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Melissa Schmalenberger, Published December 10 2011

Schmalenberger: Find simple ways to celebrate the season

‘Tis the season of excess — spending, eating, drinking, entertaining, etc. Here are some quick tips to a more simplified holiday experience.

E Buy gifts that are filled with care and not price. Maybe you buy a candle for your sister because the scent reminded you of the summers you spent with grandma. Maybe you buy a fuzzy pair of socks for your niece that loved her “softy” growing up and still loves soft things. Don’t be tempted to buy someone an expensive gift because you are “expected” to. Wrap a gift with sentiment and it will exceed the recipient’s expectations.

E Ditch the list. Nothing is worse than having your loved one give you a list of things that they want. If that is the case, just give them cash and have them buy their own gift. My 16-year-old son reminded me of this when I asked him what he wanted for Christmas, and he said, “Mom, you should know me well enough to know what I want.” Right, I do know him well enough! Checking things off a list is not the reason for the season.

E Only go to parties you want to go to. Not everyone wants to go to holiday parties. They could have good reasons: social anxiety, struggle with sobriety, weight issues, lack of money to buy a new outfit that they think they need. Be OK with not going, and, if you are having a party, be OK when some of your invited guests can’t be there.

E Only give parties you want to give. Too often when you have a party you feel the need to invite more people than you really want there. So instead of having the annual shindig that people expect you to have, skip it for a more intimate party – or skip it all together.

E Travel only if you want to. We didn’t travel last year, and it was heaven. We have three boys that are very involved in activities. So when there is a 4-day period where we have no commitments, we enjoy staying home. When our kids were younger it was easier to travel. Now that they are busy, they love staying home too. My family is always welcome at our house, but for now I am staying put and I am OK with that.

E Find time to relax. For me that is sitting alone in my house while the kids are in school and reading a book or taking a bath. This rarely happens but when it does, it is heaven. I think I need to follow my own advice and schedule the time now.

E Give back the way you want to give back. I remember the year I was asked to make royal icing for my son’s class, which was making gingerbread houses. I was handed a recipe by the teacher and told to make 4 batches. Really, who has meringue powder? But what I discovered was that our local bakery sells the icing and the $10 I spent was well worth my time. So when you are asked to do something, do it because you want to, not because it is expected of you. If you can, pay for the icing instead of make it (the cost was about the same, plus I added no more gray hair). Plus, I could help out the class but not kill myself with separating egg whites. If you want to give but can’t afford to, think of the cost of your time. Ring a bell, volunteer to wrap gifts, volunteer at a local shelter to help in the kitchen. These are all gifts of time that many organizations need to survive.

Melissa Schmalenberger is a professional organizer. She blogs at mssimplicity.areavoices.com.