Minimalist Holidays email and dealing with unwanted houseguests

I love it when separate people’s plans come together.

So you know I’m all excited about my Christmas workbook and the response it’s getting from people who are finding it useful to redesign their whole approach to the holiday season. It’s framework, and it’s conceptual, and it’ll change how you feel inside the holiday season, but it’s not practical tips and hacks.

So think about how happy I was to get an email from Asha at ParentHacks and Minimalist Parent that they’re running a whole “Minimalist Holidays” email series, starting Monday with PRACTICAL TIPS AND HACKS. I asked her “like what?” and she said

“Topics include:

– getting kids involved in Thanksgiving

– encouragement to delegate the work of the meal

– tips for reining in the gift list

– ideas for shortening the to-do list

– creative substitutions for the table when you don’t have the “perfect” serving pieces


I’m totally in.

It’s free; it’s 12 total emails over the holiday season starting Monday; I signed up yesterday. You should sign up, too, here:

I love emails that give me less to do instead of more to do.


In other news,

an anonymous reader is wondering if anyone has any commiseration for being forced to host houseguests over the holidays when you really don’t want to but absolutely can’t say no without ripping something that can’t be ripped.

This is the other side of the “being forced to visit and stay with people you don’t want to stay with” conundrum.

I think it’s essential that you and your partner (if you have one) be on the same page about it and be honest with each other about it. And also that you have some kind of escape valve to talk about it with. (This is why I’ll be putting up vent posts on Hanukkah, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day so you can vent here anonymously if you don’t have other places to vent safely.)

But I don’t have anything to make it easier.



0 thoughts on “Minimalist Holidays email and dealing with unwanted houseguests”

  1. I think I would make sure that there was always some grocery item lacking, so that I could run get it if I needed an out, but perhaps that is too passive aggressive. I find though that if I have a house full of people (even if I want them there), I still need a few minutes to myself each day (and sometimes that’s taking my ipod into the bathroom and hiding out for a few minutes). I would check in with your partner (assuming there is one) to let him/her know what you need to do, especially if it’s the partner’s family you’re dealing with.

  2. That has totally happened to me. In my case, it was grandparents (my in-laws) deciding at the very last minute to visit the weekend of one of my kids’ birthdays, or First Communion, or whatever. So…not surprising that they’d want to visit, but the last-minuteness was QUITE problematic.

    Here’s how we’ve handled it…. My husband knows his parents are high-maintenance (and doesn’t particularly enjoy their visits either). And our little house-in-the-city is too small for a lot of people to comfortably just lounge around for several days. So hubby takes it upon himself to plan stuff he knows his parents will like, such as at least one dinner out at an old-fashioned supper club, a trip to one of our many history museums, and the like. I typically join the supper but not the outing. That gives me a little downtime, and it makes one less meal for me to worry about (I’m the family cook).

  3. My therapist recommends imagining how it will go if you did say no. It helps you realize why you said yes and reminds you that you do have a choice even if both saying no and having them visit are both terrible.

    I tried to distance myself when they’re here whether it’s staying busy in the house or running errands. Taking a nap is also a good choice for a break.

    There’s always the "I’m going to Vegas, here’s the keys to the house" approach if all else fails.

  4. I have grown up watching my mother navigate this with my grandmother. So I mostly just have sympathy. On the more practical side, some tips I have picked up along the way include:

    • Plan to go see a movie together. It will give you a mental break and a break from the interaction.
      – Take a long walk (having a dog is a great excuse for this one!). If you go alone, you’ll have some peace. If not, being outside and getting some exercise will make the experience more bearable.
      – If possible, set some boundaries. Now that my siblings and I live out of the house, my mom sets aside one day to spend just as the immediate family before my grandmother arrives. That way by the time my grandmother does arrive, my mom has had some time to catch up with her daughters.

    Best of luck to the reader!

  5. We have been in this situation for the past 10ish years with my in-laws. The only saving grace is that my husband is actually less fond of the visits than I am. I cope by taking lots of showers, naps, and bowing out of daytime outings. My husband copes by drinking and venting after we go to bed. We are so lucky that the in-laws are good people who love our children. There are only personality conflicts at play. I hope there are no safety concerns or other icky problems in your situation.

    I will say that one Christmas the in-laws announced that they would be coming and staying at our house for NINE days. We told them that was too much and that we wouldn’t even be in town when they got there. They said "No problem. We’ll come a day earlier so we can see you before you go." When they arrived my mother-in-law was sick with a nasty cold. I have no idea why they didn’t postpone their travel (an eight hour drive) for a day she was feeling better. Instead she came to our house to lay around, and got the rest of the family sick. The day before they were supposed to leave my father-in-law woke up really sick and they announced that they were going to stay until he was well.

    My husband freaked out and told them that he had had enough. It was time to go home. His mom threw a fit and ignored her own grandson all morning until they finally packed up and left. We thought that would be the end of the marathon stays at our house, but no.

    These days they live much closer, so though we see them more often it is for shorter periods of time. A fair enough trade. And somehow it works out better when we stay at their house. At least then we are in control of when we leave.

    Hope you make it through the visit with your sanity in tact.

  6. We’re more on the "being forced to visit and stay with people you don’t want to stay with" conundrum, but I think this (very small tip) works either way:

    If at all possible, make it so you have separate vehicles to travel to places. (Sorry for those who have to rely on public transit.) Like, the visitors drove there or had to rent a car, and "oops, we don’t all fit in one car." Even that little car ride gives you a place to vent to your partner about the houseguests’ antics. I’m sure they’re doing the same about us in their car, but whatever.

    (Oh, and as an incredibly paranoid person, I do check my cell phone before these vents to make sure I haven’t actually butt-dialed the houseguests and they’re hearing the whole thing.)

  7. We decided to ask our house guests to postpone their visit until January. I can’t tell you how happy this makes me, and how relaxed I feel about the holidays now. There are some hurt feelings about waiting until January, but it’s the best thing for our family and we’re sticking with our decision. Change is good!

  8. I’ve had an awful week because of the guest issue. In my case I said no (or rather, not now) and let ‘er rip, because I am married to someone that would gladly sacrifice my chance at building my own family traditions–something I’ve been waiting for years to do after a messy childhood–at the altar of his mother’s feelings. We are on the same page only insofar as he upheld the travel restrictions at my insistence. I’ll have to host later, and because they are in another country our visits from and to them are always much longer than ideal, but the line establishing my own family as something part of, yet distinct from and not to be absorbed by, theirs is one I’m going to hold.

    Coping mechanisms depend a lot on the specifics, but carving out private time and space is essential. Go to the store, go to bed early, get a convenient headache if it comes down to it, but don’t make yourself play host/ess for every waking hour. You need time to build up reserves.

  9. I LOVE this post. I’m in the UK so no Thanksgiving issues here but Christmas is building already. I have Christmas nightmares about my inlaws at our house where I’m trying to cook dinner on the stove and my MiL is merrily trying to put lots of pots away and keeps literally ‘butting’ me out of the way with her butt as she bends over to get down to the cupboards. I wake in a cold sweat. My dramatic strategies in the past have been to rope in local friends who can call me with an ’emergency’ during evenings, giving me an ‘out’ for breathing space from the loooooong evening of everyone sitting in silence doing crosswords. However, I am now firmly established in the ‘difficult daughter-in-law’ role and so I might as well just take the more forthright route these days, so I now think carefully over the likely conflicts and try to work out a win-win ahead of time, or at least how far I’m prepared to shift to. And I will be calm, polite but fairly direct at times (no my very spirited toddler cannot sleep in his travel cot half in the bedroom and half out on the small landing because there’s no freaking room to fit his cot in the room, whilst the light remains on all night, the stanna stair lift is going up and down and FiL keeps going up the metal creaky ladders to the loft…that was actually one Christmas at their house but you get the feel of this whole thing). My inlaws definitely seem to reign in the shenanigans with me – with my SiL, they have asked her to take off the tight fitted sheets from their bed to iron them because ‘they cannot sleep in un-ironed sheets’. They’ve never asked me to do that. I’d better get talking to my fella re coping strategies for this year.

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