10 Little Things You Can Do to Make Your Holidays Go Smoothly

Dec. 7, 2012

Simplify your holiday to-do list with these helpful tips.

You know what they say: If you want something done, give it to a busy person. This is especially true around the holidays. Some people just seem to have a knack for staying organized and calm, while juggling 20 things. How do they do it? More importantly, how can you do it too?

As the holidays approach, our to-do lists can seem daunting and never-ending. Here are some little things you can do to help you sail through this time of year with your holiday cheer intact.

  1. Be Realistic
    Nothing creates more stress than setting up an impossible task list, especially for busy, do-it-all caregivers who are used to being there for others non-stop. "The additional responsibility of hosting family events and organizing gifts for loved ones can become an added stress to your already long list of day-to-day responsibilities," says New York City-based party-planner extraordinaire, Linda Kaye.

    Her first rule for getting through the holiday season is to know what you can and can't realistically do and to accept that fact with grace and a dollop of much-deserved, self-kindness. Think all the things you would like to accomplish for the holidays -- then cross out a few or get your nanny to help out.

  2. Make a List and Check it (at Least) Twice
    Busy Oregon mom Marna Gatlin keeps her normally overcrowded days as streamlined as possible when the holidays are thrown into the mix. "I am a list maker," she says. "That really helps me keep it all together or it's like herding cats."

    Some people create beautiful holiday notebook planners that are always within reach from Halloween to New Year's to jot down ideas, recipes and tasks. Others prefer to keep an electronic diary that sends out reminders when tasks are due. Whatever system you prefer is fine -- just make sure you keep one master list with all your tasks on it.

    You can organize by action item or calendar date. Having one place to look up and check on everything alleviates both mental and physical clutter. Don't forget to check off items once they are accomplished. It feels good to see yourself making progress.

  3. Raid the Refrigerator
    As the holidays approach, make sure you have room in the fridge and cabinets for all the foods you'll need. This is a great time to cook and enjoy your freezer's current contents and to eliminate all of the things you will never use, like those last two tablespoons of salad dressing in that old bottle or the ingredients for a recipe you made once and hated.

    Stock up on a few essentials now that you know you'll need to get through the holidays, like butter, sugar and flour. And replace your fridge odor-absorbing baking soda, too, and start fresh. Then you won't have to add these items to your growing holiday food shopping list.

  4. Let your App be Your Guide
    There are some great apps out there that list organizing tips and wonderful recipes and local resources. A good one to try is the Food52 Holiday Recipe & Survival Guide, which costs $4.99. Look for apps that best serve your needs, such as locating the best prices on holiday foods or sales on potential gift items. Need more ideas? Check out our list of 12 Great Apps for Busy Moms » and 7 Great -- and Free -- Apps for Nannies »

  5. Rally the Troops
    If a holiday meal will be served at your home, consider reaching out to your guests and asking them to contribute their signature dish to the meal or think about hosting a pot-luck. Asking people to bring the dish they are known for is flattering and saves you time. If you would prefer to do all of the cooking, ask instead for child-care support the day before or morning of the meal. Or hire a babysitter to corral the kids for a few hours and keep them entertained.

  6. Be Kind to Your Feet
    Constant trips to the mall are a time drain that can be avoided. "Consider ordering mail order foods," Kaye suggests. "Just about anything you need for the holidays can be found in a catalog or online. Look for holiday hams and turkeys, as well as specialty items like gourmet cheeses and nuts." Much of your gift shopping can be accomplished from your desk or comfy chair. Just make sure to check the delivery dates on items you order so you get it in time.

  7. Banish Pets
    Even beloved pets can get underfoot during the holidays. Do you really want Fido making off with your Christmas goose or tearing apart a roll of wrapping paper minutes before guests are supposed to arrive? If you will be busy cooking or performing other tasks, appoint a child to be in charge of your pet or consider hiring a pet sitter. You can get someone for a few hours, the entire day or even the day before the holiday. And you can always put aside a few table scraps for your best friend to indulge in when they return home. And if you are traveling, make sure to line up a pet sitter, dog walker or kennel a few weeks in advance.

  8. Know When to Delegate
    Even on a tight budget, delegating certain tasks alleviates stress and frees up many hours. Consider hiring a housekeeper or cleaning service before the holidays to get your house in shape. You have enough on your plate; you don't need to worry about a little dust too. Pump up your own kid's allowance (or just ask very sweetly) with a request to do some tasks ahead of the big day, like polishing silver.

  9. Make Time for You
    One task you shouldn't skimp on is time to relax. Daunting as it may seem, don't stop going to the gym or yoga class.De-stress with a long walk, either alone or with your best friend, or lose yourself in a good book for a few minutes. Give yourself a stocking stuffer in the form of a nail salon gift certificate. Your brain and body need to be cared for, especially when there are a million things to do.

  10. Take a Breather
    "I ask for help when I need it," Gatlin says. If the roast burns, or a dish breaks, grab the arm of the person you trust most and ask them to take over for a few minutes. Everyone deserves a breather, including the hostess.

You have the right to enjoy the holidays and the memories that come with them. Your guests' enjoyment of the day will have more to do with being together than the cleanliness of your living room, so don't worry about the things that don't matter. Smile and enjoy all you've accomplished. You earned it!

Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found here.

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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