Think back to the days just after Christmas last year. Were you on your hands and knees picking tinsel out of the rug? Would you have broken the legs of the very next gingerbread man that came your way? Sometimes, creating all that holiday spirit makes you feel more grinch than great. But you don’t have to do it all. Honest. As a matter of fact, you can do exactly what you want (without too much stress), if you get organized now and keep it that way. This is an exhaustive list but there could be something here to ease your holiday stress.

Quick Cleanups

1. Walk through the main living areas of your house with a plastic laundry basket and toss in everything that belongs elsewhere. Have each family member dig through the basket and deal with his own stuff.

2. Treat yourself. Hire a professional cleaner to come in for half a day to do a few designated jobs or rooms.

3. Swap chores with a friend. If you hate to clean and she hates to bake, you can do each other’s work.

Plan, Plan, Plan!

1. Make a list of everything you want (and need) to accomplish during the weeks to come-shopping,decorating, sending cards, baking. Set deadlines to fit your schedule. If you know you’ll be pressed for time, make choices now. For example, would you rather bake cookies or send out holiday cards?

2. Write down important dates-“To Do” deadlines, parties, concerts, travel plans-on one calendar. Line up babysitters as soon as possible.

3. If you are traveling, buy tickets and book any necessary reservations ASAP.

4. Confirm arrangements for house guests, and start planning menus if you’re entertaining. Set dates and e x t e n d your invitations early to beat the rush and avoid conflicts.

5. Contact the post office for holiday mailing deadlines and details.

Take Stock

1. Paw through those piles of wrapping paper, decorations, lights and cards to see what you have on hand. Test the lights. Make a list of things that you need to buy or replace.

2. Scour your favorite hiding places for gifts you may have bought, hidden and promptly forgotten about during the year.

3. Take an inventory of nonperishable food and shop for basics you’ll want to have on hand.

4. Check your holiday wardrobe. Inspect items for damage and dirt, and try things on for fit. If you need to buy something, start watching for sales to avoid last-minute, desperation spending.

5. Do the same for your children. Then place entire outfits on hangers, putting smaller items such as socks, hair accessories, scarves and jewelry in a plastic bag looped over the top of the hanger.

Shopping Shortcuts

1. Make a list of people and the gifts you end up buying or making for them. File it after the holidays to avoid repeating gifts next year.

2. Start an envelope for each recipient. As you buy, write the gift and its cost on the front, and keep receipts inside for easy returns or exchanges.

3. Call ahead to make sure the store has the item you want; if possible, have it put on hold.

4. Shop LOCAL to save time. Long drives to the valley only burns extra fuel and YOUR time. Look into having your purchases delivered to keep them a secret.Keep a record of every order. Save even more time by having gifts wrapped and sent directly to the recipient.

5. Try to avoid the evening and weekend shopping rush by juggling work hours or even taking a day off, if possible.

6. Watch for sales, but also shop at stores that honor competitors’ sale prices or coupons. Don’t forget to bring the ad for proof.

7. Make a list of the extra people you buy for: children’s teachers, coworkers and bosses, letter carriers, neighbors. Carry it around in your wallet for the few weeks before Christmas to avoid last-minute scrambling.

Keep Gift-Giving Sane

1. If you’re from a large family, draw names and set dollar limits.

2. Post “wish lists” on the fridge for kids to add to as they think of things they want. Or have them circle or clip ads from catalogs and place them in an envelope marked with their name.

3. Give gift certificates.

4. Tell your children not to buy you a gift. Instead, have them do a good deed and later describe their efforts to you while opening gifts or during a special meal.

5. Let teens go to a mall and draw up a detailed list of things they’d like (including store location, price, etc.). You can go afterward to review their choices and decide which items to buy.

6. Call a local social service agency to see if your family can “adopt” a needy family this holiday season. Use some of your holiday funds to buy gifts and food to be delivered to the family on Christmas. It’s a Wrap!

7. Set up a central (or portable) wrapping center with paper, ribbon, scissors, tape, gift tags and tissue paper.

8. Write the recipient’s name or initials on the bottom of gifts to avoid confusion if the gift tag falls off.

9. Use large plastic gift bags to wrap oversize gifts.

10. Put large items such as bikes or basketball hoops on layaway and pick them up right before the holiday to avoid storage hassles.

Deck Your Halls

1. Use candles, potpourri or fresh pine boughs to enhance the holiday spirit. The smell of Christmas changes the feel of the entire house.

2. Let children cut out snowflakes, paper chains or seasonal creations to decorate their rooms and household windows.

3. If you live in a snowy climate, put up outdoor lights in early November but don’t turn them on until December.

4. Gather photographs from past holidays, buy some inexpensive frames and display them in a prominent spot. Add a few more pictures to the collection each year.

Tree Trimming

1. Let the spirit move you: Play holiday music and light some candles while you trim the tree. Then darken the room, light the tree and eat a winter picnic on a comfy blanket.

2. By all means, let the kids help out. You can put the lights on the tree, then sit back as the kids do the rest.

3. You don’t have to haul out every decoration you own each year. Start storing some to pass on to children or donate to charity.

Card Tricks

1. Divide the number of cards you have to send by the number of days or weeks you have left to get them out on time. Make that number your daily or weekly quota.

2. If you have a computer, maintain a master address list and print it on self-adhesive labels.

3. As you open holiday mail, tear off return address labels or save the whole envelope so you can update your address list.

4. If you like to send a family photo with your cards, don’t feel obliged to make it a special holiday photo. Review pictures you already have, without limiting yourself to holiday themes. A candid vacation shot can work just as well.

Holiday Get-Togethers

1. If you’re hosting the gathering, make it potluck and keep it simple. Arrange things so that you’re only responsible for supplying the place and any necessary plates, glasses or utensils.

2. If you still have an itch to bake cookies but cutting out dough seems too labor-intensive, use slice-andbake sugar cookie dough and sprinkle with colored sugar.

3. Don’t slave over a hot stove. Order a deli tray or a spiral-cut ham; use paper plates and plastic utensils for quick cleanup.

4. If you cook, freeze dishes ahead of time in oven-to-table cookware that you can just pop in the microwave and serve.

Packing Up

1. After Christmas, store decorations in cardboard or clear plastic storage boxes. Organize by room and use a 3″ x 5″ card to label the outside of each container.

2. Coil strings of lights around empty paper towel or wrapping paper tubes. Store in plastic newspaper delivery bags.

3. Hang artificial wreaths on nails in your attic or basement to keep them from getting misshapen or crushed.

4. Store ornaments in plastic ziptop bags, with a little air for a buffer.

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