and remembering the little story behind each one is a huge part of the fun. I just wanted to add that just because I don't have a ton of Christmas decorations doesn't mean that I think my kids are really deprived from, from the same kind of childhood experience that I had. I think my kids still enjoy it in almost literally the same way that I enjoyed my mom's really over the top decorations, you know? I don't think you need a ton to give your kids that magical feeling of wonder at the holiday season.

Denaye:
Rachelle?

Rachelle:
Yeah. I have some friends who have like the most gorgeous Christmas homes, like tons of decorations. It's a skill that they have and they love doing it. So I wouldn't say that going above and beyond is wrong, as well. It just doesn't fit my personality. I can't do it well and it feels like clutter to me. But when I go to their homes, I'm just blown away and it's beautiful and it's something that gives them great joy. So I don't think there's anything wrong with overly decorating. Anyways, I just wanted to add that in.

Erica:
Absolutely.

Denaye:
Yeah, and I think if I decorate less at home, it gives us more motivation to get out and see the decorations elsewhere and take advantage of those experiences rather than just to having the stuff in our home day in and day out for a month or six weeks, whatever it is during the holiday season. I think we appreciate getting out and seeing the displays in the neighboring communities, even more because we don't have as much around the house, so it makes it even more special.

Zoe:
Erica, yes. If I could follow up on what you said, Erica, I think too, you've been simplifying for a while as well, haven't you? Quite a few years. And your kids are still younger. So it's nice when our kids' expectations are in line with what we're doing and what our ability is. If the family was to come into this simplicity now and they're used to going all out, so to speak, for their holiday decorations and then they put a quarter of the usual decorations up, their kids might feel like, "Whoa, this doesn't feel like Christmas," because that's not what they're used to.

Erica:
So true.

Zoe:
It's definitely just the transition, but it is nice when you can reset those expectations and then shift their focus away from the stuff and say, “Hey, we're not going to put as much out, but we're going to be doing this activity and we're going to be making these things together and whatnot.”

Erica:
Yeah. That's great.

Denaye:
Rachelle, how old is your oldest child?

Rachelle:
Nine. Almost 10.

Denaye:
How old was he when you started simplifying?

Rachelle:
He had just turned seven when we started simplifying. He remembers the process. My youngest doesn't know anything other than this.

Denaye:
Do you feel like he has commented or mentioned missing the way that the holidays were before or anything like that?

Rachelle:
No, definitely not. As it relates to gift giving or decorations, honestly, no. I don't think he would say he feels he's missing out on anything. He definitely remembers the process and the decluttering of our home and the getting rid of things. He's kind of a sentimental soul, so that part, I had to really tip toe around, but he doesn't look back and feel like he's deprived now. I don't believe he would say that.

Denaye:
Okay. Let's talk about timing. Rachelle, you talked a little bit about waiting until December. Have you in the past started early, like early November?

Rachelle:
Not early November, the weekend before Thanksgiving. Some people I know have decorated already, like immediately after Halloween. I thought that was early enough, but last year I realized like, why am I sick of all of this stuff? And it's because I've been looking at it longer than my brain can handle it. This year we're going to wait a little bit. I don't know if the kids will even notice. I think that will serve me well, so I'm going to go for that.

Denaye:
Yeah, it was like November 1st game on, like Halloween is over and Christmas is here. Did you guys feel that?

Zoe:
For sure. Yeah.

Erica:
Yes.

Denaye:
Erica, what about you? When do you think you'll start decorating?

Erica:
I might start putting little touches out during the week of Thanksgiving break just because we have that week off. My kids have the whole week off of school and my husband actually has it off of work. Since we'll be around and I'll have a little time, I might start putting a few things up. I usually put the tree up right after Thanksgiving, so yeah, that's it. I like the point of, because I know that feeling of okay, I could burn this down, no problem. I definitely don't want to leave it up forever. Sometimes I'm a little nostalgic about taking the tree down because I do like the glow of the lights.

Denaye:
Yeah, I don't know when we're going to do it this year. I have this tradition in my mind because as a child, I grew up in Northeastern Ohio where there was a lot of snow. My memories, we always went out to a Christmas tree farm on a horse drawn carriage, cut down the Christmas tree, four kids arguing over who gets what ... or which tree we should choose. It was like a big scene. Of course, we all complained about it every single year, like I don't want to do it, whatever, especially as we got older. But now that I'm an adult and I live somewhere that it snows, I definitely, I want that tradition for my kids.

Since we've lived in New York the past two years, I told my family that we have to go to a Christmas tree farm to cut our tree down and it cannot happen until it's snowing. The first year I made them wait until it snowed, which was like December 9th. Last year, it was a little bit earlier, but I have this it-must-snow type rule, but we'll see. I don't know, I probably need to be a little bit more flexible with that.

Rachelle:
That's cute though.

Erica:
It sounds like a really fun memory.

Denaye:
Yeah.

Zoe:
I love your embrace. It makes me think that I embrace imperfect tradition.

Rachelle:
That's right.

Denaye:
Yes, it is.

Zoe:
When you're describing like four kids and fighting. That's how it really is. It's good to embrace that.

Denaye:
Yeah. I wonder, I should ask my mom how she feels about that memory looking back because I'm pretty sure we made it miserable for her. She wanted it to be this picture perfect thing where we were all going out in the horse drawn carriage, but all of us complained about doing it and we all were fighting with each other the whole time, I'm pretty confident. I wonder if she looks back at that with happy memories. I feel like I have the tendency just to remember the happy things when it’s along those lines. I don't know, what about you all?

Zoe:
Yeah, I do. That's why I take pictures.

Denaye:
Maybe not.

Zoe:
No, that's why I take pictures, because when I think and I look back at these memories, and I'm like, "Oh, that was so stressful." Then I'm like, "Oh, but look at this. Look how adorable and cute. Oh, they smiled for a minute. They were happy." It's good to remember that.

Denaye:
It makes it worth it. Rachelle.

Rachelle:
I think the craziness, it makes the memory even better. The best part is sitting around with my brother and sisters and talking about all that went wrong. That's what makes it more fun. In the moment, maybe not, and definitely not for my parents or for us now, but looking back, that's what makes it like the best memory of all.

Denaye:
Yeah, and I think that in the generation we're raising kids in now, there's this need to make it all perfect. Picture perfect for social media, like get the perfect shot, have the perfect day, the perfect experiences. I know just from hearing from my audience members that everybody wants to have these amazing traditions. I'm always seeing posts online, like what are your holiday traditions and what do you do with your family? I'm looking to start new holiday traditions. I think a lot of people put stress on themselves about creating these perfect moments. I love to hear that reflection from you, Rachelle. I guess, now reflecting on my own childhood, that for me too, it was the imperfect moments that stand out. Maybe it was the lack of the existence of perfect moments from the '80s and '90s. It's hard to say. Erica?

Erica:
Yeah. I also think that the moments that we ... I'm having a hard time articulating this. Come back to me.

Denaye:
Okay. So Zoe.

Zoe:
Yeah, Denaye. We put up a tree every year as well, and I've moved a lot. So sometimes I've done it two weeks before Christmas and sometimes I've done it the week of Thanksgiving, but I think like Erica, I'm going to be doing it the week of Thanksgiving because my kids are off. I want to do it at a time where I feel like we have the bandwidth in our schedule. It's not like I'm trying to do it when they're coming home from school or on the weekend. I'm looking forward to it. We're going to go cut a tree down, but, Denaye, I can't have that snow fantasy because I live in Georgia.

Denaye:
Zoe, you live in a smaller space now, or you said you've moved a lot. Right now you're in ... is this your smallest space yet?

Zoe:
It is.

Denaye:
How big is it?

Zoe:
Like 1100 square feet.

Denaye:
Okay, and you have four kids.

Zoe:
Yep, four kids. We're in a three bedroom apartment. Fortunately, the lighting is great and we have tall ceilings, so it does make it feel a little bit bigger. I am still going to make room for a tree. Even if we have to move our couch out of the apartment into someone else's apartment. No, I'm kidding. We do a fresh tree so that way I don't have to store it. I also liked the smell and the fresh feeling. I have a degree in horticulture, so it's almost like I just can't even bring myself to buy anything fake. Rachelle, you're awesome. Keep doing your fake trees.

Rachelle:
Thanks.

Denaye:
Erica, do you do a fake tree?

Erica:
We do a fake tree. Yeah.

Denaye:
You do. Okay.

Erica:
It's like a thin tree, kind of narrow. It's easy to set up and it's not that bulky to store.

Denaye:
Okay.

Erica:
I also found my words. What I was going to mention about traditions was that I think a lot of times the traditions that our kids or us as grownups remember most are the ones that happened really naturally. I think sometimes we can put pressure on ourselves as mom and leaders in our families to create these amazing traditions where you drive around with hot chocolate, looking at lights and listening to Christmas music and everybody's happy and nobody's fighting, but really, I think that the best traditions come from totally normal moments, like year-round.

The first time we took a kindergartener to kindergarten, our oldest son, he looked so, so, so nervous and scared that my husband just, immediately his heart broke and he was like, "I'm going to be here to pick you up. I'm not going to go into work today and we're going to go get ice cream." He told him that before school. Now, of course, every first day of school, and he's in sixth grade now, we get ice cream after school. I think those traditions, those are the most fun, the ones that just come up naturally. One other time, we got pizza, and for some reason, we had to eat it in the back of our car in the month of December.

We had a van, so we just folded down the seats and it was raining, the pouring rain, and we left the hood of the van opened and we ate pizza inside of the van, all five of us, just like in the back of the van because we didn't want to get the seats greasy. Now my kids say that every December we have to do that. That memory, it's just imperfect and it came up naturally and we repeat it when we can. I don't feel a huge pressure to get it in every December, but we repeat it when we can. I think those are the best kind anyway, instead of trying to make the perfect ones.

Denaye:
Yeah. Rachelle?

Rachelle:
Yeah, something on making perfect memories. I was always under the impression that if we had a tradition, it had to happen every single year the exact same way and it stressed me out and I felt, maybe if my kids experienced this over and over again, then they would remember that it was amazing or ... I don't really know. All of that went into why I thought this. But, over the last couple of years I've been really letting go of the need to make things exactly the way they are and just embracing the way it's going to happen every year, because something's going to come up and change it, or we might come up with some other new tradition. Again, traditions, I don't know if the definition means they have to happen every single year, but it's just the tradition is being together as a family and however that looks for us each year, I'm just embracing it.

Denaye:
Yeah.

Zoe:
Just let it flow.

Denaye:
I tried to start a hiking tradition where we went for a hike every year on Christmas day. It never happened, not once. Every year I was trying to start it, I like ...

Erica:
I think I remember you mentioning that.

Denaye:
I know. It still hasn't happened. We actually went for a hike on Christmas Eve last year because it was snowing and it was just like we were kind of in the mood. But I think that was the thing, like you gotta be in the mood, you've got to want to do the tradition, because otherwise, it's just this thing that's like just an obligation, and what is it really worth at that point, I guess?

I'm assuming that your kids are not going to be listening to this. I'm going to ask you what your kids are getting for Christmas, if you know. All right, Zoe?

Zoe:
Yes, two of my kids are getting scooters, new scooters and they're going to get some pajamas. Actually, we have a loose tradition of giving them pajamas after Thanksgiving, so that we can all get comfy and cozy together, and some art supplies and some puzzles. Denaye, I think you've shared those puzzles that I was doing with my six year old last year. Oh no, no, no, the Bird Bingo. Those are the ...

Denaye:
Oh yeah, Ocean Bingo, Bird Bingo. I love that publisher.

Zoe:
Yeah. Ocean bingo, Bird Bingo. Have they come out with a new one? Because I'm looking at that.

Denaye:
There might be another one. I'm not sure. It's the Bird and Ocean and ... they have a couple other, like a matching game and that kind of thing too. But we love Ocean Bingo. Big fans.

Zoe:
And then we're going to go somewhere. I don't know where we're going to go. They would really love to see snow. Denaye, do you have room at your place?

Denaye:
Yeah, come on. No snow guaranteed.

Zoe:
I know, right? Okay. That's the extent of what they're getting.

Denaye:
Okay. Rachelle, what about your kids? Do you have a plan?

Rachelle:
Yes, our kids are getting, because I know they won't hear this and nobody is seeing this or will tell them, but we're actually going to Disney world a couple of weeks after Christmas, so I plan to box up… We have a couple stuffed Disney characters and some Star Wars stuff. We'll make one big box for them to open together and pull out all of their own stuff that they already have. I'm sure they'll get clued in because we've done that before with Great Wolf Lodge. And so, I'm really excited for that. They'll probably each open one or two smaller needed things, just to open something that day. I did find, I think it's Melissa and Doug. It's a barn, a wooden barn. My daughter has this whole dollhouse wood block thing.

It goes with it and she is going to love that. I found that at mom to mom sale for like 10 bucks, so I'm excited. Other than that, I really don't know. I haven't picked out all the little details, but I think Disney is pretty much going to make everything else cost only 10 bucks.

Denaye:
Yes. What about you Erica?

Erica:
Yeah, we're actually the same. We're going to go to Disneyland in January. I'm not really a huge amusement park person. Way too many people in one place, but I will do it for the kids. My sister happened to be going and my parents were going, and when you have extra hands, it's really hard to say no to that chance, even if it does cost an arm and a leg and you'd rather go to the beach or the mountains.

Denaye:
Yeah.

Erica:
It's going to be fun. I figured since we're doing that, I will give them Disney tickets for Christmas. I think I’m always like yay, experiences over things. It's another time to instill that. Then we'll do a few small things too. My boys will probably get some skateboarding type stuff because that's what they're into right now. I always love art supplies for my daughter because it's pretty much the only thing that entertains her for more than five minutes. She's six. Yeah, I think that's it.

Denaye:
Cool. I'm just kind of starting to think about what I want to do for our kids. Usually, I let them pick one thing from Santa and that's the thing that they go and they ask Santa for and then Santa gives them that gift. For us, that reigns in all the requests, like the opening up the catalogs, circling all the things. We just don't do any of that because you're only getting one thing from Santa. There's not really much sense in writing a gigantic list when Santa is really only bringing you one thing. That's just kind of the tradition that we've started around Santa—it’s one thing. You sit on his lap and you tell him that thing and then, unless that thing is absolutely absurd, then we're going to get you that one thing.

Zoe:
Like a pony. Didn't your daughter ask for ...?

Denaye:
Yeah, she's a big horse fan. There will be no ponies. Erica.

Erica:
Yes, if I could put like a universal minimalist plea into the world, it would be, please don't ask my kids for Christmas lists or overly ask them what they want for Christmas. It's okay. But my kids, they didn't even know about the idea of Christmas lists until people started asking them what was on their list. Then they'd start, when they were old enough to write, making them in their rooms. That's just not something we ever emphasized. I like your approach.

Denaye:
That's important because I think we sort of start the narrative around Santa and gifts at the holidays, and maybe we've started at one way and we want to shift it and I think can do that and we have to steer the ship and shift that narrative if we want to. But yes, talking about making the list, that idea that Santa is watching if you're naughty or nice. I don't like that either. I don't like this idea that my kids aren't getting a lot for Christmas, but it's certainly not because they've been naughty, it's just because we're trying to be more intentional this year. Just being thoughtful about the messages that you're sending around gift-giving in the holidays because I think that that plays a huge part in what your kids expect and what they anticipate.

Erica:
Well said. Yeah.

Zoe:
One thing I've tried to do with my older two kids, so my son, he's going to be 11 next week and then my daughter's 13 is encourage them to shift the conversation. So when people ask them what they're getting for Christmas or what they want, they can share their requests with them, but also to share that we do a, what-do-you-want-to-give list. Before my kids come to me and say, "Oh I want to get this," I ask them for their, what do they want to give lists? I've written about this Denaye, I don't know if you've read that on my blog. It's just, list 20 things that you want to give to someone. If you have a child and they're only three or four, it could be I want to hold the door for my neighbor, I want to help someome pick up leaves, I want to draw them a card. It's just to get them shifting their focus from what am I going to get to, what can I give?

Denaye:
Yeah, absolutely. I love that. This year, I usually do a list of toys, recommended toys for my audience, but this year I'm shifting it a little bit and doing a list of gifts that foster the parent child connection. In the past, I've always really focused on toys that inspire independent play. But I do think at the holidays, we're thinking about shifting the narrative from gifts and getting into emphasizing the importance of spending time together and building relationships. That's where I'm going with my list this year, which I'm still working on. One thing on my list that I'm creating for single families is that .... something that I'm doing for my family is a family collage, which I got this idea from Meri Cherry who was recently on the podcast and she has this huge empty canvas.

Denaye:
I think she said it was like five by five, and her family just worked together to add little pieces to it over the course of a couple of weeks to make this sort of a little bit crazy eclectic piece of art together out of different materials. We're going to do that, except I want to do it over a span of like 15 years where we add like our ticket stubs or, I don't know, I'll probably do like one of a cover from my book or just important things, little pieces of art, my kids' favorite pieces of art, that sort of thing. Just to make it this big working peace that we are all creating constantly over the course of my kids' childhood. We're hoping to start a family collage this year, which my kids are probably not going to be as excited about. I'm thinking I'm going to buy the big ... I'm going to do two biggish canvases and do them side by side just so they're a little bit easier to travel with if we do ever move.

Then, buy some paints and just let them go at it and paint the big canvases and then start decoupage stuff on to the canvas as we go along. That's going to be our bigger gift.

Rachelle:
That's fun.

Denaye:
Yeah, we'll see how it goes. For a while, I think it's gonna look really awkward because we're going to have these giant empty, sloppy, half completed canvases, but whatever, it's our house. I'm a believer that like, it's your house, you do what you want with it, you decorate it the way that you want. I'm hoping 15 years from now that this will be a nice keepsake for us since we're not really ones to keep all that stuff, all like little paper clutter and that kind of thing. We'll see.

Erica:
I think your kids will love creating it and love discussing what can go on it. That's so fun.

Denaye:
I hope so. I have a feeling that my three year old is going to have like a million pieces of art for it all the time.

Erica:
Exactly.

Denaye:
It will be covered in her art, which I guess we can just cover with other things too as they get older. We'll see, but I'm excited. It'll be a work in progress for us this year. Talk to me about who you buy for. What's the tradition in your extended family? Are you buying just for your kids, your partner? How many people are you buying for Erica?

Erica:
Yeah, that's a great question because I always wonder this about other people. Yeah, I'm doing my kids and my husband. And then, yeah, on my husband's side of the family, they do a gift exchange. Every year it just rotates and we do $100 to spend on the family. I like that because it feels so much easier than trying to do all of the families or all of the nieces and nephews. Then, on my side of the family, we really just ... I'll do my parents obviously, and then we kind of just do gifts for each other if we're in the same place at the same time. That's just our spoken agreement. We're all in different states, so we're not always together and there isn't really an expectation that we ship each other large amounts of stuff. Our gift giving is not too bad. I try to do like a little thank you gift for the teachers, but that's really small, and we give cookies to the neighbors, if we feel like it.

Denaye:
All right. Rachelle, what about you?

Rachelle:
Yeah. My husband and I are not planning to exchange gifts this year. We might take the kids to get each other presents. We do both of our parents, Paul's and mine. On my side, I have two sisters, a sister-in-law and a brother. We've always, in the past, done a gift exchange and it's just every year paired down more and more. My husband and brother, they call it a Grinch agreement now, where for no reason, will they ever get each other ever a present.

Denaye:
That's awesome.

Rachelle:
It eliminates that. With my sisters, we've done homemade gifts in the past, which was comical and awesome, but time consuming and stressful. Now we're just doing an experience. We're looking at maybe a comedy show where we just all buy our own ticket and go and call it a present. Same thing on my other side of the family. We've done like family presents up, but I do get my nephews presents. All the kids do get a gift because there's just a couple on each side. It's not like dozens of cousins or anything like that.

Denaye:
Do you see them all for Christmas?

Rachelle:
We do. We do one a few days before Christmas and one on Christmas day.

Denaye:
Okay. What about you Zoe?

Zoe:
Yeah, so like Erica, I think my gift giving obligations or tendencies are pretty minimal. My kids don't have a lot of cousins so they're not exchanging gifts. I have one nephew and that's it. It's pretty minimal. One thing that we do do after Thanksgiving is the kids and I will just make a bunch of loaves of bread. Sorry, Denaye, I know you're gluten free. I won't be sending you anything.

Denaye:
<Laughter> Thanks.

Zoe:
No, but so this year I think it's going to be bread, but I just make a bunch of different kinds of loaves of bread. Actually just like two to keep it simple. I only have so many bowls. This for real, was a practical matter. What I'll do is I'll actually wrap them and freeze them. And then, a couple of weeks later, I can take them out and wrap them in some nice paper. That's what the kids give, if they want to give things to their friends or their teachers, that's what we do. One year we made homemade vanilla extract. I think if you guys, whoever's listening, if you want to do that, you need to get on that now. I think it needs to sit, I don't know if you guys have done that, but it needs to sit for six or eight weeks or something like that. That was one year that I was really thinking ahead.

Denaye:
I like that.

Zoe:
Fortunately, my mom, she doesn't ... I'm really lucky, she's not going overboard. She totally gets the mental clutter. So she is not ever wanting to add to anything that doesn't need to be there. She'll always reach out and she says, "What are the kids gonna really like or what's going to be helpful?" And then I'll let her know. It's great to have that communication ahead of time. She gets to get them something because she does like to give gifts. It's nice that I can honor that. At the same time, no one's receiving things that aren't going to be used.

Denaye:
Yeah, and just talking about extended family members, I feel like I get a lot of questions about the extended family members are giving too many gifts or gifts that we don't want or things that are not useful to us. For me, I feel like it's just been a part of the journey and every year I'm seeing less and less of this. I think family members slowly tune into who you are and the changes that you're making in your life and they will adapt to it, but sometimes it is a slow process. Have you all seen that? Erica, do you feel like every year that the gift giving becomes a little bit more intentional from the extended family members or has that been an uphill battle?

Erica:
Yeah, I'd say so. What you were saying reminds me of that idea that we teach people how to treat us and I think people do. Most of our family members get it with time, but it takes time, and sometimes it might take an awkward conversation or two, and that's okay. With my family, let's see, my mom, I really appreciate that she let's me suggest a few things for the kids. I'll usually suggest like a book set for my boys who read a ton or like rollerblades or something. That's nice because then I can get the kids something that I feel like they could need and use, but I am not the one too, and they just get one thing from the grandparents on both sides.

Erica:
My husband's parents, they're like the ultimate minimalists without ever having known that word. They keep almost nothing in their closets, almost nothing on their walls. They're just very, very neat minimal people. When I go into their garage, I'm like, I love this. They just give our kids one thing, so I don't really have that struggle there.

Denaye:
Rachelle, what about you?

Rachelle:
Yeah, I think it definitely takes time. When we went minimalist it was in January, so we had like the whole year to prepare for Christmas. I feel like if you're just now coming into realizing that minimalism might be for you or you want a simpler Christmas, that you might have a hard time getting people on board, because if you've always done it the exact opposite, they're not necessarily going to want to be the first ones to jump in. They have to see you really living this and giving your kids gifts more intentionally first before they're gonna jump in. I think every year our parents have done a really great job, and just like Erica said, like the more you live, I think it was Erica, sorry. The more you live it, the more they start to catch on and embrace that with you.

They're always asking what experiences our kids might like and I really love hobby gifts or experience gifts. Family experience gifts are something that we've encouraged them to get. They usually try to do their best to make that work. Now, not every time, every now and then, my daughter will come home from Cracker Barrel with a robotic barking dog. It's not always perfect, but I think it’s just grace and low expectations and know that you can do what you can in your home. Yeah, that's all you can really be in control of. So just lots of grace.

Denaye:
Right. What about you Zoe?

Zoe:
Yeah, well I just wanted to add that I think ... I don't know if it's me, Erica, you have your son in middle school, right?

Erica:
Yeah.

Zoe:
Yeah. Do you find that the toy selection, things are expensive as they get older, because if you start getting into tech and things like that, but the toy selection dwindled down? No, you don't think so?

Erica:
No, it dwindles so much. Yes.

Zoe:
Oh, it dwindles. Yeah, so if there's any parents of young, young kids with grandparents that just keep buying and buying and buying, there's hope on the horizon because they're going to run out of options, so many options when the kids get older. I think that's one benefit too. Just as time goes on, there's not all of the toys to buy that one might consider clutter.

Erica:
Yeah.

Denaye:
All right. Erica?

Erica:
Gifts in general, I try to think of and encourage my community to think of gift giving as about the gift giver. So, giving a gift fulfills a need that they had, usually. A lot of us have somebody in our life who loves to give gifts and it's their love language. If you have a mother-in-law who's giving you way too much stuff for your child, just try to see the best of intentions in it. Grace, like Rachelle said. Also, once they've given you that gift, you don't have an obligation to use it in exactly the way they intended you to. That is your decision. Then you get to decide if you want to keep it in your home or if you want to use it for a month and then squirrel it away and see if your kid doesn't notice and then donate it.

You have options on your end. But I always think relationship is most important, more important than the stuff and trying to understand where they're coming from helps too.

Denaye:
Great. What about hostess gifts? Do you give hostess gifts if you go to a holiday event, Zoe?

Zoe:
You got to be able to eat it. In fact, Denaye, you might know me, right? I don't go anywhere without food, either I have to bring it or better be there. No, yeah. So, if I do bring a hostess gift, I do honor invitations that say don't bring anything, right? If I say that, I truly want them to honor that as well. I was invited to a few engagements last year where they said no gifts, also a birthday party this year for a little six year old girl. But if I do, it's a consumable. Something usually like the bread that we talked about before.

Denaye:
Okay. Let's talk a little bit about holiday cards. Do you do holiday photo shoots? Do you send out holiday cards? What's your tradition around that? Rachelle, do you want to start us off?

Rachelle:
Yeah, we don't do holiday cards ourselves. I save them when I get them, just through the holidays, and again, on December 26th, they go in the trash. Sorry. But I like to display. I have a little clip thing that I display them on and adds to my decoration. I would call that decoration, but then I can get rid of it. Photo shoots--we don't do like a formal family photo shoot or anything. I have a good friend who is an up and coming photographer and she has the cutest mini-sessions. Last year we went to her mini-session and it was adorable. If she does another one, I'll probably do that again. Just because they're cute and she's my friend, but I wouldn't say it's something that I have to get coordinating outfits for and we don't do it every single year, and I don't send out a family photo or anything like that.

Denaye:
Okay. Zoe, what about you?

Zoe:
I do whatever works for me that year. Over the years, it has been from one end to the other of having coordinating outfits and somewhat matching and taking photos just for the Christmas card and sending those out. And then, other years like the year that my six year old was born, the year that my 10-year old was born, because they were born in October and then the other one born in November, I didn't do them and I didn't feel one bit guilty because my bandwidth was less. I just do whatever feels right for me in that season and I don't feel guilty about it.

Denaye:
Right. Erica?

Erica:
Yeah, I'm the same. I'll do them like maybe every few years because I do think it's fun and I love getting them, but I feel no pressure to do them. As for photos, I like having our family photographs because I just love those photos. I think it's like a chance to see the ideal version of your family that you're really not on a daily basis. It's just so satisfying when you get those pictures. You're like, "This is the family I thought I was going to have all growing up." I love to get us a great photographer, invest in some great pictures, spend a little way too much time thinking about the outfits, but I can only manage that every few years because it just takes a lot, a lot of planning.

I rarely try to get a photo shoot in the fall because photographers are always busiest then and often, I think a little bit more expensive. If I can, if I was going to do a professional photo shoot, I'd try to do it in the spring or summer.

Denaye:
Okay. Yeah, we haven't done holiday cards since we had kids. We did one every year from the time we got married up until we had kids. And then we have not done one since. Every year, I want to, I really do. Some years, I'll even like design it and put it in my shopping cart and then $500 later I'm like, "No, I'm not ordering those," because they get so expensive. I'm like, I want it to be one that I love if I'm going to put the time and energy into it. Then, I have to deal with the fact that a lot of my friends have moved, I don't have their updated addresses and then I just quit. That's where it ends. Some years I don't even attempt, but I haven't actually gotten them out at all since my kids have been born.

I've actually noticed that I get a lot less now. I'm curious if you guys think if you've gotten less since you've started giving them, do you think it's because you're not sending them regularly or do you think it's because people in general are just giving less or sending less holiday cards?

Zoe:
I think it's because I'm not sending them.

Erica:
Really?

Zoe:
Oh, totally.

Denaye:
I don't know what it is.

Zoe:
Because then you're like, "Oh well they sent me a card." I've moved around a lot though, so I have a lot of friends that ... we don't live near each other. That's just the way that cookie crumbles.

Denaye:
Yeah. Erica, what do you think?

Erica:
I don't know. I was leaning toward, maybe it's just universal.

Denaye:
I like to think that too.

Erica:
I did think it's the perfect commentary on parenting, becoming a parent. How you stopped sending them after you had your kid. That's so funny. Maybe we're just all growing up and our families are requiring more of us and we're not all able to send them out, but I don't know. All I know is when get a card, I feel a lot of love and appreciation for the person who sent it and I display with pride too.

Denaye:
I loved getting them too. What about you Rachelle?

Rachelle:
I think we pretty consistently get them from the same people every year. We never get a ton of them. I go to some people's house and it feels like hundreds of cards everywhere. We don't get that many cards.

Denaye:
We used to get, like, I remember one year I counted like 85. A lot. Last year, I want to say maybe we got like 20, I don't know. I'm going to count this year to see, but I don't know. I don't like to take the blame and think that it's because we're not sending them, but it very well might be.

Zoe:
Ultimately, it's their choice, right Denaye? It's not your fault.

Denaye:
Yes. I was actually reading, there was someone that did a study and they looked at holiday letters from 20, 30, 40 years ago and how, holiday letters, well, first of all they're like non-existent. My husband's great-aunt still writes the holiday letter every year, which I love reading. I really enjoy it. I wish everyone did it. Not that I don't love the photo cards, but I love reading a little one pager update on people. It's such a beautiful way to stay in touch, but I think now with social media, we're all much more updated on people's lives so it feels a little repetitive maybe.

Someone did a study on looking at holiday letters and how they've changed over the years. Back in like the '60 and '70s, the holiday letters were all pretty neutral, just talking about their year. And then, as we're getting closer to our current generation, the uses of the words busy or it's been a crazy year, it's been a hectic year, all those words are popping up more and more every year in the study, which I thought was fascinating. It makes me wonder if that's why I'm not getting a lot of cards is just because people just are hectic and busy and it just doesn't happen… like the four of us. Right? Things just don’t happen and just hasn't become a priority as much anymore, so I don't know.

Zoe:
And technology, like you said, technology and social media and connecting has increased. Erica, I think this conversation calls for you to do a test. I think that you should make some Christmas cards, send them out right after Thanksgiving, so that gives people have time to send you one back. Let's compare from last year.

Denaye:
I wish I knew how many we got last year, but I'm tempted to do that too. But it sounds like too much work.

Erica:
If Zoe will front me the $500, I'm in.

Denaye:
Yes. I totally agree about that. Last question would be just thinking about holiday events, I feel where we live, there's a million options for little walkthroughs to look at decorations and Christmas shows. Are there any things that you ... what do you choose to do? What do you choose not to do? How do you set a limit on what's right for your family? Erica, you want to start us off?

Erica:
Yeah, I'd say that I am more of a minimalist with my calendar than in any other way in my life because I see a calendar with more than one thing on it per week, and I just want to hide. I just like having a lot of white space in my calendar so I will opt out of as much of that as I possibly can. My son, he's in middle school band and he got assigned to go to a holiday concert, like just attend one and I was outraged, and like, "Don't they know it's December? This is family's busiest month of the year. We can go to that in September." Because in addition to going to watch him perform their holiday concert, now we have to go watch some other bands perform. I don't know. It's just funny, but I will try to do as little as possible and it has to really fit with my personality and my interests in order to do it.

Denaye:
Right. What about you Zoe?

Zoe:
Quality over quantity. Like you Erica, I want it to be a good fit for all of us. Something that we're all going to enjoy. Typically, if I was going to throw a number out there, it might be one to two events a week.

Denaye:
Rachelle.

Rachelle:
Yeah, I really guard our December closely. There's a lot of events in our families community like a downtown market, a Christmas market, and a tree lighting ceremony that we've just never really made a part of our year because I try to guard and make sure the family things that are most important to me come first. Sugar cookies are…we make those a couple times, maybe more than that, because we love them so much. We do like a pajama ride, where we all get in our pajamas and go look at Christmas lights. Those are things I put on a calendar immediately after putting school obligations on there just so I know that they're on there.

Because in previous years, it was always, "I'm going to get to those after I do all the other things," and then they never happened. So, as long as I put those most important things on the calendar first, if a weekend rolls around and we feel like going to something, we might, but it's just not ... I've never made all of the Santa visits or tree lightings a priority for us.

Denaye:
Yeah, I'm with you on that. I feel like I would much rather just see what we're in the mood for and see what the day looks like and then figure out on Saturday morning what we're going to do on Saturday afternoon rather than buying tickets and having things scheduled and arranged, because I feel like that's when we're setting ourselves up for disappointment and for just feeling worn down if we Sharpie in a lot of stuff on the calendar.

Rachelle:

Yeah.

Denaye:
All right, well thank you so much. It's been great chatting with you all and I hope this is helpful for anyone out there who is moving towards a similar holiday season and I will talk with you all soon.

Zoe:
Okay. Thank you.

Rachelle:
Thank you so much. Thank you.

Erica:
Bye.

Denaye:
Thanks for tuning in. This has been episode 179 of The Simple Families Podcast. If you want to get the show notes and get links about Erica, Rachelle and Zoe, you can go to simplefamilies.com/episode179. You can also find the video version of this chat there. If you want to stay in touch with what's going on with Simple Families on the blog, on the podcast, in the community, go to simplefamilies.com and leave your email address at the top and you can stay in touch there. Thanks for tuning in, and if you have just one minute of free time, I would love if you went over to iTunes and left a rating and review for this show. It helps it to reach more people. Thanks, and I'll talk with you soon.

 

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Denaye Barahona

Dr. Denaye Barahona is a loving wife and mama of two. She partners with families to tackle the challenges of raising children. Denaye is a minimalist who claims to be a decluttering expert (don't let her near your closet). She loves to travel, talk health-and-wellness, and give unsolicited advice. She has been featured on the likes of The Today Show, The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, The Minimalists, Motherly, Becoming Minimalist, and numerous other media outlets. Denaye holds a Ph.D. in Child Development and is a Clinical Social Worker with a specialty in child and family practice.