Set the proper expectations Not just with your family, but within yourself. We all have a romanticized notion of the holidays – Thank you Mr. Norman Rockwell – but most of our families are anything but Rockwellian. I suspect even Mr. Rockwell’s family wasn’t as perfect as he depicted on his Saturday Evening Post covers. Keep that in mind as you gather together this year. Love them and enjoy your time together for exactly what it is – your family. Warts and all.
Make lists With so much going on during the holidays, and so many details, it’s easy to forget things. It’s also easy to stress yourself right out of your mind trying to remember everything. Make a list. Make lots of lists. Keep a piece of paper in your pocket or your purse. When you remember something, no matter how small or mundane, write it down. Just be careful not to number your tasks. That can make your list seem overwhelming. When you’ve finished a task take joy in crossing it off.
Holiday Cards Keep a box of cards, a pen, and stamps by where you keep your mail. As holiday cards come in you can address a greeting in return by using the return address. Clip out the return address labels and store them in an envelope for later updating your address book, or even addressing cards next year.
Shop Early or Often At our house we make a list of all the friends and family to whom we give gifts. Then we sit down with the newspaper sales circulars and put a gift with the name of the store where it can be found by each person’s name. Once each name has a gift we map out the stores and spend exactly one day shopping. We get this shopping day out of the way by Thanksgiving. That’s a perfect year. In the non-perfect years we make the same list of names, gifts, and stores, but we tack single store visits on to already planned outings. For example, on a trip to the grocery story, stop by the hobby store for cousin Mike’s gift while you’re out. A bunch of little trips is much easier to handle than several days of marathon shopping without a plan.
Wrap As You Shop Take advantage of stores offering free gift wrapping services. Or the girl scout troop that has a table set up in the corner of the mall that will wrap your gifts for a donation. When you return home you’ll have wrapped packages and a little more time for you.
Get a Hair Cut or a Manicure Think of how good you will feel! And we all know there is less stress when we are feeling good about ourselves. Not to mention the fact there is an hour, while you’re at the salon, where you are completely cut off from the phone and other distractions.
Let Others Help Nowhere in the "Holiday Handbook" (if you find a copy, can you send me one?) does it say that we have to do every task ourselves. When guests offer to bring something to a gathering, take them up on it! Every dish prepared by someone else is one less dish, and a little less stress, that needs your attention.
Paper! Plastic! Recycle! With all of the new, attractive plastic plates and utensils on the market it seems silly to drag out the china and silver for every large family gathering. Why not, at least a few times over the holiday season, put all the food on the table with a stack of plastic plates and utensils and do a more casual buffet? Just don’t forget to recycle when you’re through!
Get Your Batteries & Film Here It’s those little things that create extra stress over the holidays, so keep a supply of extra batteries and film on hand. Better yet, go with a digital camera and two sets of rechargeable batteries. Keep one set in the camera and another in the charger base – you’ll always have fresh batteries. With a digital camera you download the pictures directly to your computer, so there is no need for film.
Let Someone Else Pick Out Your Groceries Most supermarkets have stepped solidly into the information age and accept orders over the internet and will deliver your groceries right to your kitchen counter. Many will actually keep a list of your past purchases so you can just check the box next to the item and add it to your current order. Schedule an order, up to three weeks in advance in most cases, and you can add or subtract items on your order up to the morning of delivery. Now you can plan out your menus and add items as you think of them.
Two Pages a Night Find a book you can really sink your teeth into and commit to two pages right before you turn off the light each night. Two pages will help you to relax, give you a bit of fodder for your evening dreams, and will help you feel productive. All without being a huge looming goal each day.
Headset Telephone Get one. You won’t believe how much work you can get done while chatting on the phone when you have two free hands.
Utilize your freezer When you do any baking, make a double batch and freeze the extras. When the big holiday dinner rolls around, or unexpected company arrives, you’ll already have dessert ready. The freezer will freeze baked goods from the market too – just rewrap them in plastic wrap and put them in a freezer bag when you get home.
Get a Good Night’s Rest Easier said than done, but a good night’s rest works magic when trying to stave off stress. Don’t forget to take your vitamins too – stress can wreak havoc with your immune system and there is nothing more stressful than trying to fight a cold with a house full of holiday guests.
Open House Why not have an open house instead of a set time for a large gathering? An open house will allow you to spread the guests, and the work, over a larger chunk of time. Holding an open house instead of meal allows you to serve hors d’everes and snacks, which means less work and more time enjoying the day.
Create Menus Spend some time before the holidays hit with your cookbooks and put together all the menus of the meals you’ll be hosting this year. Plan your shopping lists and get prepared early. Planning ahead also allows you to watch for sales on ingredients.
Keep Extras On Hand Keep a few small gifts wrapped and tucked in a drawer or under the tree. When you receive an unexpected gift, you’ll have something to give in return.
Delgate! Delegate! An older child will delight in wrapping gifts for others – just think of it like a secret which only they know! You don’t have to do everything yourself.
Pamper Yourself Once a week, lock the bathroom door, turn down the lights, draw a hot bath, and spend some time letting the accumulated stress soak away.
Let It Go All the advice in the world isn’t going to help you completely avoid stress this holiday season. Things are going to go wrong. Take it in stride and remember there is always next year.