Brace yourself. The holiday onslaught is coming. The secret to keeping all of the warm sentiments of the holidays alive and well, without capitulating to crass commercialism, is to simplify. Take a few moments to consider ways you can streamline your to-dos, to-buys and to-makes. Here are some ideas to get you started.
Reflect on priorities. You don't have to do something, just because you've always done it. Take a few moments now to outline what really matters to you this time of year. In other words, determine your true priorities for the season. Consider questions like: What traditions really put me (and my family) in the spirit of the holiday best? Looking back, what mattered most to me/us?
Go potluck. If you are hosting a big gathering, consider making the event a potluck. Not only will this make your life easier, but it enables others to more fully participate in a special day, too. If you don't want to leave the menu to chance, assign responsibility for specific dishes to guests.
Make a "day of" cooking plan in advance. You don't want to be stuck in the kitchen from dawn to dusk without any hope of being able to mingle with your guests. At least one week before the event, sit down and map out the cooking schedule hour-by-hour, and even minute-by-minute. Put it down on a piece of paper that you can keep on your kitchen counter. As you put it together, look for ways you can pre-prep items a day before and delegate tasks, like chopping vegetables, arranging hors d'oeuvres on platters, and filling water glasses.
Set the table a week ahead. Rather than stressing about the table setting while you're trying to get food cooked, get it squared away in advance. Ideally, you can arrange the tablecloth, plates and silverware a few days before your event. But the night before is fine, too, if you don't have a separate dining-room table.
Cheat your way to a decorated table. Ever looked at a home-goods catalog and wished your table could look as elegant without spending a dime? It can. The marvelous blog, TheNester.com has a brilliant post titled "Pottery Barn Hacks for Thanksgiving," which is like a cheat sheet for decorating with flair without spending a thing.
Don't enter a grocery store without a list. Shopping lists help you avoid buying more than you really need. They also eliminate the predicament of having to run back to pick up an essential ingredient you forgot. Another bonus: Lists make it easier to delegate the shopping.
Assign family members to ongoing cleanup duty. Nobody wants to spend hours in the kitchen after a big celebration slaving away over the dishes. Keep a rotating team of dishwashers in the kitchen who can wash pots, pans and other cooking utensils as you go along.
Use packing lists to help you travel light. If you are traveling, take five minutes to make a list of must-have items to pack before you start. People typically wear 10 percent to 20 percent of what they pack for a holiday trip. This year, just pack the essentials.
Send an e-card. If sending out physical cards is stressful and unpleasant for you, consider making the switch to e-holiday cards. Companies like Blue Mountain, Hallmark and American Greetings have huge selections of e-greeting cards you can customize and send to friends and family.
Streamline gift-giving. You give better gifts to the people you love without going over your budget when you take the time to organize a gift-giving plan before hitting the mall. Use free tools, like Holiday Gift Printables from GetButtonedUp.com, to map out your budget, brainstorm gifts and organize shopping trips.
Skip the mall; shop online. The great thing about doing your gift shopping online is that you can do it any time that works for you — and you can have items shipped directly to another person. It's also easier to comparison shop so you get the best price.
Set a deadline for completing your shopping. A project will take up whatever time you allot for it. Simply set a date as the deadline for getting through your shopping list this year. Set reminders in your calendar to keep yourself on track.
Limit decorations. If you have ever been to Colonial Williamsburg around the holidays, you know the decorating wonders that can be accomplished with four simple things: greens, red ribbon, baby's breath, and candles (faux or real).
Limit commitments and set aside time each week to decompress. A few holiday events are essential (i.e., your child's school play), but many are not.