A Quick Holiday Prep Plan

by Ramona Creel

Your Living Spaces

If youcan manage a deep-clean before you start decorating, great — if not,don't stress yourself out. Just do a quick sweep through each room, carrying a basket or tote withyou, collecting up items that belong somewhere else. While you're at it, putanything that is obvious clutter, that serves no purpose in your life,or that you could easily let go of in a separate container to bedonated this holiday season.  Then simply give each room a quick 15-minute clean each week — a light dusting (or swipe with some disinfectant in bathrooms and kitchens), a speedy sweeping or vacuum (with some pine-scented carpet freshener), and afast tidying up (putting magazines in a basket, hanging up coats, putaway items that belong in a drawer or cabinet).

Decking The Halls

Once the house is tidy, it's time to decorate. You probably have a standard spot for each item (the reindeer goes on the table by the front door, the angel candle holders sit on the mantel, the tree lives in the foyer, etc.) — so separate your holiday paraphernalia according to the room in which those items will be placed. Then tackle one space at a time, either in succession or over a period of days. Either way, it will go a lot faster than pulling one item out of a box, toting it across the house, then going back for another item that lives in an entirely different location. Repack your decorations by room and you'll skip a whole step when you do it again next year!

Cooking And Entertaining

It's your choice how much cooking you do during this festive season — but whatever the plan, taking a minute to think things through in advance is guaranteed to make everything go smoother. Plot out dates for each event so they don't conflict with other obligations. Decide on your guest lists — especially if you are hosting separate activities for different groups of people (colleagues, family, the kids' friends, neighbors, etc.) Write out your menu and grocery lists, then do as much shopping as you can in one trip (at least the dry goods). And if you can batch any of the food prep (chopping vegetables, cooking sauces, or making desserts) for several different events at once, then freezing each portion separately — you will save a lot of time and effort in the long run.

Gift-Giving

The first rule of stress-free holiday gift-giving is to create a budget and stick to it! There is no reason to spend the new year paying off holiday debt if you are realistic about what you can afford and what you can't. Once you've decided on an amount, develop a your gift list recognizing that it truly is the thought (not the number of presents or cost) that matters. Online and catalog shopping is often a faster and more affordable option these days (plus, no crowds!) Don't forget to include people like the postman, school teachers, etc. — but consider homemade or edible gifts for everyone except your closest friends and family (it will be easier and a lot less expensive!) Set up a “gift station” with all of your paper and supplies, and wrap/tag each item as you bring it home. It's also not a bad idea to pick up a few extra generic gifts (candles, bath products) for drop-in guests.

Sending Cards

You can save a lot of money (and cut down on landfill waste) by sticking to e-cards — companies like BlueMountain and Care2 allow you to send a variety of fun internet cards for no cost whatsoever. If you do plan to mail your greetings, take a minute to input your holiday address list in the computer so you can print directly on the envelope or a mailing label. This may seem like a lot of work when you could just hand-write, but it will be faster in the long run and easier to keep track of changes from year to year when your list is automated. If you like to send a family photo, either schedule your portrait or get your snapshot done early in the month — so you have plenty of time for printing and mailing. Then set aside an afternoon (preferably with some relaxing music and a cup of hot chocolate) for writing out your greetings — the less it feels like a chore, the more you will enjoy keeping in touch.

Special Events

At the start of each holiday season, you should set up a master family schedule — a big wall-calendar hung in a high-traffic area where no one will miss seeing it! Assign each family member a different colored pen (red for Dad, blue for Mom, green for Jimmy, etc.) — and another color for events that you expect the whole group to attend. Then make a note of EVERY single commitment, performance, party, and holiday activity as you find out about it. In this way, you will be able to deal with scheduling conflicts, prepare adequately for each event, make time for your holiday priorities — and recognize when your family is simply overbooked and needs to cut a few items from the calendar. And don't forget to transfer important items to your PDA or planner!

Holiday Travel

If you're intending to hit the road (or fly the friendly skies) this season, it will behoove you to get your trip planning done as early in the month as possible — so you aren't rushing around at the last minute, trying to rent a car or find your mittens. Set aside a single folder for all of your holiday travel paperwork — tickets, itinerary, brochures, confirmations, and info about any seasonal activities you would like to investigate while you're out of town. Make as many reservations as possible — this is not the time of year for last-minute decisions! Create an in-depth packing list for everything you will need (don't forget your winter clothes and those gifts you plan to bring along). Go ahead and pack as many items as you can NOW (travel-size toiletries, travel accessories, wrapped presents, etc.) — checking each item off as it goes into the suitcase. Then sit back and enjoy a stress-free trip!

© Ramona Creel, all rights reserved. Ramona Creel is a modern Renaissance woman and guru of simplicity -- traveling the country as a full-time RVer, sharing her story of radically downsizing, and inspiring others to regain control of their own lives. As a Professional Organizer and Accountability Coach, Ramona will help you create the time and space to focus on your true priorities -- clearing away the clutter other obstacles and standing in the way of that life you've always wanted to be living. As a Professional Photographer, Ramona captures powerful images of places and people as she travels. And as a travel writer, social commentator, and blogger, she shares her experiences and insights about the world as we know it. You can see all these sides of Ramona -- read her articles, browse through her photographs, and even hire her to help get your life in order -- at www.RamonaCreel.com. And be sure to follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.