With the Holidays just around the corner, are you wondering how you are going to do it all again this year? Has the list-making-shopping-gift wrapping-mailing-cooking-decorating season become overwhelming? With some planning and organization you can have a stress-less holiday season.
Here are some pre and post holiday tips to help you reduce your stress level and meet your holiday goals. Spread out your pre-holiday tasks. Start with a master to-do list: This list includes everything that you need to do before the holidays. Then transfer your to-do items, one or two per day, to your calendar. Get started early making plans for each holiday.
illustrations by Matthew Anderson
Food, food, food. Party, party, party.
Clean out: If you’re having a holiday dinner or party at your house, clean out your refrigerator/freezer two to three weeks before the event. This will give you room for all the holiday goodies and help you to see what you have versus what you need.
Do inventory: This is also a good time to do inventory of all the items you are going to use: dishes, silverware, glasses, serving dishes, tablecloths, tables and chairs. If you need to borrow, buy or rent items make these arrangements in advance.
Stock up: Buy extra disposable containers and plastic bags. You can use these to store leftovers or to make take-home goodie bags for your friends and family. Don’t forget to purchase extra garbage bags.
Allow prep time: Give yourself plenty of time to thaw and cook food. Frozen turkeys take three to four days to thaw in the refrigerator. The first year I was married, I learned this lesson the hard way. I now cook my turkey the day before (I use the cooking bags), slice and put in a 9x13-inch pan, add chicken broth and turkey drippings and cover. On Thanksgiving Day all I have to do is heat and transfer to the serving platter. It stays moist and I don’t have the mess of carving at the last minute.
Press on: A few days before your dinner/party make sure the table linens are clean and pressed. Do the same with the clothes you and your family are wearing.
Get set: The night before the event, set your serving, food and beverage tables.
Cook ahead: Pre-cooking and freezing your food will save time and be less stressful for you. Items such as pies, cakes, cookies, rolls and side dishes can be defrosted, heated and served. The day before prepare as much of the food as you can. Put into serving dishes and cover (olives, pickles, dips) or cut and store in bags until ready to use.
Be realistic: Keep it simple. Now is not the time to try out a new or complicated recipe. Be realistic and make it easy on yourself. Do as much ahead of time as you can. Everyone wants the cook to be happy and relaxed… especially the cook!
Delegate, delegate, delegate: Ask for and accept help! If friends and family offer to bring something to eat or to help set up or clean up, accept their offers. This allows your guests to participate in the festivities and they feel like part of the celebration (with the added bonus of cutting down on the amount of work the host/hostess has to do).
Gifts, ribbon and paper - oh my!
Make a list: Once Thanksgiving is over there are only a few weeks before the gift-giving season is here. These are the weeks our holiday activities and parties are happening so now is the time to start making your lists and checking them twice. I suggest you make two lists; the first one is: “Must Buy For” (family and friends). The second list is: “Would Be Nice to Buy For” (coworkers, neighbors, service providers).
Start shopping: Put a dollar amount next to each person on your “Must Buy For” list. Then write down ideas and start shopping now. The first gifts to shop for are the ones that have to be mailed. Let your fingers do the shopping. The Internet and catalogues can be great shopping options.
Get crafty: Shopping for the people on your “Would Be Nice to Buy For” list can be easy. Everyone likes homemade treats especially during the holiday season. Take an evening and make cheese balls or hot chocolate mix, something easy that you can put in a holiday container. If you do not have time to cook or bake, give flavored teas or coffees in a holiday mug. Holiday candles, candies or a small live plant are easy and appreciated options.
Keep track: Keeping all your gift receipts in an envelope makes returns easier. It also helps you keep on track with your budget.
All wrapped up: Wrapping is supposed to be fun, but often it turns into a rush job. So set aside two evenings to wrap presents. The first night, wrap all the gifts that get mailed and gifts that will be exchanged before the holiday (friends, coworkers, etc.). As soon as the out-of-town gifts are wrapped, put them in the shipping box and mail the first week of December. The second gift wrapping night is for gifts that are going to be exchanged on the holiday. I love gift bags and tissue. They save time and money!
Think outside the box: Is there someone on your list who loves flowers? Consider a holiday certificate to a local florist or nursery. Older adults love what I call “consumables,” gift certificates to a local restaurant or a basket of homemade or store-bought goodies.
Stow away: When storing your holiday items, keep in mind where they will be stored. Consider factors such as heat/cold, dust and dirt. Never store your candles and snow globes in the attic or garage. The candles melt and the globes freeze and break (I know from experience).
Divide and conquer: The key phrase for decorating the house is “divide and conquer.” Divide your decorations so that like things are together. For example, table top decorations are grouped together, the same for tree and outdoor decorations. This is the time to update your holiday décor. Get rid of crumpled wrapping paper, ribbon and bows. If a string of lights didn’t work last year, it won’t work this year. Throw it away and buy new. Do the same with your other decorations. If your holiday wreath is crushed, dusty and beyond repair, let it go. There are lots of new ones to choose from. Conquer your holiday stress by taking a hard look at what you want to use and what you do not. Make a list of the new decorations you need and shop just for those.
Pack up: When the holidays are over and it is time to pack up those decorations you got out a month ago, use these tips to help make this process easier now and next year when you unpack again:
Pack similar items together.
Wrap fragile decorations in bubble wrap – it is reusable for years.
Use plastic storage boxes; they keep the dust out, are sturdy and easy to label.
Use Ziploc bags to contain small items.
Label a box with its contents.
Think ahead: Right after Christmas is the best time to buy paper, ribbon and decorations for next year. Most of these items are 50-75 percent off.
Using these stress-reducing ideas will help you feel more in control throughout the holiday season and will give you time to focus on what matters – family, friends and the holiday spirit.
by Nancy Altschwager
Nancy is the owner of Let’s Get Organized!. She is a professional organizer with several years experience organizing homes and offices. Additionally, she helps seniors downsize and move into retirement communities. She is a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers.