Preparing for holidays now cuts stress later

Special to The Washington PostNovember 18, 2012 

The whirlwind holiday season gets under way this week, and the pressure to get started with preparations begins earlier each year. Retailers have had decorations up for weeks, leaving us all in a panic that Christmas and Hanukkah are "right around the corner." Fortunately, that's not the case. But still, there are some things you can do now to lessen the inevitable stress.

Address lists: You will start receiving holiday cards in about 21/2 weeks. Be ready to send your well wishes at the same time.

Because we don't send as much mail as we once did, many of us scramble to find an address when we need it. Take time to assemble your addresses in one document. Make sure they are current, and think about whom to add or remove from the list.

This will give you a reliable count of how many cards and stamps you'll need. It also will make printing labels or addressing envelopes a breeze.

Photographs: If you plan to use a family photo for your holiday cards, schedule a day for a family member or friend to take a few pictures. If you're considering using a professional photographer, contact him or her ASAP to set up a sitting. Once you have a date for the family photo, take some time to make sure everyone has something presentable to wear. In addition to using your family picture for cards, framed photos make great gifts.

Create a gift list and budget: Create a list of people for whom you need to buy gifts. This seems like a no-brainer, but writing down the names in one place will help as you start to shop. It also will help you create a budget.

Don't commit to spending an exact dollar amount, but do have a range in mind.

Be sure to include on that list the mail and newspaper carriers, the dog walker or the person who cuts your lawn.

Out with the old: If you have children, now is the time to determine which toys they've outgrown. Clear out those items to make space for incoming gifts.

Likewise, if you expect to upgrade any electronic gadgets, now is a good time to start thinking about where you can donate or recycle the old ones.

Know what you have: Before you rush out and make a bunch of impulse purchases, take an accounting of what you have.

Get out your decorations and make sure your lights work. Find the holiday wrapping paper and determine whether you need four more rolls or 10. Start to think about serving pieces. What were you in need of last year that you didn't have? Did you buy two dozen candles that you never used?

Stock up on the basics: No matter how well you plan, you're going to be busy in the days immediately before each holiday. You'll be shopping for food, preparing for guests and making several meals a day. Those tasks can't always be done in advance, but there are some things you can buy now to cut down on last-minute trips to overcrowded stores.

For example, buy wrapping paper now for the best selection and price. Buy packing materials if you know you will be shipping items. Stock up on pantry and baking basics, as well as beverages.

Host/hostess gifts: Invitations to holiday parties might have started arriving. As you're stocking up on basics, consider buying a few gifts for party hosts. Having a few small gifts on hand, like wine or gift cards, willmean you're ready for the impromptu party at the neighbor's house.

Save time to volunteer: As your calendar begins to fill up, be sure to set aside time to do something for others. The holidays come and go quickly, and often we wish we had done more to help someone in need. Setting a firm date for volunteering will enforce the true meaning of the holidays for you and your family, and bring some important perspective amid the chaos.

Take time for yourself: Be sure to schedule time for yourself. Get enough sleep and eat well. Taking care of yourself will give you the energy to entertain and enjoy your family and friends. Make time to see a friend, get a haircut or read a book. If you don't make this a priority, no one will.

There are countless tasks that need attention during the holiday season. Spending a few hours planning now will not only allow you to weather the holidays, it will mean that you can enjoy the whirlwind.

Nicole Anzia is a free-lance writer and owner of Neatnik. Reach her at Nicoleneatnik.org.

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