Living December 14, 2010

Getting Through the Holidaze

Perhaps it is just me, but I don’t remember the distance between Halloween and mid-December ever being so short. I am shocked Chanukah has come and gone and Christmas is nearly here. Consensus seems to be that the year has flown past.  In an effort to enjoy the holidays, spend quality time with friends and family and stay ahead of the stress, we have compiled a list (with the help of some great resources) of some good ways to “keep calm and carry on” through the New Year.

Plan ahead: I just said the holidays are already upon us, and now I recommend planning ahead? Typically I start much earlier, but two weeks IS ahead this year. The same principles apply for two months vs. two weeks, it just means you have to be more efficient to get it all done (and go shopping in stores rather than online).

Now that we are past the denial stage, it is the time to make lists. Figure out the most important things that you must do in order to survive the holidays (top gifts, top traditions, the most urgent items– including parties and house guests). If you must compartmentalize, have multiple lists: one for groceries, one for gifts, one for household chores, etc. Prioritize your lists; if it isn’t on the top of the list, it is an incidental, meaning you will not be crushed if it doesn’t turn out exactly like you planned.

The more you plan ahead and pre-prepare, the easier everything will be in the moment (at least that is my philosophy).holiday to do list Go shopping ahead, wrap presents early as you get them (label the package so you don’t forget what is for whom), prepare spaces for houseguests, and purchase non-perishable essentials in advance. When it comes to holiday meal preparation, prep what you can ahead of time, make and freeze when possible, cut vegetables and store in bags, and commission help from hostages/willing houseguests. If you have some tough-to-entertain members of your tribe, have activities ready. The boy scouts have a great motto for this: be prepared.

Create a space for yourself: The holidays are stressful, with outsized expectations, financial concerns, and close proximity to people you love, admire and at times loathe. Making space for yourself can help decrease your stress. If you are home-bound for the holiday, create a room of your own. In our house we each have our own space to which we can retreat, and over the holidays that’s where we hide and wrap our gifts, make a mess, close the door and listen to music, or whatever else we need to prepare for and escape from the holiday. Having a solitary space to read a book or take a nap undisturbed is sanctuary in the midst of madness. Our spaces will be upended once family arrives for the four-day weekend celebration, but it is still important to create a space to get away–even if it means retreating to your bedroom or taking a walk.

Be prepared for surprises: Sometimes the best laid plans… go awry. What if someone shows up unexpectedly with a gift in hand? What if the power goes out on your Christmas dinner? What if, what if, what if… Something is bound to go differently than you expect it.

If you aren’t born with a laissez-faire attitude, have a backup. And hopefully you are less stressed because you planned ahead. Keep some extra gifts wrapped and accessible for unexpected visitors or last-minute hostess gifts, such as bottles of wine in a gift bag, candles, or other universal gifts. If you are worried about storms, have supplies ready and a plan in mind. Make sure you are stocked with easy-to-snack food (also helpful for last-minute guests, cook-free meals for power outages), fill your propane tank for a BBQ meal (don’t use indoors) or keep a list of local restaurants open for Christmas dinner. Have games on hand that don’t require electricity or internet (our family favorites are Apples to Apples, Texas Hold ‘em & Scrabble).

Just think of the worst that could happen and prepare for it. The worst likely will not happen, but just being prepared can decrease stress. And if something less than the worst happens you can rest assured, because you are ready for it. If worst than the worst case scenario happens, think about what a great story it will be in the years to come…

Keep it clean: Whether you are hosting a party or housing guests for the holidays, clutter is distracting and unnecessary. Schedule time to do a deep clean on your home prior to guests arriving, weeks in advance if need be. Go through junk mail, newspapers, magazines, cabinets and clutter-prone sections of the house, throw the garbage out and put the stuff where it belongs. If you need a catch-all bin for easy removal (or easy stashing in a closet), it’s time to figure out the solutions. Here are some great tips for daily de-cluttering.

Go through your closets and thin out the coats and blankets. Consider giving gently worn items to local charities such as Coats for Kids or, if you live in Southern Washington or Western Oregon, contact your local Windermere office for drop off information.  Toss out what you don’t need now to avoid post-holiday overload.

Get into the spirit: Congratulate yourself on a job well done and enjoy the holiday season! Studies show that holiday traditions actually relieve stress, so if you don’t have one you particularly enjoy start your own! If you have children, include them in the process, whether it is planning a day-long activity, making a new cookie recipe, creating decorative crafts, or having a movie marathon. There is no point to all the running around, spending money and cleaning house unless you actually get to enjoy yourself. So grab some eggnog and relax.


If all else fails let go: I always have higher expectations for what I can accomplish, the people I will get to see, and the memories I will create, and it can be disappointing when I don’t meet my goals. Sometimes Christmas Cards turn into New Year cards (or Valentine cards in the worst years). Unless the Grinch makes an appearance or your family vacation turns toward the National Lampoon variety, count your blessings or start a new tradition and book a trip to Hawaii for next year!

Tell us what makes your holiday special. What are your tips for a stress-reduced holiday? Best traditions past and present? Favorite recipes, games, craft projects?