As the holidays draw near, many of us can already see our "to do" lists growing -- cards to write, gifts to buy, presents to wrap, trees to decorate, and houses to clean. You can almost hear the chorus of voices saying, "I should have been more organized this year!"
"The holiday season is actually one of my busiest times of year," says professional organizer Melinda Wagner of Scottsdale, Arizona. "To my clients, I emphasize organizing the backend of the holiday season to really make a difference for next year."
Wagner offers these five simple organizing tips to help lessen your stress and put the magic back into the holiday season.
1. Simplify shopping with a deadline and the Web.
First, set a shopping completion deadline of December 15 so you can truly enjoy the season without shopping malls and long lines. If you must shop in December, try smaller boutiques, gift stores, or unconventional destinations such as garden centers, hardware stores, or office supply outlets. These may offer easier parking and fewer lines. Or purchase gifts when it is convenient for you by shopping online or by catalog. Tip: Order early on the Internet to avoid hefty overnight shipping fees.
2. The 12 Nights of Greeting Cards.
Tackling 50 unwritten cards is overwhelming to complete in one night. But by creating a schedule, you can accomplish your letters on time with little fuss. If you begin this process the day after Thanksgiving, your holiday cards will be mailed by December 7!
Day 1: Locate the cards you bought on sale last year (or buy new cards). Assemble postage stamps, pens, address labels, seals, etc. Spend a few minutes attaching return address labels to the envelopes. Tip: Keep all your letter-writing materials in one convenient location -- a shelf, basket, or handy tote.
Day 2: Take time to go over your "send to" list. Whether you keep addresses in a computer file, a Rolodex, or a 3x5 card file, update the names and addresses of anyone who has moved or married in the last year. Tip: Cut off the return address of each card you receive this year and tape it to the back of the card. Use these to update your address list in January.
Day 3: If you'll be including a letter with your cards, take a night or two to draft a general letter to send to everyone. Get the entire family involved by delegating out specific sections of the letter regarding family vacations and activities, holidays, or family member. Print the final letter on colored paper or holiday stationery.
Day 4: Address and stamp all of the envelopes.
Days 5-11: Select 10 envelopes per day. Write a short note on the card, insert a copy of your letter, and seal. Check off the address as "sent" in your address book.
Day 12: Mail the completed cards each day or use a post office drop box and send all cards at once. After your cards are mailed, keep extra cards on your desk to send to anyone you may have forgotten. Tip: After the holidays, pack up all your writing essentials in a box or tote like this Seasonal Organizer, so you can easily find your greeting card supplies for next year.
3. Set up a gift-wrapping zone.
Who hasn't found themselves at midnight trying to wrap presents but unable to locate tape or scissors? Find a quiet corner of your home to set up as a semi-permanent gift-wrapping area. It might be in a guest room, basement, or hobby room -- wherever you'll have a bit of privacy as you wrap holiday gifts.
Allow family members to "sign up" for time to wrap the gifts they've made or purchased for others. Keep essentials in a clear tote or organizer like this ribbon box from Snapware -- a handy dispenser that holds up to eight spools of ribbon with an additional tray for tape, scissors, tags, and more. Tip: After the holidays, be sure to stock up on gift tags, ribbon, wrapping paper, bows, bags, Christmas cards, and seals to use the following year.
4. Use clear storage boxes.
Look for boxes that are specially made for ornaments and lights. Snapware's Ornament Boxes hold up to 16 large ornaments on each layer. Removable dividers help protect fragile decorations. For very fragile or antique ornaments, consider cushioning them in acid-free tissue paper.
5. Take pictures as you decorate.
After you have arranged the perfect mantel display of holly, candles, and bows, take a picture, says Wagner. "Getting a close-up photo of your great table setting serves as a detailed visual reminder for next year. It's a great time saver, especially if you keep the photo right along with the decorations or table linens." Tip: Sometimes "crowding" everyday items with holiday decorations adds stress and clutter to our holidays. Just for the season, box up knick-knacks, books, etc. to allow a clean slate for holiday decor.
Stress-free holidays is all about setting realistic goals and using products that deliver high functionality. By taking small steps, we can have an organized, joyous holiday season where all of our "to dos" get done with ease -- not stress.