Look, Christmas has gotten entirely out of hand. As of November 9th, I heard Christmas carols on the radio and in stores. There are nearly as many Christmas gift commercials as there are 2016 presidential campaign ads (and don't even get me started on that - it's enough to make me move back to France until next year at this time).
It's too much, too fast, too soon. And one of the biggest hassles of Christmas is decorating, only to have to take it all back down a month (or less) later. For those of you who, like me, are clutter-averse, here's how to have a festive Christmas without losing your marbles.
Disclaimer: If you are one of those go-all-out, over-the-top Christmas, no-surface-left-untouched decorators, this is not for you. You have your talent (and your patience!), and God bless you for it. He did not see fit to give me those same gifts, so allow me to now use my gift of organization and simplicity to help my struggling brethren (sistren?).
Also, I'm aware that since B and I do not have any children (unless you're counting a spoiled Labrador retriever, affectionately referred to as "Diva Dog"), we don't have to deal with a lot of nonsense, including that creepy Elf on a Shelf. Here are my thoughts on that thing:
Anyway. If you're looking to recapture a little peace and sanity during the holiday season, here are my tips. To my minimalist brothers and sisters, I'm here for you. We have to stand together, or else we'll be buried under the clutter. May the force be with you.
1. Keep it to one tree. One. Not twenty-one, not one in every single room in your house, but one. I cannot fathom how people who set up multiple trees manage it. It's enough of a chore to get one tree up and decorated. My parents' tree is an all-afternoon affair, since the boys usually clock out after dragging the artificial tree parts up from the basement and (sometimes) assisting us in putting them together. After that, it's just two short women awkwardly wobbling on a footstool trying to put lights and ornaments on the top of the tree. This can take a while when you start including breaks to mend sprained ankles and mild electric shocks and to up our intake of coffee and homemade fudge.
And aside from the simplicity aspect, isn't one tree so much more special? One tree, for all the family to gather around/under? I think so. Make your one tree the star of the show. Get a real tree this year (that pine scent - I swoon). Instead of the generic plastic balls from Target, start an ornament collection and pick up items for your tree all year round when you go places, and write the year on the back or bottom. As you decorate your tree, you'll be reminded of times with the family. So much more fun - and simple.
3. Make it meaningful. The decorations have kind of taken over the entire point of Christmas. They are (theoretically) supposed to remind you of the sacredness of Jesus' birth, but when you have too many it all gets lost in the shuffle. Anything I display has a reason behind it, like the nativity scene my great-grandmother made and gave to me. But the plastic Santa figurine you won in a Dirty Santa gift exchange a few years back? Forget it. Donate it. If you're going to take up precious free space to decorate, make it something meaningful, not an impulse purchase from Target.
Side note: If you have a family heirloom that isn't meaningful to you, check with your mother or grandmother or whoever is your family's head honcho to get the approval to donate it. It's entirely likely a brother, sister, or cousin might want what you're getting rid of, so don't donate anything until you get the all-clear.
4. Utilize what's already out. Work with items you already have, or items that will have to be displayed anyway. We have a glass-topped kitchen table, which I loathe. I could Windex that thing 25 times a day, and there would still be smudges, smears, and Labrador nose prints on it. So I keep a tablecloth on it 24/7/365. At Christmas, it's pretty easy to whip out the red tablecloth and the silver and gold striped placemats. Plop a candle or two in the center of the table, and voila! Instant holiday cheer, with minimal disruption to my everyday life (and OCD issues).
So consider what you already use. Just picked up some apples for snacking? Display them in a pretty bowl, and drop a sprig of holly on top. Baked a cake for the church Christmas party? Show it off the day before on a pretty cake platter. Just received a bottle of wine as a gift? Drape a tiny wreath or bow around the neck of it and place it on the counter.
5. Consider the reverse. Newton (or someone) figured this out a while back: what goes up must come down. We non-scientists are a little slow to see how that concept applies to daily life. Decorating the outside of the house sounds like a good idea in the excitement and fervor of early December, but think how you're going to feel taking it all down in the dreary gray of January.
In addition to the labor of taking it down (and no one likes taking down Christmas decorations), you then have to find a space to store everything. We're pretty short on storage over here at Maison de Stevenson, so that's a big consideration for us, and possibly for you, too. Don't start every single new year off with a migraine - downsize the decorations.
6. Focus on one room. Despite what advertisements might lead you to believe, you absolutely, positively, do not need to decorate every room of your home. Focus on where your family spends the most time, and/or where you host guests, and decorate that only.
For us, it's our downstairs. If people come over, they never go upstairs, and for that matter neither do we. We sleep, shower, and dress up there, and that's about it. Instead, we hang out, watch TV, read, play with the dog, cook, eat, drink, and basically do everything downstairs. So I don't bother putting any decorations in the bedrooms - there's just no point.
Want to do it yourself?
If you (and your family) are ready to take the leap toward downsizing the Christmas decorations, here's how to do it O.I.A. style:
Get Organized. Decide why you want to put out fewer decorations. Is it the time involved, or is the clutter getting to you? Do you have a little one that likes to rip down low-hanging ornaments? This will help you figure out what decorations you should and shouldn't have (note: these may change as you go through life!).
Then, inventory your existing stock. If you have a good stash of meaningful Christmas ornaments but none of those little hooks, shell out the $2 at Target to buy some. If you have 3,000 plastic snowmen you've picked up along the way, get rid of a few. It's entirely likely you've received gifts from well-meaning relatives, coworkers, and friends, and you're just not using them. Ask around to see if you can find a local family in need who would appreciate some decorations. If all else fails, take them to Goodwill.
Once you've decided on your decorating style (or lack thereof), and have appropriately dealt with the surplus or deficit of certain items, put your plan into action. Once you've pared down the supply and thought about how decorations impact you and your family, it's actually pretty easy to put up those you choose to have. Don't forget to have some hot chocolate, or cider, or spiced wine while you're at it!
Be Intentional. Once you've organized your holiday decorations to what you truly want and need, fight hard to keep them that way. If, say, Great-Aunt Sally insists on giving you a reindeer figurine every single year, thank her profusely and genuinely for her generosity, but once you get home send Rudolph out the door. Donate it to a local school (if Christmas decorations are even still legal in schools), to a family in need, or to an organization. Or if it's a truly nice item that you just happen not to need, re-gift it.
I'm pretty good about not buying too many Christmas decorations (or any decorations, for that matter), but if I receive something as a gift, I tend to feel really guilty about getting rid of it, even if it's not something I need or want. However, suffocating under a pile of well-intentioned gifts isn't fair to me, or you, or anyone. Always, always, always thank the gift-giver for both the gift and for their role in your life, but don't feel obligated to keep something.
And resist impulse buys at Target (or your shopping black hole of choice). You know how it happens - Halloween is over, you're in about the second week of November, and the peppermint mochas come out at Starbucks. Christmas music is piped in over the loudspeaker. You stop in to pick up some laundry detergent and toothpaste and find yourself in a red, white and green wonderland of gifts, candy and decorations. You get caught up in the excitement and festivity of the season, and you grab a few extra decorations. Don't. Believe me, sister, I've been there - and although most of my purchases have gotten used, a few haven't. You only use Christmas decorations once a year - you don't need that many.
Be Authentic. There isn't much of a way to be authentic with this, except to just be honest with yourself about what you can and can't stand. I have a clutter phobia and a Labrador with a dangerously strong tail. Absolutely nothin' is going on my coffee and end tables, and I know it.
So don't look at the pictures in Southern Living and think that has to be you. That is a model home that no one actually lives in. You need real decorations for real people living real lives and celebrating real holidays. Don't let media perfection make you live up to a standard that isn't yours in the first place. You're better than that because you're real. Now go celebrate.