Monday, December 08, 2008

Pre-Holiday Clearing Out and Opening Up

Tip of the Week, November 30, 2008

Before you know it (if it hasn't already started happening), the stuff of the season will begin filling up your house. Between decorations, holiday cards, special seasonal foods (think cookies), gifts, your living space might start to feel slightly--if festively and delightfully--cluttered.

To maintain a sense of control during this celebratory month, and to ensure that what finds places of pride in your house are those things you truly want, need, and love, take some time this week to do a bit of anticipatory weeding. That simply means letting go of things that are no longer special to you--and encouraging your family members to do the same. Here are a few areas to focus on.

Holiday Decorations
As you unpack and reconnect with your holiday decorations, you're bound to discover at least a few that are past their prime, that you don't need, or that you don't have any particular desire to display. Now's the time to clear these out so that the decorations that are special to you can truly shine. If your holiday stuff is in good condition, donate it to a local thrift shop or offer it to friends. If it's broken or worn beyond repair, salvage any bits you will actually use for other purposes (small bells, ornament hooks) and throw the rest away.

Holiday and Winter Clothing
Never gonna wear that embroidered Christmas tree sweater? Donating it to a thrift shop now will give it a better chance of reaching the hands of someone who'll love it and will happily don it this holiday season. This is also a great time to sort through winter gear so that coats, jackets, gloves, hats, and scarves that no longer fit or that your family isn't using can go to one of the many donate-a-coat events that happen this month. (Visit the One Warm Coat website for information on finding--or starting--a drive near you.)

Kids' Toys
Kids can go a bit wild in the cheerful mayhem of the holiday season; I know I sure used to, with lists for Santa that ran to multiple pages. Luckily, I had parents who brought me back down to earth--and this is the perfect time to do the same with the children in your life. Spend some time this week helping your kids sort through their toys and books, and encourage them to pass on any they don't use. Remind them that there are other kids who would appreciate the things they aren't playing with, and also that there may be new toys coming in later in the month. And in terms of holiday wish lists, do what you can to help keep your kids in check, perhaps encouraging them to focus on a few very special things, or listing one new toy for charity for every two toys they list for themselves.

Finally, with Thanksgiving behind us, this is a great opportunity to reclaim your fridge, freezer, and pantry. You know the drill: toss (or compost) anything from the fridge or freezer that's gone bad or that you're not likely to eat. Do the same in your pantry, setting aside for donation anything that's non-perishable and unexpired. And when you find, say, those four dusty cans of pumpkin you bought last December, fully intending to make pumpkin pie from scratch, make a mental note to reconsider such a purchase this year.

This week's sorting and weeding doesn't need to be time-consuming. With 20 minutes or so each day, you'll find yourself, at the end of the week, with a home that's less cluttered and ready to accept the bounty of the season ahead.

Monday, December 01, 2008

This Holiday Season, More Help=Less Stress

Tip of the Week, November 23, 2008

For most of us, doing it all--work, housework, errands, "leisure activities" (quotes intentional)--at any point during the year can be a stretch. When the holidays roll around, To Do lists tend to grow exponentially, and tackling everything you have to do can seem unlikely, if not downright impossible. Still, if you're anything like me, you might be apt to politely decline when a party guest offers to lend a hand in the kitchen or a family member wants to help with wrapping gifts.

In the spirit of making this year's holiday season your most enjoyable, most festive, and least stressful yet, here's my challenge to you this week: don't even think about doing everything alone!

Yes, friends, it's time to hand over (or at least share) the reins. Allowing others to pitch in this season, and bringing on professionals to handle big, time-consuming tasks, may mean letting go of a smidge of control, but it also means big savings in terms of stress. Here's how to make good use of others' talents and people-power over the next six weeks.

  • Consider going communal. Potluck meals during the holidays may not be the most traditional, but they're an excellent way of allowing everyone to contribute while taking some pressure off the host or hostess. If you're having a holiday meal at your home, make a list of what you'll need (x number of side dishes, y number of desserts, z number of bottles of wine, and so on), then let each guest sign up to bring something. You'll enjoy great variety and will save yourself immense amounts of time and effort.
  • Create a "Why yes, you can help me!" jar. This idea comes from my fellow Professional Organizer Krista Colvin of Organize in Style in Portland, OR. If you're hosting a holiday celebration, cut yourself some slack--and let others get involved--by listing tasks with which you could use a hand on slips of paper and putting them in a bowl or jar. When someone asks, "Can I help?" simply have them pick a slip. They'll have a defined task to do and you won't have to worry about coming up with something on the spot.
  • Let go of perfection. No, your six-year-old won't wrap gifts nearly as well as you do, and no, your partner may not have much flair for decorating when it comes to trimming the tree. But if they're willing to help with such tasks, let them, even if you don't wind up with Martha Stewart-worthy results.
  • Bring in the pros. Year-round, I remind my clients (and myself!) that when it comes to tasks that eat up their time and that they tend not to enjoy, it makes far more sense to hire a professional who can tackle such To Do's quickly, efficiently, and well. That holds especially true around the holidays. Hate housecleaning? Bring in a professional cleaning service to get the job done. Not much of a cook? Hire a caterer to provide the eats for your holiday party. You can even find folks who will hang lights, trim your tree, and wrap your gifts, leaving you free to focus on other things.
This week, create a list of ways you can lighten your workload this holiday season, then start making solid plans for getting the help you need for less stressful, more enjoyable celebrations.