Organizing to De-Stress Your Holidays (all of them)

De-Stress Your HolidaysWhat are “holidays” and why are they so stressful? A holiday is any special occasion, all year round, which involves extra preparations; extra time, money and energy; and extra people, families in particular. Examples include birthdays, weddings, religious holidays, and secular holidays.

Holiday stress comes from having unrealistic expectations of yourself and others. Sometimes it’s the family getting together that contributes to the stress, and sometimes it’s the fact that you’re not getting together, or can’t, whatever the reason may be.

If you can relate to this definition, keep reading for some tips that will help you reduce holiday stress in four major areas of your life.

Holiday stress comes from having unrealistic expectations of yourself and others. Share on X

Organizing Your Stuff & Space

  • Sort and purge holiday decorations as you unpack them. If you pull it out and think, “Why do I still have this?” get rid of it now! Toss it, donate it, or give it to someone who will appreciate it.
  • Put decorations away in an organized manner & purge some more. If you didn’t use it this year, are you going to next year? Or, is it Holiday Decor Clutter?
  • Store like items together (lights with lights, ornaments with ornaments), or according to how you like to use them (e.g. by room). Label containers, avoiding “MISC”, which is not helpful, and protect keepsakes.
  • You don’t have to use all your decorations every year. It’s OK to decorate less! I don’t care how many decorations you own as long as you have sufficient storage space and a method of remembering and accessing what you have.
  • Simplify gift wrapping. Consider using one giant roll of gift wrap instead of 10 smaller ones. Or, pick one signature paper (a solid color, or a small pattern) and three different colors of ribbon that will work for any occasion, all year long. Set up a wrapping station in a spare room, or other out-of-the-way spot, with paper, tape, scissors, and trim handy.
  • Prepare early for houseguests so you can relax and enjoy their company when they arrive.

Organizing Your Time

  • Think about each holiday activity you are planning. Do you enjoy doing it? Want to do it? Need to do it? Or, is it Holiday Activity Clutter?
  • Focus on activities that will fill your spirit and create memories. You don’t have to go to every party you are invited to. Your kids will enjoy staying home and making cookies with you as much as going out and spending a lot of money.
  • Plan projects and schedule related tasks. If a project like sending holiday cards seems overwhelming (but you still want to do it), break it down into smaller steps and spread them out over several days: list recipients, obtain addresses, choose cards, address cards, write greetings, stamp and mail.
  • Don’t try to remember everything – make a list or write it down on your calendar!

Organizing Your Family

  • Communication is the key. Set expectations about activities & gifts. Are you drawing names? Gifts for kids only? Stocking stuffers only? No gifts this year?
  • Make wish lists and share them with each other. It’s not rude if you follow my wish list etiquette guidelines! Consider giving clutter-free gifts such as experiences or consumables.
  • Ask each person to pick their one most cherished activity. That will give you an agenda and make everyone feel special without trying to do too much.
  • Keep in mind that families change for many reasons, including marriage, divorce, relocation, and death. Holiday traditions can – indeed, must — change too. Be open to creating new ones.

Organizing Your Self

  • Don’t drive yourself crazy doing the same thing each year, expecting different results! Clear your mental clutter. If you can’t change the situation, a change of attitude might save the day!
  • Don’t spend more than your energy and financial budgets allow. Exceeding your energy budget will make you tired and cranky.  Exceeding your holiday financial budget will make you resentful and broke.
  • Go easy on yourself! Give yourself permission to do less. Get enough sleep, eat right (for the most part), and even if you temporarily abandon your fitness routine, take time to go for a little walk. Enjoy the moment, and be grateful. Gratitude is a huge happiness booster and stress reliever!
  • Ask for help if you need it (a friend, a professional organizer). Hire someone to clean your house before (better yet, after) a party. Why do all the cooking yourself? Make it a potluck!

What stresses you out about the holidays?

What tips can you share with us? Please share in the comments below!

Here’s to stress-free holidays, all year long!

Additional Resources: The Holiday Resource Roundup
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  1. Sarah Soboleski on November 12, 2015 at 3:28 pm

    Great tips here, Hazel! A few years ago we started doing a Yankee Swap with my family and a Secret Santa with my husband’s family. It’s been great buying less stuff for folks and instead enjoying the silliness and surprise of these new traditions!

  2. Seana Turner on November 14, 2015 at 8:25 am

    Lots of great ideas, Hazel. I think the time crunch and the expectations really make the holiday difficult. I have clients who wish that Elf on the Shelf didn’t exist:)

  3. Janet Barclay on November 14, 2015 at 8:38 am

    You make an excellent point. Most holiday-related stress is due to the expectations placed on us by others – and ourselves! We need to give ourselves permission to say “no” to activities and expenses that take away from our enjoyment of this special time of year.

    • Hazel Thornton on November 14, 2015 at 8:42 am

      Exactly. Why clutter up your holidays with unwanted expenses and unfulfilling activities? Less clutter. More life.

  4. Sabrina Q. on November 14, 2015 at 9:53 am

    Great tips! Hosting parties stresses me out! Especially since my son has his birthday party next weekend, then thanksgiving, then a family gathering, Christmas Eve dinner, then Christmas Day. I love having them but it is a lot of work.

  5. Linda Samuels on November 19, 2018 at 7:03 am

    These are wonderful tips, Hazel! While I don’t decorate for the holidays, I’ve had the joy of helping many clients decorate and organize their decorations. It has made the following years so much easier to unpack, trim, and repack again. Your point about changes in family and traditions resonated with me. In the past ten years, there have been so many shifts such as kids leaving the nest, family members moving or dying. Those changes have affected many traditions. I’ll admit that I’ve struggled to put new ones in place. Little by little we have. But there was some sadness in letting go of traditions I loved, anticipated, and counted on. Reconciling the idea that change is integral, even when it comes to traditions, has helped me. But even now, sometimes I feel the loss of what was.

  6. Sabrina Quairoli on November 19, 2018 at 9:56 am

    Great tips, Hazel! Planning is so important for me. The holiday season can easily get away from me so making plans on what we are doing and when we are planning on doing it works wonderfully for us. I had our family gathering scheduled since October. Yes, it seems early, but it isn’t. You see, everyone lives over an hour away so if we don’t make a plan to meet up we will never do it.

  7. Andi Willis on November 19, 2018 at 11:50 am

    Great tips, Hazel! When I put up my Christmas decorations, if there is anything left at the end, I take a really critical eye to it. Most times I will get rid of it, keeping only the items I truly love! And self care is so important during these busy times.

  8. Janet Barclay on November 19, 2018 at 1:46 pm

    What stresses me out, not just in regards to holidays, is uncertainty, so having regular lists and routines is a huge help.

  9. Kathleen MacAinsh on November 21, 2018 at 8:44 am

    Wonderful post!

    Love the idea of a signature wrapping paper and the reminder to prioritize your own self care too.

  10. Hazel Thornton on November 18, 2019 at 7:41 am

    I so appreciate all of your comments. Thank you for chiming in!

  11. Jonda Sue Beattie on November 16, 2023 at 1:11 pm

    What a great list of ideas! I like to use one roll of wrapping paper for adults and another for children. Our extended family does a gift exchange where each year I buy only for one sibling and their participating family members. I always know ahead who I am buying for because we do it by birth order and just drop down one each year.

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