Does it seem impossible to streamline your holiday?
So often I hear people complaining about how hectic the holidays are. They stay up late to get it all done. Shop through lunch to buy things to make it easier to cope. Ignore clients and family and friends to do just one more thing to make the season special for everyone.
Meanwhile, they get cranky and catch a cold and complain that no one appreciates the effort they make. I feel bad for them, I really do. Watching overwhelm happen can be heartbreaking.
If adding things, events and tasks to your to do list seems to be the only way to pull off an enchanting holiday, I’d like to share an easier way with you.
Instead of thinking of all the extra things you need to take care of, think of how you can make the things you were going to do anyway special.
Infuse them with a little ritual and they become sacred. Share them with others and you are connected.
Did you catch that? It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it that makes the difference. It will become obvious which things are just extra and have no real meaning and therefore, can go.
It has taken me years, but I have finally hit upon the holiday rituals that bring me the most joy, and my family has followed my lead. A little less stress every year until now, we have fun. Yes, actual fun, for the holidays. We have also gotten to know each other better, although I’m still not sure why my brother likes to disguise his voice most of the time. Maybe I’ll ask him while we are in Sedona this year.
Some examples of chores turned into rituals to be shared:
- Do your shopping after dinner on the first Wednesday it snows, after November 1st or the evening before Christmas Eve, which ever comes first.
- Bake cookies on the Winter Solstice with your friends and family and a snifter of brandy. (See below for more tips to make baking easier).
- Decorate and undecorate at sundown the day before your regular cleaning day so you don’t have to clean twice in the same week. While you are at it, simply amp up your usual decor instead of overdoing it. Switch the color of candles and linens, toss a wreath on the door and decorate the mantle. If you decorate in the same order every year it becomes routine.
- Play games with the family. Make it a contest to see who does the dishes after the holiday meal.
- Wrap gifts to music and by candlelight.
Bonus tip – if you don’t buy gifts, there are no extra receipts to keep track of and no need for gift wrap.
Don’t forget to plan for the extra clutter.
Around the holidays, the clutter piles up. All kinds of clutter, the stuff, the time sucks, the expectations, the projects, the food, the people, the ideas, it’s enough to cause feelings of frazzle. Where will you put it after the celebrating?
The trick was to take each aspect of the holiday clutter and decide my own standards and expectations. I kept the best parts (time together, time off work, cookies, candle light) and let go of the rest (shopping, cards, over decorating, obligation parties).
Has your home office become a dumping ground for all items that need to be cleared from the dining table, kitchen counter and entry hall floor? Especially during the holiday season it is easy to fall into the “I’ll just set it here for later” and “hide the gift” syndrome. After the celebrating you are left with piles of bags, receipts, lists, addresses to enter and good intentions to catch up.
Believe me – not one of my clients has ever caught up on updating their card list without my help. In fact, at a certain point, there is no confidence in the list and so cards are not sent at all.
Instead of treating the stuff that accumulates at the holidays as “different,” simply incorporate it into your existing systems and routines. In this case, put holiday address collection in the same file, I mean pile, as incoming business cards and enter into your address book (paper or digital) at regularly scheduled intervals. For a couple of weeks there will be a higher volume flowing through but you will stay on top of the receipts and information.
(If you don’t have systems call me immediately, I can save you up to 6 weeks of frustration a year by creating super simple routines that work for your life.)
Things get faster and better.
I’m getting ready to bake the biscochitos. For those of you that are not from New Mexico, they are traditional Christmas cookies. They are almost indescribable. A little like shortbread but better, with anise and cinnamon. These are the kind of cookie that many people attempt but few have mastered. Local families keep their recipes close, often under lock and key.
In my family, I have one of the recipes. Grandma had a secret y’all. The version on the index card with the smears on it – the one Louise inherited – is not the one she actually used. That one is the safe version. I have the dangerous and extra yummy version.
I no longer make any other cookies. I picked one kind and learned from a master and then added my own spin. People email me months in advance to get on the list. A few friends have claimed not to like them but, they aren’t from around here so, I don’t believe them. Needless to say, I have created a whole ritual about how I bake them.
It is a system that ensures the cookies are amazing, they are on time, and don’t create extra stress during the busy week before Christmas.
Here are 5 things you can do to make your holiday baking adventure easier too:
- Pick only one – three recipes to focus on. I make the biscochitos, my friend Don makes the toffee. We are known for them and create consistent concoctions because we specialize. It’s easier to set up an assembly line when it doesn’t have to be retooled between batches.
- I have been using the same utensils, bowls, rolling pin, canisters, and cookie sheets for many years. Familiarity with your tools creates muscle memory. You can adjust when something doesn’t feel quite right, and can create faster because you know that particular spatula doesn’t get sucked into the mixer easily.
- Rotate your ingredients. Don’t get caught with old baking powder. It won’t kill you but crackers are not as festive as cookies. Never again people, I promise!
- Use the mise en scene method. Pre-measure the ingredients into individual ramekins. Once the process starts it is easy to keep track of your place and get the right amounts in the bowl. Fewer mistakes equals less frustration. It is so much easier to remeasure 6 cups of flour when it isn’t already added to the creamed mixture.
- Use a large container to hold the results. Then make up the individual “gifts” as needed. That way you don’t get caught needing more or less for a particular event and having to rearrange. This will create fewer things to wash and toss overall.
I also have found it helps to put on some music, and have an adult beverages on hand. That way when someone wants to help, I sit them down where they can’t see the recipe and have them just chat while I cut 3 sizes of stars.
Let’s Review so things are easier next time.
Be sure to evaluate all of your decorations and ornaments as you put them away. Go ahead and toss any broken or no longer relevant items and note on a shopping list anything that needs replacing for next year. You can either get it just after the holiday or early next season when you are shopping for something else anyway.
The best thing I do, is spend a bit of time before the New Year rotating out last year. This is a tip – evaluate what worked well and decide to keep it, what didn’t work well and decide to let it go. Then I plan for a better year to come and create the physical space to let it happen. I know that a few hours work at a leisurely pace will save me hours of stress next year.
Save more time.
This secret is my number one time saving trick for the entire holiday season and is so easy that I know you can do it. Are you ready? Here it is:
Do not shop on Black Friday.
That’s it. Avoid shopping on the busiest day of the year and you will save time. The time you waste, finding a parking space, waiting in line, waiting for the sales people to look and see if they have more, waiting in line, hunting for the thing you came to the store for, waiting in line. Time is money and you can save a lot by not venturing to the box or the mall.
Instead, use your Friday to relax, eat some more, connect with your family, friends and self. Envision what you want your holiday season to be like and begin to make it so.
Now get off the computer and go find some turkey. Let me know what you did instead.
What ideas can you come up with that will let you leave the excess out of it and feel special?