Tuesday, November 29, 2011

De-Stressing the Holiday Season

You will hear me say this over and over, but one of my biggest challenges in life is lack of time. I’m going to take a wild guess that I’m not the only one struggling with this issue. Whether you work outside the home or not, the vast majority of us are challenged by the number of items that must get squeezed into a 24 hour period. The holidays just add an extra layer of stress on all of us. After all, we must create wonderful childhood memories for our family consisting of: yummy tasting cookies, beautifully decorated trees, exquisitely wrapped presents and a feast fit for a king all while wearing this year’s latest fashions, perfect make-up and not a hair out of place. Yeah – right!

Previous years have brought a lot of stress and screaming to the WWIN household trying to get the “perfect Christmas” while failing miserably. Over the years I’ve come to realize that I either need to a) adjust my idea of the perfect Christmas or b) get help.

Since I don’t have it in me to adjust my idea of the perfect Christmas I’ve had to settle for getting help. Every year the help I seek changes a little bit but the point is, YOU CAN’T DO IT ALL YOURSELF. Yes, I did yell that because all of us (including me) need to hear it again.

My first piece of advice to you is to decide what is truly important to you and throw out the rest of the noise. Christmas cards? Gone! Outside lights? Gone! Gingerbread houses? Staying! You get the idea.

Here are some ideas to help you “outsource” your holiday stress and hopefully find some balance within the season.

Christmas Baking – Come on, do you really need to make 12 different types of cookies? If you enjoy it and it doesn’t stress you out then go for it! However, if you are making those cookies because you think you “have to” and it’s stressing you out then stop. This year I am planning on making three different cookies. I will be baking my molasses cookies (known affectionately at our house as the “pain in the butt cookies”), carrot cookies and pecan fingers. These are all special recipes my husband and kids enjoy so I’m not going to skimp there. If I need chocolate chip cookies in a pinch I’ll turn to Tollhouse.
  • Outsource ideas
    • Check with your local bakery for unfrosted cut-out cookies. A number of years ago I moved to pre-made cut out cookie dough followed by a move a couple of years later to pre-cut cut out cookie dough. Last year I switched to the pre-baked cut out cookies and it was wonderful! As a family we enjoy decorating the cookies, the baking of them were a necessary means to the end. By purchasing pre-baked cookies we still get to decorate the cookies without the hassle of baking them.
    • Host a cookie exchange. It’s a lot easier to make twelve dozen of one cookie than one dozen of twelve. I’m sure that you have friends and family who feel the same way. Gather some of your friends, family or co-workers together to exchange cookies. Each person signs up for a particular cookie, bakes the agreed upon quantity and then exchanges with the group. This allows you to have the different options you desire without the stress of the baking

 Wrapping Presents – Who doesn’t love a beautifully wrapped present? My family can always tell how stressful the weeks/months leading up to Christmas were by my wrapping. During a good year each extended family unit gets their own wrapping theme. I buy coordinating wrap and bows so that each present is beautifully wrapped. Other years they were haphazardly wrapped in whatever paper I had or were put in bags.

  • Outsource ideas
    • Look for a charity who is offering gift wrapping. Most malls offer gift wrapping for charities like Habitat for Humanity. Take all your gifts there to get them wrapped. One year I took all my presents to our local mall where the Senior Citizen Center was holding a fund raiser. For a donation to the center I got all my presents wrapped. The donation really wasn’t much more than I would have spent on wrapping paper and bows (I like pretty paper and bows). Of course the family could tell that was a stressful year for me since there were no bows and fairly plain paper but my presents were wrapped and I felt good about my donation.
    • Hire a teenage to wrap your gifts. I’m sure most of us know a teenager who would love to make a few extra bucks. Hire them to wrap your presents for you.

 Entertaining – I love love love to entertain. There is nothing better in my opinion than throwing a party. Unless it’s not having to make any food for the party! There are a couple of things you can do to tone down the food prep for a party. The first thing is to schedule the party at a time when everyone should have eaten. I’m having my department party at 6:30 on a Friday. By then everyone will have grabbed a bite to eat so all I’ll need to provide is some appetizers. The second thing is to not over buy. I spent $300 on food at last year’s party, only half of which was eaten. That was a lot of wasted money and time on my part. At the end of each party make note of what is left over and document how much you should make next year. 
  • Outsource ideas 
    • Cater your party. I’m sure whenever you hear the word “cater” you think of fancy, expensive food. In some cases that may be true but catering an event can be as simple as going to the grocery store and buy pre-made trays. A cheese and sausage tray may not sound that hard to put together but when you pile the veggie tray, stuffed mushroom caps, hot crab dip, etc on top of it you have a lot of work! Buying everything pre-made is a little more expensive but isn’t enjoying your party stress free worth it?

 Christmas Shopping – Ugh! Nothing stresses me out more than Christmas presents. There are a multitude of reasons why I would like to stop exchanging with extended family but since that isn’t going to happen I needed to come up with a way to simplify my gift giving. One of my favorite ideas is to get a number of people the same gift. This may seem cheesy, but if it’s thoughtful and appreciated who cares? Last year I decided to buy play tickets for my MIL, SIL, two nieces and my daughter. I was able to get five presents bought in one stop and we had a fabulous time! We enjoyed a nice dinner before the show, everyone thoroughly enjoyed it. Guess what I’m doing this year? You got it, another play. This year we are seeing Mary Poppins. White House ornaments and magazine subscriptions are another one of my favorite go tos. 
  • Outsource idea
    • Stop shopping the stores and buy everything online. There are so many online discounts and free shipping that it probably won’t cost you more than going to the store. Even if you aren’t getting as awesome deals as you would at the store think of the gas money and time you are saving.

Miscellaneous Traditions – One of our favorite holiday traditions is to decorate gingerbread houses with my nieces and nephew. The first couple of years my sister-in-law was gung ho about baking the houses herself. After a couple of stressful years we graduated to pre-cooked but needed to be assembled gingerbread houses which were still a little bit stressful. We have since gone to the fully assembled gingerbread houses that just need decorations – much less stressful! 
  • Outsource idea
    • The memories your children are going to carry with them into adulthood aren’t the fact that your gingerbread house could compete with Martha Stewart or that your projects were 100% from scratch. Whatever your project is, think about how to get it done with the least amount of work and stress. Whether it’s buying pre-assembled gingerbread houses, pre-baked cut outs or craft kits the kids will really only remember the happy times you spent doing something with them. The memories will be happiest if they don’t involve yelling and screaming. 
I realize that these suggestions aren’t for everyone. What I’m trying to do is get you to think outside of the box. Think about what’s important to you and find a way to get it done, even if that means hiring someone else to do it. If it’s not important to you then let it go. The holidays should be a time to spend with your family, not get wrapped up in all the commercial trappings.

I’ll be linking this up over a We are THAT Family.



  1. Great ideas!! Another Wrapping Presents idea would be to ask a local Girl Scout Troop or other non-profit youth group.

    Relax, have a cuppa & enjoy your family!!

    Merry Christmas!

  2. Love, love these ideas! Honestly, I never considered finding someone else to wrap the presents. How cool is that. My niece does it for my mil, though her schedule probably wouldn't work with mine.

    Another tip for the gingerbread houses - use graham crackers. They make smaller houses and work just as well.