It’s November – are you already overwhelmed? Have the ads been stacking up with all of their pretty and perfect ideas enticing you to indulge in a little retail therapy? Are you tired of seeing holiday decorations for sale since before Halloween, and hearing the latest cover of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” in every store?  Maybe you’re just not feeling it because you’ve dealt with a lot of other stress this year –going through treatment, waiting for test results, recovering from surgery.  The holidays can be the ultimate “I-feel-guilty-because-I-don’t-feel-festive” time if you let things get away from you.

The time (and our money) seems to dissolve into thin air at this time of year, too.
 Stress or no, every year I grow a little more despondent about the holiday bombardment. I’m not a Scrooge, but what do all of those plastic turkey figurines, electric light-timers and holiday doormats have to do with… with anything? Following are a few things I’ve discovered or tried that make the season more simple, manageable and fun for me, and I would encourage all of you to push your comfort levels just a bit while you consider each:

1. Choose a different meal. Who says you have to eat turkey every year? Or even cook? I will never forget the time our family ate Thanksgiving dinner at a Japanese restaurant at EPCOT in Walt Disney World a few years ago. Despite trying to make reservations six months ahead of time, all of the more “traditional” restaurants were booked, so we decided to just try something we liked. The kids got their meals served in these cool little boats, and we got to savor our dragon rolls and edamame. It’s a fabulous memory. I still like to cook, but different is good once in a while – and you don’t have to go to Disney World to find different.  Many local restaurants are open on Thanksgiving and appreciate the business.  Bonus:  no clean-up.  Still feel compelled to cook?  Go for quicker and healthier with something like salmon and a beautiful salad.

2. Skip Black Friday. The National Retail Federation says we will spend roughly $130 on ourselves on Black Friday this year – what’s that all about? I get that the sales are good, but if you end up buying stuff you don’t need is it really a bargain? Remember that buying for the sake of buying is the root of much clutter. Instead of standing elbow-to-elbow in lines with the other stressed-out shoppers, go for a walk, play some games with the kids, or sit down with the calendar and plan out the next few weeks so that you can feel a sense of control over your precious time.

3.  Buy local, or Fair Trade. Along the lines of skipping Black Friday, pick a different, perhaps less crowded time and visit some of the locally owned shops in your area.  Make a list first, and check out their websites so that you’re prepared and less inclined to make impulse purchases you will later regret. You can also shop online at neat places like Ten Thousand Villages or the Fair Trade Shopping Guide. Most local stores are happy to offer gift cards as well. Most of all, consider what your gift recipient really wants or needs – donating to a local charity in honor of a loved one makes a great gift, and may be more appreciated than another sweater or fruitcake.

4. Cancel the catalogs. Between early October and the first of the year, I used to get enough catalogs to make at least a 3 1/2 foot stack. Even if I had been interested in everything they were selling, there was no way I was going to get through all of them, and most ended up in the recycling bin. A quick Google search of “cut down on junk mail” results in many organizations that will help you reduce your snail mail clutter.  I like Catalog Choice; it’s made a big difference in the volume of junk coming into our home.  You can also try out the free app, PaperKarma, which allows you to snap a photo of the pertinent info on the catalog and then submit it for opting out.

5. Nix the holiday cards. Each year I dutifully display the cards we receive from friends (and the accountant, bank, real estate agent, etc.), and each year I struggle a little with what to do with all of them when it’s all over. It’s nice to receive greetings, but I hate the thought that the hours of work signing and addressing (not to mention selecting the perfect family photo) ultimately end up in a box, pile, or into that recycling bin.  Don’t get me started on the killing of the trees.  My own card-addressing tolerance waned several years ago when I discovered Smilebox.  I use it to create an email-able animated photo collage (customized with some fun music) that shows what we’ve been up to during the year.

I take my time to create it, load in all of the email addresses, and hit “Send”. You can post it to social media, too. We’ve gotten some very positive responses to this method, and our friends and family don’t have to throw anything away. I’m totally cool for them to hit “delete” when they’re finished viewing.

Are you feeling it yet? Are you feeling the freedom that comes with flaunting holiday convention and taking things down a notch or two? Although it may be impossible to completely avoid scurrying around with a full schedule, it makes sense to control what you can. Your Approachable Challenge for this month:  take just one of the above suggestions and see how it goes this holiday season.  Shoot me an update in the comments, and Happiest of Less-Stress Holidays to you all!