Truth be told, I’m not a big fan of Forrest Gump and can’t believe I’m quoting him in a blog post. Yet the title seems fitting so I’ll roll with it. Just the other day I received an email from a favorite client asking the following:

“I’ve been thinking a lot about our holiday traditions as this is likely the first year my son will remember, and really want to course correct on my natural inclination to do everything in excess. I grew up waking up to piles of presents under the tree, and somehow convinced myself that was the only way Christmas would be magical for my kids. I now realize that flawed thinking, and want to start some new expectations and practices. I’d love to know how you “keep things simple” at your house – do you limit the number of presents each kid can ask for or it just by a budget? How do you get young kids to realize it’s not really even about the presents?? I’d love to hear any thoughts you’d be willing to share.”

My first inclination was to write her back and encourage simplicity…maybe three special gifts, or alternative gifts to charity to honor loved ones, or gifts of experiences rather than “stuff,” because that is in keeping with my philosophy (and image!) as an organizer. But then I realized that would be a big fat lie wrapped in a Christmas bow. When it comes to gift giving, we are anything but simple. Yup, I’m a bit of a fraud.

I sat on her email for several days before responding. And somehow that insipid quote from Forrest Gump popped into my mind. I’m not even sure what Forrest meant by it, but to me, it means that simplicity is in the eye of the beholder. To truly live a simple AND genuine life, you have to define what simplicity means to you and then live it.

Much has been written about simple living, particularly since the economy has been in freefall. If you’re looking for a “how to” on celebrating a simple Christmas, just Google those very words and hundreds of people will tell you how. Not me. What I will suggest, however, is that you spend a little time identifying what “simple” means to you and your family this time of year. Here are a few things to consider:

  • If filling your home with holiday cheer from the bathroom to the bannister is what Christmas is all about, then by all means, decorate away. Put on that Santa toilet seat cover and own it. If you’re fine with a Charlie Brown tree and a few stockings hung with care, don’t let others call you a Grinch. That original “Silent Night” was pretty simple, too!
  • If you love to send Christmas cards, then by all means, do it. But if you don’t love doing it, don’t! I finally realized that writing Christmas cards was something I felt I “had” to do and I only enjoyed checking it off the list. I stopped sending them and felt that a huge burden had been lifted.
  • If entertaining means the world to you–cooking, cleaning, hosting, sipping, chatting…then host parties all season long. But if that’s not your cuppa tea (or cuppa whatever you’re drinkin’), then don’t. Go to parties at other people’s homes, or just stay home in your jammies.
  • If shopping for others, spending thoughtful time considering what they may really want, need and love brings you joy, then buy gifts. Don’t put yourself in the poor house doing so, but share gifts if it makes you happy. If you don’t want to buy stuff, then buy experiences or give to charity, or opt out all together. All year long I work at “not buying”…but at Christmas, I kind of blow it out. Call me a fraud, but that’s where I get my happy on for the holidays.
  • If going “over the river and through the woods” is the only way you experience the magic of the season, then travel to be with family and loved ones. But if traveling adds stress, unnecessary expense, and is similar to the Liz Lemon “Christmas Attack Zone,” then maybe it’s a good year to pass.

No one else can define what simple looks and feels like for you. You have to explore what matters most to you and fill your holidays with traditions that bring you joy. My hope for all of you is that you find simplicity in the season in whatever way works for you. Merry Christmas, and may 2011 be your most organized year yet!