Simplifying + Organizing for the Holidays : A Recap of Comments


[ holiday wreath 2008 : found at a local sale last weekend ]

There were so many great ideas in the comments last week regarding organizing & simplifying for the holidays that I wanted to highlight some of them. Below is a compilation of ideas (organized by general category) from so many of you - thank you for sharing!

Here were a few of the most common suggestions:

• Slow down and enjoy the season.

• Learn to say no: to too many parties, to giving excessive amounts of gifts, to travel where you really don't want to go.

• Start early.

LISTS : work with a list (or lists) or a small notebook to track everything from baking to gifts to cooking supplies to decorating ideas.

• Shop online.



1. From Melanie : Just breathe.

2. From Nicole : A tip on organizing and simplifying
that I have for the holidays is to remember how blessed you are and
that many others will go without during the holiday season. With that
in mind, my children and I are cleaning and organizing so that we may
give some of our used things away to those in need and this year we
will also give away some new things we receive at Christmas.

3. From Cami : My favorite holiday tip is to choose what activities make Christmas for
you and which ones might be avoided due to time issues. I choose not to
bake - I would rather create homemade gifts from paper than flour. Why

4. From Ingrid : What I have realized over the years is that the actual task of
organizing can become out of control itself! That is to say, my type A
personality gets carried away with the act of organizing and I fail to
enjoy the experience that I am trying to control. Sooooo, I have
challenged myself to eliminate the excess and focus on the meaningful
things - and not to feel pressure to do whatever other families (or
magazines) are doing. Children care more about their parents being "in
the now" than meeting manufactured expectations anyway. When I think
back to my own childhood (enough, but not abundant), it's the music,
food, traditions and simple decorations that resonate all these years
later. Pick a few things and do them with love and beauty - you and
your family will be the better for it!

5. From Amanda : I just don't make a big deal of the holidays. I chose to focus on the
feelings of the holidays as opposed to the "stuff". This makes simplifying and enjoying your holiday really easy.

6. From Tobi-Lynn : cut back - cut back - cut back...that is my hope this year - cut back on my expectations, cut back on
how much I try to cram in, cut back on money spending, cut back on
doing what I think everyone else wants and focus on my family and the
joy of Christmas!

7. From Sharri : As my 3 children have gotten older and our families have extended
through marriages and births, I have decided to let it go. Christmas
can be any day of the year. For us it happens whenever we can all be
together (or most of us anyway). Simetimes thats Thanksgiving, other
times it's New Years or later. But that's okay, because Christmas is
family and traditions and remembering the birth of Christ, not what or
how much food there is, or who gets the most presents or even which
grandparents house to go to this year. We are all happier and more
relaxed, and that always makes for less stressful holidays.

8. From Suzanna : Leave out Hallmark and all the other marketing gimmicks and look for true
meaning. It's not about lists and tasks, it's about family and spirit.

9. From Amanda : My favorite thing to do to "simplify" the holidays is to focus on
family and not so much on gifts. My philosophy is that ten years down
the road, my son won't remember the super cool video game we bought him
- but he will remember the fun family things we did together and the
traditions that we pass down to him. Which is the best gift of all,

10. From Jeanne : At 60, I have finally learned how to simplify the holidays. It's a
simple change in attitude. I no longer care if there is dust, or the
meal isn't exactly perfect, or gifts aren't just so. What I care about
is being surrounded by family. To have that chance to touch my child
who has been away at college, to look into the eyes of the man who
knows me so well. To share time with those I love so dearly.



1. Skip it all together.

2. Have them done before Thanksgiving. Go digital rather than handmade.

3. From LeAnne : To organize and simplify, I try to keep
my xmas card list current throughout the year. Then I make digital
cards ordered online, address them and add a quick note. I use a photo
from during the year instead of worrying about the perfect Christmas
photo. I get those cards ready to go before Thanksgiving and then mail
them whenever I am ready.

4. From Jenny : My simplifying for the holidays tip is to send out your cards as "New
Years" cards. Since I have friends who are different religions than my
family, we send out New Years cards. Plus, then you can create,
address, and mail all the cards AFTER the holidays are over. That's the

5. From Carolyn : My least favourite christmas chore has always been sending christmas
cards. So- i stopped doing in and invited friends to afternoon teas or
made a phone call. Much more enjoyable and I think it saves my sanity



1. Pick up gifts throughout the year. This spreads out the cost, allows you to focus on things that may really match with the person, and you get to avoid the last minute scramble. Consider setting up a spreadsheet so you don't forget who you already have gifts for...

2. Scale back on the number of people who receive gifts from you.

3. Finish your shopping before Thanksgiving so you can focus on other things, like baking and family, during the month of December (Kayla).

4. Buy less overall.

5. Shop online to find good deals on goods and shipping.

6. Go homemade. Consider consumables like breads, granola, mixes, etc. with little waste.

7. Donate to special causes as a gift rather than giving an item.

8. Wrap gifts as you purchase them.

9. From Debbie : I made a holiday organizing box
last fall. It was a project on Lain Ehman's blog, and it saved my
sanity last year. The best feature is an index card for each gift
recipient, where I write down gift ideas, and track what I bought,
wrapped and mailed. It also helps me make sure that I don't get similar
gifts year-to-year for the same person.

10. From Toni : To keep from overspending on gifts,
we establish a budget, then take all the money out in cash and keep it
in one envelop. When shopping, all receipts and change go in this
envelop, so we can keep track of everything.

11. From Holly : I wrap all my presents in the same wrapping paper to make thing simple.

12. From Ami : One way I simplify is to buy gift cards. I used to try to buy the best
item for each person...and then would get disappointed if the gift
wasn't perfect. Gift cards (even if they aren't the most personal)
definitely allow the recipient to get exactly what they want!

13. From Allison : I learned years ago that if I
wanted to enjoy Christmas morning, I didn't want to be attempting to
take all of the wires and ties off of my kids' new toys, installing
batteries, etc. So now, as I wrap them, I take them out of the boxes,
take off all the wires, install all of the batteries, and then put them
back in the box before wrapping them. It is SO nice, when on Christmas morning, my kids toys are ready to
be played with and my husband and I can enjoy our coffee and start
getting ready for the rest of the day.

14. From Cheryld : I think the most simplifying tip I have is that I gather your shopping
list before thanksgiving. Then on Black Friday I hop onto my computer
and shop shop shop. Pretty much everyone and everything is on sale on
that day AND most websites offer Free Shipping! So in about 1 1/2 hours
I get all my shopping done and then just need to wait for it all to
arrive. This leaves me plenty of time to create and enjoy the season.

15. A couple people mentioned this saying and it really resonated with me:

1. Something to read
2. Something they need
3. Something they want
4. Something to wear

16. From Laura : With four kids -- colored gift tags is my way to simplify. Each child
has a different color gift tag that is used on all their presents. This
also helps me keep track of how balanced my shopping is because I can
easily look in the "present closet" and count the number of presents
for each child.

17. From Jennifer : Anyone between the ages of 11 and 22 gets a gift card so they can get
exactly what they want. When I was that age, the "thoughtful" gift was
completely unappreciated. Now, I see that the gift card IS appreciated
if for nothing else than the teens to have an excuse to get out of the
overcrowded house.

18. From Karen : One of the best ways to make the holidays easy is by using
You can take care of all of your mailing needs at your own computer.
You can print your own photo stamps for Christmas cards, print your own
labels and postage for practice and arrange a pick up by your mailman.
You never have to stand in a single line.

19. From Robyn : we've simplified our holidays a ton
by giving only one gift per family member (more and more often handmade
by me!) and then donating money in their name to a charity. for the
kids, it goes to buy toys for other kids who are in poverty. for the
educators, we sponsor impoverished schools. for my pre-med brother,
it's Doctors Without Borders...but giving to charity instead of spending hours at the mall? it not
only changes the world, but helps keep us sane in this busy time!

20. From Theresa : My tip is to just make Christmas about the kids. My husband and I
decided to do this about 2 years ago and it makes things so much easier
and keeps the focus where it should be. We don't buy gifts for anyone
18 or over. We just make it all about the kids and making it magical
for them. It makes Christmas really simple and fun.

21. From Lisa : I keep an envelope with all the receipts just in case something has to
go back. It helps a ton, especially with those stores that have pesky
return policies!

22. From Cathy : We keep gift giving simple with
only choosing three gifts for each child - to mimic the three gifts
Jesus received from the magi. It works for us. And it helps us keep spending under control and
little hearts from becoming too greedy or expecting too much at

23. From Jennifer : To stay organized & pay for a cash christmas, I am using a prepaid mastercard. When it's gone, it's gone.

24. From Kellie : We simplify the holidays by making wish lists. This includes the
extended family as well. It takes a lot of guesswork out of Christmas
shopping, and everyone ends up with something they enjoy. It has become
a fun competition in our family to see who can email theirs first to
the rest of the family. It has certainly made shopping easier and less
stressful for me.

25. From Annie : Maybe this isn't all that original, but a couple of years ago I bought
a roll of the brown paper you can get at home improvement stores (the
name is slipping my mind right now, but it's the stuff that
construction workers lay down to walk on). It's a huge roll and is
going into its third holiday season! I also bought a huge roll of
beautiful holiday ribbon. Everyone recognizes these as our family's
gifts and love it. It's so easy because the paper is durable for
traveling and I don't have to worry about running out--those gift wrap
rolls are deceivingly small!

26. From Karin : One thing that I find that helps is picking some sort of category or
theme for gifts. For instance, one year we decided on games and all got
each other games. Then we played them together! Lots of fun! That
really made picking out gifts A LOT easier. :-)

27. From Caviemom : If you feel your list of people to give to has gotten out of hand, talk
to the people on your list 9 times out of 10 they feel the same way.
You can even plan to give close friends a gift at another time of the
year unexpectedly when you have more time and more money than at
Christmas. This helps relieve stress!

28. From Mindy : I am all about simplifying things so I can really enjoy them. We
decided several years ago that each child will receive only 3 gifts
under the Christmas tree. It symbolizes the gifts the 3 wise men
brought to Jesus and paves the way for discussion about what the season
is really about. Our kids have learned the value of things and
appreciate what they have.

29. From Elizabeth : One of the things I like to do is find a fabulous gift and give it to
several people. For example, I love to give books to my nieces and
nephews. Last year I attended a book signing by a great children's
author and selected different titles for each of my nieces and nephews.
The author then graciously inscribed the books to the individual child
and I was done with a whole group on my list. The books were a huge hit
so I'm repeating the idea with a different author this year!



1. From Krys72599 : I decided to decorate using only silver and white - this cut my
required decorations/ornaments by 75% and decorating took only a couple
days of unpacking and repacking. And when the holidays were over, I
packed those colors separately so this year, if I'm strapped for time,
I can do the same thing.

2. From Kristisb : My simplifying tip is to rotate the ornaments we use on our tree each
year. We have too many to put them all on without looking cluttered,
and I really don't need any more clutter in my house! So we just put
some out each year and then we appreciate each of them more.

3. Lyn suggests : I've been "simplifying" for years .. I used to cover the house with
decorations ... but have found that if I decorate our living room - the
central room in our house .. that it makes me enjoy the holiday's (and
the clean up) and that my DH is much more happier - turns out he never
liked it when I would decorate all over .. he felt overwhelmed.

4. From Erin : Probably my best tip is once the Holidays are over and you are putting
stuff away, make sure you pack it all up neatly in plastic storage
containers and label the outside what is in it. That way, when its time
to get the decorations out next year, you will know what is in
everything and it will be easier to assemble your decor.

5. From Sue : I simplified last year by donating about 1/2 of my Christmas
decorations and ornaments. Less clutter and less to pack away makes me

6. From Lawrenbc : Last year I freecycled 2 boxes of Christmas decorations that I had felt
obligated to keep and display but had never really cared for...they had
felt more like a burden than a holiday treat. I was so glad to know
that a family who otherwise wouldn't have had decorations got a chance
to use my extra items, and I felt a big weight lifted off my shoulders.
There will be a lot less to put out (and then put away after the
holiday) going forward.



1. Keep a calendar on the fridge of all the activities for the month.

2. Quite a few people mentioned using or for holiday planning and organizing.

3. EmilyT asks her family what they enjoy doing most during the holidays and based on their answers, that is what they focus on, saying no to other requests and commitments.

4. From Brek : I find by doing a lot of prep in November it saves me some sanity in
December. I usually put out all my decorations in November, and buy
most of my gifts then, too. That way in December I only have loose ends
to tie up to be ready.

5. From Louise : I keep a holiday planner made from a composition book with pretty paper
and ribbon on the front. In it I keep a calendar of what is going on,
what I need to bring, where, when, etc...make my shopping lists in
there from food shopping to gift shopping. It has helped so much and it
has a couple of years in it and it is fun to look back and see what I
did last year and the year before.

6. A few people mentioned freezing cookie dough (or cooked cookies) in advance and then being able to pop them in the oven or package them up when needed.

7. From Kendra : It may seem selfish....but our family doesn't travel over the Christmas
Holiday. Ever since the kids came into our lives, we have made it a
point that THIS (their house) is where Christmas is. Anyone is welcome
to come visit...but we will not be travelling (My husband and I have 3
sets of parents that all live in different states or parts of a state -
all AT LEAST 5 hours away). It's just too stressful.

8. From Heather : My family does the same thing for Christmas Eve dinner every year -
chili. It's a tradition I carried on after getting married and makes
life simple because you always know what you're going to make!

9. From Angel : Keeping up our traditions has helped me keep organized. Always
decorating the day after Thanksgiving, getting the tree the Sunday
after Thanksgiving,knowing when our yearly events take place, all help
me to stay on target.

10. From Sue : A few years ago I asked my DH what sweets he needed to make
Christmastime a treat for him. I now make just the things he likes
& don't do my family's usual bunches of cookies that only I will

Lots of time and calories saved!

11. From Heidi : I simplify by 1) saving Halloween candy for decorating and 2) baking
the components for a gingerbread house in November, when I have the
time and I feel like doing it. Then, mid-December, we bring the
components out of the freezer, whip up some royal icing, get out the
Halloween candy and have a blast decking out our gingerbread house!

12. From Lisa : For me, the 'feeling' of Christmas is really important. So, as soon as
Dec. 1st hits, our Christmas decor goes up. We always spend sooo much
time trying to figure out where to put holiday lights, which extension
cords to use & where to plug them in. Last year, I did a little
organizing (although my husband and kids thought I was crazy)and
created a 'map' of our entire set-up. Everything is labeled in neat
containers and ready to go. Come this Dec. 1st everything will go up
quick and easy, allowing us to spend a great evening together instead
of wasting our family-time outside, frustrated and freezing cold. I
know it will be well worth the time it took to organize the mess.

13. From Maggie : So my best tip is to decide what causes you the most
anxiety/stress/time/money you don't have and then REWORK it. Skip it.
Get someone else to do it. (You hate decorating the tree and your
friend despises baking the cookies? SWAP- each one does double of what
they enjoy!)



1. From Jane : This might sound odd, but one of my favorite simplifying tips around
the holidays is to do something for someone else that takes away from
the flurry of it all. Last year, using Making Memories cool 1-25 sheet
of holiday paper, I made two sets of simple cards numbered 1-25. Every
day for the 25 days of Dec. my parents and my mother-in-law received in
the mail a little holiday note. I'd include pictures of the kids, or
the decor in the house, or a drawing from one of the kids. And I'd
include a little note about something I remember from being a kid at
Christmas. My parents would nearly fight each other to get to open them
each day and they made a beautiful display of them on their patio
doors. My mother-in-law passed away this Fall and as we were going
through her things we came across a special box with all 25 cards and
their related contents. My sister-in-law said she was so thankful I'd
done that because it made her Mom so happy to look forward to it each
day. And when she would visit she could see her excitement in sharing
them with her. That activity really helps me focus my attention away
from the shopping, planning, etc. and on the importance of giving.

2. From Michelle : We have a Christmas day tradition that started when I was young that
really simplifies the holiday meal. Since Thanksgiving is such a big
dinner we decided to keep Christmas dinner low key, so we do a table
full of finger food: cheese and crackers, veggies and dip, fruit,
chips, shrimp cocktail...nothing that requires alot of time and
preparation. This way we enjoy the day together without the stress of
preparing a holiday meal that takes all day to cook and thirty minutes
to devour. Talk about a no stress day!

3. From Lisa : Having a New Year's Day open house-- it's so hard to see everyone over
the holidays, but people tend to be free on Jan. 1st. It's a great way
to get in touch with everyone without rushing around.

4. From Jane : For gift giving - I try to come up
with a theme for gifts each year and sometimes give variations on the
same gifts to each family member. For instance, one year I got everyone
in my family cool t-shirts from local Colorado ski resorts. (I live in
Colorado but my family all lives in Maine, so the Colorado resorts seem
exotic!) Another year I limited my shopping to only locally owned
businesses and bought lots of handmade gifts like jewelry and handknit
scarves. Having a theme helps me focus and choose gifts quickly instead
of spending months and months thinking of ideas. Also, to de-stress...ever since I was in college, during the
Christmas season I would set aside just a few minutes at the end of
each day to turn out all the lights (except the Christmas lights and/or
candles), put on a few favorite Christmas tunes, and maybe eat a cookie
or two or drink some eggnog. Just a little private time to unwind and
enjoy the music and lights. It doesn't have to be hours and hours, just
a few minutes goes a long way towards maintaining sanity during a busy


Here are some of the specific things I am focusing on in the next two months:

1. Focus on the meaning and spirit of the holidays rather than the rush and desire to buy more, more, more.
2. Give gifts with intention & shop online (handmade/etsy if possible).
3. Go through my Christmas tubs and take a good hard look at what I have and what I really love. I know there are things in there that can be donated to Goodwill. Clearing out some of that holiday clutter will allow me to put out the things that have the most meaning.
4. I am already starting to feel a bit more tired as I enter the 3rd trimester. I am spreading things out as much as possible, taking things easy, and thinking a lot about what really matters.
5. Bake + freeze cookies ahead of time. I love this idea - have never tried it before.
6. Taking things nice and easy and keeping the focus on what is really important during the entire month.

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57 thoughts

  1. Genevieve W. says…

    Thanks for putting this together!

    Reply 0 Replies
  2. sue says…

    I'm loving all of these ideas. Thanks everyone!

    Reply 0 Replies
  3. Melissa says…

    Thanks for taking the time to compile these, Ali!
    I wanted to add something that I just thought of:
    When my son was born he was in the NICU for 7wks; through Thanksgiving, Christmas & New Year's. That year we were at Ronald McDonald House the entire time and it was hard to get to town to shop because I was spending all of my time by my son's side. I "found" that year! I was surprised at the huge variety of things that they offer and their return policy is awesome; they even sent me a postage-paid label to return one item! If you order early enough you can get all of the shipping for FREE and not worry about whether your items are going to arrive on time.

    Reply 0 Replies
  4. Jessica C says…

    Thank you SO much for sharing this, Ali! It really inspired me!
    (And if you're going to freeze the cookies, I've always found that the cookies taste better/ fresher when I freeze the dough. That way when you want them they're "fresh baked!" Also, don't underestimate the joy of warm cookies and coffee on demand. If you use a toaster oven, you can bake just 2-3 at a time... perfect evening snack!)

    Reply 0 Replies
  5. molly says…

    some great suggestions here, thanks for compiling them.
    One that I fits our needs right now is the "mailing a note each day." sounds like a lot of work, but my mother-in-law is imobile, with parkinson's disease, in a retirement home. I think having a bit of love from her grandchildren each day would warm her heart.

    Reply 0 Replies
  6. Dianne says…

    Hi Ali,
    I remember you got that same wreath last year. It is soo pretty- I am a bit jealous. I might have to try to re create it for our house. Thanks for all the holiday tips and inspiration. It is a good reminder that everyone is pretty much in the same boat preparing for the holidays.
    Have a great Wednesday!

    Reply 0 Replies
  7. Susan says…

    Thank you for all of the ideas. I read every one of them! I especially like Jane's idea about the 25 cards for grandparents. I'll try that this year and can just imagine how happy my folks and my husbands parents will be. I have really been feeling the excitement for the season this year...more than in recent years and am so happy to have that feeling back. I think I will hold on to that and resist the "commercialism" aspect that all to often ruins it by Dec. 25.

    Reply 0 Replies
  8. alexandra says…

    Thanks for compiling all these great ideas, Ali. I like the emphasis on handmade items and embracing the spirit of the holidays - good stuff!
    I'll have to come back and read them all in their entirety - right now it's time to make oatmeal for the twins!
    Happy Wednesday!

    Reply 0 Replies
  9. rebekah says…

    what a great list, ali!! thanks for putting all this together! :)

    Reply 0 Replies
  10. Tracie says…

    Can you share the etsy shops you frequently shop, besides the sponsors on your blog?

    Reply 0 Replies
  11. make art every day says…

    i have totally savored this list! thank you for taking the time to compile it. i'm eager to jump into Christmas this year, but i have to finish up my freelance work first.
    i'm toying with the 25 cards idea, but since we have several grandparents, i may just do a special blog post each day.
    and one more tip: one year i bought my husband a pair of wire snips and had him open it first. it came in very handy when opening the girls' toys.

    Reply 0 Replies
  12. Kim K says…

    Love the "Something to..." saying! Had not heard that before and will definitely use that!
    Thanks for putting this together!

    Reply 0 Replies
  13. LinnLinn says…

    Thank you for taking the time to put all these ideas together! It's just another push I needed to get moving on those Christmas gifts...two weeks til Thanksgiving!

    Reply 0 Replies
  14. Susan W says…

    Thank you for taking the time to share all the ideas with us.

    Reply 0 Replies
  15. LoRi R says…

    Love that wreath! Thanks for putting this together, Ali. It's so helpful!

    Reply 0 Replies
  16. Michell B says…

    What a wonderful post! I loved reading everyone's comments ideas. I love your wreath..where do you having it hanging? Above the fireplace? I loved all your pictures last year of your house decorated. I hope you share again...although I know it is hard to keep up with it all when you are in the 3rd trimester! Already! Pregnancy always goes fast for the people that aren't pregnant! take care.

    Reply 0 Replies
  17. emilyt says…

    Thanks for offering up everyone's thoughts in a concise post. I'll take a few for myself - don't mind if I do!

    Reply 0 Replies
  18. Amy says…

    Better than baking the cookies and freezing them. Just make up the batter and freeze it in ball shapes. Then when you want fresh baked cookies, just pull some frozen dough balls out and 10 mins later you have fresh baked cookies. :D Thanks for the tips!

    Reply 0 Replies
  19. Sandi says…

    What a great list of suggestions. Thank you for taking the time to put it together.

    Reply 0 Replies
  20. Erin M says…

    Thanks for compiling all of these ideas. I'm sure I'll be re-reading this post several times throughout the holiday season.

    Reply 0 Replies
  21. Laura says…

    Thank you for the list! It is so important to focus your energy on the people you love and things you enjoy.

    Reply 0 Replies
  22. Angela says…

    Hi Ali... great ideas...
    I wanted to share something with you that our church introduced us to this past weekend. My husband and I are going to cut way down on gifts this year and put the leftover money into a project similar to this. The project was started by a church in Portland. Here's the website
    I also have a link on my blog. Thought you might want to share with your countless readers. I bet that if just your readers cut back this Christmas they could make a huge impact. Blessings on your Christmas season.

    Reply 0 Replies
  23. Roberta Lucena says…

    Adoro seus trabalhos... Seus livros... Seus projetos são lindos. Parabéns!
    Beijo, Roberta

    Reply 0 Replies
  24. Rebecca says…

    I love the idea about the Christmas cards on 25 days. I would love to do this for my brother and his wife who are living in Japan and won't be with the rest of the family on Christmas.

    Reply 0 Replies
  25. elaine says…

    these were GREAT! glad I read them all! :]

    Reply 0 Replies

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