Last Christmas was probably the most chaotic of my life. I remember sitting on my couch in my pajamas on December 26th, and finally feeling like I could relax for the first time in two months. That week post-Christmas was amazing. All the lead-up, the work, the hustle was over and I could just breathe.
But it immediately begged the question, where did I go so wrong? How did Christmas morph into some kind of crazy parade? I absolutely know it was my own fault...of that I’m sure. I’m just not sure exactly HOW I had gotten to that point. Or rather, how I can avoid the same mistakes this year. I’ve been asking myself that question for the last 10 months.
At the end of the day, I think it is the “do it all” mentality that women can suffer from year round, but that hits a fever pitch at the holidays. Between Pinterest, and Instagram, and school parties, and Facebook, and idyllic holiday movies, and all the perfect store displays, the good ideas (and the comparisons to what others are doing) are boundless. And with them, the guilt and FOMO of not being able to do it all, or have it all, can hit hard. I usually wait until January to go on a decluttering spree, but the truth is I need to declutter my to-do list starting now!
We strive and we yearn and we work toward “balance.” We want to create meaningful memories for our kids, without making Christmas about commercialism. We want to have fun and festivity, while still enjoying the moment. We want to sit down to a gorgeous dinner, and actually stop to taste it. We want to linger at the table and enjoy the candlelight while the dishes magically do themselves!
I’m learning that we’re all chasing balance like a horse chasing a dangling carrot. It simply does not exist. The sad reality is that most of the memory-making we do today costs money. And that it takes a lot of work to have fun. (If you don’t believe me just remember how much laundry, packing, unpacking, and laundry your last vacation required.) And that the gorgeous family dinner, while worth the effort, did require a real human to plan it, shop for it, cook it, serve it, and clean it up.
Behind every idyllic holiday memory, there’s usually a woman working really darn hard to make it happen. She’s just never actually in the picture on Pinterest, and she definitely hasn’t figured out the key to “balance” it all.
If we can all agree that balance is a pipe dream, then I’ll tell you what does exist (or at least what can): Priorities.
This lesson may apply in every area of life, and we might have to broach that subject in another blog post sometime soon, but for today let’s just talk about prioritizing at the holidays. Taking the time to think through and write out your priorities, to discuss them with your husband and family, is a delightfully helpful exercise. It brings clarity to difficult decisions, and can help you budget your time and resources so that you don’t have to constantly feel guilty for your choices. It’s freeing!
It can also help you set realistic expectations for the time you have and your capacity to work within it.
We all have a list of the season’s to-do’s. Some of them we love-to-do and have-to-do. Win! We check them off the list, it’s great, and life is good. A tiny handful of others fall into the don’t-have-to-do and don’t-love-to-do category. We’re usually smart enough to bow out of those without needing to make a fuss. But the vast majority of to-do’s fall somewhere in the nebulous matrix of have-to-do and don’t-love-to-do, or don’t-have-to-do but love-to-do. This is where we need to choose our priorities, and that’s not always easy!
I made a simple table for myself (and I’ve fancied it up for you as this free printable!) so that I could write down all of the things that creep onto my own list at the holidays, and assign them a category. Once they were categorized, it was time to take a hard look at my to-do’s and see what—if anything—could be eliminated to declutter and prioritize my list.
Here’s what I learned:
- Everything in the “don’t-love-to-do / don’t-have-to-do” category should be eliminated.
- Turns out, I couldn’t bring myself to do that, so “have to” must be a subjective term.
- There are several things—school Christmas concert, piano recital—that I put in the “don’t-have-to-do and don’t-love-to-do” category. (Yes, I am dead inside.) But truthfully, they needed to be moved over to the “have to do” side. Just because you’re not legally obligated to do some of the mom stuff, doesn’t mean you don’t still have to do it.
- There’s a LOT in the “have-to-do and don’t-love-to-do” category. And I can’t really prioritize it, because I have to do it all.
- Moving on, I found confirmation that holiday insanity is my own fault. There are infinitely more “love-to-do but don’t-have-to-do” tasks than in any other category.
- This is truly the only category where I can choose my priorities and cut a few out. I don’t want to strip my Christmas of enjoyment, but if I try to take on all of it, I’m going to be so busy doing that I won’t be enjoying anyway.
- Some cuts were easy, and some were hard, but I was able to make cuts I feel good about, knowing now what things are most important to my family.
- I’m going to need a strategy to accomplish everything that’s left.
It felt really good to put my swirling thoughts on paper and see everything written out clearly. Right off the bat, that made it feel more manageable. As for strategy to tackle what’s left, my plan is two-fold: 1) Start early and 2) schedule tasks.
Everything in me wants to wait until the day after Thanksgiving to put up our tree. But that happens to be on the list of things I can do early, (and that’s super high on my priority list), so I’m going to put it up sooner rather than later. Same for Christmas cards. There’s no reason for me to wait to order them and address them. I can have those ready and waiting to go in the mailbox the first week of December. There’s also no reason to wait to start shopping (other than me hating it...which is just called procrastination, so that’s going to have to be a no-no).
As for some of those other things that don’t usually end up on the calendar (making sugar cookies for example), I’m going to assign them a day. That’s not to say it can’t get moved around, but I think that doing so will help me avoid the “Oh my goodness, the holidays just snuck up on me!” speech I give every year. And as I’m mapping out my calendar, I’m going to plan on weaving those not-so-fun tasks in between the ones I truly love. Hopefully that will help spread the joy and temper the crazy.
So what do you think? Is balance possible? Or do we just need to take a hard look at how we spend our time and prioritize it? Here’s a copy of the holiday to-do list organizer you can download and use if you’d like to give it a try. I hope you find it useful, and that everything you choose to do (or have to do) is merry this Christmas!