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A ‘3 gift Christmas’ can be magical  + minimalist for kids—here’s how

I remember a few years ago at this time of year, I felt like I was standing still while the world and my loved ones spun around me.


The buying, the driving in crazy traffic, the overspending, the baking of every cookie, the hosting of all the parties, the yelling and the cleaning, the gotta get that one perfect present, the credit card maxing, the feeling of obligation—that was Christmas all around me.

My once favorite time of year was turning into a very stressful, very heavy burden. I had kids old enough to get it, I had to be an adult now—one of the stressed out ones who yelled and drove and spent all the money to make sure my kids had a wonderful Christmas morning.

But did I? Did I really?

The toys our kids had were taking over the entire house. I was spending hours once a week reorganizing all the dolls and trucks and train tracks, only for all of it to get dumped out again. The kids weren't even benefiting from it. They'd just get overwhelmed looking for that one favorite toy, or better yet they'd get bored and wander out to whine at my feet.

The last thing my children needed was more toys, more stuff.

I realized we didn't have to do this. We could do something different. We could live the Christmas season with true joy instead of putting up pretty signs that read the word while over-spending, over-obligating and over-stressing ourselves to the point of begging for January. We decided we weren't going to be like everybody else, and that's when we discovered minimalism.

To me, minimalism is about asking why before bringing a new item into my home. It's about saying no to the American way of all the things, all the money, the most expensive, the best, the newest, the biggest. It's about quieting our flesh and living in gratitude with what we need, what brings us joy, adds to our life, and teaching our children to live the same way.

We've brought minimalism into our toys, clothes, belongings, and daily life, and I've talked about it quite a bit here on my blog, but today I'm sharing how we do our minimalist Christmas.

A woman at church once told me about the idea of following the example of the wise men in giving our children gifts for Christmas. I looked into it and something clicked. This is what we should be doing, this is how we can create true joy at Christmas time and say no to stressing out.

The idea is, Jesus got three gifts at Christmas, one from each wise man. We take that and copy it: Three gifts for each child.

Maybe you think this is insane, or unfair to my kids, or sad, too extreme, or nontraditional. To that I say, we've been doing this for three years now, and my children have had some beautiful Christmas mornings. The joy on their faces proves they aren't missing a thing. And honestly, the holiday traditions in our country are extremely materialistic and self-centered, so I hope our family’s Christmas is nontraditional.

Why would I teach my kids to be grateful, to give, that Jesus is the reason, and then overload them with a ridiculous amount of things they don't need?

I feel compelled to practice what I preach, and focus on the reason for the season, so our Christmas and how we spend these precious weeks should reflect that.

Here's why we love the three wise men, three gifts practice...

1. It cultivates gratitude, and discourages a sense of entitlement and greed in a materialistic time of year.

We don't feel like we're missing anything, because who would miss stress? We get all the benefits of Christmas morning—presents, a beautiful tree, love, excitement, anticipation—there's just no stress attached to it.

2. Three gifts per kid allows us to give quality presents.

We are able to afford some pretty awesome gifts for our kids because we know we are only buying them three each. Bella wants a bike? Sure! Because we don't also have to get her 12 other things.

3. The bar is set at realistic.

Our kids don't expect a tree spewing wrapped boxes on Christmas morning. There is no previous precedent of an elaborate morning spent opening loads of presents. My dad told me that one of his biggest regrets as a parent is overdoing it on Christmas morning. He said if he could tell me to do one thing, it would be to keep Christmas about Jesus and go easy on the gifts. It's pretty heavy that, of all the things he could have said he'd change as a parent, it was that. It matters.

4. No stress for the parents.

My husband and I love Christmas time. We don't have to save a bunch of money or max out a credit card or go shopping every weekend in the crazy mall traffic. We feel like we get a new version of the Christmas joy we experienced as kids. We get to give to our kids and see their faces light up and not carry a financial burden. Christmas should be joyous, and if it isn't, maybe it's time to try something different.

Allie offers A Merry Little Christmas, a free mini-class guiding you to a simplified holiday for moms pursuing less. Check it out here.

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Summer heat has a way of making the house feel smaller, more congested, with less room for the air to circulate. And there's nothing like the heat to make me want to strip down, cool off and lighten my load. So, motivation in three digits, now that school is back in, it's time to do a purge.

Forget the spring clean—who has time for that? Those last few months of the school year are busier than the first. And summer's warm weather entices our family outdoors on the weekends, which doesn't leave much time for re-organizing.

So, I seize the opportunity when my kids are back in school to enter my zone.

I love throwing open every closet and cupboard door, pulling out anything and everything that doesn't fit our bodies or our lives. Each joyless item purged peels off another oppressive layer of "not me" or "not us."

Stuff can obscure what really makes us feel light, capable and competent.

Stuff can stem the flow of what makes our lives work.

With my kids back in school, I am energized, motivated by the thought that I have the space to be in my head with no interruptions. No refereeing. No snacks. No naps… I am tossing. I am folding. I am stacking. I am organizing. I don't worry about having to stop. The neat-freak in me is having a field day.

Passing bedroom doors, ajar and flashing their naughty bits of chaos at me, it's more than I can handle in terms of temptation. I have to be careful, though, because I can get on a roll. Taking to my kids' rooms I tread carefully, always aware that what I think is junk can actually be their treasure.

But I usually have a good sense for what has been abandoned or invisible in plain sight for the lack of movement or the accumulation of dust. Anything that fits the description gets relegated to a box in the garage where it is on standby—in case its absence is noticed and a meltdown has ensued. Crisis averted. Either way, it's a victory.

Oh, it's quiet. So, so quiet. And I can think it all through…

Do we really need all this stuff?

Will my son really notice if I toss all this stuff?

Will my daughter be heartbroken if I donate all this stuff?

Will I really miss this dress I wore three years ago that barely fit my waist then and had me holding in my tummy all night, and that I for sure cannot zip today?

Can we live without it all? All. This. Stuff?

The fall purge always gets me wondering, where in the world does all this stuff come from? So with the beginning of the school year upon us, I vow to create a new mindset to evaluate everything that enters my home from now on, so that there will be so much less stuff.

I vow to really think about objects before they enter my home…

…to evaluate what is really useful,

...to consider when it would be useful,

...to imagine where it would be useful,

...to remember why it may be useful,

…to decide how to use it in more than one way,

... so that all this stuff won't get in the way of what really matters—time and attention for my kids and our lives as a new year reveals more layers of the real stuff—what my kids are made of.

Bring it on.

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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For many years, Serena Williams seemed as perfect as a person could be. But now, Serena is a mom. She's imperfect and she's being honest about that and we're so grateful.

On the cover of TIME, Williams owns her imperfection, and in doing so, she gives mothers around the world permission to be as real as she is being.

"Nothing about me right now is perfect," she told TIME. "But I'm perfectly Serena."

The interview sheds light on Williams' recovery from her traumatic birth experience, and how her mental health has been impacted by the challenges she's faced in going from a medical emergency to new motherhood and back to the tennis court all within one year.

"Some days, I cry. I'm really sad. I've had meltdowns. It's been a really tough 11 months," she said.

It would have been easy for Williams to keep her struggles to herself over the last year. She didn't have to tell the world about her life-threatening birth experience, her decision to stop breastfeeding, her maternal mental health, how she missed her daughter's first steps, or any of it. But she did share these experiences, and in doing so she started incredibly powerful conversations on a national stage.

After Serena lost at Wimbledon this summer, she told the mothers watching around the world that she was playing for them. "And I tried," she said through tears. "I look forward to continuing to be back out here and doing what I do best."

In the TIME cover story, what happened before that match, where Williams lost to Angelique Kerber was revealed. TIME reports that Williams checked her phone about 10 minutes before the match, and learned, via Instagram, that the man convicted of fatally shooting her sister Yetunde Price, in 2003 is out on parole.

"I couldn't shake it out of my mind," Serena says. "It was hard because all I think about is her kids," she says. She was playing for all the mothers out there, but she had a specific mother on her mind during that historic match.

Williams' performance at Wimbledon wasn't perfect, and neither is she, as she clearly states on the cover of time. But motherhood isn't perfect either. It's okay to admit that. Thanks, Serena, for showing us how.

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There are some mornings where I wake up and I'm ready for the day. My alarm goes off and I pop out of bed and hum along as I make breakfast before my son wakes up. But then there are days where I just want 10 more minutes to sleep in. Or breakfast feels impossible to make because all our time has run out. Or I just feel overwhelmed and unprepared.

Those are the mornings I stare at the fridge and think, Can someone else just make breakfast, please?

Enter: make-ahead breakfasts. We spoke to the geniuses at Pinterest and they shared their top 10 pins all around this beautiful, planned-ahead treat. Here they are.

(You're welcome, future self.)

1. Make-ahead breakfast enchiladas

www.pinterest.com

Created by Bellyful

I'd make these for dinner, too.

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