Ask Deborah: Tips for making the holiday season less hectic

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Parent’s organizing questions to help role-model organizing to their kids!

dkawashima110BY DEBORAH KAWASHIMA C.P.O.

Q: “Can you give me some tips on making the holiday season run smoothly?  Any suggestions to help a harried mom maintain some level of sanity during the ever-so-busy holiday season is appreciated!” –mother of 2 boys ages 7 and 9.

A: Take a moment now and reflect on what happened last year. What part of the holidays felt the most stressful for you? Was it the actual planning of everything? What it gathering up everything you needed? Not being able to find stuff? Was it trying to juggle everything; the kids, holiday plans and your own sanity? Did the stress start once the guests arrived? Was it the pressure to mail out all your cards or gifts on time?  Did you try to do too much in the little time you had? You want to understand what didn’t work for you in the past and then make the concerted effort to do things differently. Because the rotten truth is you either come into parenthood organized and adjust your ways to raising a family, or you come in lacking organizing skills to begin with and the whole parent thing turns everything upside down and makes your disorganization ten-fold! Add the holidays into this mix… and your sanity is up for grabs no matter how organized you are! So with a little self-assessing: here are some tips on how to streamline the holidays so the process: planning and executing it all, is as stress free as possible for you!

It’s good enough! Life is about deciding what’s important so you can juggle your time with all the stuff that needs to get done and still be able to enjoy the moments! So if you hate to bake, then for goodness sakes don’t force yourself to bake pumpkin pies during the holidays! Buy the darn things! No one cares as long as they taste good and really, no one cares how the food taste as long as there is no tension in the air. Make “It’s good enough!” become your new mantra.

Holiday Meals: Choose one dish to focus on and make that fabulous! The rest of the meal can either become a coordinated family potluck, or use convenient or pre-made options from the market or even order take-out for a few dishes. The idea is that if doing it all means you get too stressed out, realize it and don’t force “the idea” upon yourself of how something should be. Simplify your meal planning so it doesn’t  ruin your holidays. Plan the menu, then make the lists: groceries, pre-made items with scheduled times to buy them, inventory of all the stuff you need  (if it’s missing, replace it now!) Planning might mean reorganizing your kitchen so it flows when you do your holiday cooking, because searching for that basting brush when the turkey is in the oven is not an option! Delegate! Your spouse can shop for you or if you shop, do it late at night. Psst! The grocery store is heaven at that time! Shelves are restocked, no lines and everyone can help you!

Holiday Tips: Host a Holiday Cookie Exchange so you only bake one kind of cookie and still have a variety.  Schedule a Playdate Exchange with a few moms so you each have time without the kids to get stuff done! Think creative to get as much extra free up as you can!

Holiday Decorations: If you don’t have all your decorations organized in labeled bins, here’s the year to do it!  Buy holiday bins now. As you unpack decorations this year decide to keep or not. Toss out broken items and decorations that never make the cut. Then when you are putting them away at the end of the holidays, store them into your new bins, labeled for the rooms they are displayed in, or for the tree etc. Use colored tissue paper or bubble wrap to store them. Labeled zipper-lock plastic bags help organize things in your bins. Store seasonal stuff in your deep storage spaces: the garage, the attic, the back of the closets or top shelves. You only get at them once a year! Make a list to remember the places where you stored them.

Holiday Cards & Gifts: This part of the holidays really tests your time management skills and how well you can plan and prioritize. It these are skill sets you are weak in, realize you need someone to help you write out the step by step list of what needs to get done. (see below) Once you have the list, you can break that list into small tasks and approach this as mini projects you can do in 15 minute blocks. Set up all the stuff you need for writing out cards or wrapping presents in their own project boxes and then do these mini tasks when you have pockets of time; nibbling away card-by-card and gift-by-gift. Better yet, schedule this time for yourself so it’s a priority. If it’s not a priority, you end up stressed out racing to get it done at the last minute and you are no fun for anyone!

Holiday Cards To-Do list: Take the photo, choose the card, gather the addresses, buy stamps, write your holiday letter, print out the letters, sign the cards, address the envelopes etc… you are your own assembly line! Simply don’t have time? Email everyone a photo and holiday letter… the point is to touch base with family and friends to say you’re thinking of them. It doesn’t have to be a Broadway production!

Gifts to Mail: Buy those gifts first, then wrap and mail within a week. The longer you wait the later it becomes! Keep it simple and consider gift cards if you can’t decide what to get.

Holiday Gifts To-Do list: Make the list of people to get gifts for, set a budget, stick to the budget (pay with cash only if that helps you!) get creative, it is the thought that counts!, schedule days to shop without the kids. Each night, wrap as you buy and it doesn’t pile up!

Kid Gift Ideas: Do a gift exchange with friends or cousins with “gently used” books or board games. It’s a sustainable way to recycle! Plus you don’t end up with so much stuff!

Food Gift Ideas: Make one thing for everyone you need to send gifts to, so it’s an assembly line process that doesn’t take up too much planning (for teachers, babysitters, neighbors): pre-mixes for muffins, cookies etc in pretty jars, your homemade specialty cookies in tins…

No Time Gift Ideas: Everyone appreciates a gift card, even a $10 card for their favorite coffee or yogurt shop. Or write out coupons for “time together” after the holidays or “volunteer to help” with something you do well. It’s a personalized touch that gets noticed.

What you are role-modeling to yourself is that it’s important for you to make the holidays as stress free as possible. You are making a decision to make that goal a priority, which means you need to put in the time to plan ahead. Stress usually comes from feeling overwhelmed because you are trying to accomplish too much in too little time. Do yourself a favor this holiday season and focus on a few “projects” to plan & prepare well. Remember your new mantra; It’s good enough! A stress free holiday is a worthy goal to strive for.

Deborah Kawashima, C.P.O. a certified professional organizer, founded her company, Creative Organizer in 2004 after working in the fashion industry as a children’s wear designer. Growing up her parents owned Montessori schools, this natural sense of order influences her approach to organizing, Deborah specializes in working with parents and their kids, focusing on helping parents role model organizational and time management skills to their children. In addition to working with her clients, she is currently a life skills instructor at UCLA extension Pathway, a unique program for college age students who are developmentally challenged (autism, Asperger’s Disorder etc.).

Email her with questionsDeborah@creativeorganizer.com

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About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.

  • http://www.jackiehouchin.com Jackie Houchin

    Lots of good advice, Deborah. I’ll try to put some into practice, although I don’t have kids living at home now. Every year I resolve to make it simpler… and then I get caught up in the rat race. Hubby’s been laid off, so THAT will be an incentive to “go lightly”

    Your Christmas card/letter/photo idea (emailing) is a great tip for me. What a grand idea… although I feel guilting not supporting the Postal Service (silly of me, right?)

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