12 Steps to Avoid Disappointment this Holiday Season


“Christmas is not as much about opening our presents as opening our hearts.” —Janice Maeditere

The holidays can be a most wonderful time of year. The season is often marked with family, tradition, and giving. And no matter our age, it stirs up fond memories and creates new ones. The holidays can indeed bring out the best in all of us.

But despite all the hope and preparation, often times, holiday expectations go unmet. Meals don’t turn out right. Kids get crabby. Family members bicker. Gifts are not received as fondly as we expected. And before we know it, shades of disappointment begin to creep in as we realize the season will not measure up to the pictures we had in our mind.

As we enter this final stretch before the holiday, is it possible to avoid this disappointment during the season? Of course it is. But it often takes some intentional steps on our part. Consider these:

12 Steps to Avoid Disappointment this Holiday Season.

1. Identify your main thing.

From food and decoration to presents and parties, the December is full of opportunity. But there is a very fine line between opportunity and distraction. Determine the main thing you want the season to represent. It may be based on religion, family, or rest. Whatever you decide, keep your main thing in sharp focus first.

2. Slow down.

Peace is rarely found in adding commitments and errands. So cut a few—on purpose.

3. Realize perfection is not possible.

Travel gets disrupted. Houses get messy. Kids want more presents. Family members bicker. This is life. And unless you are part of a magazine photo shoot, perfection is simply not possible. Stop expecting it.

4. Don’t push your expectations on to others.

We all have different expectations of how Christmas should be. Often times, these expectations are based on childhood memories. But we all have different childhood memories… so don’t assume everyone expects Christmas to look the same as you do. I’m all for developing traditions. But I’m against thinking everyone expects my traditions to become theirs.

5. Make room for rest.

Take a nap, retire to bed early one evening, or find a morning to sleep in later than normal. Running ragged to make everything perfect rarely results in perfection. Instead, it results in snippy attitudes, short tempers, and runny noses.

6. Offer forgiveness quickly.

People make mistakes. Be quick to offer forgiveness and mend broken relationships—whether the offense occurs today or happened many years ago. Take the step. Because holding on to ill-feelings towards another is one of the greatest sources of disappointment in life (and the holidays).

7. Remember memories are made in the mistakes.

Some of my fondest Christmas memories center on the mishaps that have occurred over the years: getting left at a department store with my cousin, discovering a Christmas gift early, my grandmother wrapping the gifts but forgetting to mark who they were for. These mishaps make me smile even today… we should also learn to smile when they are unfolding right in front of us.

8. Realize the meaning is in the giving, not the gift.

You won’t get everything you want this Christmas and conversely, you will get some things you don’t want. Put less emphasis on the gift in the wrapping. And put more emphasis on the fact that somebody thought you were special this holiday season. The gift is not the gift. The true gift is the giving… and the giver.

9. Admit you can’t change others.

We can set bold examples. We can look for teachable moments. We can offer advice when appropriate. But we can’t make decisions for others. They are going to choose options for their life we wish they wouldn’t. In those moments, remind yourself that you weren’t called to live their life, you were called to live your own.

10. Know when to stop.

From over-eating to over-drinking, knowing when to stop quickly becomes a lost art during the holiday season. But too much of a good thing quickly turns into a bad thing with lasting consequences. In almost every regard, for maximum enjoyment, embrace moderation.

11. Stay within your budget.

Avoid holiday disappointment by celebrating it within your means. This pertains to the number and extravagance of gifts. But should also extend to travel, celebration, and entertainment.

12. Embrace spirituality.

Regardless of your religious (or non-religious) preference, there is much more to this world than the things we see. Embrace spirituality this holiday season by championing love, hope, forgiveness, and grace. Rather than losing yourself in the hustle and bustle, find intentionality in remembering the heart of Christmas and celebrating the soul of everything good.

And from my heart to yours, may your holidays this season be truly happy.
Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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  1. says

    Great list. I REALLY like offer forgiveness quickly. Christmas is a wonderful time to make peace and forgive. It’s a gift to all parties involved.


  2. Colin Michael says

    The old carols of Christmas speak of silence, peace, light, rest, music, listening, etc. The mood is calm, often passive, with a little bit of travel and some giving. The more modern the song, though, the more active it seems to be, more inward focused, sometimes frenetic. The Twelve Days of Christmas makes me breathless before I get past the golden rings.

  3. says

    Yes, yes and yes.

    Slow down, embrace imperfection, REST, offer forgiveness, be mindful of spirituality… A summation of all the things we should aim for.

    Merry Christmas to you and yours, Joshua. :)

  4. Sallyann says

    Beautiful post. I especially like #8, realize the meaning is in the giving.

    This is my first Christmas since I “discovered” minimalism a few months back. And while no-one would think me a minimalist, I certainly have way less stuff than I did then. And our choices this Christmas are quite light on stuff, which makes me feel lighter too. So, whilst staying flexible with my expectations, I am very much looking forward to this Christmas.

    Thanks for all your work on the blog this year, it is making a difference and I appreciate the time, effort and goodwill you put in.

  5. says

    Hi, I love your blogging and today I took the time to carefully read and feel your 12 steps to avoid disappointment… but I still feel confused… Today morning my 10 years old boy started crying out really loud claiming we don´t allow him to be “normal”. Why? Because we refuse to buy him a mobile phone, a sony psp 3 or plasma tv for this Christmas… So true, kids always want more gifts and perfection is not possible. But I feel lost when my children are involved in the holidays wave of consumerism, reaching it´s highest point during Christmas time. I´ve offered them a wide range of alternatives to enjoy and share meaningful times during the holidays. Our three kids appreciate this projects, but consumerism influence from school, streed ads, etc. is very powerful too.
    Minimalism is our life and parenting decission, but it doesn´t mean kids would embrace it with the same enthusiasm as we do. Any suggestion to sort out this situation would be really appreciated! Love, Fernanda

    • Aron- says

      Fernando, Why not take the opportunity to educate your child on the many kinds of “normal” out there. I am sure there are volunteer organizations out there that could use some assistance this time of year.

    • Tom Korth says

      Fernanda, I feel your pain. Parenting in this day and age becomes even more complicated given the rapid rate of technological advances. When my family got an Atari game system in the late 70’s, it was quite some time before there was something that rivaled it. Today it seems that something new, bigger and better is coming out every other day! What I have to tell myself is that consumerism is a trap for both the giver and receiver. My children want more so they get more. They then expect more. If I bow to their expectations, it then becomes a never ending cycle of buying the next bigger and brighter thing. I don’t want my kids to learn they get whatever they want and I don’t want the pressure of feeling like I have to deliver.

    • Barbara says

      Fernanda, at our house, Normal is just a setting on the dryer! Humor and compassion are a powerful combination. Blessings to you and your family this Christmas.

    • Ro says

      I realize your post is 1 year old, Fernanda, but Christmas is round the corner again and I wonder how you are getting on with your child and minimalism. As a mother I can only understand the pressure kids sometimes put on us. With time, I have realized that making our children understand that material possessions don’t bring in happiness is a task that takes time and a little bit of work, ie., getting out in nature with them on a regular basis, doing creative things like crafts or cooking a nice cake they like, showing them that you may not watch TV hour upon hour but you can choose a CD and enjoy watching a film at at time chosen by the familiy, invite friends over, etc. Children are usually opened to change and amazingly enough to healthy change. If you are to “deprive” them of what they are used to, you need to offer some alternatives or the likely result may be frustration and opposition. Still, there will be some sticky times. One thing I have noticed about my own daugther is that when she is happy and content in her life she hardly asks to buy things (this has also been brought about by us living on a tight budget). There was a time when she was badly bullied at school and I believe she used to ask for material possessions as a way to compensate for the loneliness and the rejection she felt. Right now the situation is quite the opposite: of course she would like to have things, but if she cannot have it, she’s quite ok about it. And the things she asks for are rather for artistic development, like a (second-hand) piano that’s been offered to her for almost nothing or a camera as she’s studying photography-related subjects at school…(camera which will have to wait quite a bit yet I believe).
      I also found it very useful to talk things through with my daughter, to listen to her worries (like not being “normal”, being different etc.) without making her feel there is anything wrong with the way she feels but explaining in simple words what you as a parent think about having and focusing too much on material possesions. Anyway, I hope this helps. Good luck! And patience!

    • Doe says

      I raised my children the same way. My youngest is now 21. I emphased life choices and that as long as they lived under my wallet they did as I wished. If they wanted more, they had the option of earning money and the freedom to spend. I think it worked out well. Of my three children, my son shares my same views, daughters not as much, especially my oldest. It’s now their life and their decision. As my son often points out, I gave him a different way to view life, one not seen in our media or socially accepted culture. Keep an open mind. As technology changes a device such as a cell phone may be minimalist. You may want your son to have a cell as he gains freedom so you can connect with him.

    • Ed says

      Things are not People and People are not Things. Always remember which is the Most Important. And if We don’t
      Know, We will Always have a Problem.

  6. Laurie J. says

    While the whole list is excellent and thought-provoking, numbers 8 and 9 really resonated with me. (And, after getting on the scale this morning, number 10!) Your blog is such a gift and helps keep my inspiration fresh. Mahalo and Mele Kalikimaka!

  7. Maria says

    My favorite Christmas tradition is eating oranges and cheese and crackers. We did it every year, even the three years when my parents didn’t have a lot of money. I also remember putting on a Christmas play every year with my siblings when we were little. Like Bob Hope says, the simplest things make people the happiest. I don’t always remember what I presents I got for Christmas, but I do remember things from each Christmas. Have a merry Christmas yourself!

  8. says

    I find that when Christmas is heading downhill fast, the best pick-me-up is a nice glass of wine along with a rousing rendition of “Jingle Bell Rock” at the topic of my lung… opera style. If that doesn’t work, I threaten to punch my kids in the nose, which makes them crack up, thereby restoring my faith in humanity. “Children laughing” beats all hellz out of “People passing” and day of the year! :)

  9. says

    I need to remember that things don’t have to go the way I imagine to be wonderful. When you are with family and friends, with great food, and a few days off of work how could your holiday be bad? Thanks for the reminder!

  10. Helen says

    Love this, especially number 4! Not everyone I know does gift giving, which is okay. I try to give them something small, or something homemade (like a jar of chutney), so they dont feel obligated to return a gift. So long as they understand part of what I love about Christmas is giving gifts.

  11. says

    Joshua- Thank you for the list! You’re site has been such a blessing to me this year. My almost 13 year old daughter is working through Living With Less and she is really enjoying it. She has slowly been working on decluttering her room and is amazed at the peace she feels. It was just better for her to hear the message from you than just “her mom.” Also, through you I have discovered Jeff Goins and my long tucked away love for writing. I’m excited where that will take me. So, thank you, thank you, thank you!! Have a wonderful Christmas with your family and many blessings in the New Year.
    Much grace and peace to you.

    • Pat Brooks says

      What better time than now to simply tell you how much I value your words and your posts on Facebook. I have been working on minimizing my life for about 6 months and it’s taking me longer than I expected, but with your encouragement and insights, I am doing it a little at a time, one step at a time. Thank you for all that you do. May your Christmas be filled with Love and Peace.

  12. msnomad says

    Thanks for the list and for reminding me of what Christmas is truly all about. Merry Christmas Joshua! Greetings from one of your avid reader..

  13. says

    Christmas is always full of disappointment for people. Perhaps this is down to people expecting too much or perhaps this is down to the consumerist society in which we live.

  14. Rachel says

    I personally needed to remember #4 not to push my expectionss on others. If we all were exactly the same the world would be a boring place! Some people are givers and not so much. Forgiving people right away so it doesn’t ruin the holidays:) Thanks for sharing Joshua.

  15. Bianca Culbert says

    I love your website and your approach to most things but I really disagree with your No 8 here. People do not give you a Xmas present because they think you are special, most of them do because it`s what people do. It`s what expected, it`s how it`s always been and it`s what you should be doing if you don`t want aggros.

    After gradually cutting down every year, we have said to the last people last year that this was the last Xmas that we`re doing gifts. And it`s so liberating. The pre-Xmas season was totally stress free, and we need not dread the bills in January. There was plenty money for all the nights out which matter to me, and we will not receiving anything we don`t want or give something which will end up being re-wrapped and passed on.

    I am showing people that they`re special not by buying them material things but in many other ways, mainly spending time for them and easing their burden at this hectic time of the year.

    Most people are totally stressed and complain heavily about the shopping, wrapping and the financial outgoings. They do *not* enjoy the gift giving, and I feel glad that noone has to buy one for me.

    Honestly, as long as there are no kids involved, I wholeheartedly recommend stopping the gift giving! It`s so liberating!

  16. B Spellazza says

    I think so many of us have forgotten the real meaning of Christmas. I know the little ones are expecting Santa Claus and Presents. However this is the time we all should be celebrating the Birth Of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He has truly given so much for all of us. We just need to accept him into our lives!!! Belive me I’m so Blessed to have Jesus in my Life, AMEN

  17. Laura says

    Dear Joshua,

    Thank you so much for these inspiring posts all through the year. Well written and thoughtful, these messages are daily mileposts along the journey of a intentional life – offering direction at turns and confirmation on the straightaways.

    Wishing you and yours a Joy and Peace filled holiday season.

    With much gratitude…

  18. Fee says

    Thanks Josh. Christmas seems to always be very strained in our family and extended family. All I want is peace and love but all they seem to bring is turmoil…….

  19. says

    I so enjoy reading your blogs! This one especially rings true. Family is far away, Christmas is so commercialized and I haven’t been feeling at all in the spirit. Just remembering that it’s about gratitude and peace is where I’m trying to focus, and it’s made a real difference.

    I also have taken a “minimalist in progress” approach this year, and while cleaning out and eliminating items, have discovered that many of these things were perfect for those on my gift list. Ironically, many of the items were coveted by my friends and family, and they were very excited to received them! A definite win-win!

    Thanks for your inspiration and your wisdom! Happy Holidays to all!

  20. Nini says

    I really wish I could have read this yesterday as I stressed over hosting our family Christmas dinner. I asked everyone to show up at 5pm and people ended up coming over as early as NOON. I have an 18 month old with social anxiety, a 6 month old and an exhausted husband who volunteered to do all the cooking. We CLEARLY over-committed ourselves to this impossible task. The house wasn’t clean enough when the first guests arrived 5 hours early, my husband and I bickered because we were trying to do too much to please everyone and ended up eating separately after everyone left while my children were drained from crying during the day’s events. I love entertaining and I love my family, but this has taught me that I don’t have to try to do it all and expect specific outcomes. Next year, I’m letting someone else host and I plan to focus on my kids and husband and make rest, spirituality and fun a top priority for the 4 of us. Thank you for this post!!!

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