It's that time of year again! Are you ready for the holidays? Are you stressing out? This year more than ever for us, it's about keeping it simple, and making really thoughtful choices about how to spend money and how to give where it's really needed. Here's what we've decided.
It's that time of year again! Time to decide who you are going to give what to. As always, I'm on the lookout for clutter free Christmas & Holiday gifts...so here are some of my favorite clutter-free gift ideas...
Popcorn & movie rentals (who would ever let popcorn become clutter??? : )
A digital photo slide presentation on the web or use Powerpoint of a special event / memories you shared with the person.
A free night or weekend of babysitting is always popular with moms.
The holidays are supposed to be a time of giving and celebration of new beginnings. But our traditions of decorating, gift giving, card sending, eating and entertaining have become so complicated and stressful that it’s almost impossible to recognize the true meaning of the holidays anymore. Here are a few tips to help you simplify, reduce stress and get back to experiencing the joys of holiday traditions.
• Decorate less. This year, experiment with using only half or maybe even fewer of your decorations. Spending less time displaying decorations will give you more time to enjoy them. As a bonus, you’ll also have less to put away after the holidays.
• Instead of adding holiday decorations, consider replacing current decorations. If you buy a new decoration, consider donating or giving away some of your older ones.
• Design a decorating ritual. Instead of storing like items with like items, and having all your lights in one container, label containers according to the room or location where you display the decorations. For example, a container for the living room, or perhaps one that says, "fireplace" decorations, etc. Perhaps use pictures of last year's decorations as a guide to help you figure out where to put everything more quickly.
• Swap out decorations. When you put holiday decorations out on display, put some of your non-holiday decorations away. Keep those decorations in your holiday storage box until the holidays are over.
• Exercise your letting go muscles. If you have decorations that you don’t really use any more, and you need space for new decorations, try not to keep them out of habit. If they are sentimental, consider taking a photo before letting them go.
• Set limits. It’s so tempting to give your kids lots of gifts. But when you do, realize that you are inadvertently teaching them to expect that every year. The best gift you can give your kids is to teach them that the true meaning of the holidays is to give of yourself to others, be with people you love, and not about how many gifts you get.
• Make a list and define a flexible budget for holiday spending. One of the biggest sources of holiday stress is overspending on gifts. Make a list of everyone you want to give a gift to and set a budget that allows you to celebrate the holidays without creating a financial hardship.
• Limit the number of shopping trips you make. Where possible integrate shopping with your normal shopping routines. Consider shopping on Mondays early or late to avoid crowds. Shop in smaller stores you enjoy and avoid overstimulating store environments like BJs, Costco or Sam's clubs if you or your kids are highly sensitive.
• Create your gift list based on what you know people really need and use. If you aren’t sure, find out their favorite stores, restaurants, activities or service providers and give them a gift certificate. Include a personal note with what you were thinking of buying them, maybe even include a photo from a catalog or internet site to personalize the gift certificate. See Jeri Dansky's Tips on Giving Gift Cards and Gift Certificates (Here are my "clutter-free holiday gift ideas")
• Avoid shopping just to look for gift ideas. When people shop looking for ideas, they often end up finding too many great gift ideas, can't decide, and then they buy too many gifts.
• Avoid bringing home “possible” gifts thinking you'll return the ones you decide not to give. That almost never happens. And it just causes more stress. The best time to make decisions about what gifts you want to give is BEFORE you go shopping.
• Shop online. Especially for people you have to ship gifts to. Having your gifts wrapped & shipped directly to them can save you a lot of aggravation waiting in line at the post office.
• Instead of spending a lot on gift wrap, make creative gift wraps out of items in your home. For example, use fabric, or maybe even the comic pages of a newspaper. You can even cut strips of fabric to make bows.
Card Sending Tips
• Rethink your card traditions. How many cards do you really need to send out this year? You don't have to cut back, just review to consciously validate your choices rather than pressure yourself to comply with traditions.
• Consider sending e-cards, making phone calls or sending personal emails with photos instead of cards. Imagine how much nicer it would be to actually talk to the college roommate you exchange cards with every year but haven’t seen or spoken to in 20 years.
This year, in lieu of mailing cards, we donated the money we usually spend on cards and stamps etc. ($200) to www.RoomtoRead.org. Instead, we are making our own e-card.
Eating and Entertaining Tips
• Limit how much sugar you eat. Sugar impairs your immune system and causes water retention and mood swings. Much holiday depression is caused by or made worse by eating too much junk.
• Keep a few healthy meals & snacks on hand. Fruit, cut vegetables, nuts, popcorn and cheese are excellent alternatives to sweets.
• If you are having a party, let your guests bring something. You don’t have to do it all yourself. Remember that people usually enjoy contributing.
• Finally, give up the myth of the perfect holiday. It doesn’t exist. What stories are you telling yourself about what people expect of you? Chances are they don’t expect nearly as much as you think they do. The truth is most people don’t care how many decorations you put up or whether or not you send them a card. 90% of our stress is self-inflicted by the stories we tell ourselves about events in our lives. By rethinking the stories you tell yourself about your holiday traditions, you can start getting back to a simpler, happier holiday season.
Have you been wondering where my holiday organizing tips are? Look no further! They've been posted over at Clutter Control Freak Blog! (Photo is of my cat Alex playing with giftwrap - Isn't he precious? Click to see the photo bigger)
I love taking vacations, but the older I get the harder it is to recover from them! It seems the longer the time I go away and more deeply I "disconnect" from everything, the longer it takes to get reconnected with all the elements of my life. And now, I'm finally reconnecting with you! : )
Having a 3 hour time change and getting sick after coming back made this vacation hangover particularly grueling and lengthy. I think I got so sick partly because of the insane amount of smoking I got exposed to there. Everywhere we went there cigars and cigarettes being smoked. It was unbelievable how much smoking was going on there. I suppose there is a connection between gambling and smoking. But it was really bad. We couldn't even walk down the street, or wait for a shuttle bus, or even go to the spa or pool at our hotel without suddenly taking in a deep breaths of CIGAR smoke - never mind the cigarettes. It was like they were having some kind of cigar convention there (but they weren't) : )
We were so constantly bombarded with smoke that my lungs were killing me most of the time there. (I am forever grateful to be living in NJ where we finally got a statewide smoking ban passed. There is NO smoking allowed, at ALL, in any indoor facilities, and many outdoor areas as well. As a former smoker, I know how hard it is to quit, but it's a lot easier to quit when you don't have to breathe it in everywhere you go.)
We don't gamble, so I can't review the casinos except to say that they were EXTREMELY smoky, I actually had to cover my mouth to breathe a few times or hold my breath to walk through - because you HAVE to walk through them to get to the shows and the restaurants in most of the hotels on the strip.
Here are a couple Photo Albums we put up on Google's Picasa web. I don't spend a lot of time doing photo albums, but I wanted to learn this tool so that I could hopefully start sharing more photos (and videos) of my work. I just wish it didn't take up so much time. This is the EASIEST way to do it I've tried so far. I uploaded over 50 photos all at once with no problem. Added Captions in about 10 minutes. The MOST time consuming part was choosing the best photos and renaming the files.
You might especially like my strategy for not bringing home a lot of clutter...I took photos in the stores of most of the souvenirs I was tempted by! tee hee. I love just being able to see them and not having to find homes for them somewhere in the house.
p.s. Photos were resized and some were auto corrected with Microsoft Office 2003's Photo Manager. Love that for quick and dirty edits.
Here is our Leaving Las Vegas album showing some amazing aerial views from the plane.
More nice things about Las Vegas: The weather was gorgeous! Sunny and in the low 70s every day. : )
The food was amazing, I now understand why Top Chef did one of their seasons from Las Vegas. We had a beautiful traditional Thanksgiving dinner at Lawry's Prime Rib. FABULOUS. I wish there was a Lawry's in New York City.
We had a delicious but very expensive meal at the The Mix restaurant which is in the THE hotel at Mandalay Bay. We were seated on the outdoor balcony of the 64th Floor and the view of the city was stunning. Good thing we don't drink or the meal would have been really outrageous! It was fun, but the whole environment seemed rather pretentious to me.
Another favorite was the Harley Davidson Cafe. They have a bunch of REAL motorcycles on a track suspended from the ceiling that actually move all through the restaurant. It's like being in Disneyland. Check out their virtual ride through the restaurant and their photo gallery...way cool.
We enjoyed the shows, especially:
Mama Mia at the Mandalay - My FAVORITE!! Loved it. The ABBA music made be feel 17 again! I was actually 17 when Dancing Queen came out and I danced to it on my 17th birthday.
LOVE by Cirque de Soleil at the Mirage - It was a gorgeous show and the music was amazing. I've Cirque before and was expeciting more acrobatics, it has a little, but this show is NOT about the acrobatics...be forewarned : )
Blue Man Group at the Venetian - My husband LOVED this one best. I liked it, but it's really a guy's show. They spray the audience with colored paint and stuff like that. It got very gross at times - like when they squirt what looks like vomit out of their outfits and then eat it. eeewww. not my thing. But at times it was very insightful too. Overall, it's a fun show, glad I went, glad we didn't pay half price. : )
ICE at the Riviera by a skating acrobatics ensemble from Russia. It was nice, but DON'T pay full price. The stage is too small and is not in the round so they don't have room to do anything too spectacular, though from what they did do, it was clear they are very talented. One cool thing about the show was that they have a thin ice track that weaved through the audience so that they could skate through now and then.
I'm glad we went, but I would not go back. There are many more places I'd rather go, but I'm glad to have been there once in my life.
Well that's all for now. This post and getting all the photos and video clip together has taken nearly all day!
But meanwhile I was also playing with my early Christmas Gift, an HP iPaq PDA - it's basically a handheld mobile computer with enough features to compel me to try using an electronic calendar again! For one I can handwrite entries!!! It also allows me to connect to the internet and email via WI-FI and cell phone. Plus it's an MP3 Player, a note recorder and much more. I'll wrote more about that eventually : ) For now check it out on Amazon here - It has great reviews! HP iPAQ 111 Classic Handheld
Here's a step-by-step checklist to simplify and make it easier to send those holiday cards on time.
1. SIMPLIFY / CUT BACK ON YOUR LIST
In an effort to simplify, this year we have decided to minimize the number of paper cards we send out. For the first time ever, I'm not going to add anyone to my list that is already at 200! I'm also cut our list to 90! It's not easy, but we did it. Here's my strategy for cutting back.
People we are taking out of our Christmas labels Word File.
1. People I've lost touch with.
2. People who are business / school acquaintances.
3. People who don't send us cards (including family members). Obviously they must not care about getting any if they don't send any, right?
4. People who understand why we are trying to simplify. (Sending over 200 cards is just too much!
5. People we know don't really care whether or not we send a card.
6. People who will be just as happy if we just send them a digital e-card!
People we are keeping in the file.
1. Family Members & friends who send us cards regularly because they love sending & getting cards.
2. People who meant a lot to me during my life when I lived in various places around the country that I really love exchanging updates with every year.
3. Older people we know don't get a lot of cards, don't have computers, and for whom receiving a card means a lot to them.
2. START EARLY & PREPARE THE "INGREDIENTS"
Start a couple weeks before Thanksgiving if you can. Chunk out your tasks into manageable bites as shown below. Every week we get 2 - 3 of these tasks done.
Update your address book and mailing label lists & print out the labels (I recommend using a Word Template for address labels from Avery)
Print out or gather your Return Address Labels. (I make my own in Word, but you can also just buy labels, or even better start gathering the labels you get for free from different charities.)
Buy Holiday Stamps from www.usps.com. They are usually available by Thanksgiving. If you order early you never have to worry about your local office running out.
Make sure you have the right number of cards. (I usually buy cards when they are on sale for the next year so I don't have to scramble to get this done. I keep them in a box in my office closet labeled Christmas. I also keep any unused labels & stamps and last year's gift lists in that box. )
If you send out photo cards, choose your photo & get them ordered.
If you send a holiday newsletter, start outlining the things you want to include. If you send pictures inside a cards, choose one and get it duplicated.
Write your Newsletter first draft.
2. PUT THE INGREDIENTS TOGETHER & MAIL
Week 1 after Thanksgiving do the next steps.
TIP: Prepare cards a few at a time while watching TV so it isn't overwhelming.
Put Return Address Labels on all your envelopes (try doing - 10-50 cards at a time)
Put Stamps on all your envelopes
Week 2 after Thanksgiving do the next steps.
Put Recipient Address Labels on the cards
Do your final edit, then print and fold your holiday Newsletters (if you have one) and put them inside the cards. Also, put each card with it's stamped and addressed envelope.
Divide cards into sets of 5 - 10 cards each.
Each day work on a set of cards. Also, get a plastic bag to carry cards with you. Anytime you have to wait somewhere, like at a doctor's office. Write personal notes and sign your cards.
If you really don't want to spend time on personal notes, you can order pre-printed cards. If you do that, you can just skip steps 2-4 and go directly to the next step!
Mail the set of cards.
Do a set each day and even if you have 100 cards, you'll have them all personalized and sent in 7 -10 days. If you have more cards than 100, consider starting a week or 2 earlier.
Wishing you Happy, Healthy & Neat Holidays!
Here's a comment from a Robbi in California. Thanks Robbi!
I keep a Christmas card list in my computer, in the Mail's Address Book, in a special folder called Christmas Card List. (I'm on an Apple Macintosh.)
In November, I go through it to make sure that the people on it are ones I want to send cards to. I remove those who haven't been in touch throughout the year. Then I print the list, which includes names, addresses, and family members' names such as spouse and children.
When I receive cards, I doublecheck the sender's address against my Address Book. Then I shred the envelope. Then I mark on my printed Christmas Card list that I received the card. I write any notes on it for updating the Address Book, such as new spouses' or children or pets' names, dates of birth, new jobs, new email addresses or whatever.
On December 31st (allowing for late arrivals), I go to my computerized Christmas card list and remove those people who have not sent a card, and update the Address Book. Then I throw out the cards and start the New Year clutter-free!
If you know someone who loves candles, I highly recommend you consider giving only SOY candles. They burn clean and don't destroy your sinuses the way traditional candles do, and they burn up to 40% longer!
This year I received several awesome soy candles from www.CaterpillarsCandles.com They smell so good in my office, even when they aren't burning my office smells delicious! One of the scents is vanilla cappucino - it smells DIVINE! You can also get many unusual scents such as Banana Bread and Christmas Fudge.
I recently found a particularly excellent website by fellow professional organizer, Jennifer Swanson in Minnetonka, Minnesota. She is wonderful and her advice is very practical! I feel like I've found another "sister" in organizing. With her permission, I am sharing her article on Simplifying Holiday Storage. Enjoy!
5 Steps to Simplify Holiday Storage by Jennifer Swanson
Do you box up your holiday decorations the day after Christmas--or hold onto the holiday spirit until the snow melts? Either way, a little thought when storing your decorations this year will save you a lot of time when you take them out next year.
1. Photograph. Take snapshots of your decorating arrangements to save time and decision making next year. Order double prints. Keep one set with your Christmas decorations to serve as instructions for yourself and your helpers. Put the other set in your safety deposit box with your household inventory for insurance purposes.
2. Tag. Handmade ornaments are precious heirlooms, but we often forget who created what and when. Write on strung paper tags, available at office supply stores, and attach them to ornaments and other important items. (Avoid stick-on labels-the glue may deteriorate over time, causing them to fall off.)
3. Sort. Group similar items together, and consider giving decorations you haven't displayed in years to new homes, perhaps to a friend or a charity. Make a list of supplies you'll need for next year, such as wrapping materials, cards, extension cords, and replacement light bulbs. Determine how many and what size containers you'll need for storage.
4. Shop. With your list from step 3, take advantage of after-Christmas sales. Stick to your list, being careful not to collect more clutter just because it's on sale.
5. Store. Put away sorted decorations according to groupings. For example, keep all your tree trimmings together rather than scattering them throughout your storage boxes. Be sure to label each container according to its contents. Consider numbering your boxes according to decorating priority. "Box 1" would contain those items that you consider essential and would want to unpack first, such as decorating photos (see step 1), holiday music, and special recipes.
Take this opportunity to store other items that you only use during the holidays, particularly those that take up valuable kitchen cupboard space.
When it's time to deck your halls next year, it will be fun, fast, and stress-free. Here's to an organized New Year!
Jennifer Swanson is a professional organizing consultant, speaker, writer and mother of three. She publishes a free monthly e-newsletter, offering practical ideas and encouragement to help you organize and simplify your life.
I have all 14 of her albums (including a Christmas collection and a Chanukah collection which is one of my all time favorites of hers) and have given them as holiday gifts to friends, clients and colleagues many times over the years. They are always enthusiastically received and people always askfor more! Her music is timeless and ageless. Everyone loves it...even die-hard rock & roll fans.
And the ORLA Soy candles are heavenly! The cucumber-melon scent alone is enough to make you smile and relax. Combined with Robin's incredibly beautiful piano music, you can curl up with a book and forget about all your cares.
To order directly from Robin go here! You will not only be giving someone a gift they lwill cherish forever, you will be supporting an extremely talented independent musician!
Looking for a great gift for one of your favorite mom's this year, but don't want to create clutter for her? The key to giving gifts that don't become clutter is to really pay attention to everything they say they need, wish they had time for, would like to do, etc. Take notes. Keep a gift idea file on hand and you'll always be able to offer gifts you know she will love. There is no more treasured gift in the world that the one that is given with love and real attention to a person's needs and wants.
Here are a few neat, simple, and clutter free gifts she is sure to love.
Give her a unique skill you have to offer. For example, I know how to make websites, and am a fairly good photographer. So for the 70th birthday party of a very special mom I took over 250 digital photos. Then I made a website with about 40 of the best photos and emailed the link to all the attendees. Before the party, I bought a small photo album that had pages with quotes and space to write on the left and photos on the right...it was under 10$. I brought the album with me and had all the attendees write a message on a page in the album. After the party, I inserted pictures of people where they had signed. The gift was priceless. She absolutely loved it! What skills do you have to offer that could help her out?
Give your children's Art. If the mom you are giving a gift to lives far away and doesn't get to see your children often, have them make a special card or piece of art work for her. Or, gather up a collection of their best artwork, scan it into the computer and make a PowerPoint presentation or slideshow to send. Or put it on a public website like Flickr.com and email it. If she doesn't use e-mail, you could also make a little booklet and mail it to her.
Volunteer to babysit for free. Combine this with a gift certificate to the movies, or a dinner out and you've got a gift any busy mom will LOVE.
How about a coupon for a trip to a Museum or other special place she likes and lunch or dinner out. Or perhaps a daytrip to a nearby city, or a picnic in a favorite park! Again, make sure it's something she really likes to do.
Give a gift certificate to get a massage. Take the time to find out who her favorite massage therapist is. Few people want to go to a massage therapist they didn't choose.
Make a favorite dinner or desert and deliver it to her.
Help her get organized. If you are good at organizing, and you know she's been wanting help organizing, give her a day of your time to help her get organized - like cleaning out a closet or a garage. Or perhaps get her a gift certificate from an professional organizer you know she's worked with or would like to work with.
Nature. If she's admired your plants & garden, make her a plant with cuttings from your favorite plant or a bouquet from your garden.
Tickets - Tickets to a favorite event like a broadway show, movie, concert, game, etc. are always appreciated.
If you have a clutter-free gift idea - please share it with us! Just click on "comments" below. : )
Have you ever thought Christmas has become way too commercialized? Have you ever wished you could just not participate in the frenzy the holidays have become? Do you worry you might seem cheap to your friends and family?
moon added this comment (before we moved to typead)
found u on blogazoo..will be sure to come back I have been using old
xmas cards to make gift tags for many years. The ones that have
writting on the back of the front (u know ppl who write u a letter in
the card) well those I just glew onto coloured constuction paper, THEN
cut out what ever it is I want.....anyway, great blog...thanks, have a