Author: Lisa Luken

6 Ways to Simplify Your Holidays

6 Ways to Simplify Your Holidays

The holidays are fast approaching, which means our to-do lists are getting longer day by day. If you’re feeling the pressure of trying to do it all, it’s important to step back and remember what this season is truly about. 

According to Wikipedia, in modern use, the term holiday means “any special day of rest or relaxation, as opposed to normal days away from work or school.” If this is the case, then why does the holiday season always seem to end up as one of the craziest and busiest times of year? No matter what activities and celebrations you participate in during this season, with some intentionality, it’s possible to tame the chaos and make this holiday season slower, simpler, and more enjoyable.

Here are 6 ways to simplify your holidays:


Don’t think of delegating as giving in or giving up. Instead, think of it from a positive perspective. When you delegate, you give others the opportunity to do what they do best. Let them be the expert and handle the task. In turn, you’ll free yourself up to do more things that you enjoy. Remember that your time is valuable, especially during the holiday season. The weeks will go by quickly and you can only do so much. Think about what your time is worth and invest in help when needed.

Focus on community

Even if you want to avoid the hustle and bustle for the season, preferring to hibernate instead, it wouldn’t hurt to do something for your community’s improvement. Pay attention to what the people in your community need and join them. Whether it’s choosing to give back by serving free hot meals or donating to a local toy drive, giving provides opportunities to connect with others in your community. You might also choose to join the caroling group in town, help decorate at the town hall, or attend a community theater production. Make it a point to smile and say hello to others at the events. Small gestures can go a long way in sharing the joy with others in your community.

If it’s overwhelming to think about volunteering or attending another event, choose to connect with your community at a different time of year when there are fewer demands on your attention. Consider which time of year works best for you, find a group in your community, and plan to participate in a different way in the new year. Connecting with others in your community is important all year!

Practice Teamwork & Communication

If you’re doing anything over the holiday season that requires collaboration, this is critical. Often, the source of our stress and messy holiday issues are a result of someone not asking for help or not communicating clearly. Be proactive by talking to your family and loved ones before the season begins. Discuss traditions, share new ideas and be open to each other’s thoughts. Remind each other that just because something has always been done a certain way, it doesn’t mean it needs to stay that way. Although you may encounter resistance to changing things up a bit, share why you think it’s important and try to agree on a new way of doing things this year. Have another discussion after the holiday season while the memories are fresh in everyone’s minds and use that information to plan for next year.

Choose experiences over things

Do you remember the last “thing” you received from a friend or family member? Now, do you remember the last experience you had with a friend or family member? Which comes to mind faster?

Over time, memories of experiences are more likely to stick with us than the physical items we’ve received over the years. Keep this in mind as you contemplate purchasing another gift for someone. If you’re tempted to just go out and purchase another cookbook for your budding culinary friend, consider instead taking them to a cooking class and enjoying the learning experience and the cooked meal with them after. You can also arrange a vacation with them so you can spend some quality time with each other! 

If you’re still tempted to present them with a gift that can be opened, a Nixplay frame is a perfect gift! It will help you relive all of the experiences you’ve enjoyed with that person. Gift it with images already on it or enjoy the experience of sitting with them to set it up and add photos they choose. The experience of giving it can be your gift!

Uphold your boundaries

You’re likely going to get asked to do something this holiday season. Before the season begins, think about or jot down three words you’d like to feel during this holiday season. Think about what’s really important to you during this season. Then, when you get asked to do something, think back to your words and decide if this request will take you closer to or further from what you hold dear to your heart.

Don’t be afraid to say “no” if it doesn’t align with your vision or if the thought of doing it makes you feel overwhelmed or “heavy.” On the other hand, if you’re immediately excited about the request, say “yes” enthusiastically. You might also choose to respond instead with an alternative option that works for everyone. Be confident, speak up, and uphold your boundaries kindly and gracefully. Focus on what’s best for you and your family. Remember, it’s your holiday season, too.

Prioritize sleep and self-care

By upholding your boundaries, you’re creating a holiday season that feels good to you and your family. Though routines, activities, and traditions will change over the years, two things that should remain constant are sleep and self-care. Resist the urge to pack in more to-dos after everyone else is in bed and do your best to stick to a set bedtime so you don’t compromise your health.   

Remember that self-care isn’t just about getting massages and having long weekends away (although it certainly can be!). Practicing self-care can be as simple as starting the morning in bed with five quiet minutes of deep breathing. Or maybe it’s incorporating in a 10-minute walk in the middle of the day. The bottom line is, it doesn’t have to be glamorous. Anything that helps you stay focused on your physical and mental health will help. When you prioritize these things, you’ll show up more alert, focused, and energized, and you’ll be more likely to enjoy your holiday season.

With some thoughtful planning and intentional conversations with your loved ones before the activities and commitments begin, you have the power to make this holiday season simple. Do your best with the suggestions here and give yourself the freedom to experiment with what feels right for you and your family.

mental declutter

5 Ways To Clear Mental Clutter

Marie Kondo’s books and Netflix series have inspired people everywhere to empty out drawers, clean out cabinets, and get rid of anything that doesn’t “spark joy”. Her work highlights the benefits of clearing the clutter from your life, something professional organizers around the world have been helping families do for decades.

However, it’s important to know that physical clutter is only one piece of the simplifying puzzle. Getting rid of the piles of paper, the clothes that don’t fit, and your now-teenagers’ childhood toys littered in your home is a significant first step in the journey to eliminating stress and unwanted things. Clearing your mental clutter is another powerful step in the process of truly simplifying your life.

What is mental clutter?

I define mental clutter as the thoughts that take up space in your mind, creating confusion, stress, and exhaustion. Mental clutter keeps you from thinking straight, making decisions and living intentionally. With intention, focus, and patience, you can clear it from your life just as easily as tossing those holey socks and worn towels.

Here are six ways to clear mental clutter:

Spend time in nature (without your phone).

When’s the last time you went somewhere without your phone? Do you even remember?

We’ve become so used to always having a phone that it feels unnatural to leave home without it. But being unplugged can help you settle into a few minutes or a few hours of much-needed downtime. Immerse yourself in nature and let your mind wander. Approach this time away with curiosity and engage your senses to notice the sights, sounds and smells around you. This experience is an opportunity to clear your mind and set your thoughts aside.

Do a brain dump

How often do you think about all the things you have to do? Maybe you have sticky notes, notes on your phone, or voicemails and emails spread out, all over reminding you of the many tasks you need to complete. A brain dump will help fix this.

Choose a central location, either a notepad or a digital app, to serve as your main brain dump location. Write an exhaustive list of everything you can think of that requires your attention. Just getting these thoughts out of your mind enables you to see them as a whole, sort them, and act on them. Knowing your responsibilities and having a plan to tackle them takes the swirling thoughts out of your mind, eliminating your stress.

Finish or let go of an unfinished project.

Do you have any unfinished projects in your life? I’m guessing your answer is “yes” based on what I’ve seen in my experience working with families to simplify their homes and lives. Whether it’s a broken ornament you’re planning to superglue back together, a scarf you had the best of intentions to knit, or the storage rack you bought on sale last year and planned to put up in the garage, unfinished projects abound in our homes and lives.

While these unfinished projects don’t seem to affect us on a day-to-day basis, they can drain our energy and contribute to our mental clutter more than we realize. What do you think about each day when you pull into the garage and walk around the storage rack box sitting on the floor? What happens when you see the yarn basket next to the couch each night? Being aware of these unfinished projects is a significant step in clearing this clutter.

With your brain dump, you’ll have a clear list of the unfinished projects in your life. Once you know what your unfinished projects are, you can decide what to do about them. Your options are simple: Finish the project, or let it go. If you’re planning to finish it, schedule the time, set a deadline, and purchase any needed supplies. Break it down into chunks or ask for help if needed.

For example, if “organize my pictures” has been on your list for years, ask family members to share the responsibilities and costs with you, set goals for each month, and schedule the time in your calendar. Make the project fun by planning family gatherings to work on it or listen to music as you sort and scan. Stay focused on your end goal, such as seeing all of your photos organized and digitized on your Nixplay frame and think about how great it will be to finally finish the project. Of course, if you have unfinished projects that no longer sound exciting or necessary, return products and supplies that you can, then donate the rest to an organization that would be happy to have them.

Focus on one thing at a time.

Do you ever feel like your mind is a computer browser with 22 tabs open, all needing your attention? Just like your computer can’t function well with too many programs running at the same time, neither can you. Research continues to show that multitasking isn’t effective.

Learn to start focusing on and fully finishing just one project at a time. Use your brain dump to prioritize what you need to work on and schedule time in your calendar to complete the steps. Choose to delegate tasks that others can do and delete things that really don’t need to be done after all. Be mindful when you find yourself inching back toward multitasking. Use this as a signal to shift gears and do another brain dump.

Clear a shelf, counter, or surface.

Just as your unfinished projects subtly steal your attention and drain your energy, so can cluttered shelves and surfaces in your home. Experiment with this by clearing one shelf in your home. Choose one that you see every day and clear everything from it. See if you can keep it this way for one week (or longer). Creating this white space gives your eyes and mind a chance to rest. See what you notice over time. As you learn to embrace this space, continue clearing areas around your home and clearing your mental clutter.

You don’t have to be super busy all the time. Using these tips, you can clear the mental clutter from your life and spend more time enjoying the space you create!

main image lisa luken guest blog

Living the Simple Life with My Quirky, Adventurous, Hardworking Dad

Growing up, I didn’t think my parents were cool. I lived on a farm in the Midwest in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. My dad farmed the open land that stretched a mile down the road to my grandparents’ house and my mom worked various jobs while taking care of me and my sisters.

My family lived a simple life. I grew up watching my parents do their best to achieve work-life balance while providing for our family. I watched them work hard and play hard—traits my sisters and I have carried with us well into our adult lives. I didn’t always have the most fashionable clothes or the latest gadgets, but I was blessed to have always had what I needed when I needed it.

Recently, I had the opportunity to look back at the simplicity of my childhood while organizing and scanning our family photo collection. Through this project, I was able to see my youth through the eyes of my parents. It was humbling to learn what life was like long before I was born, and it was thrilling to recount my childhood through the snapshots of everyday moments and big celebrations captured over the years.

The process of organizing the photos took me on an unexpectedly emotional journey. I was able to get a glimpse of my great-grandfather’s travels in the Navy, my grandmother’s wedding, my parents’ childhoods, and ultimately, my arrival. This journey back in time gave me the opportunity to see a side of my parents that I hadn’t fully noticed growing up. I got to see my creative, nature-loving mom and my adventurous, quirky, hardworking dad in a new light.

As we take the time this month to celebrate fatherhood, I’d like to express my gratitude for the fathers and grandfathers in my life. I’m filled with memories of my dad and his fun-loving, unique way of living life.

While I have carried many vivid memories with me over the years, the process of organizing my family photos added even more to my list of noteworthy “dad” memories.

There was that time he slowly pulled into our gravel driveway on his motorcycle, one hand on the brake and the other tucked tightly by his side. “Hey girls, look what I found!” he shouted. Carefully snuggled into his hand was a black and white rabbit, blind in one eye, that he found on the side of the road. The little bunny would be christened by our family as “Spunky Wabbit” and he would live in the black-and-white rabbit cage my dad built for him the next day from wood scraps in the barn. That was so typical of my dad—he was always noticing the tiny details (I still don’t know how he spotted the cottontail while riding down the country road on his motorcycle) and he was always working on a project.

Then there were the times when he’d play with us kids at the park, happily serving as the fourth person for the teeter-totter or sometimes being the only one brave enough to climb to the top of the playground tower.

Of course, I can’t forget all the memories of doing farm chores with him; most notably, the days we spent walking along rows of soybean fields to pull button weeds. This task always seemed to be required on the hottest, driest summer days, but my dad never failed to get us to follow through with our responsibilities. Amazingly, we’d always find arrowhead treasures as we walked the fields doing our job. It wasn’t until years later that I realized my dad had strategically planted the arrowheads each morning in the exact rows we’d be walking that day.

The trickery didn’t end there, though. I would also see his sneaky side during the mornings after he’d have his buddies over to play cards in the garage. He’d have me and my siblings sweep the floor and clean up, and without fail, we’d find quarters that had “accidentally” fallen on the ground from the night before. Thanks to my dad, I acquired quite the collection of quarters and arrowheads over the years.

My dad may have had his ways to “trick” us into getting our chores done, but we knew he always had our backs, providing for us and keeping us safe while still managing to get his work done. Long before baby carriers were fashionable, he’d zip me up inside his coat and accomplish what he could, taking me along for the ride.

When winter came and the work on the farm shifted from plowing fields to plowing snow, my dad’s love for adventure and being outdoors kept him outside all winter long. Between snowmobiling and skating on the frozen fields, my dad always kept us active and encouraged us to embrace the outdoors.

When the snow melted and spring arrived, it was time for rides in our small plane. I come from a family of aviators, and my dad’s favorite hobby was to hop in the plane and go flying. One of his favorite activities on clear Sunday mornings was flying up to Wisconsin for breakfast with me and his dad, just because we could. I think of life now and how complicated it can become, and I long for the days when hopping in a plane and flying to another state for breakfast was accomplished in such a laid back, matter-of-fact way.

And I can’t forget the weeks we spent in northern Wisconsin every August when our family convened with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, second-cousins and extended family members (I could never keep track of who everyone was). We fished and swam, and my dad always managed to keep us entertained. He would turn our fishing boat into a speedboat and tow us around the lake on tubes made from the old tires of the farm equipment. We would hike through the woods and watch sunsets on the lake. And after these long days of slow living, we would gather around firepits cooking the day’s catch, toasting marshmallows for dessert and sharing stories with our extended family.

While each season and each vacation provided memorable and entertaining moments with my dad, it’s the everyday moments that really stand out the most—the repeated routines that shaped each day and contributed to my simple childhood.

Each night at home on the farm, after dinner was cleaned up and while bedtime books were being read, my dad would make popcorn on the stove and my grandfather would arrive like clockwork to share a beer and reflect on the day’s work. They’d plan the next day’s farm tasks and dream up their next big business venture. I listened in to all of this with a child’s perspective while my mom read, all while enjoying my bowl of salted stovetop popcorn (a routine that stuck with of me well into adulthood).

Looking back, I know that these routine nights and adventure-filled days shaped who I am and paved the path I’ve taken in my life. I know my sense of adventure and my love of gathering with others to share good food, good wine, and good stories grew from those days and nights at home on the farm and in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.

I’m grateful my parents captured my childhood in photos—not only the significant events, but also the everyday moments. And I’m grateful for my adventurous, playful, quirky dad who exhibited grit and persistence, who taught me how to work hard, and who showed me how to savor the rewards of each day while always dreaming big.

Here’s to celebrating all the quirky, cool, adventurous dads in this world who have made a difference in their children’s lives in big ways and small ways, and here’s to sharing our favorite memories with them through Nixplay frames!

Take advantage of Nixplay’s Father’s Sale! Get up to 25% off all frames, only until June 16!

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