Slow down: 16 ways to simplify this Holiday season

Well, it’s official, the Holiday Season is here.

Stop stressing already!

What, you think I didn’t see that little crinkle in your brow when you read that? It’s amazing how those imaginary long, laundry lists of things you need to do can suck the Holiday cheer right out of you, especially if you’re already feeling like you’re behind the 8-ball.

Yes, there’s a lot to get done between now and, well, first Thanksgiving, then Hanukah, then Christmas, Kwanzaa and finally New Year’s Eve. Thank heavens you don’t have to do everything, just the things that matter. Of course, that’s easier said than done. I fully recognize that it is difficult to figure out what really matters when you’re under the gun to do, do, do and buy, buy, buy. That’s why it is important to take steps to simplify things before the month of November gets too far in front of you. Here are sixteen ways you can do just that.

1. Take the time to reflect

Momentum has a way of carrying the day. Deep down, hosting a big annual Holiday party for neighbors and friends may not really be how you want to spend 3/4 of your energy and “free” time in December. But unless you take the time to reflect on the kind of holiday you want ahead of the rush and actively choose a new path, it’s a safe bet that you will find yourself doing things way they were “always done.” Ask yourself: what do I really want this season to be about? Write down the feelings. Project forward a dozen or more years and think about what memories you hope to have created. Write them down. With that in mind, go through your mental “laundry list of Holiday to-do’s” and identify which of them really matter. What do you need to take off your plate so that you can truly be present and enjoy those important moments?

2. Talk to relatives ahead of time about expectations

You might be surprised to find that other relatives and friends are just as eager to streamline things as you are – or at least allow families to trade-off on certain responsibilities so that the stress is more evenly distributed. But you are destined to remain in the dark unless you speak with them.

3. Delegate responsibility

No, you don’t have to do everything yourself. Allowing other people to add their energy and flair to a task enriches the experience for everyone, whether that’s gift shopping or baking or doing dishes. After all, it’s in those moments where two, three, or even more people are up to their arms in something that memories are made. But it takes a little bit of organization to delegate effectively, so be sure to think ahead and know what tasks you can share with others.

4. Avoid all-or-nothing thinking

Traditions, like cookie swaps, have a way of taking on a life of their own. What starts out as a love of baking, or making handmade gifts, or entertaining, or…whatever, quickly becomes a tyranny when you make it an all-or-nothing proposition. You aren’t letting anyone down if you mix in a few store-bought cookies with your baked ones because you need more than 4 hours of sleep. Your loved ones will not feel slighted if they each don’t get something handmade; they understand you have a full-time job. Your guests will still feel special if you hire someone to help you cater the food or clean up. Don’t paint yourself into a black-or-white corner.

5. Know your limits

How much can you afford to spend this year? Not how much do you wish you could spend. Not how much will the Law of Attraction enable you to spend…how much do you actually have to spend that won’t put you in the red? What did you spend last year (assuming you kept track)? Before you do one iota of shopping, get clear on this number.

6. Organize your shopping list early

Having an organized list makes Holiday shopping easier, more pleasant, and is also hands-down better for your wallet. Take some time in the next week and whip out a piece of paper, a notebook, or open a document on your computer and just do a big brain dump. Who should be on your gift list this year? Consider family, friends, teachers, service providers, colleagues. Use our free printable Holiday shopping lists or my free Google spreadsheet template.

7. Shop for groceries you can store in cupboard or freezer two or more weeks before

Shopping for non-perishable foods and foods that can be frozen early will streamline your shopping when you need it most. Stock up on those basics now so you can concentrate on perishable foods a few days before the big days.

8. Make some desserts ahead of time and freeze

Home-made cookies and pies are so nice to have but can be a miserable chore when you’re pressed for time. Rather than pull an all-nighter, make cookie dough a week or two early and freeze it, then take the dough out of the freezer and let it thaw in the refrigerator the night before baking them. Likewise, assemble your pies a couple of weeks before and freeze them. Take them out the day before to thaw and bake. {image & how-to tips via: Our Best Bites}

9. Wrap Christmas presents as you buy them.

There is nothing more discouraging than staying up all night wrapping presents. Wrap gifts as you buy them; this is fun and saves oodles of time. Just remember to mark who they are for as you wrap them. We are big fans of the free app, Evernote, for doing just that. Snap a picture of the wrapped gift with your phone, make a note of who the gift is for, and save it to Evernote. Then later, if you get mixed up, you have a visual record to turn to.

10. Simplify decorations.

Have you ever been to Colonial Williamsburg this time of year? If not, add it to your bucket list. The town is a living, breathing example of the breathtaking beauty of simple holiday decor. A few candles in windows, greens over doors, red ribbons and dried baby’s breath is all it takes to truly transform a home. In addition to streamlining Holiday décor, consider decorating just a few key spots rather than every room. It’s less to take out and, even better, less to take down and store too.

11. Party less

Just because you’re invited doesn’t mean you have to go. Commit to the gatherings that are really important to you and skip the rest.

12. Travel less

While there is something to be said for making the effort to be with far-flung family and friends, if doing so is a significant burden – financially or emotionally, you may be better off seeing them in person via Skype. {image via: The Style Files}

13. Buy less

Rather than buying every, single friend, family and colleague something (as if that were even possible!), organize gift exchanges instead. It encourages thoughtful gift-giving. If you’re in need of good ideas, check out this roundup of 20 handmade holiday gift ideas.

14. Send out E-Cards

In this day of high technology, many people are online. Send out E-cards instead of mailing holiday cards. This will save both time and money. I’m a huge fan of Paperless Post just because it feels like you’re opening a real card.

15. Give more

Wait, didn’t we just say buy less? Yes. By give more, we mean give of yourself. Why? Because researchers at Wharton just released a groundbreaking new study that found giving away your time in the service of others actually makes you significantly more productive. So right now, when you’re feeling the pressure of time scarcity most acutely, is precisely the time to give some of it away. A great way to do that: participate in the free November GetButtonedUp Challenge – we’re all committed to doing one random act of kindness each day this month. To find out more, go here.

16. Shop from your home first

Re-gifting has negative connotations. But chances are, you have something in your home that’s gathering dust that would actually be perfect for someone you know. Before you hit stores, look around the house and see what treasures you already have to give. For a great way to re-gift old tins (pictured here) check out this awesome tutorial by Cynthia Shaffer.

How do you simplify for the holidays?