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Between decorating, buying gifts, party-prepping and hosting family and friends, the holidays can be an extraordinarily stressful time of year. Having a to-do list is a must if you want to stay on top of your deadlines and avoid unpleasant surprises in the thick of the season. Whether you're planning a big family get-together or having a small dinner party in your apartment, here are our 10 top tips that belong on every holiday to-do list, covering everything from the weeks leading up to Christmas Day and the days immediately after.
A master spreadsheet is different from a standard checklist. In your spreadsheet, you’ll want to outline specific dates for any tasks or to-dos and create sub-sheets to help you manage any mini holiday responsibilities, including gift buying, party invites, holiday cards, recipes (and ingredients you might need to buy), budget tracking and other projects that involve a bit of extra logistics and coordination. You can download a free template here or set aside a few hours to build your own — which you can use every year after.
No one will notice if you miss a few ornaments on the tree or forget to dust the mantel, but there’s no excuse for showing up empty handed to your holiday party. With worldwide shipping delays plaguing even the biggest retailers, getting your gifts early should be your number-one priority. Make a list of everyone you’re buying for and jot down both your ideal gift for that person as well as two-to-three alternatives. If you like to take advantage of cash back affiliates like Honey or wait for price drops, do so cautiously. Even though many brands are trying to get ahead of shipping delays by releasing holiday deals sooner rather than later, it might be worth it to pay full price (or find a more affordable backup) to make sure you get your gifts — and have time to wrap them — just in time for the celebrations.
It may seem counterintuitive to do a deep clean before the holidays, but hear us out. Getting the nooks and crannies immaculate now means you’ll only have to tackle surface-level cleans or spot treatments when it’s time to have your guests over. Then, after the festivities are finished, you can focus your energy on stowing all your holiday decor into storage rather than doing an exhausting post-holiday scour.
After Thanksgiving, put away any fall-inspired decor and declutter all the areas where you might be entertaining guests for Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, including the living room, dining area, kitchen and bathrooms. Don’t forget to do the guest bedroom, too, if you plan on having any overnighters!
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After everything’s sparkling clean, hang up any decorations from last year and add the ones you still need to your shopping list.
After you’ve done a deep clean and reorganization of your pantry, fridge and kitchen, it’s time to make a list of all the things you have — and need — for your holiday planning. This includes:
- Decorations (test the ones that need to be plugged in to make sure they still work)
- Gift-wrapping supplies
- Seating for guests
- Silverware, plates, wine glasses, linen napkins
- Ingredients for your menu
- Guest bedroom items (candles, clean sheets, extra toothpaste and soap, etc.)
- Cleaning supplies
- Cooking utensils
- Tupperware for leftovers
- Slippers for guests (if you’re a no-shoes house)
- Extra snow brushes and ice scrapers
- First aid kit
No one single person should have to bear the brunt of all the holiday planning and scheduling. Delegating tasks to family members can be easy through your master spreadsheet — just add a column indicating the point person for a project — and you can even use these tips to find opportunities for your kids to get involved. If you’re having a holiday gathering with your friends, find ways to offload some of the work, whether it’s by ordering takeout or organizing a potluck for dinner and having a few close friends come over beforehand to help you set up.
Even if you’ve hosted your fair share of holiday parties, be sure to build in breaks during the process. Remember: the holidays are supposed to be a time you spend celebrating with your loved ones. Don’t let the stress of getting your house “perfect” overshadow the most important part of the season, and especially don’t let your own mental, emotional and physical health take a backseat. Schedule in that yoga or Zumba class, go on a hike before the weather gets too cold, catch the movie you’ve been wanting to see — even if you feel like you don’t need to.
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Building out a menu can be one of the most stressful parts of holiday party planning. In addition to creating a balanced menu (that takes dietary restrictions into account) and shopping for often high-demand ingredients, you’ll need to time the preparation of your dishes so that nothing comes off the stovetop or out of the oven undercooked or burnt (and have some wiggle room to accommodate any last-minute changes or damage control). The best way to make the process more efficient is to get as much prep out of the way as early as possible.
- Can you make — and freeze — the cookie dough?
- Can you marinate the meat two days in advance?
- Can you make a dish and simply warm it up half an hour before the party starts?
- Can you wash, trim, peel, slice or dice any vegetables ahead of time and store them in your refrigerator?
- Instead of using the oven, is there anything you can make in an Instant Pot or crock pot instead?
Congrats on making it past the mayhem of hosting and entertaining! When it comes to storing all your winter decor, you’ll need to do a bit more than toss everything into a bin. With delicate items like dishware, glassware, string lights and baubles, you’ll want to carefully wrap them up or store them in individual DIY caddies to prevent tangles and cracks. You should also delineate what can be kept in a spare closet, your attic or your garage, and what is temperature-sensitive enough to require a climate-controlled storage unit.
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It’s natural to want to close the chapter on this season’s celebration and forget about the holidays until next year, but if you’re keen on saving a bit of money, shop for next year’s supplies sooner rather than later. Many holiday-related accessories, gift-wrapping supplies and ornaments get heavily marked down after Christmas. If you wait until you start planning for the next round next November, you’ll have to fork over full price for basic items like gift bags, tissue paper and peppermint candles, so why not stock up now?
Now that everything’s stowed away, it’s time to kick back and relax. Treat yourself to a massage or spa night, wrap up any leftover items on this year’s bucket list and start thinking about your New Year’s intentions.