Top Tips for Staying Sane As You Prepare for the Holidays

Top Tips for Staying Sane As You Prepare for the Holidays

We’re just barely put away the Halloween costumes, and already the big box stores are putting up Christmas decorations and starting to play holiday music over their sound systems.

If you’re feeling a bit rushed, you’re not alone.  

Holiday festivities are wonderful, but they can also skyrocket your stress level. This year, I wanted to give you some holiday preparation tips to help you slow down and savor these special moments with your family and friends.

Let’s dig in.

Try to Plan Ahead as Much as Possible

Nothing ratchets up stress levels like last-minute holiday preparations, so the best tip I can give you is to plan ahead as much as possible.

We’re currently at the beginning of November, but it’s not too late to plan ahead for this year!

I recommend deciding what your holiday plans will be in advance, and setting your budget for gifts, decor, entertaining, and meals.  

After that, start making lists!

I recommend using notes apps, like Evernote or Notes, to create and update your lists. Both programs have desktop and mobile apps, so your lists will sync automatically between the two platforms, and you’ll be able to keep everything at your fingertips on your phone or tablet while you are out and about.

Another thing you can do to plan ahead is start decluttering early to make room for your guests, decorating efforts, and holiday cooking. Everything will be easier when you don’t have to wade through tons of clutter to get around! Here are some quick tips to help with the decluttering process:

  • Make room in your pantry by throwing away expired food, or donating items you know you’ll never use (like that can of kidney beans that has been sitting in your shelf for six months!)
  • Clean out your coat closet and donate gently used coats, hats, gloves and scarves to a local charity or homeless shelter.
  • Make room on your bookshelves by giving away books you don’t need. You can donate books to libraries, thrift shops, or bookworm friends.
  • Thin out your sheets and towels, and repurpose or donate the linens you’ll never use.
  • Clean out medicine cabinets and toss old or expired cosmetics, lotions, and over-the-counter medicines.
  • Go through any piles of stuff that might be accumulating on counters and tabletops, and sort things into a few small storage baskets that can be easily put away before guests arrive.

Preparing for Holiday Decorating

Pinterest is my favorite site for new holiday decorating ideas. If you don’t already have an account, it will only take 30 seconds to sign up!

Start checking out Pinterest early (or start brainstorming ideas) and decide what you’d like to do for your holiday decorating. Then, estimate approximately how long each part of the process will take (Christmas tree, outdoor lights, etc.). If you need to recruit extra help or gather special tools for any of your decorations, make sure to line that up in advance.

Looking for something additional, affordable ideas for decorating? A new home decor line called “Hearth & Hand” arrived at Target in November! This new inexpensive line was created by Chip & Joanna Gaines (from the HGTV television show Fixer Upper), and includes holiday decor. A portion of the proceeds from this line will also go to helping families in need.

Once you’ve got your house decorated, take pictures of your décor! Then you won’t have to wrack your brain to remember how you set everything up when you decorate next year.

Simplify Your Shopping Efforts

Gone are the days when family members gave you dog-eared copies of the Sears catalog as their Christmas wish lists. These days, we might get an email from a son or daughter with links items on Amazon, instead!

There’s often a lot of shopping involved in the holiday season (including groceries and gifts). Now there are several easy-to-use shopping apps can help you organize your Christmas shopping right on your phone.

Shopping apps let you import recipients, create wish lists and shopping lists, and set budgets and track spending for your lists.

We like Santa’s Bag and The Christmas Gift Lite (which are both available only for Apple devices) and Christmas Gift List (available only for Android).

We also discovered the Shopper app, which is available for Apple and Android devices. Using Shopper, you can:

  • Order your shopping list according to your pantry or the store aisles.
  • Sync your shopping lists with family and friends.
  • Store your own recipes, and find new recipes online – then transfer ingredients directly to your shopping list.
  • Save money with lists of coupons from top brands.
  • Scan barcode items directly onto your shopping list.
  • Track multiple lists & multiple stores (grocery stores, Wal-Mart, Target, Costco, etc.).

Making Sending Cards Easier

Now is the time to decide what you’d like to use for your family holiday card. Do you want to use a family photo? If you can’t get everyone together for a family photo, you can also use a collage of pictures from the year.

Do you want to include a family letter? If so, who will write the letter?

No matter what kind of card you’ll be sending, make sure to build time into your schedule for buying and signing cards, collecting addresses, and affixing postage.

Check out these two posts from our Picture This Organized archive, to help with this process.

How to Prepare for Overnight Guests

If you’re planning on hosting overnight guests during the holidays, consider hiring a cleaning service to help you prepare. This shortcut will save you time and energy – just make sure you book your cleaning service in advance, because many companies get busy during the holidays.

You can still host guests even if you don’t have a formal guest room. You can order an air mattress in advance, and stash it away in a closet when you’re not using it. We like the Insta-Bed air mattress/headboard combo.

Want to give your guests an extra special touch? Create a small gift basket of local items, or leave a photo frame with a pic of your guests for them to take when they leave. You can also stock the room with bottled water. You can order these items in advance, so you’re not scrambling for them two days before your guests arrive.

Tech Tools and Programs for an Easier Holiday Travel Experience

Holiday travel can be stressful, but there are a few shortcuts and tech tools that can help make it smoother and more pleasant. Here are a few ideas:

  • Access your boarding pass on your mobile phone, so you don’t have to fumble with paperwork when you get to the airport.
  • Sign up for TSA Pre-Check or CLEAR to speed up your airport experience and decrease the amount of time you spend going through security. If you want to sign up for either of these programs, start researching them early. They may require paperwork or a visit to the airport during the signup process.
  • Download the WAZE app (Android or Apple) on your phone to help you navigate road trips and traffic.
  • Simplify your packing PackPoint, a travel packing wizard that gives you a checklist of travel essentials based on the trip profile you enter.

With the right planning and tools, traveling away from home for the holidays be easier, so your family can focus on being together.

Don’t Forget to Take Care of Yourself!

Lastly, don’t forget to take care of yourself during this holiday season.

The best way to decrease your stress level during holiday entertaining is to emphasize present over perfect. Enjoying being together is far more important than every detail looking like it came straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting!

During the holidays, remember that you will need a little extra margin in your life. Richard Swenson, M.D. defines margin as “the space between our load and our limits. It is the amount allowed beyond that which is needed. It is something held in reserve for contingencies or unanticipated situations. Margin is the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating.”

Build a little extra margin in your life by making sure you don’t overschedule yourself or try to pack too many tasks into your days. Here are some excellent tips from Michael Hyatt about how to restore time reserves into our lives.

Take time to rest and rejuvenate, instead of going non-stop during the holidays. Settle into your recliner or couch with a good book, or treat yourself to a massage, manicure or pedicure.

If you plan ahead using the tips in this post, and take care of yourself during the holidays, our hope is that you have a nourishing, comforting celebratory season.

Happy holidays from all of us here at Picture This Organized!

How to Document Your Family Reunion This Summer

How to Document Your Family Reunion This Summer

Family reunions are one of the few times you can get your family members all in one place at one time – and that means it’s the perfect time to do some storytelling, and document those stories!

Since we talked about family reunion planning in our last post, I wanted to give you some tips on documenting your family reunions this summer, and that means taking photos, recording stories via audio, and creating videos.

All three can be quick and easy to do, and you’ll be so glad you took the time to document your family stories. You never know when you’ll get another chance!

Here are some tips for documenting your family reunions:

1. Get your family to help you think about the stories in advance.

Sometimes it’s hard for your relatives to come up with stories on the spot, especially if you’ve just stuck a microphone in their faces.

Do a little advance planning, and ask your family members (or all generations) to jot down the topics of their favorite stories, or send them to you via email or text. Include your own favorite stories, too!

If you want some ideas, I’d suggest a book called “To Our Children’s Children: Preserving Family Histories for Generations to Come” by Bob Greene and D.G. Fulford. It’s a great book about putting together a personal history for your family.

2. Take photos from your reunion.

When you’re taking photos, include as many people and moments as you can (both posed and candid). For more tips on taking great storytelling photos, download our free report, 8 Ways to Tell Stories with Your Family Photos.

How to Document Your Family Reunion This Summer
We held a little family reunion after my daughter Molly’s wedding.

3. Record your relatives telling stories.

Once you’ve got a list of stories to include in your documentation process (see #1), you can ask someone in your family to tell a specific story, instead of just saying, “Tell me a story!” and putting that person on the spot.

Use the ideas from your list to get conversations started. You can also have folks bring photo albums, and document as folks reminisce over the photos. Family photo albums can be a great way to get memories (and good stories) flowing!

Here are a few ways to capture audio recordings as the storytelling happens:

  • For iPhones, you can use the Voice Memos application. Just make sure your phone is fully charged up before you go to the reunion!

You should already have Voice Memos on your phone, so you can simply open the app  and press record. When you’re finished, just tap “Save”. You can give your recording a name, and it will be saved within the app. Here’s a handy article on how to use the Voice Memos app to record stories. The Voice Memos application is exclusive to the iPhone right now, but there is mostly likely a voice recording app you can get if you have an Android phone.

You can share and send these voice recordings directly from your phone, the same way you share photos. From the app, select the voice recording to share, then choose the method you’d like to use to share the recording (Message, Mail, Add to Notes, or a third party app).

The recording is a .M4a file, which is like a ringtone file, so you can also convert a voice recording to a ringtone or text tone – but that’s a whole different conversation! If you’d like to know how to do that, let me know in the comments, and we’ll try to address it in an upcoming blog post.

Whatever tool you decide to use for audio recording, make sure you test it in advance to make sure you understand how it works. You need to know how to start, stop, and save recordings easily. There’s nothing worse than missing great stories because you’re fiddling around with your technology!

4. Videotape the reunion, if you can.

It’s so nice to have motion and voices in your recording – so if you’ve got the technology and the skill to create a video of your reunion, go for it!

When you’re recording, be mindful of getting the best perspective. While it’s possible to create vertical videos (by holding your phone the long way), keep in mind that for playback, this doesn’t work with all devices. Computer and TV screens are designed for horizontal video viewing, so things will be easier and more pleasant to watch if you shoot things horizontally. Here’s an article that offers some perspective on the horizontal/vertical debate.

5. Upload your photos on sharing sites.

Want a simple way for relatives to view (or give input on) your reunion photos? You can create a shareable album, so all your family members can enjoy your event images. Check out our previous posts for more information on creating easily shareable albums.

For slideshows or videos, you can upload them to Vimeo and share them with everyone in the family.

Reunions Are Great Storytelling Opportunities

Remember: Your family reunions are wonderful opportunities to sit down with your relatives and share family stories – so why not document that process?

Today’s modern tools make it relatively easy to document your reunions, so you should definitely take a few extra minutes to create some priceless photos and recordings from the event.

You’ll be so glad you did!