17 ways to simplify this season

Brace yourself. The Holiday onslaught is coming. In fact, the Halloween madness has been in full swing now for at least two weeks. I’m sure before the 31st is over, we will start seeing Thanksgiving décor in shop windows and hearing Christmas songs playing everywhere.

While the traditionalist in me shudders at the early appearance of Holiday fare, the pragmatic organizer in me applauds the idea of planning far enough ahead so that you aren’t reduced to a stressed-out, screeching Grinch come mid-December.

The secret to keeping all of the warm sentiments of the Holidays alive and well, without capitulating to crass commercialism, is to simplify. Before you dive headlong into the next ten weeks of “The Season,” take a few moments to consider ways you can streamline your to-do’s, to-buy’s and to-make’s.

Seventeen ideas to get you started.

Reflect on your priorities.

You don’t have to do something, like buy gifts for every colleague or bake cookies for all of your neighbors, just that’s the way you’ve “always done it.” Before the momentum of the Holiday season kicks into gear and carries you away, take a few moments to outline what really matters to you during this time of year. In other words, determine your true priorities for the season. Consider questions like: what traditions really put me (and my family) in the spirit of the Holiday best? Or, looking back on seasons past, what mattered most to me/us?

Go Potluck.

If you are hosting a big gathering, whether Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah or even just throwing a festive party, consider making the event potluck. Not only will this make your life easier, but it enables others to more fully participate in a special day too. If you don’t want to leave the menu to chance, assign responsibility for specific dishes to guests who ask “what can I bring?”

Make a “Day Of” Cooking Plan in Advance.

You don’t want to be stuck in the kitchen from sunup to sundown without any hope of being able to mingle with your guests. At least one week before the event, sit down and map out the cooking schedule hour-by-hour, and even minute-by-minute (copy my organizational plan for an Easter dinner). Put it down on a piece of paper that you can keep on your kitchen counter. As you put it together, look for ways you can pre-prep items a day before and delegate tasks, like chopping vegetables, arranging hors d’oeuvres on platters, and filling water glasses.

Set the Table a Week Ahead.

Rather than stressing about the table setting while you’re trying to get food cooked, get it squared away in advance. Ideally you can arrange the tablecloth, plates, and silverware a few days prior to your event. But the night before is fine too if you don’t have a separate dining room table.

Cheat Your Way to a Decorated Table.

Ever looked at a home goods catalog and wished your table could look as elegant without spending a dime? It can. The Nester has a brilliant post titled “Pottery Barn Hacks for Thanksgiving,” which is like a cheat-sheet for decorating with flair without spending a thing.

Don’t Enter a Grocery Store Without a List.

Shopping lists help you avoid buying more than you really need. They also eliminate the predicament of having to run back to pick up an essential ingredient you forgot. Nothing wrecks entertaining mojo faster than reaching for an item you thought you had, but you really neglected to buy. Another added bonus: lists make it easier to delegate the shopping!

Assign Family Members to Ongoing Clean-Up Duty.

Nobody wants to spend hours in the kitchen after a big celebration slaving away over the dishes. Keep a rotating team of dishwashers in the kitchen who can wash pots, pans, and cooking utensils as you go along.

Use Packing Lists to Help You Travel Light.

If you are hitting the road to visit family or friends, take five minutes to make a list of must-have items to pack before you start. people typically wear 10-20% of what they pack for a Holiday trip. This year just pack those essentials and skip the rest!

Send an E-Card.

If sending out physical cards is stressful and unpleasant for you, consider making the switch to e-Holiday cards. Companies like Blue Mountain, Hallmark, and American Greetings have huge selections of e-greeting cards you can customize and send to friends and family right from your computer.

Streamline Gift-Giving.

You give better gifts to the people you truly love without going over budget when you take the time to organize your gift-giving plan before hitting the mall. Use free tools, like our free Buttoned Up Holiday Gift Printables, to map out your budget, brainstorm gifts, and organize your shopping trips.

Skip the Mall, Shop Online.

The great thing about doing your gift shopping online is that you can do it any time that works for you – and you can have items shipped directly to another person without having to schlep to the Post Office. It’s also easier to comparison shop so you get the best price.

Set a Deadline for Completing Your Gift Shopping.

A project will take up whatever time you allot for it. Simply set a date, say December 10th as the deadline for getting through your shopping list this year. Set reminders in your calendar to keep yourself on track.

Limit Decorations.

If you have ever been to Colonial Williamsburg around the Holidays, you know the decorating wonders that can be accomplished with four simple things: greens, red ribbon, baby’s breath, and candles (faux or real).

Invest in an Ornament Box.

These inexpensive bins make it much easier to take out and put away Holiday decorations. They also keep your decorations in mint condition, which means you don’t have to buy new ones very often.

Plan Ahead to Use Bad Weather Days to do Craft Projects.

Use bad weather to your advantage. If you stock up now on items like construction paper, scissors, spray paint, glitter and the like you can whip up a crafty item, like spray painted pinecones, on a dreary afternoon. If you’re in need of ideas, look no further than Pinterest.

Skip the Wrapping Paper & Gift Cards.

Instead, use old newspapers, outdated maps, cloth bags, or even kid’s artwork to wrap presents. It’s better for the planet and easier on your wallet. Instead of buying individual gift cards for each gift, use free printable gift tags, which you can find online by the gazillion these days (do a quick search on Pinterest) and print right from your own printer.

Limit Commitments & Set Aside Time Each Week to Decompress.

A few Holiday events are essential (i.e. your child’s school play), but many are not. Discuss invitations with your family and outline your true priorities in advance. If you feel “guilty” saying you can’t make an event, try this RSVP script: “My heart says yes, but sadly our family calendar says no. Wish we could be there to celebrate. Hope you have a wonderful time!” In addition, set aside one time a week, like Sundays after lunch, to relax, meditate, and recapture a sense calm.

{feature photo credit: Pottery Barn}

Are you enjoying the calm before the storm? Share your tricks for simplifying during the Holiday season with the rest of us!