Two years ago, I shared how I was trying to adapt my holiday plans for more fun and less fuss. At the time, I had just finished writing Don’t Overthink It and was feeling empowered, newly recognizing how much of my holiday fuss was actually within my control.
Back then, I was more intentional than I ever had been before about deciding what matters to me and to my family, and planning accordingly. We didn’t try a ton of new recipes that year. We reined in some of the well-intentioned but exhausting large gift-giving endeavors we’d gotten roped into. We played a ton of Christmas music and made a zillion batches of Chex mix and spiced nuts.
Little did I know that my 2019 tweaks would be dwarfed by the changes we made last year.
This year I’m working on putting things back together a bit. Not just reframing how I approach a few of our holiday obligations, but fundamentally reconsidering what our traditions should even look like. Over the years we’ve had traditions come and go. I don’t expect much pushback from my kids just because “we’ve always done it that way.”
Will has a saying, (imagine him saying this while loaded down with All The Gear a family of six requires, walking several long blocks to the beach), “having fun is hard work: do the work.”
Just as I have tried to get away from giving our kids crap in their stocking simply because they expect stuff, I’m working on a loose schedule that leaves room for fun activities that are also high-fuss. But I’m ruthlessly cutting out any of the we-do-it-because-we-do-it projects that take a lot of work but offer little payoff.
I want to do the high-reward stuff. I’m willing to do the work—if it’s worth it.
Like this: my kids always want to make Christmas cookies. I hate this. Partly because I have blood sugar issues and don’t want a kitchen full of cookies (I mean literally all the way full the way they plan it). But also partly because it’s assumed holiday cookies should be part of the season, and there isn’t much of a special moment attached to them.
But then. Grasping at straws during full lockdown last year for holiday-themed entertainment, we watched a livestream of How to Make the Perfect Cookie Box. Not just how to bake cookies, but how to assemble the perfect box with a balance of basic, interesting, fruity, and chocolatey cookies. We were wowed; we were inspired!
We bought ten kinds of sprinkles, ruby chocolate, a cookie press. And then we were quick to volunteer to take over the big family cookie spread for Christmas. It was work, yes, but it became an event—the baking itself became a family activity, its own entertainment. And there was of course a delicious “moment” when my whole family was able to enjoy them. (Okay, lots of moments—because after that we were FULL UP with cookies.)
We’ve known for a while that the 2021 holiday season would not mean a return to any sort of “normalcy” for my family. We’re (still) deliberately thinking through what we want our holidays to look like—and honestly, with so many variables in the mix, it’s been easy to get stuck into overthinking in a way we haven’t in years. Waffling between the tried and true we’ve-always-done-it-this-way and what’s desirable, or even practical, for this year.
Will commented recently that it’s time to revisit our Don’t Overthink It principles to shore up our decision-making confidence for the season. And so that’s what we’re doing now at my house: we’re deciding what matters, and then deciding once. We’re evaluating our family rituals and traditions, both new and old. We’re considering smart splurges, and asking ourselves what simple abundance looks like at home in the coming weeks.
We don’t have all the answers we need, but we’re feeling good about the process.
We’re certain we want to enjoy a few high-fuss but high FUN seasonal experiences, while dropping those that are simply high-fuss. We’re making cookies again and we’re going to watch friends perform at the theater. But we’d love more ideas.
What high-reward activities do you find to be worth the effort in your own life? Which ones take a lot of work, but also bring a big reward? I’m sure I’m not the only one who would love to hear your ideas and experiences in comments.