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10 Steps to a Simple Family Holiday


Does how you spend your time and money reflect your values? This is an important question year-round but especially around the holidays when there’s such a slippery slope into the mainstream culture of “more.” We may not have been raised in a way that we have inherited seasonal traditions that align with our values but we get to write our own story as a family, weaving the fabric of our unique family culture. I can help you with that process, shifting your holidays with these 10 steps.

1 Experience

Experiences enrich your life in ways that things never could. Point your compass away from the mainstream focus on acquisition (fervent this time of year) and toward experiences. Instead of “get,” “do,” together. This month we rode on a lighted ship around Puget Sound with a choir, traveled to a nearby snowy, Bavarian, Christmas town, attended a glass blowing event at a local museum, and took a ride on the Polar Express (a train with Santa and hot cocoa that winds through the snowy mountains and ends at a train museum). We live our values through where we place our money and time. Instead of shopping and buying things, we have memorable adventures. What new experiences will you have together this holiday season?

2 Connect

Togetherness is a lovely part of the holiday season that is a treasure when you are living simply. The holidays can be a time to connect around the fire or a bountiful dinner table with loved ones (family, chosen family, friends, etc.). When you are on your deathbed, you won’t remember what was in the box you unwrapped but you will remember your relationships and have peace in the investment you made in people, instead of things, which is priceless. The holidays are also a time of plentiful opportunities to connect with your community. We attended our neighborhood’s tree lighting, which is the lighting of a big, beautiful evergreen, way out on the end of the dock while we are all gathered around the large bon fire on the beach. In connecting with others, we may also be granted the opportunity to practice boundaries (for yourself and your children). For example, no forced affection. Especially when we are returning to our family of origin, it can be so hard to be in the present, instead of getting sucked back into the dynamics of our childhoods. I have found the best approach to be to stay true to our parenting values of empathy and respect for our children with confidence and happiness. If you are confident and happy, people can’t help but smile, no matter what is going on around you. Who will you connect with and how?

3 Unbusy

Experiences and connection are a significant piece to our joyful life but one of the best things I ever did for myself and my family was to realize that I could decline invitations (even those that felt obligatory). We have to hold the space for our families to just be and breathe and actually enjoy the holiday season. One big experience a week is the general balance that feels good for us. And if an experience or person (or people) or place doesn’t enhance our peace and joy, we don’t go. It’s really that simple. Practice with me now, “No.” Because in saying “no” to one thing, you are saying “yes” to something else that is better aligned with your intentional and conscious values. What will you decline?

4 Decorate

Decorating may seem superficial but inviting seasonal items into your home can be so uplifting to the spirit and an important sense of the seasonal passage of time for children. Bring nature indoors with pinecones, stars made of sticks and twine, an evergreen, handmade wreath, etc. What would the season of light be without candlelight and firewood? These seasonal rituals are strands in the fabric of your family culture. But you need not spend copious amounts of money on plastic junk that you then must box and store the remaining 11 months of the year. We have a box of heirloom ornaments, a box of lights, and a box of fabrics (stockings, tree skirt, and felt garland). Our 3 Christmas boxes are actually the only boxes we store besides the one childhood box for each of us. The rest is nature, like the pine cones we collected and placed in a glass hurricane that I use for different items depending on the season, and edible, like the gingerbread house we made. What natural element will you invite into your space for the season?

5 Embrace

Some people feel down and limited in this cold, dark season of winter, but I encourage you to embrace it! Between the Danish concept of hygge and the Swedish tenet that “there is no bad weather, just bad dress,” winter might be my favorite season. Invest in the gear to adventure in the world year round and dive deep into the light, coziness, and gatherings of this special season. Since rejecting the commercialism and obligation of the mainstream holiday season, December has become so very much sweeter. What aspect of Winter have you been complaining about that you will transform your relationship with?

6 Minimize

Declutter your home by releasing all of the items that have not been used in the last 90 days or no longer bring you joy. If you haven’t yet shifted your home into minimalism, this is the perfect time to start. If you already have, this is the perfect seasonal refresh. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, start with clothes and toys, which get quickly outgrown (there is more help with this in Sage Homeschooling: Wild and Free). The point is, if you are going to be bringing new items into your home, you have to free up the space by letting go of other things. What will you release?

7 Donate

Those items you have pulled to release – donate them to your local Buy Nothing group or a charity you support. Be generously giving of your time, energy, and resources to a cause you care about. The spirit of giving that marks this holiday season doesn’t have to just mean mall shopping and church donations. Really think outside the box on how you can help with issues you and your family care about. Make the world a little better beyond your own front door. After Thanksgiving dinner, the kids plated up all the extra food and we drove around giving it to the homeless people in our city. It was the best part of their day. How can you help?

8 Give

Living simply doesn’t necessarily mean you are against gift-giving, it just means you value thoughtful, high quality gifts over obligatory crap purchased in a Black Friday flash sale. You can give experiences and connection just like you enjoy them. We love to give a gift card for a place or experience of interest to someone we care about, for us to do together. The flip side of this is that if you don’t want to be gifted loads of things, you have to communicate that openly and honestly with your loved ones. For example, we have told my parents that we want memberships, subscriptions, tickets, and experience gift cards instead of toys and things. When asked what he wanted for Christmas from his grandma, Bay said he wanted her to set aside his gift money for a plane ticket for her to come visit. We also ask for consumables like art supplies or things we need. This has been such a wonderful shift and we get to enjoy the gifts for so much longer than a pile of toys that get played with for a couple days and then forgotten. What will you give and what will you ask for?

9 Celebrate

The holiday season is rich in rituals that you can incorporate with the greater of intention. You get to write your family’s story here – you don’t have to just inherit it. Sift through various beliefs, cultures, and traditions for inspiration in creating your own family’s way. We make peanut butter balls every December. It’s something my children talk about and look forward to all year long (admittedly, I probably sneak out of bed and eat the most, channeling my inner Santa). Speaking of Santa, you can read all about how we navigate that legend here. What is your most treasured tradition? What one do you want to let go of and what one might you want to add?

10 Gratitude

Gratitude might be the most important part of the holiday season from my perspective. Many extended family celebrations are marked by a shit show of ungrateful mayhem. Hundreds of random present are stacked high and ripped apart in a flurry of confusion in which kids don’t even understand who gave them what let alone have the time and space to appreciate what it is and why it might have been given to them. A chorus of “more!” abruptly reverberates off the walls and the souls entangled in this tradition that seems to miss the whole point. This is definitely not a “kids these days” rant. Kids these days are wonderful. “Consumerism these days” is more what I’m saying and it doesn’t have to be that way. You can step away from “more” and into gratitude. Gratitude for each other, for the experiences we enjoy together, for the comfort and warmth around us, and yes, for the thoughtful gifts given and received. How can you foster more gratitude in the way you celebrate the holiday season?

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I work from an island in the Pacific Northwest, where I live wild and free in connection with my hilarious husband and three growing sailors in our fixer upper on the beach. I authentically live this healing work out loud raising my own neurodivergent family (inner child included) and draw on my decades of education and experience (I've done all the nerdy work so you don't have to) to guide a revolution of overwhelmed parents just like you to feeling at peace within yourself, consciously connected with your children, embraced by a supportive community, and enjoying a values-aligned life you love.

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I'm Rachel Rainbolt

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