As we finished the Thanksgiving holiday, and crept closer to December and the Christmas holiday, I started seeing many posts about ways to de-stress and declutter our holiday season so that we could get the most of this year’s Christmas.
It matters not how hard we try, often many of us end up wrapping gifts on Christmas Eve, doing last minute baking, and overall feeling like we have at the least compromised our joy, but in many cases losing our joy, in the last-minute crazy of the Christmas season.
This year, while I saw many posts about various ways to handle this stress, I had a thought. Let me engage some wonderful ladies, in my online bible studies to see what sorts of tips and tried and true ideas they have for decluttering and de-stressing the holiday season, so that our focus as moms can be our family and remembering the real reason for the season; Jesus.
While many of the ladies in these two groups were encouraging of this collaboration, they admitted that they really did not have much to contribute but were excited to read what others had to say on the practical ways to get a handle on the strain and stress that we as moms feel (real or perceived) during what should be the most glorious time of the year.
First and foremost, many of the women in the online groups indicated that regardless of how busy they knew that their days would be, they had to take the time to focus on the Lord. Without a daily and purposed quiet time, they find their frustration and irritation on the rise in the month of December. I agree. After all, the Christmas season is about celebrating the birth of Christ. Regardless of your preferred style of study and quiet time, either an advent style devotion, or the study with a specific group of ladies, stay connected to the Lord daily!
Secondly, many ladies also indicated that it was helpful to maintain a regular work out program. We all agree this is not the time to start a new fitness program (wait until the first of the year and resolve to do so then) but if you are a walker, a runner, a boxer, a weightlifter, a Zumba dancer, or a swimmer; keep at it! Purpose to make it to your activity of choice, at least three times a week, to not only offset the additional calories from breakroom goodies, and holiday parties, but to just keep that time for yourself to focus on your body and mind and keeping them healthy.
From here on out the responses are varied, but all are worth consideration and are in no particular order:
Greeting Cards: Some indicated that they no longer send holiday greeting cards. Others indicated that they still send greeting cards, but it makes them anxious that they may have missed someone. Here are some insights about holiday cards. If you want to send them, plan to have them done and ready to go in the mail by black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) I can speak to this personally as I typically prefer to make my cards by hand. However, it started to become a major stressor in my life. So about 10 years ago I made an agreement with myself. If the cards were not done, addressed and stamped by the end of September, I would skip them that year. There have been some years that I have not sent cards. Most years, I enjoy either creating (this year I colored them) or addressing cards I found at after Christmas sales, as a summer weekend project.
Many, including myself keep track of whom I send my cards to. By placing a list of the recipients on a piece of paper in your calendar or other safe place ( setting aside about 1 dozen extra cards and stamps) so that if a card comes in the mail during the month of December, from someone that is not on that list, you can quickly jot a note and send a return greeting!
If you opt to skip the cards, then be okay with it!! Don’t second guess your decision, but do enjoy the greetings from those that send you greetings! If you really want to reconnect with someone, then save their card and send a personal hand-written note/email/Facebook message after the first of the year!
Shopping: Another hot topic was shopping. Wow, so much to say about this area of the holiday! Where do you even start, what are the boundaries? Some indicated that each child/person in their home receives three gifts, as a representation of the gifts baby Jesus received from the wise men. Others indicate that their lists for their loved ones start the day after Christmas, and they keep a note book (or the note section of their phone) for listing things that their loved ones mention throughout the year as things they like, or wish they had.
Others indicated that they get wish lists from their loved ones no later than August/ September and attempt to do all their shopping on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Personally, I try to have all my shopping and wrapping done by November 30th each year. While there is occasionally a few items that slip through the cracks until the early part of December, it is a great relief to have the bulk of the gift giving handled before the first of December!
For those of the group that have out of town family, online gift giving seems to be the best option. I agree! For my family and friends, that are out of town, I order wreaths and other live greens for them, which are delivered end of November and early December, that include a personal message and gives them a gift that they can enjoy for the entire Christmas season. Additionally, using e-bay, amazon, Esty and other online stores to order and ship gifts to family and friends across the miles, is best done early, with guaranteed availability of items and delivery in time to actually be a Christmas gift.
It seems that hands down, shopping on line, either at Amazon or your favorite retailer, with front door delivery was the go to method of shopping for the majority of the ladies that weighed in on the shopping aspect of the holidays!
Spending: There were many that have learned lessons about over spending and creative ways to plan financially for the holiday. Many banks offer Christmas club accounts. For years when our kids were small, we started one of these the first of the year and then put cash in each payday. The bank then paid them out around the first of November. It was a great way for our young family to prepare all year for expense of the holidays! If your bank doesn’t have a specific check into opening a savings account that can be used specifically for holiday saving year round.
For the few ladies that really enjoy the Black Friday craze, they weighed in with their tips for successful shopping including purchasing the newspaper or looking at the online advertisements, to make a “road map” of where you will go, at what times, to get the best deals and the best chances at the items you really want. Many said that it can be tricky to Black Friday shop, because if you are prone to impulse buying, you could walk away with many “great deals” but with no one to gift them to.
The last note on gift giving and spending is make a list! Check it twice! Or five times! Whatever you need to do to stay on budget and on task. I know that there is always that one person on my list that is super easy to buy for and if I am not using a list that person ends up with two Christmas’s worth of gifts and everyone else looks like they were an afterthought! The “list” can be altered throughout the shopping season but provides a great baseline for staying in the means of your holiday spending and gift limits!
Everyone that weighed in stated that staying on task for giving and financial spending makes the season easier to manage and makes the new year manageable, since you will not have over spent. Many said if they do not have cash, they do not make the purchase.
Wrapping: In regard to wrapping, over the years because of the number of children we have (7), we wrapped all gifts in a separate paper for each child. This is a great option for me, as I know that since the gifts are not hidden, no one is sneaking peeks because no one knows what paper their gifts are wrapped in until Christmas morning!
It is also great to pick up paper and ribbon at the after Christmas sales, so that when you are shopping and wrapping in August and September, you have paper and do not have to wait for the retailers to put out their stock. (while you are at it, purchasing that discount paper and ribbon at the end of the year sales, go ahead and add scotch tape to that list and keep it with the paper for safe keeping!
Now about this point in the post you are feeling a bit overwhelmed! As one online contributor shared, always keep wine on hand… it is the great holiday stress reliever, however if you plan, and are intentional in your holiday preparations, you can just enjoy your wine, or cup of hot tea with a good book, without the guilt of being behind as the holiday rolls up on you fast and furiously!
Baking and Meal Planning: Another area that causes much stress is holiday baking and meal prep! Here are some insights from the ladies. You are either a baker or not. If you are not, do not worry, you have a friend that will deliver some sweet treats to your home for the holidays! If you are a baker schedule your baking time! We have always made many types of cookies and shared them with neighbors, postmen, garbage men, bus drives etc. But to use baking as a gift giving option, you do have to have a plan! So, in October, make the list of the types of holiday baking you would like to do, and then start adding a few of the baking items to your standard grocery list through the end of November. This helps keep the cost lower, as you spread it out across several weeks of shopping. Also, don’t forget the containers that you are going to use to wrap those great treats in or distribute them in.
Be intentional about scheduling a baking day. Clear your schedule of all distractions and plan to spend the day baking! In our house now that the kids are grown, this helps ensure that they are off work, and have the time also to bake.
If you have younger kids, you may want to consider letting each child choose their favorite type of cookie and they can bake that one with just you, so that you can purpose to have some one on one memory making time with each of your kids. But again, it must be intentionally planned on our end, so that we have the supplies and the right mindset. Being in the kitchen with littles is not always easy.
If baking is not your thing, as early as September, you can make a few types of dough, (sugar cookie, chocolate chip, snickerdoodle etc) roll the dough like a log, and wrap in saran wrap and tin foil and place in the freezer. When you need or want cookies for the holiday, remove the cookies from the freezer, slice and bake by normal baking instructions. Or buy frozen cookie dough at the grocery and keep on hand for the holiday season. The end result is the same, a house filled with a fresh baked cookie aroma!
In addition, like the baking ingredients, meal planning and purchasing can put a huge hit on the family grocery budget. If you use frozen turkey, purchase "Tom" at the end of the summer, for each holiday. If you make green bean casserole, purchase two of everything in the summer and stock pile them in your pantry with an X on them, as a sign to yourself that they are earmarked for the upcoming holidays.
We often seem surprised by the holiday meals, but they are coming, so planning in advance and purchasing everything prior to Thanksgiving, is what many ladies said they do. Then, give it no more thought until the week before when you need to purchase your perishable items like potatoes, or fresh meats and vegetables.
Again, the key the ladies indicated is making a list, and planning ahead! This sounds great you say, except you do not have a lot of storage or freezer space. No worries! You can then either, put aside a certain dollar amount each week starting in the summer (based on your budget) so that you can purchase supplies for the holiday meal and baking in December without wrecking your grocery budget. However if saving money(cash) is an issue, and you are tempted to use the cash for other things, try purchasing gift cards for yourself from your primary grocery store and put them away each week, so you can pay for your holiday meal and baking items with gift cards vs your standard weekly grocery budget monies when the time comes.
Here is an example from our house. We have many “traditional” meal items. Christmas Eve dinner is always homemade chicken pot pie. At the writing of this post the chicken is cooked and shredded and in the freezer in gallon zip lock bags with the celery and slivered carrots and chicken broth. The week before Christmas I will hand roll the dough and cut it in squares and place it on wrapped cookie sheets in the fridge. The day before Christmas eve, I will pull those bags from the freezer to thaw, and then on Christmas eve in the morning place the prepared ingredients in the stock pot on low, bringing to a slow boil and add the dough prior to leaving for church, turning back to warm, so that dinner is ready after Christmas Eve services at church… no fuss no muss. Regardless of the tradition, my grandmother’s hot chocolate, or breakfast on Christmas morning, the prep is done well in advance of the actual holiday meal need, and the stress is minimized, allowing more time for sharing time with my family instead of being alone in the kitchen!
Okay, I bet you are wondering what we missed! DECORATING!! This preparation is literally my favorite part of the holidays! I did not get a lot of ladies weighing in on this particular part of the festivities, but I have lots of great ways that I have made this work for me over the years, and I love to share.
Before I do however, please note that this is a serious thing for me, decorating. I do have a Christmas problem. Inside and outside my home. If you doubt it for one moment, know I rent a storage facility for all my Christmas decorations. I do understand that there are not many of you that do decorating on the scale that I do. (Most do not.) DO NOT feel discouraged, the level of decorating that you do, is what you do. If it in any way causes stress in your life just review some of the ideas below and see if any could help you with the stress.
The first thing that I started years ago (at least 20) was organizing all my decorations by theme (room). When the kids were small they each had a bin with a tree for their rooms, and the ornaments that were the room theme (hunting, sparkly things, football team) which also included santa hats, and special blankets for their beds etc. If you are like me, most always the decorations go to the same place and stay in the same general pattern over the years. When you have a bin for each theme(room), you can decorate a room at a time vs, pulling all the decorations and reorganizing the whole house at once.
When I enter a room, to start decorating, I take the bin(s) for that room with me, and the cleaning supplies. You read that right, cleaning supplies! My themes are vast after 30 years of Christmas decorating, and so all my “typical” decorations come down, are dusted, stacked neatly on a pile and then I wipe the walls, and baseboards, dust the furniture, and then re-decorate by pre-appointed Christmas theme. Then the standard decorations are placed in the empty bin(s), and are clean for their return to each room after the first of the year.
For example, my half baths have always had a reindeer theme. Hand towels, a wreath for the wall, and small wooden and plush reindeer add the festive touches to the room. By cleaning the room before decorating, I am also guaranteeing myself if I only manage the basic bathroom cleaning for the month of December that space will be guest/company ready at all times.
If you have not thought about your rooms in themes, here are some ideas. My main family space is nativities, big and small, and our family tree. Our family tree has all the ornaments from our kids and my husband and my childhoods. I anticipate that it will in years to come be filled with our grandchildren’s homemade treasures too.
As an aside, in regard to the decorations for that tree, each of the kid’s ornaments are marked with their initials and sorted into containers. When it is time to decorate the kids, each get to put up their own ornaments (which my kids insist on), while I did not figure out soon enough that I should have been keeping them sorted all this time, until about 6 years ago, it has been SO helpful. Now that they are starting to leaving home, when they have their own first trees, I can just hand them their ornaments with ease whenever they are ready to decorate in their own homes.
Other themed rooms are snow people including a snow man tree with ornaments, and shelves with knickknack snowmen and women. My kitchen is gingerbread men, and the tree in that room is decorated with a variety of old kitchen gadgets, cinnamon sticks and ribbons. I have a vintage Santa nook, and a beach theme for my lanai including throw pillows for the furniture, and a sea themed tree.
This year I got to add to my themes, because for the first time, I have a guest room! I purchased a small table top driftwood tree, some new bed sheets with flamingo’s in Santa hats, a driftwood wreath, and decorated a small tree with shells and driftwood… while purchasing the decorations, I also made a stop for a small bin to house these items in for the other 11 months of the year!
I think that it is also important to evaluate your decorations each year. Sometimes we have things that get broken. If I can fix it, I stop right then and go for the glue gun or the super glue. If I can’t fix it easily, I return it to the box for repair after this Christmas season or determine if I it is even worth the fix. Sometimes, somethings that are not sentimental, are only around for a season. For example, none of my kids have trees in their rooms any longer. It was a phase and that is over and all those supplies and items either got merged into their personal ornament collection or were donated to the Goodwill/Salvation army, so others could find a way to use them for their holiday memory making.
Some other ladies shared that it is helpful to spend time with their small children cleaning out and purging their play boxes and playrooms, and donate to a specific cause before the incoming gifts arrive. Not only does this make room for the new items but also helps our littles understand that not everyone is as blessed as we are, and many can benefit from items that we no longer play with or care for.
One more note, as I know this post is growing long. Please let’s remember that the Christmas holiday season is not always a happy and joyous occasion for everyone. I have found that by being intentional prior to the first of December in regard to my own traditions for decorating shopping and planning, this has relieved much of my inward focus and the stressors so that I can now focus more on others. I do not always do great at this, but it is my goal, to each year stay on task personally, and spiritually so that I am more sensitive to those around me that may be lonely or struggling because of depression or loss of a loved one. When I complete my tasks, big or small, before the first of December, I have found that I have more time to consider others before myself. Maybe blessing a family in need with gift cards, baked goods, or gifts so that their holiday is a little brighter. Giving to a toy drive. Taking that time for coffee and a chat with a friend that is hurting, without feeling guilty about tasks that still need to be checked off my "to do" list.
Intentionality is everything during the holidays! I hope that you have each been blessed by the ladies who took the time to contribute their thoughts and ideas about how they manage areas specific to Christmas planning and execution. As women we put a lot of pressure on ourselves. Most times when I look back at the not so perfect Christmas’s (and there have been a ton of them) I am the only one that remembers the pie was burnt, or the gift wrap was held together with string because I ran out of tape at midnight on Christmas eve.
This year if you feel overwhelmed, stop and seek the Lord’s direction. If it is not important, the task that is stealing your joy, then let it go. Be okay not always being the most creative mom, or the one who sends the lengthy update on kids and family to your mailing list. Be okay resting in the joy of the season. Ask yourself this, at the end of the day, will your home provide a haven for your family and an occasional guest? Will the joy of the season be what people who enter through your front door feel? Is there peace in your home, when the world outside is chaotic?
None of this happens overnight. Years of purposeful and intentional planning go into making things merry and bright year after year. At the end of it all, my goal is to honor the Lord and my family while being available to share the good news of the birth of our Savior with all I come in contact with, not only at Christmas but all year round.
Merry Christmas to each of you! May your days be intentional, your spirit be encouraged, and your hands and feet available to serve in tangible and remarkable ways this Christmas season!