Courtney Carver – Simplify the Holidays
It’s that time of year again…Magazines and social media feeds are loaded with stylish and crafty ideas for us to buy and cook and wear and do. We decorate our homes and trees and yards, bake treats for neighbors and teachers and co-workers, and purchase and wrap way too many gifts. We succumb to the Christmas craziness and want the holidays to be just right.
Thirteen years ago, a medical diagnosis rocked Courtney Carver’s world. At age 37, she learned she had multiple sclerosis. As she researched this unpredictable central nervous system disease, the outlook seemed bleak. With a young daughter to raise, Courtney was afraid and angry and uncertain.
On a mission to determine how she would live the rest of her life—and live it well—with MS, Courtney reached out to numerous people afflicted with the disease. She learned, besides diet and exercise, a common thread for MS management is stress reduction.
With her high-powered job and driven mentality, Courtney knew she must make changes in many areas of her Type-A life. Most of those stress-reducing changes (which I will share in March 2020) boiled down to simplification.
Now living in Park City, Utah—where she can ski and hike to her heart’s content—Courtney grew up with lavish Christmases. Once she had a home and family of her own, the tradition continued. “With gifting and spending and decorating, my holidays were completely over the top,” Courtney admits.
When she looks back on those “Christmas explosions,” she guesses the excess was associated with guilt. Divorced at the time, Courtney wanted to give her young daughter—who had no dad in her life—special holidays. An example of the “more is more syndrome” so many of us fall into.
But with new health issues, Courtney realized the holidays were wearing her out. She needed to simplify Christmas.
One of Courtney’s first tasks was to pare down holiday decorations – boxes and boxes stuffed with angels and reindeer and ornaments. “I was always looking for another Santa to add to the mix,” she laughs. What remains, tucked and organized in the storage shed, are only those treasures she loves.
With nutcrackers and Santas scattered on every surface of her home, Courtney “didn’t pay attention to the decorations.” Now, the favorite keepsakes on display are meaningful to Courtney and her husband and daughter.
“Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.” — Henry David Thoreau
Nowadays, as she enjoys coffee by her lighted tree, the ornaments spark memories for her. She remembers the friend who gave her a certain trinket, the vacation when she bought another, or the age her daughter made the misshapen candy cane.
“I am over stuff,” says Courtney. She doesn’t think gifts are bad or wrong, but she thinks most adults have more than enough things in their lives. “For some, it is important to give gifts, but feel free to express it is not necessary to you,” she says.
Courtney dropped holiday cards years ago. Instead of digging through files for the perfect family photo, designing the holiday card, and spending a small fortune on postage, she’s opted out. And her friends don’t seem to mind. She stays connected to those important to her all year long – no need for the year-in-review newsletter.
“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” — Confucius
Although Courtney loves to bake and cook, she no longer feels obligated to deliver her homemade pies to neighbors and friends. “No gifts outside of my immediate family,” she states. She’ll have lunch with close friends or go to a party and be “festive, fun, and lovely.” But absolutely no gift swaps or white elephant “nonsense.”
She asks her husband and daughter what baked cookies or treats they’d like for the holidays, and then she focuses on those favorites. “I have fun in the kitchen, but I don’t go as overboard as I used to,” she says. With “zero self-control” (like me!), a lot of her homemade goodies go out the door with her husband for the folks at his office to enjoy.
I’m happy to report Courtney’s efforts to reduce stress and simplify her life have paid off. Her MS is manageable and doesn’t stop her from traveling and hiking and skiing.
By letting go of many of the extras, Courtney spends less energy and time worried about what she should do this season. No more excess buying and planning and cleaning and organizing. Her health is good, Courtney is thrilled with her simple holiday plan, and her Christmas is just right.
I have done much of the same. Let go of things that cause stress “just because” you’ve always done it that way. Christmas is not about these things, but Christ and family.
I totally agree. Simplicity is best and makes for a happier mom!
Amen to that, sister! I decided years ago that if it didn’t make me smile, it wasn’t going to happen. OK… a few things still slipped onto my to-do list, but compared to the nonsense of the early years, our holidays are a mere shadow. I love just being able to enjoy time with family… isn’t that what it’s all about anyway? Thanks for a great read, Pam!
Thanks Mary! I have given up so much “stuff” I used to drive myself crazy trying to accomplish. My family prefers a relaxed mom and wife to a “perfect” holiday!
Love this story! She reminds us of what is important and what isn’t. Thank you for sharing!
Thank you! Courtney needed the ms wake-up call to realize what was important. She said the disease is a blessing in her life.
Another great article! It took health issues of my own to arrive at the same place as this lovely woman. I started by giving up one “thing” each year (such as sending cards one year) which nobody missed. Last year I whittled down all the boxes of decorations that felt excessive and without real meaning to my family. This year I’m going with a small tree. At this age and stage it’s much more about the spirit and not being exhausted or stressed by the time Christmas morning arrives.
Thank you – sometimes a “crisis” is what we need to finally make those changes in our lives. The changes we’ve known we need to make but we keep putting off….. Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving.