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7 Tips to Save Time & Reduce Holiday Stress

By Kathy Paauw

My dad used to say that the holidays are when you get a whole bunch of people that really aren't that close and don't know each other that well and overcrowd them into a small room for an extended period of time so they can make each other miserable." --Dr. Phil McGraw

As we approach the holiday season, that sense of "overwhelm" rings as loud as the Salvation Army bells.

For some, the holiday season represents stress, pressure, expectations, guilt, disappointment, pain, loneliness, exhaustion - and the list goes on.

And it doesn't have to be that way!

We choose who we spend time with. We choose what activities we say yes and no to. We choose where we go. Your holiday season can be as simple or as elaborate as you choose to make it, and it can be a lot of fun if you plan accordingly.

Take some time this week to think about what's most important to you this season, and then do a little planning. Here are some suggestions to help save time and reduce stress.

1. Create a list of holiday rituals that are important to you.

Seek your family's input on holiday decisions. Ask family members what they liked and disliked about last year's holidays. Write down the most important elements and activities you wish to include this year, and plan to make it happen.

Keeping time-consuming and irrelevant traditions or rituals "just because we've always done it that way" can increase stress. Keep only those traditions that have meaning to you, or create some new ones.

Give yourself permission to be in the moment and enjoy the smells, sounds, feel, and tastes that are unique to this season of the year.

2. Make a list of those you want to spend time with during the holidays.

Who nourishes you? Who are the family members, friends, and colleagues you enjoy being with? Who brings you down? Maybe this is not the year to get together with them!

Do you want to do any entertaining? If so, when and with whom? Plan ahead and ask for help if you want it. True friends and loved ones will not care how many hours you slaved over the stove. Spending time with you is what they'll cherish most. You don't have to be Martha Stewart to throw a great party!

Are you invited to holiday parties that you really don't want to go to, but you've gone in the past because you should? Be at choice -- don't play the victim! This is not about whom you should see, but rather whom you choose to spend time with.

3. Send holiday greeting cards with ease.

I've found a great service that enables you to send a real card in the mail for less than a dollar, including postage, without leaving the comfort of your desk. SendOutCards was recently reviewed in the Wall Street Journal. I have been using their service for a couple months now and I can vouch for the quality of their greeting cards. With a simple click of your computer mouse, you can select from several hundred holiday cards to choose from, write a message (using your own handwriting font and signature) and send a printed greeting card. SendOutCards will print it, stuff it, stamp it (with a real stamp), and send it in the mail for you. Visit for more information and to request a free gift account.

4. Mail packages with ease.

Mail packages early in December to avoid longer lines at the post office and ensure they will arrive in time. Or, better yet, sign up with or another online postage service and avoid the lines altogether. You can mail large packages without standing in any lines -- as long as you have an accurate way to weigh them before you purchase the postage online. Once you have added the correct postage (printed from your computer), you can drop the packages off at the loading dock of your local post office and avoid those long lines.

5. Thoughtfully plan your gift-giving.

Give from the heart, not out of obligation. Decide whom you choose to give to and make a list. This will help you avoid overspending through impulse buying.

If you think back to the most cherished gifts you have received, they are often homemade or from the heart. A gift of time -- such as a gift certificate redeemable for an activity you can do together -- can be very meaningful. Among the most prized gifts I've ever received have been homemade cards with a heartfelt note written inside. Value goes far beyond the cost of the gift.

A great resource for homemade gift ideas is a book called The Perfect Mix. It contains creative edible gift ideas, including wrapping suggestions and tag instructions, along with a source guide for supplies. The book offers more than 90 recipes for soups, breads, muffins, cookies, and other gifts. The gifts I've created from this book have been very well received and appreciated.

Instead of exchanging gifts with friends, consider having a holiday or post-holiday party with them.

Avoid parking hassles, gridlock traffic around the malls, and long lines at the register by shopping online and through catalogs. A number of retail stores now offer merchandise online, as well. If you are purchasing a gift that needs to be mailed, you can arrange to have it sent directly to the recipient, thus avoiding the extra steps of wrapping, labeling, and mailing the gift.

Wrapping gifts can take a lot of time. Instead of wrapping all of them, use a gift bag with a nice bow tied at the top, or use a decorated gift box.

Consider giving an alternative gift to a friend or loved one by giving to a charity in their name. One of my favorite charities is Heifer Project International. Through living gifts of animals, HPI is helping families worldwide to become self-reliant. You can buy an animal that can change the life of a hungry family and at the same time honor family and friends. Visit HPI's "gift catalog" at

6. Spread holiday cheer with those in need.

Volunteer to serve a holiday meal to the homeless, work in a soup kitchen, or work at a food bank.

Adopt a family for the holidays and provide them with gifts or holiday foods. Many churches and non-profit organizations can match you with a needy family.

Look for a Giving Tree in your local retail stores. The tree is filled with cards that list a specific gift desired by someone in need. You select a card off the tree, purchase the suggested gift listed on the card, and return the gift to the tree with the card attached. The store wraps the gift and delivers it to the intended recipient.

The end of the tax year is a great time to review your budget and consider a year-end gift to your favorite charities. This can represent a significant tax deduction if you itemize, while doing great things locally and globally.

7. Use your calendar to help organize your time to reflect your priorities.

Once you are clear about your intentions, calendar them in. Writing them down for follow-up on a specific date will help you to remember to do it and will keep things from falling to the last minute. In other words, make appointments with yourself to follow through with specific tasks by a specific time. As you prepare for the holidays, remember that the greatest gifts of all won't be found under the gift wrap. They'll be found in those special moments when you make a heart connection with those you care about.

Copyright 2005 Kathy Paauw

About The Author

Kathy Paauw

Wouldn't you love to stumble upon a secret library of ideas to help you de-clutter your life so you can focus on what's most important? Kathy Paauw offers simple, yet powerful ideas, on how to manage your time, space, and thoughts for a more productive and fulfilling life. Visit her website at:


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