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Challenge: Reducing Holiday Stress

Here's why Christmas Decision Fatigue is a real thing - and 3 ways I'm learning to fight it.

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As a Mom of three boys, I wear many hats: Lunch-Maker, Boo-Boo Kisser, Homework-Supervisor, Safety-Advisor.

Of all my jobs, the one that I find most tiresome is Decider. Fair or not fair? His fault or his brother’s? Clean enough or needs bathing? 5 second or 5 day rule?

Enter decision fatigue. It’s a real psychological thing. They say it is the inevitable wearing down of someone who has become exhausted from making too many irrelevant decisions. The result? Poor decisions.

It’s an occupational hazard of motherhood, I suppose. But truth be told, we all have a finite amount of mental energy and space. One too many decisions and we are bound to begin making a few that we regret.

The month of December takes it to a whole new weary level. Add to the typical decision-filled day a checklist of what is yet to be decorated, purchased, wrapped, baked, celebrated and lovingly enjoyed as a family, and you have a recipe for the most overwhelming decision fatigue of all - Christmas Decision Fatigue.

During what is meant to be The Most Joyful Month, we stockpile decisions like they are on a Black Friday sale and suddenly we wonder why instead of joyful, we just feel completely worn out?

In an effort to free up mental space and make room for joy, here are three ways that I have discovered to minimize decision fatigue during the holidays:

1. Create traditions that reinforce the idea of valuing simplicity.

Kids at Christmas. They are the most angelic and exhausting creatures, aren’t they? I get teary when they ask me each and every morning in December, “What Memorable Event or Celebration are we going to plan today, Mom?” And lest you admire my sentimentality, I mean the stressed out kind of teary.

In an attempt to gain back some mental space, I bought an Advent Box from Target a few years ago containing 25 little cubbies with doors. Each year, I pull up my Advent Activities List on my computer, edit and print it out, consult our calendar and cut the list into little slips of paper to be hidden behind each door.

So, when the Question pops up each morning, I smile and direct my children to the door for that day. The day’s activity may be as simple as getting out the Christmas mugs, but the fact that the task is a family tradition convinces my children that it qualifies as a Memorable Event. Score.

What simple traditions do you celebrate as a family? Sleeping under the Christmas tree? Driving around to look at Christmas lights? Watching Elf - yet again? Consider planning your favorite simple activities out for the month and then celebrate crossing one decision a day off your Christmas to-do list.

2. Use The Rule of One.

I think giving is beautiful. I enjoy getting a little creative at Christmastime with gifts for the neighbors, teachers, mailman and more.

However, with the evolution of Pinterest, I have noticed that the endless supply of creative and crafty ideas for gifts can leave me feeling like I am letting my people down if I don’t offer a personalized gift experience for each of them.

This is where the Rule of One comes in. After pinning all 795 incredibly adorable ideas, I take a deep breath and choose just one that will be my go-to gift for neighbors, teachers, friends and others. Chances are they aren’t all going to get together to compare notes, so why not?


You could also consider creating a traditional gift to offer year after year. I have friends who make the most delicious, ooey gooey cinnamon buns every single year as a gift to friends. You don’t hear anyone complaining that they got the same gift last year! If you have a family recipe that everyone loves, this would be the perfect gift idea to use over and over every Christmas. Just like that, you have eliminated a decision every single Christmas.

3. Embrace the Less.

It’s one of the pillars of The Merry Little Christmas Project Manifesto: Give yourself permission to embrace the less instead of the stress.

I’m not sure who decided that More is better at Christmastime, but I’m pretty sure it’s just more. Is it possible that we make Christmas more complicated than it needs to be?

The year that I realized that the size of my Christmas to-do list was much larger than the joy that it brought, I decided it was time to give myself permission to embrace the less of Christmas. I began to buy less gifts, put up fewer decorations, say no to activities that distracted us from savoring the season, and stay home more. And in doing so, I discovered that less indeed really is more.

Is it time for you to embrace the less? Maybe the best way to eliminate decision fatigue is by simply eliminating decisions? Each time you choose to cut back, picture yourself putting a little deposit into your mental energy bank and making space for joy.

I have discovered that the mental space that I have freed up by simplifying how we celebrate Christmas is a gift both to myself and to my family. And best of all? This is the kind of gift that even Pinterest can’t top.

Kaley Ehret is wife to Wes and Mom to Griffin, Lincoln and Cade. After crying in the bathroom one Christmas morning, she began a quest to learn the secret of a simpler, more meaningful Christmas. Now she loves to help women transform their Christmas through her book The Merry Little Christmas Project: Five Words that Will Transform Your Christmas and via her other planning resources she offers to her online community.

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