Ah, the holidays. Time off to spend with family and friends, food and drink, comforting surroundings, warmth, joy and goodwill, right? So why are so many of us stressed, depressed and exhausted? It’s really hard to not get caught up in the trappings of the holidays and, before you know it, you’re feeling like a stressed-out Scrooge. Try sailing through the season with these suggestions.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
Whatever holiday you celebrate, maintain a realistic notion about what that holiday should be; don’t get so caught up in the planning that you forget to enjoy the season. Remember, less than perfect is perfectly okay.
Check out organizedchristmas.com. Their mission (and you should choose to accept it) is to help you get organized for a stress-free holiday.
If you need some gift-giving inspiration, check out presentpicker.com. This site will suggest items after you’ve plugged in the recipient’s age, gender, personality, occupation, interests and lifestyle.
Shop early for presents, party supplies, and decorations. Buy multiples of gift tags, tape and wrappings; you can always use the leftovers next year. Keep a stash of “one-size-fits-all” gifts like wine and candy on hand in case you need a last-minute present.
Avoid crowded malls by shopping in small neighborhood stores, which usually have more one-of-a-kind gifts. If you must tackle the mall go at off times (dinner hour, weekdays) and leave the kids at home. Or shop from mail-order catalogs and the Internet or give gift certificates.
How about a personalized, one-of-a-kind present for grandma and grandpa? Check out personalcreations.com for calendars, quilts, computer mouse pads, mugs, and ties customized with pix of the grandchildren.
The right gifts are just as welcome in simple packages. Choose only two wrapping paper designs, one for adults and one for kids. Or just use gift bags or decorative boxes. PS: Check out uwrapit.com.au, where you can download free wrapping paper.
Take advantage if a store offers free gift-wrapping or seek out charity gift-wrapping services; you’ll be contributing to a worthy cause.
Avoid the shock of a hefty January credit card bill by making a budget and sticking to it! Catalog/online shopping can help; you won’t be seduced at the local mall by a million choices staring you in the face.
Remember cash? It may be tough to use when you’re making so many purchases; credit and debit cards are more convenient. But if you really want to guarantee you’ll spend within your means, use real money.
Save your receipts. Gather them up at the end of a shopping day and put them somewhere for safekeeping. Before you wrap gifts, review how much you spent and, if you’re over budget, decide which to return. It’s much easier to make this decision with all the gifts in front of you.
Skip holiday cards to anyone you haven’t seen or heard from in over a year, or just send New Year’s cards in January. You can spend more time on personal messages and recipients will have more time to read them.
Send holiday invites at least a month in advance, if only in the form of save-the-date announcements. Reserve rental equipment as early as you can. Book help—babysitters, caterers, musicians—as far in advance as possible.
Know when to politely say no to invitations. Decide which gatherings you must attend and which can be skipped without guilt. Only say yes to meaningful events.
Decorate as your time and inclination call for, and let it go at that. One stunning wreath on your front door may be all you need. Or decorate only the room your family uses most often.
Words that strike fear in a mother’s heart: "Mom, I told my teacher I'd bring cookies tomorrow". Have several packs of refrigerated cookie dough on hand.
Keep a special notebook of holiday recipes you would like to make year after year. This will save a lot of time searching through cookbooks. You can store your holiday notebook with your other recipes (if you might want to use it at other times during the year) or in with your decorations.
Choose some special holiday looks from your closet(s) and make sure they're ready to wear. Find some festive items in each person's closet ahead of time to avoid last-minute stress.
Treat yourself with respect by setting aside special “you time”. Unwind with a friend, get a manicure, go to a matinee, or spend an afternoon alone. You’ll feel re-energized.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST
Avoid long lines at the post office by using Automated Postal Centers, the Postal Service's version of an ATM. APCs provide a quick, easy and convenient way for customers to weigh, calculate and apply exact postage, and ship Express Mail and Priority Mail items, packages and First-Class letters right at the kiosks. They also provide easy access to postal products and services the same way ATMs provide access to banking services. PS: The kiosks accept debit and credit cards and don’t charge a service fee.
Shift the emphasis from consumerism to togetherness by focusing on family activities. Share special moments like a holiday show, fancy brunch or holiday trip instead of spending money on piles of gifts.
Give to the less fortunate as part of your holiday tradition. Volunteer for a homeless shelter, visit a retirement center or participate in a food, toy or clothing drive. Encourage kids to give away toys they no longer use.
So relax, have fun, enjoy the holiday, and focus on the people you love. That’s the “stuff” that really matters.
Thanks to Organized A to Z partner Rosemary Chieppo for contributing this article. Rosemary is the owner of Born to Organize and the author of Clutter, Chaos & the Cure. You can visit her website at www.borntoorganize.com.