It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Or is it? Most of us look forward with anticipation to the excitement and time off that the holiday season brings. In our minds we are capable of baking and decorating like Martha Stewart, selecting Oprah-inspired gifts for everyone on our lists and wrapping them like Mr. Bean in Love Actually. Realistically, even if we possessed all those skills, none of us have the time to make it all happen while maintaining our sanity. We need to simplify our season. As most of these tasks fall on females, it is no surprise that according to a January 2006 survey, women (44 percent) are more likely than men (31 percent) to report an increase of stress during the holiday season, citing lack of time (69 percent versus 63 percent), lack of money (69 percent versus 55 percent), and pressure to give or get gifts (51 percent versus 42 percent) as primary stressors.
Why do we feel an acute shortage of time in this season? According to research, it’s because people volunteer more during the holidays; spend less time socializing with friends; having increased family obligations and significantly increase the time and money spent shopping, decorating and sending greetings. What we really value most during the holidays, as per Odyssey, is:
- Being with family.
- Cooking with loved ones.
- No school.
- Shopping for holiday gifts.
- Decorating the house.
- Holiday movies on television.
- Holiday desserts.
- Holiday drinks.
- Enjoying the Lights.
- Holiday music.
- Being in the holiday spirit.
So how do you get back to the joys of the list above? Simplify your life and add more “fa” to your “la” by following our ten tips below.
1. Say “No”.
Saying no is easier than you think and will save you from long nights of doing things you don’t want to do or staying awake at night worrying because you forgot to do them. Let’s practice. Your friend: “Can you make a Maltesers Christmas pudding for my party?” You: “No.” Your husband: “Honey, can you pick up some gifts for my mom and a few colleagues?” You: “No.” Your son or daughter: “Mom, can you be the stage mom for my school’s Christmas play?” You; “No.” You get the idea. Of course, you should say it nicely, with a smile and add an “I love you,” but the point is that there are so many things for which your time is obligated during this season that you need to prioritize and simplify your schedule. Don’t stretch yourself thin and neglect spending time with those you love doing the things you really love. No one remembers the expertly decorated tree or present. They remember the laughs you have over a delicious dinner, the movie you snuggled up watching and the game you played all night.
2. Ask for Help.
No woman or man is an island. We all need help. Ask your partner or kids to help with the decorating or baking. It does not always have to fall on you just because it has in the past. You might get some grunts, but who cares? You’ve been cursing under your breath for the past five Christmases. People simply do not offer to help anymore. Our devices have made us somewhat oblivious to human cues. Ask for help. If you don’t, you won’t get it and you will resent the very people you want to enjoy. You may not think this will simplify your season, but if you let go a little and ask, you will not only gain time, but you may have fun engaging in those tasks with your family.
I like spontaneous decisions for travel and date nights, but not for family gatherings like Christmas and Hanukah. Jot down or electronically transcribe a quick list of to dos and associate a timeframe with each. Write down when you will get your tree, decorate outside and in, bake cookies, shop, and plan the special holiday meals. For example, my family always gets our tree the weekend after Thanksgiving and decorates it slowly for two days. It eases us into Christmas. Then over the next week and before December 1st, we decorate the house inside and out. Next, we begin shopping for our children, because let’s admit, it’s pretty much all about them. We affix a deadline for the end of shopping to make sure we have time wrap our gifts, which occurs the week before Christmas. The cookie baking takes place a few days before Christmas and we plan our meals three days before (as we buy a lot of our sides to again simplify our lives and spare us some time). You get the idea. Have a plan and roughly stick to it. That way, you won’t get that panicky, rushed feeling on your first day home from work. You can enjoy each phase as it comes, knowing you have time in between to relax. Check out our other tips on Making Better Use of Your Time.
4. Calendar It.
Once you have a list worked out, calendar it. For those of you who don’t use google calendars, get on it! You can color code your entries for work, family and personal and share them with your loved ones. This way you can include the activity, the address, the travel time, and any notes you may have in the margin. Now, I am not saying that your significant other won’t still ask you where he’s supposed to pick up the catered food, because if he’s like mine, he will. At least he or she will have the opportunity to see when and where (with a quick click to navigate him or her there) you would like him or her to help. If the items are more nebulous, use the “all day” button and a range of days in which to complete the task. It really helps you feel centered and in control of your days during the craziness of the season.
5. Pare Down.
Don’t you hate the feeling of cramming a bunch of new clothes or toys into closets and toy bins after the holidays? As an organizer, I get sick thinking about it. Take a slow Saturday (ha, I know) in the next few weeks and donate your older items that are outdated and those that are too small for your kids. Go through the toy bins. You know the toys that your kids love and those that have been overlooked since someone bought them for their birthday. Give them away. There are plenty of families in need during this season who would love them. Use it as a learning experience for your younger kids to teach them that not everyone is so fortunate. They will get excited about helping others and have their first philanthropic experience.
6. Out with the Old Decorations.
Christmas is a special time of year and we are all prone to overbuying trinkets and ornaments that make us happy. BUT, there is no need to have a garage full of Christmas bins. I guarantee you do not even know what is in half of the bins since you take out only the top two winners every year. You never use it and you aren’t going to. You know where I’m going with this. Clear out the stuff you do not and never will, put out.
Do you like it? Will you ever use it? Are you keeping it because of a guilt trip your mother-in-law may impose? Give it to someone you know if it assuages guilt, or donate it. Either way, simplify your life and let it go. You will be so happy you did.
Yes, I know I wrote that volunteering was a time suck in paragraph two, but not strategic generosity of time. Pick your favorite charity and pledge 2-5 hours of your time on a given day. (Add this to your plan above!) Nothing brings perspective like seeing the plight of those that are forgotten during the holidays. Again, if it is appropriate, bring your children and show them that your family places value in helping the less fortunate. Those moments imprint on them. We can never forget that for those of us that have chosen to have children, our most important mission is raising good little humans.
8. Skip Some Gifting.
I generally enjoyed shopping before I had children. I still would if I could justify brick and mortar purchasing while paying a babysitter. It’s fun to buy yourself things. It’s even fun to buy for others, but not for everyone at once and in such a condensed timeframe. If your family is on the large side (like my husband’s family with seven brothers and sisters), skip the gifts. (Gasp!) Of course, make sure everyone is ok with foregoing the present swap. You may be surprised to find that other family members are relieved to cross some people off their lists as they are feeling the crush of holiday presents as well. If it’s necessary to swap presents between kids, establish a maximum as you would at a Secret Santa party. It takes a lot of the pressure off and simplifies the time spent with your family. The focus becomes hanging out and not endlessly opening gifts!
9. Be a Thoughtful and Conservative Gift Giver.
Don’t you hate hauling giant coffee table books home in your suitcase? So does everyone else! Don’t give oversized gifts just to give. Think about the giftee and their interests. Think about logistics. Can they carry it home? Will their children destroy it? Here’s a good one: Will they like it? Simply put, put in more thought.
Likewise, save the flashy gifts for your significant others. People are embarrassed when you bestow lavish gifts on them and they don’t return the favor. Of course, later you will receive a gift of greater or equal value as the need for comity sets in. People really do appreciate thoughtful gifts that show that you actually considered who they are before you bought them. You don’t have to spend a lot.
10. Pace Yourself.
If you’re hanging lights and your shoulders are burning, take a break. If you can’t imagine baking one more batch of cookies, put the spatula down and put the dough in the refrigerator. Don’t think of it as giving up. Everything in life is better in moderation. Many of us grew up thinking we should not put off for tomorrow what we can do today, but sometimes you are a much nicer person tomorrow if you put off today. Don’t stress your mind or body by giving yourself artificial deadlines. This also means you can’t wait until the last second to do something that has to get done by a certain date (See “Plan”).
No matter what annoying occurrence befalls you holiday, above all, try to shrug it off. A wise confidante of mine has a little sigh sound that he makes when something goes wrong to tell his brain it’s going to be ok. It’s a high-pitched “hhhmph” with a shrug of the shoulders. This season is so fleeting and won’t be here again for another year. Simplify it, but enjoy it. When you feel stressed, shrug, and say “hhhmph” and get back to watching Ralphie beat the crap out of that mean red-headed kid.