As my aunt used to tell my grandmother, “Christmas always comes on December 25 every year.” Memaw did a lot of things very well (the pies!) , but staying on top of her holiday to-do list was not one of them.
A little organization can go a long way--and it can give you more time with your family. As I write this in November, my tree and Christmas lights have been up a few weeks, but I grew up in a house where the tree went up December 20-something and my mom was still looking for that one Bob Dylan CD I requested long after we had finished opening presents.
So, I know the benefits of organizing and I also know that it doesn’t come naturally to all of us. I reached out to moms on Facebook to get their must-try tips. If some aren’t your style, or go against your rule about when certain holiday things must happen (no tree until after Thanksgiving!), there are plenty of options to choose from.
Gifts. No matter how big your budget or long your list, you can take steps to make your gift buying and giving easier.
“Make a list of gifts you plan to buy for each person and set an overall budget for each person,” Kelly recommends. That way, you can focus on what you really want to buy at the store and won’t overbuy or waste time looking around.
Emily and Nikki both suggest the Amazon Wish List for tracking each child’s wish list so that relatives know what they want and who has already bought which gift. Amazon is also great for those grandparents who live in a small town with fewer shops. They can also ship to your house if they are coming that way on Christmas Day!
Never stop Christmas shopping: That’s the advice of several moms who said they shop all year and keep gifts in a designated closet. Greta says she takes note of things she really loves that year and buys them for her friends: “My favorites--just like Oprah!”
Maybe shopping in April is too early for you, but starting early, say in September or October, can really help. “Start now; that is the only way,” says Leslie. Angie’s finished shopping before the toy stores send out those wish catalogs. They both like to wrap presents as they buy them, making the process less overwhelming.
Jennifer, herself a personal organizer, suggests creating a wrapping/gift station with paper, boxes, bags, tissue paper, bows, ribbons, scissors and pens. She also designates a space to unload shopping/gifts as she purchases. “Pick a spare bed, an unused table, a basement corner out of the way to lay out and group gifts so you know what you have so far,” she says.
Kelly, a teacher, told us she buys several $15-20 non-specific gift cards that she carries with her as back up gifts in case she realizes she forgot a coworker or friend.
Decor & Food.
Once you have a gift plan, it’s time to tackle decor and food. I can’t stress enough three magic little words: “Artificial pre-lit” (or is that two?). In addition to our pre-lit tree, we hang pre-lit wreaths in each window. It won’t work for you purists, but allergies made it an easy choice for us. And it saves oodles of time.
Many of our moms’ decor tips will help next year, because they involve systems for storing your decorations. Jennifer says, “As you unpack decorations, assess condition, usability, etc. If you haven't used something in a while, don't repack them, but instead donate/discard. After the holidays, do the same thing. It takes a little more time to save in the long run.”
Martha (who is quite the decorator) stores decorations in different containers, coded by room. Catherine also uses a color-coded storage system to know what goes where. She also suggests making sure your spouse understands the system!
Kim saves all of the holiday cards she receives and organizes them into picture books for friends and family to enjoy, looking back at how their loved ones have changed over the years. She also takes a picture of each with her phone and uses that photo for her contacts, so she can see their card all year!
Other shortcut ideas include using prebaked gingerbread houses (is there any other kind?) and hosting a cookie exchange party with family and friends. You can have fun and trade cookies to take to different family gatherings. Carole also added, “Remember, cookies freeze well.” It’s OK to get started sooner rather than later.
Get help from the digital elves.
While they can also serve as a huge time waster, many apps and websites can be useful to streamline your holiday. I love the Postable app, which allows me to invite people to give me their address for Christmas cards. The list can populate a CSV spreadsheet that you can upload directly to several card printing sites.
Karen likes flylady.net, which has specific tasks to tackle called “cruising missions” and planner pages you can print. Speaking of planners, they’re not technology, but many moms love them, especially the Erin Condren system. Jennifer C. says she uses three daily! If planners aren’t your style, Nichole suggests project management software like Asana to track all of the different tasks going on. (Surely there’s a list called: “Holiday movies to watch by December 31.”)
Jaclyn uses an app called Elfster to help organize her “Secret Santa” gift exchanges for friends and coworkers. Speaking of elves, are you trying to keep the Santa tradition alive in your house? There are apps for that! Santapp features different Santa voices and sound effects. Kringl facilitates video calls from Chris Kringle himself, as does Hello Santa.
The Time Timer phone or desktop app is a great tool for keeping track of time spent on your holiday projects: Set a timer to online shop for , say, 30 minutes, and commit that you will go back to cleaning when the time elapses. Or set your phone for 10 minutes and tell yourself you’ll get off of Facebook and get back to putting up Christmas lights!
We hope these tips help you enjoy time with your family this holiday! If you have any tips or tricks, we’d love to hear them.