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how to organize holiday life
for your family

The problem with the holidays is that they are too short.

Thanksgiving is still fresh in our minds, and we've only got four short weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas to make all our family's fantasies come true.

(Forget Santa - we all know who the head elf is here).

So, Ms. Elf - how are you going to pull it off? Easy.

You're going to make a plan. Or three -- to organize holiday life so your family can actually enjoy the season without being crazy busy.

Plan A: Make A Plan to Organize Holiday Life

Get out your calendar and a pen and paper. You're going to make your own Christmas list that will help you organize your family's schedule for maximum enjoyment by all. And it will be a doozy.

  • First, write down all the special occasions, dinners, parties, traditions, etc. that you can't live without. Include everything from the school holiday play to your annual cookie exchange to Christmas Eve services.
  • Now turn to the calendar and write down all the occasions that already have firm dates. Pencil in tentative dates for all unscheduled events, putting as much time between them as possible. These dates may change, but at least you'll be mentally holding a space for them.
  • Now make a list of all the chores and special projects you need to accomplish by the end of the year. (Christmas shopping, Christmas cards, gift-wrapping, Christmas portraits, decorating, any special handmade gifts you'll be doing with the kids.) Estimate how many hours each will take and write that down, too.
  • Prioritize these tasks and assign all a drop-dead, gotta-be-done-by date. Schedule as much as you can in November. Some things have to be done early, anyway. (If you send personalized Christmas cards, you have to get those family photos taken right away.) Other work-ahead tasks include cleaning for the holidays, shopping ahead and mailing gifts to the folks back home before UPS starts hopping.
  • Going back to the calendar, assign specific dates for each of the chores and projects you listed above. Space these out so that you will accomplish a little bit each week. The whole idea here is to avoid that last-minute crunch.

Now you've got a plan for the holidays. All other invitations or events will be juggled around your basic family schedule. This way you might just avoid wrapping Santa gifts at 2 a.m. on December 25.

Plan B:  Make It a Family Affair

Plan A pertains to the head elf (you). Plan B relates to the whole family. Hey, why should you have all the stress - er - fun? Go back to your list and see what you can delegate to whom.

  • Give each assistant elf an area (or two or three) of expertise. Maybe your 10-year-old daughter loves to wrap gifts. Your teen is an excellent baker. Enlist their services.
  • Make a chart and list each family member and the chores they need to accomplish each week to ward off the Grinch. After all, the more everyone pitches in, the more time you have for family fun.

Plan C:  Plan to Have Fun

If you've made a plan and you're still feeling overwhelmed, something is not working.

Reevaluate your plan. Maybe you're trying to do too much. What can you leave out? Remember those quiet evenings are also a vital part of the holiday season.

If you're always rushing around to parties and concerts and breakfasts with Santa, when are you going to enjoy your lovely holiday home? When will you have time just to be a family?

Make sure you schedule some down time on that calendar as well. Write it in red.

We keep raising the bar on ourselves. Whatever we did last year, we feel we need to do it bigger and better this year.

The dinner will be more spectacular. The gifts will all be custom-wrapped to fit the recipient. We really will go caroling this year...

Sound familiar? Tell yourself what you tell the kids when they write out their wish lists: You can't have it all. And even if you could, it wouldn't make you happy. The trick is to make what you do have very, very special.

You may have to forgo the holiday newsletter. Hey, send it in February! You may not have time to make the plum pudding. Your home may not glisten when neighbors drop by.

Take time to love your children and make your home warm and welcoming - if a bit messy.

You are not super mom. You are mom. And that's super enough.

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› How to Organize Holiday Life