Every year as I walk around the neighborhood on Halloween night, I think to myself, and now it begins. From this point on, time and events seem to launch themselves at me from now until the end of the year. Not only do we feel the weight of all our plans, stores and commercials begin pushing ideas of the “perfect Thanksgiving,” the “perfect gift,” and the “perfect decorations” into our heads until it’s hard to tell what we really want any more.

As I thought about all of these things from my position on the sidewalk while my kids worked for their sugar, I remember a conversation with a friend this summer. We mourned how quickly the time was passing but she explained why she felt such a sense of accomplishment. She had thought through her whole to do list and then narrowed it down to just two big projects. When we spoke, she had almost finished one of them.

The holiday season can bring a lot of expectations, both conscious and subconscious. I’ve decided to take a page out of my friend’s book and set my priorities early. My hope is that, like her, I can end the season with a sense of accomplishment and joy rather than the more typical vague disappointment about the things I don’t manage to do. Would you like to join me?

I’ve broken the process into three steps:

1. Be Honest 

What is it that I really want to happen this year? Will I feel like a failure if my kids don’t collect lovely fall leaves, dip them into wax, and then string them in our living room? Am I hoping for a night of books in front of the tree? I think the trick to this is to dig into all of the expectations put on us by the outside sources and face them head on.

2. Narrow My List

Some of those things will just be impossible to accomplish. Every year I feel so much guilt over things that will never happen in my house. The people in my life need to get over the fact that they will not all receive a handmade individual gifts. More importantly, I will have to accept that they probably won’t care! Most of the things on my list will be probably be possible, but not if I try to do all of them. I need to sort through them and decide which of them are worth the struggle to accomplish.

3. Let it Go

Finally, the simplest and yet the hardest, I have to do what the song says, and let all of the other junk go. Once I decide what is important to me, I need to make sure I don’t try to do all of it anyway. Or, perhaps more important, I need to make sure I don’t feel guilty or shame from my decisions.

With thought and a bit of perseverance, I hope to end the year on a high note with a feeling of contentment for having navigated this tricky time. Perhaps you can join me and we can truly make this a season of joy.