Winter Holidays typically include traditional elements that most of us look forward to as a welcome distraction from the dark, cold and wet days. These include special meals and desserts, gifts, cards, and parties. And loads of lights–candles, sparkles and bright, shiny objects. The tradition aspect makes the organizing of it all a lot easier because the same or similar activities are done every year. But if you take on the holidays in a big way, it’s adds a lot of work to our already full schedules.
Keeping a list of what you do each year and in what order is really helpful. Let your brain off the hook and make notes around when and where you purchase, address and send cards. If you take a family photograph each year, note the timelines about coordinating outfits, deciding on a photographer and having the printing done.
What day do you put up the tree or hang the wreath if that’s an element of your usual decorating? The earlier you pull out the decorations, the more time you will have to fix or replace anything tired or broken. Better yet, fix or replace those things as you are packing away decorations at the end of the season. Not only will you be able to take advantage of post-season sales, you will have the thrill of opening storage bins full of decorations that are ready for action.
When I was a kid, we burned the used boxes and wrapping paper in the fireplace, but now the less exciting, but more responsible depository is the recycle bin. Have a big box ready to gather all the recyclable detritus. Inflation means we all might start saving ribbon carnivorously like Great Aunt Tootie; on the other hand, former ribbon hoarders might shock you and declare, “I’m done with all that!” and let it be tossed. Most of the clients I have that save ribbon use a mere fraction of it and the hoard grows year after year, so if you’re compelled to save ribbon, save only the longest and least bedraggled of the bunch.
It seems to me that gifts of yore lasted longer. For example, every year my sisters and I got matching flannel nightgowns, handmade by either my mother or grandmother. These nightgowns lasted at least a year; longer if we didn’t outgrow them. I can’t get a pair of pajamas to last six months—fast fashion and cheap plastic toys are some of the most annoying organizational, budgetary and environmental problems. I look back on the Playskool wooden toys and the durable “Sasha” dolls of Christmas past and am nostalgic for that kind of practical quality.
It’s very tough to find reasonably priced gifts that last and that the recipient will appreciate. Books are tried and true. Edible treats are another excellent choice. Second hand, well-made jewelry and knitwear can be fantastic gifts. Anything you make with your own hands are often the most beloved gift the person receives.
Experiences, such as massage, a restaurant gift certificate, a facial, are great gifts, but sometimes we want to have something to wrap and put under the tree. For a facial gift certificate, wrap it with a beautiful Egyptian cotton wash cloth or a high-end jar of face cream. For a restaurant gift certificate, wrap it with a romantic candle and a box of wooden matches—extra credit for painting and decorating the match box. In fact, painting and decorating cardboard match boxes is one of my favorite gift crafts.
One of the secrets to a less cluttered life, especially at the holidays, is to buy fewer gifts but up the thoughtfulness and quality factors. We’ve all experienced the frenetic feeling of last-minute shopping, which is when we usually buy a lot of cheap items to overwhelm the giftees with quantity because we did not put the time in to find something meaningful. It’s an unsatisfying situation all around.
Beyond the normal family traditions and obligations, don’t feel guilted into gifting. Most of us need very little and the less we receive, the more it is cherished and appreciated. Try this: close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and think of the person on your list. What do they love to do, wear, eat, listen to, read, watch, drink? What is their favorite aroma? Is there a chore they need help with? Have they been complaining about dry cuticles? Is there a new beauty product you swear by that they might also love to try? Just a few moments spent thinking about each person might bring to mind the gift that they will remember for all the right reasons.