Do you need a few good holiday hacks? I know I do. Barely a week in, my December is already bursting at the seams. My to-do lists keep getting longer, and some things (like this post) never get done until weeks later than I’d planned.
What’s on your plate this month? Too many kids’ concerts, neighborhood parties, and family get-togethers competing with end-of-year deadlines at work? Maybe, like me, you could use a few more holiday hacks to simplify your life during end-of-year chaos.
My Top Ten Holiday Hacks
December used to be very stressful for me, until my successful experiment in cutting way back last year. This year, my goal is to build on that success. Yes, my schedule still has plenty on it, but it’s more manageable this year than in the past. More importantly, though, my stress level is in check. Sure, I still have plenty of to-do’s, but they’re less overwhelming.
If you’re already suffering from a December of overload, try these ten holiday hacks to help keep your family (and yourself!) grounded this month:
1. Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness – being in the moment and doing things with purpose – is a skill I need to work on year-round. But the chaos of December’s extra demands throws my already-tenuous grasp on this life skill for a loop.
Case in point: Today is the last day to use certain coupons at a local store that sells what I need for a family member’s Christmas gift. I figured I’d drop the kids at school, and then continue straight on to the store in question.
Only I forgot the coupons at home.
If this sounds familiar, try this: mental check-ins throughout the day, to make sure you know what you’re doing, where you’re going next, and what you need to get there. And try keeping brain on only one task at a time – not ten.
2. Build in wiggle room
I had a volunteer commitment yesterday morning that I figured I could knock off in the two hours between my alarm clock and the girls’ preferred getting-up time.
Instead, I found myself sneaking away to my computer all day long to finish working on it.
Maybe you’re a crafty type who loves to make Christmas gifts. Maybe you figure you can knock off all your gift-buying in one afternoon.
But you realize you’re missing one zipper, and there goes your afternoon of sewing. Or you forgot to budget extra time for holiday traffic around the mall when planning your shopping route.
Use this month to practice adding buffers to your routine and your spending plans. It’s always better to have a chunk of time or money left over, than to find yourself coming up short.
3. Follow your routines
Speaking of routines: stick to them as much as you can, both for yourself and your kiddos.
- Keep up the healthy eating and exercise routines, and watch out for holiday excess.
- Stick to your kids’ regular bedtime schedules, and make sure you stay on top of your sleep as well.
- If you’re on the road, keep your children’s day as regular as possible: keep the same morning and bedtime routines you use at home, stay on top of household rules and everyday manners, etc.
Everyone will be happier, healthier, more mindful, and better able to enjoy the holidays when their bodies are well cared for. Neglect the well-being of yourself and your family, and everyone will suffer.
4. Repack when you unpack
When we returned from Thanksgiving with my in-laws, I knew we’d be visiting friends out of town in just a few weeks. So as I unpacked from one trip, I repacked for the next one as much as I could.
I won’t be able to pack clothes until a few days before we leave. But the girls’ sleeping bags and pillows are all ready to go. Ditto our toiletries, PJs, and underwear, plus bags to entertain the girls while we drive.
Repacking things for our next trip took about as long as putting them away in the “travel stuff” container would have, but now I don’t have to spend that time hauling things out again in a few weeks.
5. When time exceeds dough, DIY
Many people find themselves massively short on time in December. But for some of us, the time available far exceeds the funds in our bank accounts.
When this is the case, nothing beats homemade gifts.
Even if you’re not crafty, the internet puts tons of super DIY gift ideas at your fingertips. Some of my favorites are homemade mixes for everything from soup to cookies and bars. Homemade mixes are also a great gift for kids to make and give; even the youngest kiddos can help to mix up dried beans and spices.
If you’re the type that already bakes way more cookies than her family can eat (as I am), it’s hard to beat a plate of homemade goodies for a hostess gift.
Or kids could make coupons for services they’re willing to offer to relatives, from car-washing and yard-raking to dog-walking.
The bottom line? Keep it simple. It doesn’t have to be elaborate to come from the heart.
6. Prep ahead when you can
Since Kimmie was born, we’ve hosted both sets of grandparents, plus assorted aunts and uncles, at our house every Christmas. This doubles or even triples the number of people in our home for up to a week at a time.
Cooking supper for just the girls and ourselves can be enough of a challenge each night, without adding extra people.
So last night, when I made dinner, I cooked enough extra to put large containers in the freezer for December 24, when most of our family will arrive.
The first year I tried this, I was shocked at how much easier things were. I was able to welcome our visitors and get them settled in without having to worry about cooking for a crowd at the same time.
Now, I wouldn’t do it any other way.
7. Build traditions, but keep it simple
Yes, my kids were old enough for the church Christmas pageant as soon as they were three, according to the customs of our community. Yes, being in the church pageant is one of my fondest memories from childhood Christmases.
But they also do a pageant at our preschool, and honestly, I couldn’t justify the hours of extra time involved in joining the church pageant, when the girls already were in another one.
So we’ve skipped the church one until now. There will be plenty of time for that when they’re older.
8. Use those extra hours when you can
I can just hear you thinking, “WHAT extra hours?”
I’m talking about the extended-hours at stores this time of year.
Honestly, I hate shopping in stores during December. I don’t like the crowds, the traffic, or the challenges of finding a parking place. Winter weather is another reason I’d rather stay home.
But I DO love the fact that some stores now open as early as 7a.m., or stay open until 10 or even 11 p.m.
If I have routine business to do at my neighborhood stores, or even last-minute gifts to pick up, there’s nothing like being there right when they open or just before closing, when my husband is home with the girls. Chances are good that the parking is plentiful, the lines are nonexistent, and the traffic to and from is light.
9. Just say no
Don’t have time on your plate to cram in one more activity or meeting or to-do? There’s nothing wrong with that.
The challenge comes in remembering that when push comes to shove.
Yes, it’s great to go to parties and concerts and other special events. But your kids (and you) can only soak in so many at once.
And giving your time to worthy causes, while important, isn’t worth running down your batteries so you can’t take care of your family or yourself.
If you don’t volunteer to help with every single event, attend each “parental help needed” morning at school, or fill a slot at all the community events that ask for assistance, someone else will step up to the plate, I promise.
Better to choose those few activities that will mean the most to you and your family, and learn it’s OK to just say no to the rest.
10. Shop (and give) ahead
I’ve done my Christmas shopping year-round for over half my life, and it makes a huge difference to have one less source of stress and financial drain at the end of the year.
But a friend of mine recently gave me another great idea: She spaces out her charitable donations over the year, too – even going so far as to put them onto the calendar and try to do a few each month.
I know many nonprofits, such as local food banks, who are inundated with generosity come the holidays – but have little to feed their growing client lists come the summer months.
By spacing our efforts to help others throughout the year, we can actually have more of an impact where help is needed most, while spacing out the lessons in giving to others that we try to teach our children.
How about you? What are your favorite holiday hacks? How do you try to keep the end-of-the-year chaos from overwhelming you and your family?