How to have a simple Thanksgiving

simple thanksgiving

Note - Affiliate links may be used in this post, including Amazon affiliate links. I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you if you use my affiliate link. But don't worry, all the opinions expressed are my own!

Sharing is caring!

If Thanksgiving has become more stressful than restful, try having a simple thanksgiving this year!  Instead of spending the holiday stressed, simplify your day with these 9 tips!

Why I decided to have a simple Thanksgiving

I love Thanksgiving.  It’s one of my favorite holidays, in fact.  When I was young, it was always such a simple holiday. (Well, aside from Mom’s insistence that I dress up…why did I have to wear a dress just to eat a big meal and nap the afternoon away?)  We’d go to grandma’s house, eat LOTS of good food, usually dishes that we only had once or twice a year. We’d sit around after the meal, football on TV in the background, some of us napping, some of us playing card games.  Lots of laughter and a very relaxed day of being together.

Or so I thought.  When my hubby and I got married, we lived states away from most of our family, so I decided to start hosting Thanksgiving dinner for friends,  family members that wanted to visit, and basically for anyone who didn’t have a place to go for the big meal.  And it was a LOT more work than I expected.  

I thought the only way to do Thanksgiving properly was to recreate the version I had grown up with, AND add in some of my husband’s family Thanksgiving traditions.  I love traditions and wanted to keep ALL of them going. I’d would spend days cleaning the house, top to bottom. I’d make sure the table was perfectly set, put up Thanksgiving themed decorations.  I spent hours finding the perfect recipes, making a huge shopping list, planning down to the minute which dishes needed to be started at what time and in what order so everything would be on the table at exactly the same time.  I made 3 different pies, so everyone could have their favorite. No one needed to bring anything, I had it all taken care of…just come on over and enjoy the day!

And it was lovely…for everyone except me.  By the time the day was over, the kitchen was a mess, the house was a mess.  And I was a mess. But I pressed on, year after year, with a varying cast of friends and family members coming by for the meal.  Until the last year I hosted a big fancy Thanksgiving…

That year, I went through all of my normal pre-Thanksgiving madness, making sure everything was “perfect”.  The house was sparkling clean, the meal was done on time as planned, and we were all ready to sit down to enjoy.  Weren’t we? I was so wrapped up in preparing and making everything “perfect”, that I didn’t even notice that all those little details that seemed so important to me, didn’t really matter to anyone else.  And this particular year, they didn’t matter to the point that no one was really even interested in the meal itself. “We’ll be there in a minute,” they said.  And I waited, watching the food get cold.

I was upset. I was angry. How could my guests do this to me? Didn’t they know how hard I had worked?  How much effort I had put in to make sure that everything was perfect?

I was feeling all the feelings – except for one. Thankful. It’s hard to be thankful when you’re stressed, frazzled, and annoyed.

That was a rough Thanksgiving for me.  But it also made me think…if the big, picture-perfect meal didn’t seem to matter to anyone but me, why was everyone here?  What were they doing the whole time I was working so hard to make sure everything was perfect?  

They were enjoying each other’s company.  They were having fun just being together.  They were enjoying a day off work, laughing and chatting, playing games.  They were truly enjoying the day. And wasn’t that really what I was trying to recreate?  It was a reality check that I definitely needed. I wasn’t enjoying it, I was too busy trying to make everything “perfect”.  I wasn’t thankful, I was busy and stressed. And it was all my own doing. We had so much to be thankful for…a roof over our heads, plenty of food to eat, and friends and family all around us.  I was the one that wasted the day and missed the point. I was the one that wasn’t really celebrating Thanksgiving because you can’t be thankful when you’re too busy being overwhelmed.

How to make thanksgiving simple (without losing the magic)

These days, Thanksgiving at our house looks a lot different.  Instead of running myself ragged to make everything “perfect”, I’ve simplified Thanksgiving. I’ve dialed it WAY back. I accept help.  And now I get to enjoy hosting because it’s simple and actually fun.

I ask guests to bring dishes.  I accept help when it’s offered.  And sometimes (gasp!) I even ask for help!

I only make my favorite dishes instead of ALL the dishes.  I don’t worry about the house being spotless, just presentable – it’s only going to be a mess by the time the day is over.

I took the pressure off myself to make it a “perfect” day for everyone – and now, Thanksgiving is back to being fun!

simple thanksgiving
simple thanksgiving
simple thanksgiving

 9 ways to have a simple Thanksgiving

If you’re hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year (or even if you’re a guest), here are a few tips on how to have a simple Thanksgiving, so you can actually enjoy the day with your family and friends.

1. Don’t go overboard with the prep work

I’m a clean freak.  Always have been. But really, no one is going to notice if there is a stray dust bunny in the corner of a room that no one is even using. Make sure the house is presentable and leave it at that!  No one is coming over to judge your housekeeping skills.

2. Don’t worry about the decorations

Of course, you can decorate, if you’d like. I love to decorate for each season! But don’t feel like you HAVE to.  It won’t make or break the day. You don’t need an amazing, Pinterest-perfect table setting or centerpiece…the food is enough!

3. Limit the menu to the basics  

It’s easy to get caught up in all the fancy recipes and meal plans that show up everywhere in the weeks before Thanksgiving.  But is now really the time to try a fancy, new 47 ingredient recipe that you’ve never made before? Or will everyone be just as happy with the basic dishes? If you really love to cook, maybe pick one new dish to try out.  Ask your guests what their absolute favorites for the Thanksgiving meal are and just focus on those dishes, instead of trying to make 14 different side dishes. (Learn from my mistakes on this one…I was surprised to learn that I was the only one who even liked sweet potato casserole…)

4. Take shortcuts (I won’t tell)

If you don’t like to cook, there is no shame in buying ready-made food!  And if you do like to cook, use the shortcuts that are available. Instead of spending your day peeling a mountain of potatoes, try out the frozen steam and mash kind.  Buy a pie. Paper plates may not be for every day, especially if you’re environmentally conscious, but NOT having three days worth of dishes to do after the big meal is over will free you up to enjoy the day. 

Whatever shortcut will make it easier for you, take it.

5. Don’t duplicate your dishes 

You don’t need 3 pies for 6 people.  Or stuffing, rice pilaf, cauliflower rice, AND mashed potatoes.  Pick your favorites dishes and just go with those.

6. Try it pot luck style

Provide the turkey and tell everyone that’s coming to bring a dish.  Everyone gets to contribute and no one has to take on the whole meal by themselves. This can turn out to be even more fun than the big, perfectly planned menu because you never know what you’ll get.  

7. Send everyone home with leftovers  

I think leftovers are the best part of Thanksgiving dinner.  But after a week of turkey sandwiches, they lose a little of the magic.  Instead, ask your guests to bring containers with them (or grab some inexpensive reusable containers to send home with everyone)and load them up with leftovers!  They’ll get to enjoy the leftovers too (and no one will have nightmares about forcing themselves to eat another turkey sandwich).

8. Enjoy each other’s company 

Half the fun of Thanksgiving is the meal itself.  But the other half is being together.  Sit around and chat.  Play games. Watch a movie. Have a dance party while you’re doing the dishes.  Enjoy the fact that you are spending time with people you love, and may not see that often.  Make the most of your time together.

9. Traditions aren’t set in stone

As much as I hate to say it, traditions don’t have to be kept.  Have crab legs instead of turkey. Have a Thanksgiving brunch instead of dinner.  Don’t be held prisoner by a tradition you feel like you should keep, just because that’s the way it’s always been done.

Finally, remember the point of Thanksgiving day

Thanksgiving isn’t just a big turkey dinner.  It’s a day to take time out to be grateful for what you have, no matter how much or how little that is.  Think of all the things you have to be thankful for. Don’t get so caught up in the “event” that you miss the focus of the holiday.

Need a few more ideas?

24 ways to have a cozy holiday season

How to overcome perfectionism 

What are you doing to simplify Thanksgiving this year?

9 Responses

  1. I love all of these ideas! I think pot luck is the way to go these days. In my family, we all contribute to the dinner. It’s so much easier when each family brings a dish instead of doing it all!

  2. I’ve read a few articles of yours including mistakes bloggers make and I was left feeling inspired and even content. I myself have been struggling with getting going with the blogging thing but always compare myself to the already-successful bloggers. Instead of feeling inspired by these bloggers I would feel anxious and overwhelmed but how much I haven’t done yet! “Don’t compare your chapter one to another blogger’s chapter ten” I love that! Thank you.
    I also love your blog because it is very similar to what I want to write about, only mine focuses on self-care for mom life. And I also love that you’ve been doing this for less than six months… it’s more inspiring than someone who’s been doing it for years. It’s more relatable.
    Thank you for sharing your blog and thank you for giving me the inspiration to keep going!

  3. ‘Traditions aren’t set in stone’ that one hit me hard bc our traditions are changing and I’m struggling with it a little bit. I know it doesn’t really matter where we have Thanksgiving as long as everyone is together.

  4. These are great tips for simplifying Thanksgiving! My mother comes every year and it’s just four of us for dinner usually but she always expects me to make all the things so she can take the leftovers home with her. Makes what should be a fun day a stressful one.

  5. I love the idea of simplifying the holidays and putting the focus on the meaning and who it is spent with. These are great tips to having a simple (and peaceful) Thanksgiving, thanks so much for the reminder 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *