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You are here: Home > Organizing Advice > Holidays > Preparing For The Holidays
Is your dream of stress-free holidays about as likely as a Hawaiian White Christmas? This season you can sleep in heavenly peace when you follow these simple steps and strategies.

In his book, Getting Things Done, David Allen talks about the stress of open loops. “Open loops,” he says, “can include everything from really big to-do items like ‘End world hunger’ to the more modest ‘Hire new assistant’ to the tiniest task such as ‘Replace electric pencil sharpener.’”

Put into holiday terms your open loops might be anything from “Ensure everyone’s happiness at Christmas” to “Make cupcakes for Junior’s class party.”

Allen’s solution to open loops is getting things off your mind and captured in a trusted system. Your trusted stress-reducing system starts with creating a Holiday Binder. Equip it with pocket dividers and label the sections – Holiday Planning, Cards/Gifts, Food/Décor/Parties, and Highlights/Review.

Holiday Planning – In this first section list your “no-matter-whats.” These are the traditions, activities, food, etc. that are most important to you and your family. Have a family meeting between now and Thanksgiving and record everyone’s holiday favorites. They might include a trip to the tree farm, attending a Christmas Eve Service, or simply watching favorite Christmas movies together. The items that qualify for no-matter-what status must be scheduled on the family calendar. As other opportunities arise throughout the holidays make sure they don’t bump what you’ve already prioritized as a family.

Create a Holiday Budget sheet (go to for free downloadable forms) where you project the amount you will spend on gifts, entertaining, travel, decorations, etc. and the actual amounts spent. Keep a “Receipts” envelope in the divider pocket to store gift and other holiday receipts.

Schedule all the tasks associated with holiday planning on your calendar as appointments – decorating, shopping, baking, etc.

Cards/Gifts – Create labels for your Christmas card list and keep a hard copy in your Holiday Binder. Schedule your photo session (if doing photo cards) and give yourself a deadline of December first to have your cards signed, stamped, and ready to send. As you receive change of address info for people on your list, slip it into the divider pocket for updating later. If preparing Christmas cards is particularly stressful for you, consider sending a New Year’s greeting in January and eliminate it from your pre-holiday to-dos.

Your Gift List should include the names of each of the people you’re giving to and columns for Gift Ideas, Gifts Purchased, Budget Amount, Amount Spent, Wrapped, and Shipped/Stored. Keep your Holiday Binder handy throughout the year, so that if you think of a gift idea, or purchase something prior to the holidays, you can record it. Schedule on your calendar two shopping trips and wrapping sessions during November.

Food/Décor/Parties – Create a page for each meal or party you’re hosting and list supplies and tasks associated with those events. Be sure to check stock of what you have before purchasing food and decorations. Work as a team with friends and family and delegate what you can, so that you will enjoy the event too! As you pull decorating and party ideas from magazines, tuck them into the divider pocket.

Highlights/Review – This section may not help much this year, but it’s an investment in the future. Create a page to record your family’s holiday experiences, events, memories, etc. – those things you think you’ll remember forever, but don’t. Next record any changes you’d like to make for next year’s holidays. Store programs and other memorabilia in the divider pocket.

I can’t promise a stress-free holiday season, but as you focus on what’s truly meaningful to you and your loved ones and plan and prepare accordingly, you will experience a more joy-filled holiday season.

Brenda is a professional organizer and owner of Organized By Choice in Fresno, California. She helps people make the choices necessary to regain control over their home, office, or schedule so that it truly reflects what they value most. She is a member of NAPO, and you can visit her Web site at