Holiday Boundary Setting: 3 Areas to Consider

Holiday Boundary Setting: 3 Areas to Consider

NOTE: This is Part 1 of our series on holiday boundary setting. Read Part 2 and Part 3

You’re fighting through traffic when the phone rings…

It’s your neighbor, inviting you to a holiday potluck. Your famous roast, please. The one with that amazing sauce that cures for a week. And can you bring that extra folding table and set of chairs? They’re expecting a crowd.

At the store, scrolling through emails as you wait in the checkout line, a reminder pops up…

…for your daughter’s piano recital. And your workplace gift exchange. And your church cookie decorating party. And your annual lunch with that friend… the one who makes you feel exhausted and irritable every time you see him.

Back at home, you’re putting groceries away when the doorbell rings…

It’s a group of kids raising money for their local troop. They’ve almost reached their quota! Just one more wreath should do it. Oh, you’ve already bought 11 others from neighboring troops? Want to make it a solid dozen? Pretty please and thank you! Cash only.

Sound familiar?

If you’re like most people, you probably experience this sort of supply-and-demand problem around the holidays:

Demands are at an all-time high, and your time, energy, and resources are in ever-shortening supply.  

The solution? Holiday boundary setting.

During this season of giving, setting boundaries might feel a bit selfish. And yet, it’s an essential tool for navigating the holidays with your emotional wellness intact.


  • encourage awareness and honesty with yourself
  • promote transparency and openness with others
  • guard against resentment and burnout

And what’s more, boundaries preserve your precious resources, helping you to be more intentional and giving of your time, resources, and emotional energy.

Read on for the top 3 areas in your life you can be practicing holiday boundary setting this year:

1. Your time.

Whenever you say “yes” to something, there is less of you for something else. Make sure your “yes” is worth the less.

Lysa TerKeurst

During the holiday season more than ever, time is a rare commodity. Learning to spend yours wisely is an important part of holiday boundary setting.

Without thoughtful planning of your own, it’s easy to find yourself swept up in the plans and demands of others.

How you allocate your time is entirely up to you. (If you’re part of a family, you may need to enlist the help of your partner or children to map out the calendar.) The key is to carefully consider your plans ahead of time, and make deliberate choices based on your priorities.


  • Make a list of all the activities, events, and other commitments you anticipate in the coming months. (It might help to pull up last year’s calendar if you have it.) Be sure to include any holiday “bucket list” items you want to make time for.
  • Divide the list into 3 categories: Non-negotiable (i.e., commitments you absolutely must keep), negotiable (i.e., commitments you would like to keep or delegate if possible), and expendable (i.e., commitments you can either delegate or cancel entirely).
  • Pull up the calendar and start plugging in specific dates and times for each non-negotiable item on your list. Whatever dates remain can be filled in with negotiable commitments… or left open for rest and spontaneity!
  • Practice clear communication regarding the expendable items on your list. If a particular item is not a priority, or you simply lack the time to devote to it, resist the temptation to delay; say “No” as promptly and graciously as you can. (Watch for the next post in this series for tips on how to do this!)
  • Delegate the negotiable items on your list. For example, if contributing to a toy drive is a priority for your family, consider delegating the task of wrapping the toys to another member of the household. Remember: Shared priorities should translate to shared responsibilities!   


2. Your resources.

A budget is telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went.

Dave Ramsey

The holiday season is brimming with opportunities to give. From planned (and unplanned) gifts to donations, all that giving can get expensive.

And if you’re not careful, it’s easy to find yourself suddenly strapped for cash and filled with resentment.

The key to holiday boundary setting with your resources is to decide ahead of time to which people and causes you will be giving, and how much you can reasonably give.



  • Create a Yes/No list. Like allocating your time, you can choose in advance how you will spend your resources at the holidays. Take a few minutes to list the purchases, donations, and other contributions you anticipate making or being requested to make.
  • Begin with a budget. Although this isn’t the most glamorous tip, it’s essential. Take an honest look at the money you have available heading into the holidays, and then make some clear decisions about what you will spend it on, and how much you will spend. (If you share finances with a partner, do this together.)
  • Revise your Yes/No list. Based on your budget, clearly identify those expenses on your list that are not a priority.
  • Clearly communicate your priorities. Giving of your resources with intention is a great feeling… savor it! However, if a certain request is just not realistic or not a priority for you, communicate this as clearly and promptly as you can. (Watch for the next post in this series for tips on how to do this!)


3. Your emotional energy.

Boundaries define us. A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership. Knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for gives me freedom.

Henry Cloud

As important as it is to be mindful of your time and money at the holidays, your most precious resource of all is your emotional energy.

Left unguarded, it can plummet, leaving you vulnerable to anger, resentment, and burnout. (Not exactly what you had in mind for this season!)

The solution? Check in with yourself (early and often) to make sure you’re spending your emotional energy as wisely as your other resources.


  • Take your emotional temperature. How do you feel heading into the holidays this year? If you typically experience anxiety or seasonal mood changes, are you noticing any of your usual signs this year? Are there any significant stressors in your life that might make it more difficult to navigate this season? Looking at the calendar, what feelings come up as you anticipate each event and commitment? Think about the people you’ll be seeing at these events: How do you feel when you’re around each of them?
  • Give yourself permission to spend your emotional energy as you choose. So, “in a perfect world” you’d be able to sail effortlessly through the holidays with a smile? Good news: This is not the time for perfection. Give yourself a break and be honest about those situations you’d just rather opt out of. It will be OK.
  • Communicate clearly. If you choose to opt out of something, do it now. (Watch for the next post in this series for tips on how to do this!)
  • Practice self-care. A consistent self-care plan will help conserve, and even restore, your emotional energy during the holidays.
  • Seek the support of a therapist for holiday boundary setting with the people in your life.

Enjoy this post? You might also like:

Saying No (with Kindness)
Holiday Eating & Boundaries
Navigating Spring Break as a Family

Ready to connect with a therapist for help with holiday boundary setting?