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Making Holiday Decorating Less Stressful

Here's the best tip for keeping your holidays less hectic: Less is more; keep your decorating simple. You can have a wonderfully impressive holiday decorating scheme without working yourself into a frenzy. If you're still stressed, though, here are more tips for keeping your holidays, and your holiday decorating, as hassle free as possible.

Plan wisely

If you haven't been preparing for the holidays year-round (who does?), take your planning cues from retail stores — they do plan for them year- round, and they stock their merchandise accordingly. As soon as you see the seasonal or holiday displays go up — even in the grocery stores — take it as your cue to start planning your holiday and decorations.

Be realistic

Before finalizing any plans for the holidays, go through the list and ask yourself if your plans are realistic. As cool as it sounds, do you really need a Christmas tree in every room or a wreath on every door? Do you really have to host your own Halloween bash or put together 20 handmade gift baskets (shalach manot) for Purim?

Finding ways to keep your holidays less hectic may mean paring down what you've planned. Remember that for every thing you add, you tack on more time, energy, and money as well. Make sure that you go through a reality check for the things you've planned. You may need to make a few minor (or major) adjustments, but look at how much richer your holiday will be when you're refreshed, rested, and organized. Plus, the holiday decorating you'll do will look better because you had the time to do it right.

Use organizational tools

A day planner (paper or electronic), a decorating notebook, a monthly calendar — whatever you choose as your organizational weapon, wield it fiercely at the holidays.

Create an organizational system for planning your holidays. Note when invitations, cards, and shopping have to be done and preplan as much as possible, using the sections in each holiday chapter as your idea starter from which you can make accurate lists.

Keep your organizational planner handy. You'll find yourself being less stressed and worn out if you don't have to remember everything off the top of your head. You'll have everything you need, including notes, at your fingertips.

Multi-task for efficiency

Try to multi-task as much as possible. When you sit down and list all the things you need to do for the holidays, go back through the list and match up the tasks that can be done at the same time.

For example, you can clean the house or hang some garland while you're baking cookies for a party. You can shop for more than one holiday or occasion at a time. You can have your presents gift-wrapped for just a few dollars (sometimes, the money goes to charity) while you continue shopping, and on and on. You can accomplish any number of tasks simultaneously; all you need to do is look at your task list. You probably already multi-task on a daily basis anyway (folding laundry while watching TV or talking on the phone with dinner in the oven), so multi-tasking your holiday chores should be a no-brainer.

Get help from friends (or the pros)

You can accomplish many holiday tasks without stressing over everything by cutting a few corners, delegating, hiring professional help, and enlisting your family and friends.

Cutting a few corners means that you order fresh bread from the bakery instead of milling your own flour, raising hens to gather their wonderful blue-hued eggs from your own chicken coop, and spending two days to knead and rise bread before baking this golden-crusted loaf on designer parchment paper. Cutting corners also means that you can feel guilt free when decorating with store-bought items instead of crafting them yourself.

Give yourself a break: Craft only what you want, cook only what you want, and feel free to buy everything else from the store. Also keep in mind that the holidays aren't necessarily a good time for starting something new. Sure, you may have instructions in this book for making many holiday items by hand, but just make sure that you've planned on making them plenty of time in advance.

Cleaning is another one of those things for which you may want to get additional help. Even if you don't have a regular cleaning service and never considered hiring one, perhaps a holiday is a good time to justify the expense. Hire someone from a cleaning service for one day and let him or her clean your house from top to bottom concentrating on doing those tedious chores such as baseboards, crevice cleaning, and blinds or draperies. This way you have one less thing to worry about, and you just picked up extra well-needed time to do other holiday tasks.

Shop smarter

Many celebratory holidays involve an unbelievable amount of shopping. After running to the bakery and deli to get special orders and going to the post office, mall, specialty stores, and card shops, you have little time to breathe — much less decorate.

Catalog orders and Internet shopping can save you time (as you know, time = money) at the holidays. Shopping from home is pretty reliable and quick, plus you can comparison shop more easily and sometimes have a better selection of merchandise to choose from. Save the elbow-to-elbow combat for the local sales you want to catch or the buggy bumper wars for the supermarket. You'll still have plenty of opportunities to get in on all that fun.

Oh, and speaking of sales: If you have room, shop the sales at the end of the season when you're far less stressed and buy only the things that you truly deeply want — not just the leftover junk that's at a great deal. You should already have a list of your wants and needs in your decorating notebook; use that as your guide.

Make sure that you list in your holiday planner all the new items you've bought, so that you don't overbuy next year. When the holiday rolls around the next time, you'll be relieved to remember that you've done lots of your shopping in advance, so you don't have to fight with other shoppers for decorative items or overpay for merchandise that puts a strain on your pocketbook and your stress level.

Remember what the holidays are really about

Ultimately, the goal for decorating any holiday is to celebrate a wonderful occasion with family and friends. Never let any decorating, shopping, or other stressor interfere with the reason for the season. Even if you're simply celebrating Valentine's Day or a lighthearted St. Patrick's Day, know that you're paying tribute on a special day to honor a momentous occasion that was made into a holiday to commemorate it. That truly is special any way you look at it.

When you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, just stop for a moment and take a break. Reflect or rejoice for the reason that you're decorating. You're celebrating! May you enjoy every single moment of it, and never, ever let stress override your pleasure.

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