Thursday, November 21, 2013

Getting Ready For The Holidays In Five Steps (Without Pulling Out Your Hair)

In 2011 USA Today asked people “Which best fits your holiday emotional state?” Not surprisingly, 27% of the respondents reported they feel stressed during the holiday. There are many sources of stress during the holidays. Undoubtedly some of the stress comes from the sheer volume of things to do during a relatively short period of time.  The house has to be gotten ready; the menus have to be written, shopped for and prepared; the social calendar managed; and the gifts gotten and wrapped – just to name a few of the extra concerns that come with the season.  Managing the holiday load will help you manage the stress, and you can do it in five steps.
Step One: Affirm what’s important and keep it in front of you. During the holidays there are so many things that can pull us in a million directions, that it’s easy to loose sight of what’s important. Spend a little time to write those things down. It will take less than an hour to reflect upon what you want the foundation of your holiday to be. Revisit your list often, if not daily.
Let a notebook keep track of the plan and the details.
I recommend keeping a holiday notebook to organize your thoughts, calendar, timeline and lists.  Techies might prefer creating a virtual notebook in Evernote or OneNote. If writing isn’t for you, then share your reflections with an important person in your life. Plan to get together with that person on a regular basis for planning and accountability.
Step Two: Define the minimum of what needs to be done. What are the “bare bones” things that you need to do so you feel that you’re honoring what is important to you? What if you focused on just doing the minimum?  By focusing on the minimum you are prioritizing what is important. As a result you will have more time, money and energy left for you. Imagine spending the holidays not financially or energetically bankrupt. Doing the minimum gives you the space to enjoy the holidays.
Bring in help.
This is a fine time to consider hiring out different jobs. Several years ago Thanksgiving came during a particularly busy and stressful time of my life. Out-of-town family was visiting us too. I knew that it would be difficult to really enjoy the holiday and the visit with our family if I had to deal with the pressures of cooking the dinner, despite the fact that I usually enjoy cooking. I ordered Thanksgiving dinner from a local natural grocer. All I had to do was heat it, plate it and enjoy it. Everyone enjoyed the dinner – especially me.  The peace of mind gained from delegating the job of cooking dinner was priceless. If catering isn’t appealing, a concierge service can take care of all sorts of tasks. Cleaning services can do either a light or a deep cleaning. The benefit of hiring help is it gives you your time back so reduce your stress level and enjoy the holidays.
Step Three: Use lists and timelines to help organize your celebration. Brainstorm what needs to happen and record your thoughts with a mind map or lists. If you haven’t tried mind mapping before, you will be surprised how effective it is for brainstorming and creating outlines. Look at for more information. Edit what you have written so the focus is on the important minimum. Create timelines by comparing your lists to the calendar. Work backwards from when something needs to be done so you know when you need to start. 
Divide what needs to be done into several projects.
You may end up with several lists that cover specific projects. These projects might look something like this:
·      Gifts
·      Travel
·      Greeting Cards
·      Home Preparations
·      Entertaining
·      Menus
·      Baking
·      Things To Do and See
Each one of these projects will have it’s own task list. As you review each task think about when it needs to be done and note it on a calendar. When you’re finished planning, your timeline will be built into your calendar.
Step Four: When it comes to preparing your house – focus on public spaces. This step is a corollary to step two. Your friends and family will not open drawers, look in closets or go in the attic. Yes, you’ve been meaning to take care of these things all year, but there’s enough to do without starting these projects now. If someone does start snooping about use a polite, but irked tone and ask “Can I help you find anything?” The culprit should realize the rudeness of his ways and stop snooping.
The public spaces are the places you entertain your guests:
·      The foyer
·      The living room
·      The family room
·      The guest bathroom
·      The dining room
·      The kitchen
If out-of-town guests are staying with you add the guest bedroom and bathroom to the list. As far as the other rooms in the house goes – just shut the door.
Ready the rooms.
Room preparation has three stages:
·      Decluttering
·      Cleaning
·      Decorating
Decluttering and cleaning are best done using a clockwise approach. Divide the room into quadrants, and starting in quadrant to the left of the room entrance work clockwise around the room. Play some holiday music and have something to drink. A timer can help you stay on task and on time. Take a fifteen-minute break every ninety minutes to sit down and do something completely different.  The break is not optional. It is needed to sustain your energy and your focus.
Bring the tools that you need to where you are working. For decluttering you’ll need a trashcan and two boxes – one box labeled “Put Away” and the other box labeled “Donate.” When you find something that belongs in another room, put it in the “Put Away” box and wait until the box is full or you’re finished decluttering the room to put things away. By waiting, you’ll stay focused and won’t get sidetracked putting things away. After decluttering, follow a similar strategy to clean. Bring a caddy of cleaning supplies into each room so fetching each supply item does not sidetrack you.
After all of the public spaces are decluttered and cleaned, it’s time to start decorating. The trick to decorating is to start with a main focus item for each room that you are decorating. Then if time and energy allow, add more items. To avoid crowding the room, replace everyday decorations with holiday decorations rather than adding the decorations. Everyday decorations can be stored during the course of the holiday season in the boxes that normally store the holiday decorations. Remember that everything that is used to decorate will need to be put away once the holidays are finished. If you hate the idea of holiday cleanup, be sparing in your decorating. When finished decorating, review the holiday decorations that are left in the boxes. Maybe it’s a good time to donate the unused decorations.
Step Five: Take care of you. If you’re too tired to enjoy the holidays it misses the point, doesn’t it? Unfortunately the holiday season arrives with the flu season. No one wants to be sick over the holidays and taking care of yourself will help you stay healthy. Make sure you get a minimum of six to eight hours of sleep a night and keep hydrated. Spend a few minutes daily to yourself. Use the time to meditate, pursue a hobby or take a nap (I love naps!). Fifteen minutes just for you will go miles toward feeling balanced and rested. It’s a small investment that brings great rewards.
The holidays can be stressful but you can defuse the stress. Set your sights on what’s important and use lists and timelines to make sure it happens. Focus on just getting the minimum done and bring in help when possible to increase your free time. Practice self-care so you’re healthy and relaxed enough to enjoy the holidays. I hope that your holiday season is healthy, peaceful and joyous.
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