You know the drill: the holidays arrive and you swear that this year will be the year of your most gracefully executed fireside season full of meaning, but before you can say “cotton-headed ninny muggins” you find yourself on a last-minute Target run for more Scotch tape in some fourth-day sweatpants, nursing a sugar cookie hangover and wondering where it all went wrong.
The holidays are full of family and friends and laughter and sweetness and wonder, but they can also be stressful and downright chaotic. This year, give yourself a break with a few of The Joyful Sort’s top holiday organization tips:
1. Make a list (or three) and check it twice.
In news that will come as a surprise to approximately no one, I’m a big list person. When it comes to holiday prep, I stick to three major categories: calendar, inventory, and budget.
Calendar - During the weekend after Thanksgiving, my husband and I sit down for a holiday calendar planning session where we make a list of all of the things that we’d like to do as a family over the next month, along with any scheduled events, and then decide what our priorities are. If calendar clutter has tended to overwhelm your holidays past, try making this the year that you pick just three or four events or activities that are most special or important to your family and then say a polite “no, thank you” to the rest. Setting boundaries and making hard decisions is understandably difficult for a lot of people, but it can be the biggest game changer when it comes to setting the pace for a less harried holiday season. Your time is precious, especially during this season, so try not to get caught up in the “have to” trap. The “have to” that I’m ditching this year? Sending holiday cards (spoiler alert to our mailing list - sorry!). I love receiving cards from friends and family, but dread the task of pulling ours together to send out, so we’ll be skipping them this year and reallocating that time and money to an additional fun family night out instead.
Inventory - Take some time to do a quick walk-through of your holiday supplies so that you know exactly what’s needed or, more importantly, not needed this year. Grab a notepad or your phone to jot down a quick list as you test light strings, filter out any decor items that may have been broken or never even made it out of storage last year, note where you stand with all of your wrapping supplies, and do a quick pantry run-through for basics like flour (and sprinkles!).
Budget - Having a budget is another important step to keeping your holiday priorities in line. There are some great holiday budget planners available on Pinterest that you can either print out or update digitally depending on your preference, but what works well for us is a simple Google Sheets document that both my husband and I can update and edit as needed. We keep a tab for each year so that we can track overall budget as well as gifts that we’ve given over time.
2. Set gift limits.
When it comes to gifting, remember that less is more - less money, less time spent shopping, less time spent wrapping, less post-holiday clutter. For my kiddos, we stick with the classic Four Gifts rule - something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read - and then one big and one small gift from Santa. Other great options include a Secret Santa name-draw amongst extended family or friends, homemade gifts, gifts from local makers or Etsy shops, or just generally setting smaller dollar amount limits. My personal favorite approach is to give experiences over things - memberships to the zoo or a local science center, re-allocating budgeted gift money towards long weekend or summer trips with extended family, a friendly holiday cocktail or baking contest on Christmas Eve. Those are memories that will be around long after any physical gift has been outgrown and moved to the Donate bin. My mother is still insisting on purchasing a game called “Poop The Potato” for my boys, but it’s what brings her grandparent joy so I’m rolling with it.
3. Schedule a pre-holiday decluttering session.
Parents, please trust me on this: even if you do zero other decluttering of your kids’ things throughout the year, make time for one pre-holiday purge session. One of the ways that we’ve made this process a bit easier is by talking a lot as we go about how happy the rarely used or outgrown toys that my children are parting with will make another little boy or girl. As always, I recommend breaking the project up into smaller chunks (take it one bin or basket or drawer at a time) and starting with the easy task of tossing/recycling anything that’s broken or missing a significant number of pieces. Any outgrown or gently but rarely used toys can be donated to a local charity or shelter.
Decluttering doesn’t just apply to toys, though! Setting a timer and editing even just one drawer, cabinet, or closet goes a long way towards a sense of accomplishment and breathing room before new items start to make their way in.
4. Set up stations.
Establishing command centers for gift wrapping and holiday card writing means less time spent stressing over where to find supplies when it’s time to check those tasks off of your to-do list. While there are many gorgeous gift wrap and mail station inspiration pictures out on the web, remember that the goal here is so simplify your holiday routine, not to add perfectionist pressure. Use your inventory list to make sure that your basics are covered, only restock items that you truly need, then gather everything into one convenient bin, basket, or room of your home.
5. Take a time out.
The hustle and bustle will inevitably creep in, even for the most organized folks, and when that happens it’s important to remember to pause and breathe. Try to shift your mindset towards simply focusing on what you want to take away from the season - things like gratitude and joy and warm family moments - and leave the rest.
I hope that these tips help you find even a small amount of additional clarity and comfort this holiday season! Stay tuned for another post in a few weeks with my very best How-Tos when it comes to organizing and storing your holiday decor for next year.