It might be too soon to start celebrating the holidays, but it's not too soon to give a little thought to a few small things you can do now to prepare for the best holiday season yet.
Preparing for the holidays
I’m not one who starts celebrating holidays early. I don’t play Christmas music until December 1. I wish stores wouldn't start their Christmas displays before Halloween. (In fact, Joanne, a TPW Community member from Australia, shared a photo of a store Christmas display in early September!)
Nevertheless, it's not a bad idea to spend a little time in the early fall thinking about and planning ahead for the holidays. While it might be a little early to get the holiday decorations out, still there are a few things we can do now to help make the holidays less stressful and more joyful.
Why do holidays bring stress?
We want to make the holidays special. Nothing wrong with that. But that often means a lot of events get added to the schedule. While they are fun, they can add to the stress level.
The last quarter of the year can be a stressful time for many people at work as well. One article aimed at entrepreneurs quotes survey results indicating that “65 percent of Gen Xers reported feeling stressed during the holidays. Baby Boomers came in second at 62 percent, while 61 percent of Millennials said they felt the weight of the holiday rush.”
According to another writer, “65 percent of people surveyed said the financial strain associated with gift purchases is the most stressful part of the holidays.”
In addition to money, other sources of stress might be: feeling overwhelmed and overbooked, family conflict, and feeling sad when everybody else is cheerful. Not everyone is happy during the holidays.
What can we do now to prepare?
How can we get a head start on preparation for the holidays and make the season less stressful? I came up with ten things we can do to prepare now, including some ideas I collected from online sources and from the TPW community.
1. Plan ahead.
Sit down with a cup of something and a notebook or your computer and your calendar, and do a mind dump of all the things you usually do or need or want to do during the holidays, starting maybe from mid-October through the New Year's celebrations. Include it all: family traditions, church or work or community events you need or want to participate in, people you want to give gifts to, food or gifts you want to make, meals you want to serve, parties you plan to host or attend, etc. After you've captured it all, take a look and ask yourself:
- How realistic is your list (keeping in mind daily commitments, stage of life you’re in, etc.)?
- What can you cut from the list and still have the kind of holiday season you want to have?
- What can you move around or change now to set yourself up to have the time and energy you need to do the things you actually want to do?
One blogger suggests setting up a holiday planner–either a section of your current planner or a separate planner dedicated to holiday plans. (Her post includes suggests and links to various planners she's used.)
2. Develop a budget for the holidays.
Think about how much money you're willing to set aside for each person you want to give a gift to. Having a budget written down now might help you resist the urge to overspend as the holidays get closer.
If the budget is an issue, take steps now to avoid uncomfortable situations during the holidays. Talk to extended family about skipping gifts, or giving gifts only to the children, or drawing names and setting a cap on the amount (so nobody feels embarrassed because somebody else gave a more extravagant gift).
Check out Choose to Save's “Planning Ahead for the Winter Holiday Season” for some tips on creating a holiday budget.
3. Shop ahead.
The steps above will help make it easier for you to get your holiday shopping sooner rather than later. If you have the list of people you want to give gifts to and then brainstorm ideas for gifts for each, you’ll have it top-of-mind when you’re out and can be watching for those perfect gifts and watch for sales on the things you want to give.
Members of The Productive Woman Community offered some great ideas in our Facebook group discussion:
Ayrika said, “We have small kids. We do Christmas layaway early, so we won't get tempted to use credit cards closer to Christmas day.
Alison advocates for both setting a budget and shopping ahead: “One thing we DID do this year was budget – and I've even already bought all my Christmas presents! They are wrapped and in the closet. Never done that before this year, but it feels pretty nice to know that presents are BOUGHT and PAID. Our only expenses now will be any events/charity gifts.”
Georgy said, “I always try to buy my gifts way ahead of time, I also focus on going to markets, etc & not department stores.”
I love Georgy's idea of shopping the smaller local stores–much easier to do if you plan ahead and start early.
4. Start decluttering.
Cluttered space contributes to anxiety and to a lack of focus. On the other hand, a clean, clutter-free space helps lead to a more relaxed and peaceful frame of mind.
In addition to the pleasure that comes from having a peaceful, decluttered home, getting rid of the “extra” stuff will also make space for the new stuff that invariably comes at the holidays.
Starting now you can:
- Clean out refrigerator and pantry well before it’s time to do holiday cooking; non-perishables that you won’t use could be donated to a food pantry.
- Declutter kids rooms and find things to discard or donate. This might be a new holiday tradition of choosing gently used toys to donate to a shelter. Get the kids involved.
- Declutter and refresh bathrooms that might be used by guests during holiday parties (same with guest room).
- Declutter master bedroom and make it a refuge for you during the busy holiday season.
- Clean out coat closet and make space for guest coats. (Can you donate any coats that have been outgrown or replaced to a shelter?)
- Clean out a closet or space for gifts, wrapping paper, etc., as you buy them. If you have the space for it, you could even set up a gift-wrapping station where you have everything you need at hand to wrap gifts.
5. Cook/bake ahead.
If you think about holiday meals ahead of time, are there any dishes or treats you traditionally serve that can be made ahead and frozen? Or things you can have in the freezer and pull out to take to a party or serve unexpected guests?
In our TPW Community Facebook groups discussion, Alison noted that “I have always heard the idea to bake up a bunch of treats in advance and freeze them, like loaf cakes and cookies and pies, for easy access for last minute guests and parties and things. Never done it, but I think I might this year.”
My oldest daughter loves Christmas and every year she does a bunch of baking and puts together pretty boxes filled with homemade treats. It's one of the most eagerly anticipated Christmas gifts in our family. You could start doing some of that now.
6. Make reservations for holiday travel.
I love this idea, which came from Emma in the TPW Community Facebook group. She said, “I buy all of the travel in August or September so I can get nonstop flights (essential for me for little kid travel when possible).” Seats on airlines and other transport options fill up during the holidays, as do hotels, so making those reservations now might help you get the seats or rooms you want–and maybe at a better price.
7. Plan some fun events for yourself and your family.
Now might be a great time to start investigating the options for memory-making family activities during the holiday season. What does your community offer? What special sights are available near where you live?
Several members of the TPW Community use this approach. Alison said, “One thing I hope to do in the next month is plan some fun holiday activities/outings. I'm going to check all the surrounding areas and compile a list of festivals/parades, attractions we can enjoy to really get the most out of the season.
Arianna said, “In November I make a little Christmastime bucket list of fun things we want to do or places we want to go, for example: go to a tree lighting ceremony, go ice skating, watch certain movies, have a sugar cookie decorating night, etc. We schedule the must-dos and leave the rest as a list we can refer to when deciding what to do with our leisure time.”
8. Get a jump on your holiday cards or letter.
Take a family photo now; assemble/update addresses and begin addressing cards. Shannon said, “I start my Christmas cards in October, otherwise I never get them done.”
9. Make it meaningful.
Be intentional about keeping your priorities in mind, and think about what's important to you and your family. Joyce observed that one key to a memorable holiday season is “deciding what is really important, especially as kids get older. I was shocked to discover that making a Christmas bun tree, the way my mom did with me, is important to my 30-year-old.”
My kids (all adults now) really look forward to the stockings we stuff with goodies and trinkets and put out after they go to bed. More than once they've told me, “Skip the gifts if you need to, but don't forget the stockings!”
As one writer notes, “A meaningful holiday is what’s really important. Sit down with your family and talk about what you liked the year before and what you didn’t. Start planning ways you will make the holidays memorable and more meaningful.”
One secret to a joyful, lower-stress holiday season might be giving a little thought now so we can plan to manage expectations. If there is something we’ve always historically done, but we decide not to do it, we can start to let others know we are going to do things a little differently. It’s better to talk about it now than to drop a bomb and not meet expectations.
10. Make personal time and self-care a priority, even during the holiday season.
Include some time for self-care–schedule your holiday-time appointments (hair? nails? massage? brunch with a beloved friend?) now.
Leave some white space on your calendar. Filling up every second of the holiday season with events and activity and go-go-go might result in happy memories . . . or it might result in exhaustion and emotional meltdowns. Focus on what's most meaningful, and carve out time to relax and rest and savor the season's most special times. As Shira Boss says in her Plan Ahead for Christmas! A Step-by-Step Gameplan, “If something on the list (hosting a holiday party, sending out cards, buying gifts for extended family, etc.) is stressful for you in a not-happy way, try to simplify or eliminate it.”
What do you think?
Can you add to our list of pre-holiday prep? Share your suggestions in the comments section below or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group, or email me!
Resources and Links:
- “Take the Stress out of Christmas by Planning Ahead,” by Stockpiling Moms
- “Planning Ahead for the Winter Holiday Season,” Choose to Save
- “Keep Calm and Holiday On: How to Plan for the Holidays Year-Round,” by David Osborn, Entrepreneur
- “Plan ahead for Christmas! A step-by-step gameplan,” by Shira Boss, Zero Cost Kids
- “Reduce Christmas Stress, Plan Early,” by Lisa, Retro Housewife Goes Green
- “How to Tackle the Top 4 Sources of Holiday Stress,” by Helen Racanelli, Canadian Living
- Staying Productive & Peaceful During the Holidays – TPW118
- Organizing for a Low-Stress Holiday Meal – TPW019
Thanks to the community!
Special thank you to Ayrika, Alison, Georgy, Emma, Arianna, Shannon, Joyce, and Joanne for sharing tips in the FB group. I would love to hear your tips as well–maybe we’ll do another episode in a few weeks addressing the holiday routines and traditions you follow.
Announcements & Reminders
- As this episode is being published we are choosing the next book for The Productive Woman Book Club, and we'll start reading and discussing it in October. If you're interested, jump over to the TPW Facebook group and join us!
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