For many people, the holiday season is the busiest, most complicated, most stressful time of year.

Holiday parties, gift shopping and wrapping, decorating, travel plans, end-of-the-year projects, planning for the new year … these are all added on top of your regular business. And life before the holidays was already pretty busy.

So what can we do to simplify? Is it even possible to simplify when things are getting crazy?

Yes, it’s possible — with some willingness to change. If you want things to be exactly as they are, you can’t simplify. But if you’re open to change, and have an open mind about your routines and priorities and projects and more, you can simplify.

One method to go about this is to ask yourself a series of questions. Now, it takes a minute or two to reflect on these questions … but if you have five questions, that will only take 5-10 minutes. That’s totally worth the time investment if it greatly simplifies your life, reduces your busy-ness and stress, and makes you calmer and happier. Take the time now to reflect.

Here are the ones I’ve found useful:

  1. What are you striving for? In our lives, we’re always striving for something: success, higher numbers at work, a new house, achievements to add to the notches on our belts, financial independence, an image that we want others to have of us … something. We aren’t always aware of it. So take a minute to reflect: what are you striving for right now? You can tell what it is by what’s stressing you out, what’s been occupying your mind, what fills your life with things to do. But if you can loosen your grip on what you’re striving for, you can simplify. You might even realize that this thing you’re striving for isn’t real, and is only a fantasy. It’s not important. In fact, you can have happiness right now, without this thing you’re striving for, if you accept that what you have is already good enough. Where you are is already perfect.
  2. What are you clinging to? We all cling to things in our lives: our Christmas traditions, our love of sweets, our Internet distractions, our need to be right, our desire for justice in unfair situations, our craving for recognition and admiration. We are not usually aware of this clinging, but it feels like a tightness, stress, unwillingness to let go of how things are or how you want them to be. Take a minute to reflect on what you don’t want to let go of, what causes you this tightness and stress, what makes you dig in your heels.
  3. What can you limit yourself to? If you have 50 things on your plate, will you really have time to eat all those things? Will you have the space to give any of them focus? Will you enjoy all of them? What if you only limited your plate to five things? You’d have more space, more focus, more enjoyment. Take a minute to look at the various areas of your life right now, and see if you can limit each one: have a limit on your tasks each day, a limit on meetings or parties, a limit on requests you can say yes to, a limit on how much time you spend on email or social media, a limit on how many hours you work. Set arbitrary limits and force yourself to make choices. Adjust the limits if absolutely necessary, but don’t just widen the floodgates because you don’t want to choose. Choose, and your life will get simpler. Say no to the rest, or get out of those commitments by saying you can’t do them.
  4. Who do you want to spend more time with? Spending time with friends and loved ones is the best way to use your holiday time. But you can’t say yes to everyone: what if you could only choose 3-5 people to spend more time with? Maybe fewer, depending on what your family situation is (people with 6 kids can’t cut out a few kids from the list, but if you don’t have kids, your list can be shorter). Take a minute to think who that might be. Now prioritize your time so that you limit everything else (Question 3 above) but make time for those people. Make some dates/appointments with them, block off time on your calendar, and make this time actually happen.
  5. What can you let go of? Think of the things you’re striving for, clinging to … can you let go of them? Before you say no, consider how it might be possible. And when you limit things in your life, see if you can let go of the things that don’t make the cut.

Letting go isn’t easy, because if it’s in our lives, that means we’ve already said yes, have already decided its important enough to be in our lives. But if you don’t let go, your life remains complicated. You are trying to say yes to everything, and that means you have too much on your plate. That leads to busy-ness, stress, unhappiness, and worse health.

Simplicity requires asking these tough questions, and then learning to let go. That isn’t easy work, but the alternative is much harder.

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