Top Tips for an Organized Holiday Season {Plus a Free Gift Tracking Printable}

Holy smokes people, the 2016 holiday season is officially upon us! Is it me or did it show up pretty quickly again this year??

'Tis the season to spend time with loved ones, eat lots of delicious food and give & receive some wonderful gifts. I've been known to hide gifts in super random places throughout my house. But you know what can spoil the holiday season? Being stressed, flying by the seat of your holiday pants, or spending waaaaay to much money because you have gifts over here, over there, and generally gifts hidden everywhere.

And I don't know about you but when I spend more than I want to (or more than my bank account wants me to), it can spoil the mood faster than passing around old eggnog with stale cookies. Ew!

That's why today, friends, I'm talking about some tips that I've gotten over the years that have helped me have an organized, and not overly expensive, holiday season. Plus, read all the way to the bottom cuz I'm giving you a FREE Gift Giving Tracker that I've created because....well, that's the spirit of the season, isn't it?

 Do you find yourself frazzled every holiday season? Nobody enjoys a stressed holiday. Click through to read some top tips to have an organized, stress-free holiday season. BONUS: Grab a free gift giving tracking printable and say goodbye to overspending this holiday season!!

Plan as Much in Advance as You Can

Every year the holidays come and I hear stories about people frantically running to get "stuff" from the stores or getting stressed when the little details aren't completed on time. I know I'm guilty of feeling like I'm running around with my head cut off to get last minute things checked off my list.

News flash: the holidays come every year at the same time! Why do we wait and hope the season will pull itself off? I have no idea!

Instead, perhaps taking some time in November to being pulling all the details together for our vision of a successful holiday season can only help. It might look something like this:

  • Put up Christmas tree on Black Friday
  • Make sure gift wish lists are exchanged by November 15th
  • Work with family to understand who's hosting Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year's Eve, etc.
  • Send gifts to loved ones far away at least 10 days before holiday
  • Begin making holiday cards by Dec 1st to mail before Dec 15th

In other words, all those tiny details that it takes us to complete to pull off what we feel is a wonderful holiday season, those need some planning and thought put into them. Trust me, I've fallen flat on my face forgetting some of these bullet points before and let's just say I was embarrassed to say the least.

Taking a Saturday morning to lay out all the desired details onto a calendar can save you A LOT of stress. 

Work Together with Loved Ones

This one was one I used to fear, and I can't even tell you why. I don't know, I used to feel like I had to pull everything off by myself. Why?? Why would I do that to myself and my family? 

A handful of years ago I discovered that some of the best memories are made when we reach out to loved ones and work together to pull off the holidays. My mother-in-law (MIL) and I have grown closer now because we talk about what we envision the holidays to look like. And then we share the load to pull it off together.

This year, for example, I made the Thanksgiving desserts and she loved them! From here on out, I've taken on the duties of making desserts and she's happy to hand over the task to me. And it truly warms my heart to take that on as it gives me gratification.

For the Christmas season, I'll be making desserts and I'm also going to share in some of the cookie making with my MIL. My husband and I are vegetarians so we'll be making some of the vegetable sides for the big dinner.

So if you haven't tried it before, perhaps work together with your family and divide the duties. You'll be amazed at how much less stressful the season can be when you delegate things to someone else.

The only caveat here is you MUST let go of controlling all aspects of the season. If you give a task to a loved one, you're not allowed to criticize if the task isn't up to your standards. It is the thought, time and care given to the task that counts. No critics allowed!

Set Yourself Up for an Easy Cleaning Schedule

If you're hosting friends and family this holiday season you know how quickly your house can go from clean to "ugh!". Instead of freaking out about having to deep clean every inch of the house, take the time to set yourself up for a flexible cleaning routine built over some time before your company arrives.

So let's say you're hosting your brother and his family and they're due to arrive on Saturday afternoon before Christmas. Waiting to clean the entire house until the day before will probably give you either a meltdown or a stroke, whichever happens first.

Instead, try doing one big chore every day before they arrive. So on Monday, dust the house, on Tuesday mop the floors, etc etc.

Or, another idea is to work on cleaning one room per day until their arrival. Work on cleaning the room where they'll be staying at the beginning of the week before they arrive and that way when the room is to your level of satisfaction, you can close the door and concentrate on common areas.

Another great trick I learned years ago when we bought our first home is to store cleaners and tools in the bottom of either a hallway closet or bathroom cabinet closest to the common areas being used. This way you can do a quick clean-up just before your guests arrive without having to pull every cleaner & tool out of wherever it is that you may store your cleaning supplies.

In other words, store toilet cleaner, scrub brush, rubber gloves, a roll of paper towels, and a counter disinfectant cleaner in the bottom bathroom cabinet. That way you can do a quick spot clean in less than 5 minutes and put everything back before your guests finish their first beverage.

Remain Flexible

This one kind of goes without saying, but I wanted to include it in there. Sometimes, things don't go as expected. Sometimes people get sick, or work projects take a nosedive, baked goods get burned or shipments get lost.

We've had this happen to us and I know it happens to nearly everyone. Like when one of my kids woke up on Christmas Eve with a horrible fever and we couldn't join the rest of our family for the celebration. Sure everyone was bummed that neither he nor I could be there, but bringing him just to keep the plans together would have exposed everyone else to whatever he had come down with and that's 10 times worse, in my opinion.

Honestly, the rest of the family still had a great celebration and enjoyed one another's company even though not all of us could join. The Christmas season of the following year was even worse when 3 of us ended up coming down with the flu on Christmas day. That made the prior year's celebration look even better, because trust me, it was!

Use What You've Already Got

I personally like making some new ornaments and decorations each year. But then every year I feel the creeping sensation of needing to buy new ornaments, wrapping paper, decorations and it makes me cringe. And then I remember there are plenty of ways for me to make my own items and still add to the celebration.

A few ideas I have for this year include making some new small framed picture ornaments using school pictures and craft sticks like small tongue depressors or popsicle sticks.

Or simply cutting out a circular shape from a favorite photo, hole punching the top of the photo, tying ribbon and dating the back of the photo. Hang it from the tree and it's a new addition with zero financial investment.

And as for wrapping paper, if you do DIY projects already, using craft paper you may have on hand may be a great alternative to buying rolls and rolls of paper that'll just get thrown away. Tie it with ribbon you may already have, and use a chalk pen and you'll have a gorgeously wrapped present.

Who said beautiful presentation has to be expensive?

Make Time to Teach Children Something New

This tip is one of my favorites by far. A few years back when I was pregnant with my third child, a friend of mine confided in me that she doesn't "do everything". She teaches her older kids how to fold their own laundry, how to straighten up their beds, and asks them to pick up their rooms.

Now, it isn't a promise that they'll do it, but she's taught them and empowered them to play an effective role in the family dynamic.

This is also special when it comes to the holiday season! 

Wouldn't your kids enjoy participating and contributing to a wonderful holiday season? Of course they would!

Imagine teaching your kids how to make their favorite holiday baked goods. My second son enjoys helping with the cooking & baking. So this year, he's helping me make his favorite cookies. My oldest son is helping to make other desserts as well, like apple pie, pumpkin pie & chocolate cream pie.

Another lesson I really want to teach my kids is that not everyone is as blessed and lucky as they are and that it's more important to give and care for others than it is to receive. That's why they go through their toys and make conscientious donations to children who aren't as fortunate. They'll also be delivering meals to families who are in need through our church this year.

Plan Out Gift Giving for the Season Effectively

I was having a conversation with someone about Black Friday holiday shopping and they were remarking about how excited they get about the opportunity to get their family items they'll like for a fraction of the price. And then this person  laughed and confided in me that their significant other cringes while they rejoice at the amount of sale flyers that land in their mailbox.

This year the significant other was overheard saying, "babe, I know you like to hit the stores hard but we end up with SOOOO much stuff and we lose track of what we've already gotten for people, it's scary!!"

When I overheard that I asked this person if they'd like me to make them a way to keep track of the gifts they had purchased and this person eagerly agreed that it would be a huge benefit for their entire family. It doesn't hurt that we're both fans of shopping but we're also huge fans of keeping our hard earned cash in our accounts as well.

Because it is so easy to spend and lose track of how much money has gone to the stores, first it's important to plan. That kind of goes without saying....but I had to say it. The intention of this Gift Giving Tracker is for you to plan not only who gets what, but what kind of money is being spent on them.

I'm not insinuating that the amount of money spent on someone is in any way equivalent to an emotional bond you may have with this person, but money is money and it's important to keep track of it.

Putting a little bit of time into what gifts are being given is just as important an investment as the money it takes to purchase the gift. 

You can also think of this way: what happens when it's the eve the important holiday and you and your loved ones look at each other and say "did anyone get {insert your loved one's name here} a gift?" And then there's sudden panic in everyone's eyes. Yikes!! That just sounds must feel 10 times as awful if it happens.

Planning out the gifts to be given this season can help avoid the nasty scenario painted above.

So it is my hope that you enjoy this holiday season with your loved ones. I hope that you find joy in giving to others, near and far. Perhaps you will give to someone who's in need and with whom you don't have a personal connection. And it is my hope that this Gift Giving Tracker can help you spread some love this season, while keeping track of who's getting what.