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Holiday gifts to give yourself now that you’ll thank yourself for later

It’s that time of year again: hustle and bustle and holly and jolly. I bet you’re making a list and checking it twice, thinking of the loved ones you want to give gifts to.

Today I want to ask you to think about including one more person on your gift list this year: yourself.

Although the kinds of gifts I’d love to see us giving ourselves aren’t the kind that require any shopping, I think you’ll thank yourself later if you take the time to do a couple of things I’m sharing today.

So, here’s my proposition: pick a few things, or all of them, from this list and treat yourself right. Ranging from practical to pampering, they might not all seem like “presents” on the surface, but I think you’ll agree that sometimes the best gifts don’t come all tied up in ribbons and pretty paper.

Slow down. Set a budget. Take some shortcuts. Give yourself the holiday gift of less stress this year. | Art of Simple

Pre-Address Thank You Cards

I’m not talking about counting your chickens before they are hatched, but you probably have a list of the usual holiday suspects who give you and your family gifts (grandparents or Aunt Kara who knits you a pair of socks every year).

Take something off of your post holiday To Do list and address those cards of gratitude now so that all you have to do after the holidays is sit down and write a heart felt note and then pop them in the mail.

Freeze Some Extra Meals

I’ve been doing this by doubling or tripling our normal dinners a few nights a week and by baking some double batches of cookies for the freezer. It’s not much extra effort  and I’ve given myself the gift of some time off in the kitchen during the weeks ahead.

A few resources for freezer cooking:

Start Wrapping!

Do you have some gifts you’ve already purchased or finished making? Well, what are you waiting for? Start wrapping! Here’s a blog with some pretty printable gift tags to get you started.

No more Christmas Eve last minute rush or frantic tape/bow/paper hunting (not that I speak from experience, ahem) means you’ll be tucked in your bed with visions of dancing sugar plums before midnight this year.

Speaking of gifts, we keep things simple at our house with Want. Need. Wear. Read.

Set a Realistic Budget. Stick to it.

I know that this one is hard. But, it might be the best gift you give yourself this holiday season.

As I said in my last Art of Simple post, I can tell you that there are a lot of things I regret that we spent money on and very few times I look back and wish we had spent money but didn’t do it.

Keep Decor Simple

Now, I have to confess that my birthday is a few days before Christmas and this time of year I like going over the top. I love to have a themed tree in every room and every area lit up with lights and baubles. Yes, I’m one of those people.

And, that’s fun and festive if you’re into it.

But some years December seems like the finish line I’ve crawled toward after a difficult year and I just don’t have it in me to do anything but the essentials. We put up a simple tree and hang the kids’ stockings and that is that.

And you know what? It’s still fun and festive because we set the tone for our holidays by our attitude.

things to do before before the holidays that you'll thank yourself for later | The Art of Simple

Go Disposable

Paper plates and paper towels aren’t common in my kitchen, but they appear every December and I welcome them with open arms (especially this year, as we are currently without a dishwasher).

Would I want my kitchen to run like this every day? Well, no, but I am a big fan of the 80/20 Rule and I give myself some grace if it helps me to stay in a calm and bright mood during the holidays.

Schedule a Popcorn and Movie Night

We aren’t normally a big TV viewing family. We don’t have cable and we are pretty screen-free. However, at least once a week during the holidays we get our couch potato on and watch a favorite holiday movie or television special.

If screen-time isn’t your family’s thing, curl up together with a great holiday read-aloud. The gift here is time at home with your family with no rush, no major preparation, no pressure.

Skip to the Good Part.

Take short cuts. I’m giving you permission.

This year I spent November baking cookies and freezing them for December. Do you know what I did last year? I purchased cookies. Yes, I did.  Mrs. Bakes Her Own Bread used pre-made cookies. We got right to the icing and the sprinkles and skipped over the flour covered kitchen portion of the holiday.

I promise you won’t be on the Naughty list if  you cut corners in areas that stress you out.

Give Yourself a Time Out Every Day in December.

A cup of peppermint tea and a good book has become a daily December tradition for me. I love this tea and I’m planning to settle in with Tolkien’s Letters From Father Christmas this year.

This kind of ritual is great for kids, too. My thirteen year old has been re-reading The Best Christmas Pageant Ever for about five years now.

A “time out” every day with something warm to sip and familiar holiday words to read is a nice gift to give yourself.

I’d love to hear what shortcuts, traditions, and tips help you to simplify the holiday. From the practical to the pampering, what holiday gifts are you giving to yourself this year?

Reading Time:

4 minutes





  1. Jennifer

    I love this post! Thanks for sharing such lovely tips! You know, I completely boycotted decorating for the season for 3 years running. Last year, my little one was two, so it seemed like a good idea to start again, and I was excited about it after having taken some time off. This year I even added an activity advent calendar, but I took a page out of Art of Simple and am just using notecards. I decorated the front, but I only write the daily activity on the back of the card each morning. It’s fun for my daughter and not overwhelming for me (so I guess it’s fun for me too! How about that?!). Happy holidays to you and yours!

    • Lucy

      Writing the activity on a day to day basis? Jennifer, that is sheer genius!! I have wanted to do an activity Advent calendar but have been too scared to try it because of the stress I know I would feel at having to complete an intricate activity which seems like oh-such-a-good-idea in quiet November. But deciding on the day what would suit? That I can do! Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.

  2. Victoria

    We cut out a few small events this year so we could afford the time and money to do one or two big events. Now that my kids are older I was realizing we were doing some things just because they were tradition but they were traditions our family really has out grown and it was time to catch up the season to my children’s ages.

  3. Colleen

    We’ve been paring down our Christmas activities for a couple of years now – even the good stuff, like Advent time, was getting out of control. So this year, I sat down with our family at the beginning of the season and asked them what their favorite Christmas activities are. It was surprisingly little! I think they wanted to watch Elf, and they like baking cookies, but even that is simpler than I thought. I asked them each which cookie is their favorite and they all said the same one! We still have all of our Christmas books, but we don’t read one every night. I’ll still make cookies, but not feeling like I have to bake every kind that I always make has freed me up to say “yes” when my daughter told me about a recipe she’d like to try. We ditched our church’s Advent readings in favor of a book that fits our family much better. Tonight, we’re hosting people for dinner, and the decorations that don’t go up before then just aren’t going up this year! All in all, it feels less about the “have to’s” and more about the “want to’s” this season!

  4. Nancy

    I stopped gguving Christmas cards years ago. I send cards or email letters to those I don’t see, but if I am able to wish you a Merry Christmas in person, I don’t give you a card. (Same for birthdays)
    I let my husband put up the tree and decorate – and I leave it when he’s done. No fixing things up “just a bit”.
    We don’t exchange gifts with friends and extended family. I buy for my kids and my husband. For our parents only if there is something we know they need or would like.
    Christmas is a great season in our home, filled with famky, friends, concerts and food.

  5. Megan Tietz

    Oh Kara! How I needed these words today. It’s scary how frantic things can get so early. I needed permission to practice simplicity in ALLLLL of these areas. Thank you, thank you, friend!

  6. Cherie from Queen of Free

    I have three make ’em the night before Breakfast Casseroles that are our holiday favorites. Then my brain can be on auto-pilot Christmas morning instead of worrying about food. <3

  7. Janelle@The Peaceful Haven

    Wow! These are great! Thank you so much for taking the time to speak into this area!

  8. Donna@MoreThanHungry

    Oh please put me in time-out every day! Somebody?! Thanks for some great thoughts here. I’ve paired down to only making 2 favorite kinds of cookies rather than the NINE I made for years. My card list went from a ridiculous 80-ish to 15-ish. A friend with no time to decorate this year won’t unpack any decorations. She bought a dozen poinsettias and put them around with a few candles and it looks spectacular. Ohhh the pressure we put on ourselves!

  9. Wendy

    I had my return address printed on my Christmas cards this year. Small, but worth it.

  10. V

    Freeze meals! Brilliant!! Such a simple idea but one I never think of. So glad I stopped by your blog today. Great ideas especially for the families who are hosting the holidays at their home.

    Have a lovely weekend.


  11. Whitney

    One thing I always want after Christmas are cute, comfortable (not ratty) pajamas and lounge clothes. It’s the coldest in January and February around here, and I want to stay warm after work without resorting to my husband’s clothes. I try to buy some in after season sales – it’s so nice to slip on something that I love and can stay warm in!

  12. Jaclyn

    I like all of these ideas, but for me, I feel like I’d have to start with some of these ideas in November. You see, I am a music teacher, and my December schedule goes like crazy until about the 20th, usually. Elementary performances, high school performances, rehearsals, and of course a few church and personal events too. This, for me, is the most hectic and busy time of the month. Then school gets out for about 2 weeks and I feel like the real holiday begins. The closer to Christmas Day it gets, the more relaxed I am–because there are fewer commitments! (Except for last year, when I hosted a big family dinner. But that was fun, too.) While it gets hectic sometimes, I like the fact that I am done with all the crazy running around by Christmas Day and I feel like I can truly enjoy and meditate on the real reason for the holiday.

  13. Mary

    WOW!! Love these tips. Thank you for sharing the links…especially to the cookies and freezer tips!

  14. Darla

    We have had a tradition for years to roll out, bake and ice sugar cookies a few days before Christmas. I was always excited to do this but then ound myself being frazzled after with the mess and how long it took. Last year I discovered that my kids didn’t care about rolling out and baking the cookies. The important part to them was the decorating so last year I baked the cookies ahead of time and froze them. On decorating day we whipped up some frosting and got decorating. I enjoyed it and so did they. I hadn’t thought of buying them prebaked. That is tempting this year.

  15. Elizabeth

    For me, the ‘enjoying again’ started when I made a commitment that all December would be for celebrating, not preparing. I make sure in October and November that I am as prepared as possible…the Christmas shopping is pretty well done, by November 30th. But the most effective thing was making sure I overstocked all the paper products we use ( paper towels, toilet paper, napkins, etc) and all the cleaning supplies, as well as pantry items. Enough that I don’t usually need to purchase anymore until late Jan. Helpful to the budget as well and done in late September. I operate out my personal store…a storage room in my basement. The cost replaced back to school expenditures. I tend to become as much as a homebody as possible in December, running out for toilet appear doesn’t fit. So my trips to the grocery store are shorter and only for for fresh items. My outings are for the things I enjoy most and leaves extra time for the grand kids. It is a most peaceful month for me and I really have learnt to enjoy the people I hold dear. I wish I had learnt it while my own were small!

  16. Alissa

    I’m trying to figure out which parts of our holidays are meaningful to each person in our family. We typically do an “activity a day” advent calendar that I learned about here at AoS (because my holiday to do list can be part of the fun – the kids think “stuff xmas cards” is a special December tradition) But this year, I found myself overwhelmed with trying to find something for In a flash of brilliance, I ASKED my kids what they really wanted to do during December. Both of them, without hesitation, exclaimed… ELF YOURSELF! So, we will put high priority on visiting the OfficeMax website and worry less about trying to find a time to make cookies from scratch.

  17. Katy

    Thank you for this post! I simplified decor and broke my “real tree” tradition this year with a pre-lit artificial one. Our family just moved into a fixer-upper and on top of house projects I could feel myself dreading the shedding pine needles tracked through the house and untangling strands of lights. It suddenly sunk in that it was okay to let some things go this year.

  18. Fonda Rush

    Thank goodness we don’t celebrate Christmas! The one thing that is missing on your list is something anyone who is overwhelmed with anything should do, and that is delegate. Why should the festivities (or anything that requires work and planning) fall to one person? Enlist the help of those who will reap the benefits of your planning and hard work…your spouse and even the smallest child. There is something they can do, so figure out what that is and relinquish some control.

  19. Lina

    These tips will be very helpful (if I manage to stick to them). Thank you!

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