The most wonderful time of year can also be the most stressful time of year. Since becoming a mom, the holidays have gotten increasingly overwhelming with family commitments, gift-giving and school performances all avalanching into a giant ball of stress. If you’re like me and look forward to the holidays all year long, yet find very little room to enjoy it, take the holiday reins into your hands this holiday season. A little planning and perspective can go a long way. We’ve compiled a list of 10 holiday to-dos, along with practical tips to help you stay afloat and full of joy this holiday season.
1.Shop with a plan. The cardinal rule of savvy shopping is to never enter a store, brick-and-mortar or virtual, without a plan. One sale will lead to another, and it won’t be long before you’ve amassed several unnecessary impulse purchases, especially with Black Friday and Cyber Monday around the corner.
Strategy tips: Start with a budget. How much do you want to spend this holiday season? Then make a list of people you need to purchase gifts for and how much you’ll be spending on each person, including family members, friends, coworkers, and possibly, yourself. Yes, consider buying yourself something, not only because you deserve it, but because you know you’ll come across something you really want. And just like effective dieting, allowing yourself a little indulgence may make you less prone to binge shopping and more likely to stick to a budget. Don’t forget to leave a little wiggle room in your budget for last-minute gifts as well. If you find your list getting extensively long, suggest a secret santa or white elephant gift exchange amongst large groups of friends or family members. You may be surprised to find that a budget may inspire more creative and meaningful gift-giving, not less.
2. Shop for your spouse. This deserves it’s own category because at no other time is it easier to put your significant other on the back burner than during the holidays where kids often take center stage. Not to mention that shopping for your spouse is hard, which is why we often neglect to do it with thoughtfulness. But take a moment to invest in your relationship this holiday season and show some much needed and deserved affection.
Strategy tips: If you’ve entered that practical phase in your marriage where you’ll return gifts from each other you won’t end up using, ask what your significant other wants but make sure there is more than one item on the list. This will preserve some element of surprise. And don’t wait until the last minute to write the card either because it won’t get written.
3. Schedule your calendar by putting people first. There’s nothing more stressful than overcommitting – and under-committing when it comes to the holidays. While you don’t want to leave yourself barely any breathing room, you don’t want to forego missed opportunities to spend time with friends and family who mean the most to you either.
Strategy tips: Before you start rsvping to everything, make a list of people you absolutely want to spend time with this holiday season — as well as those you are obligated to see. Then make sure your calendar includes them. If there simply isn’t enough time to squeeze everyone in, consider making plans post holidays.
4. Holiday decor. Ideally, we would all love to put up ornaments with our kids in a civilized, organized fashion against a backdrop of holiday music. But eager kids can make the hollywood reel play out like a broken record.
Strategy tips: If you have little ones, consider putting up the tree without them, of which they can be little help anyway. Then involve them once it’s time to decorate. Putting up lights can also be very time consuming. It might be worth hiring help. It’s a much more stress-free and safer option to have someone else put up and take down lights for you.
5. Host with the most. Relieve yourself the pressure to be Martha Stewart and focus on the main dish, which is enjoying the company.
Strategy tips: While you don’t want to buy ingredients weeks in advance, decide on a set menu. Or consider catering if it’s going to afford you some quality conversations. Also book cleaners ahead of time who are sure to be in high demand during the holiday season. Another thing that’s really helped me host with less stress is to feed my kids and myself before guests arrive. Being hangry or having hangry kids makes being a good host challenging.
6. Craft your child’s classroom gifts. Finding something to gift your child’s classmates can become a fun crafting activity with a little planning.
Strategy tips: The pitfall of crafting happens when you try to finish it all in one day, especially when limited attention spans are involved. Craft in segments and buy the material ahead of time, which can leave online shopping an option or save you multiple trips to Target and Michaels as most items get sold out as the days approach closer to the holidays.
7. Travel light. Traveling for the holidays? Lessen the mental load. The hardest part about packing isn’t throwing things in a suitcase. It’s knowing what to pack and feeling confident you haven’t forgotten anything.
Strategy tips: Make a list of things you’ll pack in advance so you won’t feel stressed about trusting an already overloaded brain. Making a list and checking it twice will also allow yourself enough time to get what you need. And don’t forget to make sure your passports are current.
8. Greeting cards. Holiday greeting cards are a great excuse to snap some good family photos where everyone is smiling and looking at the camera.
Strategy tips: Decide whether you’ll hire a professional to take new photos, or if you’ll use a photo you already have. Another good option is to have a friend with a good camera take a photo for you as well. Those photos will come to mean so much more than holiday greeting cards down the line. Holiday greeting cards usually take at least a week to get delivered to you and another week to get delivered to your recipients. So your optimal deadline for ordering cards is roughly sooner than December 10th. Though, ff course, there are rush delivery services as well.
9. Holiday performance outfits. There are few things more anticipated by a parent than watching their little one perform on stage. Let’s face it, you beam with pride when you see your kids front and center, and you want them to shine.
Strategy tips: If you plan on having them wear something they already own, choose it ahead of time. I always have the good intention to save money and choose something that’s already hanging in their closet. But every year, without fail, I end up buying a new dress last minute. Whatever you decide, the point is eliminate last-minute purchases (see tip #2). Or consider borrowing from a friend or family member.
10. Leave time for reflection. It’s the end of the year and a good time to reflect, gain perspective and be thankful. Having a sense of appreciation for our loved ones and blessings in our life may end up being the best gift of all.
Strategy tips: Schedule this time of reflection as you would any other to-do. Whether it’s by taking a stroll or starting a gratitude journal, chances are your best intentions will become holiday road kill if you don’t pursue it with intention.
It’s easy to “go with the flow” when it comes to the holidays. Joy should come natural, you may be thinking. But without a plan to stay afloat, stress can easily overwhelm holiday cheer. Gift-giving, cooking, crafting and any other activity you plan on doing for and with your loved ones is a great way to experience joy, so long as you keep the procrastination grinch from robbing your peace.