Thursday, November 08, 2007

Holiday Anguish Cheer - Simple tips to keep your celebrations on track, Part 1

This is my absolute FAVORITE time of the year. Yes, I'm one of those people who put up their decorations and start Christmas cookie baking as early as I can get away with (usually December 1st). But I try hard to pace myself and keep things organized, or else I end up a giant stressball by the time the big day rolls around.

Don't let the stresses and downsides of the holidays ruin all the good times for you! Remember, it really is about the celebration, and feelings of peace and goodwill - and if you're over-exhausted trying to make it "perfect", it'll be nearly impossible to conjure up those feelings for yourself, much less inspire others.

I've got a few hints and tricks that should help things run more smoothly this holiday season, and hopefully leave you time to relax and have fun. I'll cover three overall topics: Organizing & Cleaning House, Gift Giving, and Recipes & Food Preparation. Today we'll cover the first section, Organizing & Cleaning House


Pre-planning is key. Organizing is not difficult, it's just restrictive - but in a good way. It allows you to set up boundaries for what you're going to do, and not do. Write down a detailed list of the things (cleaning, special foods and activities) you think would be nice to do this year. Dig out old Christmas magazines for inspiration (or, if you're like me, dig out your folder of clippings of the best ideas from holiday magazines). Do this at the very start of the season.

Pare down and prioritize.What would make Christmas not Christmas if you didn't do it? For instance, we have a charity telethon on our local TV station every year at the beginning of December (, during which many Maritimers, including myself, bake Christmas cookies. For me, this time set aside listing to local musical talent and baking cookies is truly a must - Christmas would not be Christmas without it! Are there similar rituals and traditions for you? Things like this should be at the top of your list. Prioritize the other items on your iist accordingly. Then, look at your list, and the calendar: if it doesn't look like you have enough time to fit everything in, make some hard choices. Remove some things from the bottom of the list until it becomes do-able. Remember to leave a little extra time spaces for unexpected company, parties, and other obligations.

Now: Stick to this List! If it's not on the list, it is either: a) not done, b) written down as an idea for next year, or c) left until all the other things that are actually on the list are completed. (This excludes, of course, unavoidable accidents like illness - the list comes second to things like these).

Write it ALL down. It is all well and good to say, "I'll remember this". But seriously, you won't! You will remember some things, but by no means all of them. You have to be religious about writing things down. It is a hard habit to get into, but once you are there, you will see how much easier things instantly become, by being written down in a manner that lets you see all of your potential activities and chores lined up at a glance. Make lists for the foods you'll be preparing, the cleaning that needs to be done (more on that below), and all of your activities.

Regarding Cleaning...

Do anything early that can be done early. For instance, we have a lot of woodwork in the house - the first week of December we will oil them down to give them a nice shine. If you have similar things that can be done early, like deep-cleaning the carpets, do it at the beginning of December. Things like that will still look good for the holidays, but taken off the to-do list early (which is what you want!)

Leave out cleaning that won't be noticed. Eg: Washing down cupboards. Unless they're god-awful, leave that for spring cleaning. This is where having a regular decluttering schedule is really helpful. If you don't, and run out of time to declutter, you may have resort to drastic measures: toss all the crap in some empty boxes and hide it in the spare room. I've heard of people hiding stuff in the tub and closing the shower curtain, but one curious guest peeking could lead to embarrassment. Best to have a room you can close (and possibly lock!) the door to.

Cleared-off countertops and tables instantly make a place look neater. Decorations on the walls and doors are fine, but keep in mind that often "less is more". A couple of richly decorated areas are attractive, but places like coffee tables and counters should be cleared off. Put appliances that you won't be needing on the big day (like food processors & blenders) away in a cupboard. I know it might look strange, and you might be so used to clutter there that you think it looks sparse, but it will only look neat and tidy to company.

Stay tuned for Part two, Gift Giving.

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