I have taken a good hard look at my life this year. Seeing all the stuff I had gathered and realizing how happy others could be if I gave it away, I have simplified and decluttered my life. I still have lots of stuff, and I am by no means living a Spartan existence, but I just have a lot less, and I have felt good about it.

Looking at my living room in November, I dreaded the coming holidays. For years I had put up a huge tree, laden with decorations. Then I would spend hours wrapping gifts to put under the tree. I have a large family, and by the time I had done all my shopping and wrapping, my living room was full of stuff, just sitting there until Christmas.

Then I began to think of all the stuff I had received. I might have mentioned that I loved candles, so I would receive two or three candles. Or I might have said I enjoyed essential oils, and I would receive several boxes of oils, many of which were still sitting in my closet. I wondered if members of my family really wanted or needed the gifts I would pick out for them, or if they would take the gifts and the gift receipts and stand in long lines after Christmas to exchange them for something else.

So, as I dragged out my boxes of Christmas ornaments this year, I did what I have been doing with my other excessive belongings. I took a good look at what I really wanted and needed and gave the rest away to someone who was thrilled to have it. Then I decorated my tree and saw that it still looked wonderful.

I started to panic that I hadn’t begun to shop for Christmas gifts until the end of November and prayed for a better, simpler way. Then, it came to me. Instead of giving stuff this Christmas, I would give experiences. In my children’s busy lives, they long for those weekends when they can get away for a few days. So I looked for a way I wouldn’t just be giving money, but I could help pay for them to have unforgettable experiences.

My Christmas is simpler this year. I have fewer decorations, but I enjoy what I have. My tree still looks great with fewer ornaments in an uncluttered living room. There are a few gifts beneath the tree, and I am excited about my giving as I wait to see the surprise on the faces of my children. As I have embraced a simpler life, an added perk has been that life seems to move a little more slowly, with time to remind myself of what Christmas is really all about and spend time on what is really important.