The holiday season is upon us! This is arguably the most joyous and stressful time of year! So how can you infuse a little more joy and a lot less stress? Well, it’ll take some planning, preparation and prioritization. Being prepared and having a plan is the cornerstone of any successful venture. The same is true for the holidays. Don’t wait until the last minute to create a 4-course meal, clean and decorate your house, or shop for gifts. And you must learn to prioritize, let go of the things that don’t really matter! These are the keys to having a relaxing, enjoyable holiday season and will help you make joy your priority this holiday season!
So, here’s the thing about holiday meals, the more you plan and prep in advance the better! And not only that but you should be open to alternatives. There’s no reason to feel boxed into cooking a huge multi-course meal and there are plenty of other options
During the holidays it can be difficult to keep up with all the tasks on the to-do list. It’s also SO hectic that packing up the family to eat out is a real pain. Since I host and cook Thanksgiving dinner, I started ordering meal kits the week before! I LOVE it! I always watch the mail for the trial coupons and sign up for a short-term plan. They deliver all the premeasured ingredients for a few meals right to my door. This makes my nightly cooking much easier and gives me extra time to prep for the big day. Since I use special offers, I usually end up paying less than I would for groceries for those meals! So, it’s a win-win!
If you do choose to make a full holiday meal be sure to plan in advance! Choose your recipes and make your shopping list ahead of time. Consider using familiar family favorites for your holiday meals! There’s no reason you have to create complicated multi-course meals! You can come up with your own family tradition by letting everyone choose (or even make a dish) they love.
If you do prefer a more formal meal be sure to create a cooking timeline and prep any ingredients you might need well in advance. You’ll want to be able to spend time with your guests rather than being busy in the kitchen. I like to create a weeklong timeline for all of my Thanksgiving prep.
There are a number of things that can be done in advance. Veggies that will be cooked into stuffing or as a side dish can be chopped and frozen up to 3 months ahead of time. You can even cook some and freeze or refrigerate them and rewarm when needed. I also like to roast nuts and bread cubes and mix spices way ahead of time. And of course, any casseroles can usually be made in advance.
The key to meal prep is right in the recipe instructions. Look for steps that can be done ahead of time. Chopping, browning meat, and mixing seasoning are perfect steps to do in advance. Typically speaking as long as you keep wet ingredients separate from dry you can pre prep anything.
Don’t do what you don’t have to! This isn’t the time to chop 5 onions if you can buy them pre-chopped! And in my opinion the work that goes into homemade pie crust isn’t worth the difference in taste from store bought. Spend your time on the dishes you love or the ones where you can really taste the homemade difference!
With regard to food there are many options for letting go. Firstly, don’t make every holiday meal! The holidays are meant to be shared with friends and family so it’s a great idea to trade hosting duties. Divide the holidays so everyone takes turns. Often people enjoy hosting, so be fair and share!
It can also be a lot of fun to have a casual potluck meal for the holidays. Allow people to sign up for what they want to bring. You can either have a free for all or you can create categories or even dishes for people to sign up for. And of course, you can ask your guests to bring something specific. If you know your sister makes amazing pies ask her to bring one, don’t be shy!
If cooking isn’t your thing at all but you want a feast anyway don’t feel obligated to cook AT ALL! That’s right! You don’t have to cook your own holiday meal! Almost every large grocery chain and market sells a premade holiday meal. You get to pick your favorite sides and desserts and just warm it up. It’s super simple! You could even move everything to your own serving dishes (your secret’s safe with me!)
Housekeeping & Decorating
I created a fall and winter prep post for my housekeeping prior to the holidays. It’s helpful to have some deep cleaning and organizing done before you get busy with the hub bub! Give your house a thorough cleaning and then just do some touch ups here and there. I always make sure to wipe everything down in the kitchen and clean the bathrooms but through the holidays I often feather dust and spot mop or vacuum.
This is also a great time to enlist the whole family in a fun chore game. I sometimes write a few chores I need done on small slips of paper, fold them up and toss them in a jar. Then everyone picks one and does it. And, don’t feel bad about hiding your mess! You’ll have plenty of time this winter to get your closets cleaned out or papers organized. This isn’t the time to organize. Sweep it under the rug for the time being!
Planning & Preparation
If you have decorations you usually set up, be sure to have a plan as to when you’re going to do it and get everything ready! Move any furniture that needs to be moved ahead of time. Get out your decorating supplies. And gather things that will be packed away into one room. I typically decorate room by room, but you may have a different routine.
Here’s the important thing… don’t buy any more decorations until the ones you have are up! I often think I need something or find something really cute only to realize I have tons of stuff already!
Make Your Own Decor
If you don’t have a bunch of holiday décor but you wish you did make your own! Homemade holiday decorations are the best! And, making them is a great way to spend time together as a family or with friends! There are tons of online DIYs for all ages and skill levels. Many are VERY inexpensive or even use things you already have in your house or yard!
Your Thanksgiving table doesn’t have to be perfectly set. You could have a buffet. You can even eat on paper plates! And, your house doesn’t HAVE to look like a Christmas card or movie! Try to let go of your preconceived ideas about what everything should be and focus instead on what’s most important. TIME! Enjoy the time you have with family and friends! If you make your decorations don’t worry about whether they turned out picture perfect. Have fun with your décor!
During the holidays remember to let go of what doesn’t bring you joy! If you love a perfectly set table do it… if not don’t! Refuse adding stress to your plate and stop trying to keep up with everyone else. If you’re feeling pressure to measure up, try staying off of social media or at least cultivate it.
Routine Buying and Budgeting
You NEED to have a budget for the holidays, and you NEED to stick to it! Don’t rack up credit card debt and don’t skip paying your bills! Create a live-able holiday budget! Don’t forget to consider travel costs and if you’re hosting a meal, food cost. If money tight it’s a good idea to host a potluck or ask to switch hosting responsibilities!
The best way to budget for big holidays like Christmas is to do it throughout the year (make this a goal for next year).
Consider planning a secret Santa rather than buying for everyone in your family! This works particularly well for adults. All of my siblings and I have kids now, so we just buy for each other’s kids and skip buying for each other. It’s WAY easier. Simplify gift buying for your extended family as much as possible. I know this conversation can be uncomfortable but it’s worth having!
Making a list or having a general idea of what you’re shopping for can be very helpful. It will help you stick to your budget and alleviate a lot of stress! If you enjoy catalog shopping, consider perusing them far in advance. From there keep an eye on sale papers and online sales to get the best prices! By the way… unless you LOVE black Friday shopping, I highly recommend you avoid it! You’re far more likely to overspend and impulse buy. If you do head out be sure to have a plan and stick to it!
Whatever you do… shop early and wrap early as well! Do NOT wait until the last minute to get your wrapping done! If you can, wrap as you purchase. I also like to keep my family gifts separated under the tree based on where they’re going. It’s so much easier to pack up when we’re going to family events and nothing gets forgotten!
Also, be sure to keep all your receipts in one place. This is especially true for gift cards. Sometimes they don’t get properly activated and the receipt is necessary to resolve this.
Let it Go
Here’s the thing about gifts and holiday budgets… that’s not what the holidays are about. Please unravel yourself from the massive consumerism that goes on around the holidays! Christmas isn’t about what’s under the tree it’s about who’s beside it with you! The stress and financial fear you have around gift buying and what you want to buy vs what you can’t is liable to make you sick and everyone miserable.
I understand that you don’t want to disappoint your children. Believe me, I do! I grew up with parents who really stressed about giving me a great Christmas. All I really wanted was to have the happiness in my house that I saw in the movies. I wanted family time and Christmas spirit. I’m sure that probably sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. Are you raising your kids to value things or relationships? I was raised to value relationships. That’s why I had this perspective.
Take Care of Yourself
Yes! This belongs on the list just like everything above! It’s the thing we are most likely to overlook and what is most needed!
This is a great time to think about your personal care. Are there any doctors’ appointments you missed this year? Do you have some habits that might need some fine tuning? Check out your routine care and be sure to make a list of anything you may be behind on so you can get it scheduled into the beginning of the new year.
If you don’t plan some time for self-care you know it won’t happen! Get out that calendar and mark off at least an hour a week for self-care. Get specific, give yourself a couple options if you need to but write it in in PEN. Don’t simply write “self-care”, you know you won’t stick with that, write “Bath or Read”, “Pedicure” etc. And make sure that you have time set aside to move your body every day as well!
If you want to take fragrant Epsom salt baths, make yourself some bath salts! Planning to read, pick up or borrow a great book from a friend! Prepare for your self-care like you would any other task on your list!
And, prepare to take care of your physical health as well! Make sure that you have plenty of fruits and veggies on hand so you can eat healthy. Don’t forget to lay out your work out clothes and tennis shoes or any other supplies you need to get some exercise. Also, be sure to get plenty of rest and drink lots of water! The last thing you want is to be sick over the holiday season!
Let it Go
When it comes to the holidays (and life in general) let go of anything that doesn’t give you joy! The holiday season is the perfect time to assess your life and streamline it. You are under no obligation to accommodate people who make you unhappy. You don’t have to check off some list that makes you miserable. You can choose who you spend your time with and how you spend it! Let go of the expectations and ENJOY!
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