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You are here: Home > Organizing Advice > Holidays > Handling the Holidays with the P-L-A-N© Method
Handling the Holidays with the P-L-A-N© Method
Rhonda McNett
Sensible Organizing Strategies

Wow!  Everything from Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, New Year’s and beyond!  All in just a little over a month!  How can you NOT be organized if you are going to get prepared for it all AND enjoy it?!

For starters, please quickly think of the first three words that come to mind when you think of the holiday season.  Don’t think too hard and don’t judge – just let your thoughts flow honestly.  Following are some of the various words mentioned previously from this exercise:  Rushed – Overwhelmed – Joy - Tired – Church – Fear – Travel – Stressful – Family – Anticipation – Gifts – Family.

As you can see, we have everything from loving and peaceful to frantic.  Women, in particular, are expected to be magicians in making everyone’s holiday dreams come true!  In addition, if what you’re looking for at this time of year is spiritual or religious and not commercial, you’ll have to make a supreme effort to counter the media!

Following are some specific tips that may help you have a less stressful, less expensive and more enjoyable holiday season, and hopefully, get you closer to having your perfect holiday season.  This acronym can help you work through this lesson and that can be used in almost any planning situation:

P-L-A-N.  Planning is at the forefront of accomplishing anything in an orderly, successful manner.  Yes, what we’re talking about is good old-fashioned time management!

P is for “PREPARE”:
Close your eyes for a minute.  Imagine your perfect holiday season.  If you had the power to make this season exactly the way you want it, how would it look?  Everyone’s idea of the perfect season will be different.  Give this some serious thought because if you don’t have a vision, a goal of what you want, how can you organize and plan for it?  This is one of the basic tenets of organizing.  What you also must keep in mind is that maybe you can’t have the “Currier and Ives” perfect holiday scene of Christmas.  Remember to adapt your vision to the reality of your life: the time available, the money available and your current circumstances.

A perfect example of unreasonable expectations and goals is in the movie, “Christmas Vacation”, starring Chevy Chase.  Do you remember it?  He wanted the most elaborate outside decorations.  He spent his Christmas bonus before it arrived. Relatives from both sides of the family were coming who didn’t get along.  Unexpected guests arrived.  Then, of course, everything that could go wrong, did!  Now…in Hollywood, this can have a happy ending.  In real life, maybe not.  My husband and I watch this every year right after Thanksgiving, to ground ourselves and help us set realistic expectations for the season.

List and Prioritize:
Make a list of what needs to be done, not just the things you want to do, but also the things that precede other things, like shopping before mailing--wish lists before shopping, etc.  Remember, you can set the priorities, based on your ideal holiday season!  Some things have to go – there just isn’t time for everything.  Track what you don’t want to do also.  Sometimes “NOT to-do lists” are more important and give us permission to try to live within the constraints we are currently experiencing.  

Get everything on the calendar:
Do this on your November and December calendars.  Reading this article now gives you the time to really think about all this and plan for it!  It is always best to use only one calendar, because with more than one you often forget to get items transferred to both, miss appointments, etc.  If you don’t have room on your current activity calendar, you can use the blank ones in Microsoft Outlook Express or a Word template.  If you have enough room on your current calendar, maybe you will want to use a different colored ink for your holiday planning items, green or red, maybe.
  • Events/Activities: Keep in mind that you only have 24 hours in a day and the majority of those are spent sleeping and working.  Spontaneity is one of the great things about life, so be sure to leave yourself some wriggle-room!  Don’t forget to note the events you always do, that are “givens” – like the neighborhood open houses, religious events, the odd December wedding that pops up. Maybe you can build in some service activities, such as visiting nursing homes or volunteering at the food bank.  Celebrate your abundance by sharing with others.  
  • Inventory:
    • Decorations
    • Supplies – wrapping, etc.
    • Baking needs
    • Holiday cards
    • Gifts
    • Travel
  • Organize


Holiday organizing is a cooperative effort, between family members, roommates, friends, neighbors, co-workers.  Enlist help! Get the men involved – they are responsible for creating this holiday season, too.  Children need to be involved, but they also need relaxed family time, even-pacing and realistic expectations.  Delegate - within the group you are interacting with, hiring a catering firm, etc.

Let’s look a little more in-depth at each of the action items you have listed:
  • Events/Activities: on the calendar.  Be sure to look at it!
  • Inventory:  Remember those holiday LED lights you bought on sale at the end of last year? Probably not, but if you take inventory, you’ll find them and won’t be tempted to buy more! You want to know what you have in the way of everything listed: wrapping paper & ribbons for gift-giving; special cooking needs; gifts you already purchased and stashed somewhere because they were on sale and you knew exactly who you would give them to, right?; any leftover holiday cards that you can use when the supply you purchase for this year runs a few short!
  • Organize:  This is one of the most important things!  From finding what you have previously purchased or owned, to feeling any sense of calm or peace during this hectic time.  Is your home messy, chaotic and out of control now, before the holidays?  This upcoming season will only add to your clutter – physically, mentally, in time lost!  Even if you only straighten one room you’ll increase your feeling of clarity in this wild season.  Just determine where you’re going to start, but most importantly, do start!  As you see a pile or stack or find a drawer that won’t close, think about how it should be/how you want it to be and scrutinize each item: Do you love it? Use it? Need it? Does it work? Is it in the right place?  As you get busier these coming weeks, things around the house sort of slip, so watch out and stay on top of that!  Also, other than space organizing, keep track of your holiday inventory, gift lists, card lists, etc. in one place – like a three-ring binder which you can add to or remove pages from easily and quickly.
  • Shopping/Gifts:  What is the best gift you ever gave or received? Maybe it was a gift of time or handmade.  Think of this when you go shopping for others.  If you are going to buy, choose gifts with an eye to love and sensitivity, not the “secret gift-giving rules”, such as: on the gift list now, you’re there forever; or, women should give gifts to their close friends, but men should NOT give gifts to their male friends, unless it’s alcohol! And, all problems can be remedied by buying more! Give a well-thought out gift and make sure it’s a Gift of Joy! Some ideas are:
    • Services/activities/gift certificates/subscriptions:  Try not to create more clutter in someone’s home or ruin your budget!  Purchase experiences or consumables instead of stuff. Keep track of ideas throughout the year as when you hear the beginning of someone’s Wish List in July.  Make lists of things you have purchased ahead of time for a particular person.
    • Use the internet or catalogs to shop at home, which you can do in odd hours.  Many times these vendors will provide free shipping.
    • Buy your gifts where you can get them gift-wrapped also, saving you time and money on wrapping supplies.
    • Buy gifts that are, in essence, donations: If you know the recipient has a special cause, let him or her know you have made a donation in their name.  For instance, purchase chickens or ducks in someone’s name through Christian Children’s Fund or or donate to a local charity or food bank. You will have saved time, served a worthy cause, your shopping’s done quicker and it does your heart good!  
    • Traveling: ship your gifts ahead of time.
    • Budget: the more you have planned, the easier it is to stay within your budget.  It will also keep you from being tempted by last-minute impulse shopping.  Commercialism will get you if you aren’t vigilant!  Draw names.  Allow one gift per family (a game perhaps?) or eliminate gifts and concentrate on family activities.  Set price limits with simpler, less expensive gifts.  Only buy for the kids, or only one large gift per child.  Don’t forget the incidentals that can add up, also: gifts require paper, tape, ribbons; transportation requires gas, time and vehicle maintenance. Entertaining may require some eating out while preparing for the event, special cooking tools, babysitters.  Decorating requires attention inside and outside the home.  Holiday cards require printing, stamps, trips to the post office.
  • Holiday cards:  Be realistic.  Nobody wants to read a 3-page Holiday Letter, nor do you have time to write it!  If you are sending Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year’s cards, take a careful look at the time and money involved.  Of course you want to touch base with friends and relatives – Hallmark wouldn’t have it any other way!  But maybe you can spread that contact out over the year.  Try sending Aunt Josie a card with the kids’ back-to-school pictures in September, instead of at Christmas.  Don’t forget that when cards do arrive, check the address and make sure you have the current one on your computer, in your address book or however you choose to keep that information.  In our home, we started doing VERY short poems on e-cards to all our friends and relatives that have email, which is about 95%!  We save money and time, but our poems are still very personal representations of the year’s notable events.
So, that brings us to:  ACCEPT AND ADAPT!

This section is the shortest, but also the most difficult!  This can be a VERY tough time of the year for many people for many reasons:
  • Traditions/rituals: Doing what’s always been done (cutting down the Christmas tree ala “Christmas Vacation” or expectations for massive holiday baking).
  • Memories/current circumstances/changing support system or lack thereof – remember those who are alone, too!
  • Unmet expectations
  • Emotional stress
  • Financial stress
This is so hard to do, but so crucial!  How do we deal with changes in circumstances and the stresses of the day?
  • Give yourself permission to make new traditions/rituals/not to do something.  
  • Budget constraints: Plan a  dessert/coffee, not a full sit-down dinner
  • Practice gratitude: negative thinking fuels stress.  Turn it off!  Give of yourself and it comes back to you tenfold.
  • Balance your expectations/abilities with others’: be flexible!
  • Avoid media hype!  Turn off the TV and read a book or Christmas magazine and do your stress a favor.
  • Take care of yourself!  Get the exercise you know you need.  If you don’t have time for your regular step or yoga class, at least take a walk every day or every other day for a half hour. 
Reading this article now will give you the time to P-L-A-N, minimizing stress so you can…


I asked you at the beginning of this article to think of three words that came quickly to mind when you think of the holiday season.  Do you see things a little differently now?

Do as little or as much as YOU and your family want to and reasonably can.  
  • Slow down. “Just say no!”  Take time to laugh and have fun
  • Take a deep breath and relax. Be present and not just racing around.
  • Tie your vision to reality – be realistic with your expectations!
  • Celebrate your organizational progress, your new time management and reflect upon your achievements.
  • Set aside time to reflect upon and think about your life – simplify.
  • Keep on organizing, one small section at a time each day and you will get through the clutter!
After the holiday season is over, take back control:
  • Sort and purge your holiday decorations
  • Store them in identifiable boxes (orange/red/green)
  • Donate duplicate or unacceptable gifts if you can’t return them
  • Practice the “1 in/1 out” Rule (or the “1-in/2-out” Rule if your degree of clutter warrants)
So, don’t just get through the holidays – Enjoy them!  

Copyright 2008   Rhonda McNett/Sensible Organizing Strategies

Byline:  Rhonda McNett is a Professional Organizer, member of the National Association of Professional Organizers and owner of Sensible Organizing Strategies.  Her company has a commitment to providing a supportive and rewarding organizing experience through client education, cooperative involvement and ongoing personal encouragement.  Please visit to learn more about how Rhonda can help you!