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7 Organizational Skills to Stress-Proof Your Holiday Season

Organizing expert Jamie Novak shares seven organizational skills that will have you sailing, stress-free, through your holiday season.

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Create checklists, cheat sheets, and tracking forms

We all know about writing to-do lists and while this can be helpful what can be even more helpful is creating reference lists you can use year after year. Write them out this year, then store them with the decorations at the end of the season, and you’ll have a guide for future holiday seasons. Not sure where to start or which list to make first? Try one of these ideas:

Gift cheat sheet: No more stressing out wondering if you bought the right size; make a note of clothing and jewelry sizes, preferred colors, and favorite sports teams for the people on your gift list.

Online purchase tracking form: Start a sheet to track all your online purchases. Make a note of what you ordered, from where, and when it is due to arrive. One glance at your form and you’ll know what you are still waiting for and if it is overdue to arrive.

“Find-it” checklist: This guide to holiday gear will help you avoid the last-minute stress of finding something you own—but may not remember where you put it. Simply make a list of things to track down in advance, like the oversized serving platter, extra food storage containers for leftovers, table linens, the dining table leaf to extend the table for guests, folding chairs, special outfits you’ll wear, and any gifts you may have purchased early and put aside. Avoid stressful, last-minute dashes to the store by plotting out your recipes, list the ingredients, then check your pantry so you don’t start making your signature cookie only to realize you are out of ground cinnamon.

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Capitalize on your calendar

Entering an event is just the beginning of how to best use your calendar. Stress-proof your holiday season by taking time now to add in other dates. First, pencil in anything you have committed to or purchased tickets to attend; then add in all the non-holiday events like birthdays. Next, look over all the events that require you do something, like bringing a gift or baking a treat, add in a reminder a few days before each event to keep them from creeping up on your unexpectedly. Schedule necessary appointments, like a salon or barber appointment, a rug cleaning, dog grooming, manicure and look over the dates to see if you need a pet or babysitter. Don’t forget to pencil in holiday tasks like a wrapping gifts, baking, cooking, and grocery shopping. If you don’t block off the time then the time might not be there for you to get these things done. Finally, set aside few hours for yourself throughout the month; this spare time will be valuable for catching up on things or simply stopping to enjoy a cup of cocoa.

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Assign specific storage spots

Searching your home for misplaced things is not only stressful but a huge waste of time. Your checklists can help, but try going a step further to decide where you are going to store things like gift receipts—try something as simple as an envelope in your bag or a small box in the kitchen. Put all the gifts in one closet or spot in the attic, place all the holiday cards—or at least the envelopes if you’re displaying the cards—in one place to make sure you’ve sent a card to everyone. These organizational skills will stress-proof your holidays, but only if you make sure to stick to the plan and put things in their proper place as soon as you’re done with them.

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Store holiday supplies together

One year-round organizational skill is storing similar things together; the same is true for all the holiday necessities. Use tote bags to store the stuff you’ll grab on the way out the door, like an errand bag for shopping with your coupons, returns, or exchanges. Keep a party bag with the gifts, cards, and food you need to take. Box up gift-wrapping supplies; no sense wasting time tracking down scissors, tags, bows, bags every time you need to wrap a single gift.

Use the same idea in the kitchen for specialty holiday ingredients. Making your famous dish or Christmas cookies? Designate holiday storage sections in your refrigerator and pantry for ingredients so you can find them and you don’t risk accidentally using them up on another recipe.

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Lots and lots of labels

Labeling is one of a key organizational skill and it helps you stay stress-free since you don’t have to try to remember everything. Label the edge of your pantry shelves so you can find the ingredients for your holiday recipes. If you have guests in the kitchen helping prepare the big meal, it will be a useful guide for them plus you won’t have to constantly stop what you’re doing to direct them to the right place. Label one shelf in the refrigerator as the leftovers’ shelf so you can make use of the food before you have to toss it. Set your table with serving bowls and utensils then label them so you know what foods are going where.

Labeling goes a long way to keeping you stress-free and making your home more welcoming to company. Label empty drawers and open space in closets as “guest” for overnight company.

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Time your tasks

Large tasks are stressful, but they are much more manageable when you break them up into smaller, timed challenges. Instead of attempting to wrap 20 gifts or write out 50 holiday cards, try timing yourself to see how many gifts you can wrap or cards you can write out in 15 minutes. You won’t be finished but you’ll have gotten started and made progress, progress you can build on in your next mini session.

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Straighten-up, simplify, and share

Decluttering is another one of those organizational skills that can help stress-proof your holidays. Now is the perfect time to clear out space for the extra food, bulk paper products, and all the gifts that are about to arrive at your home. You don’t have to purge your entire home—you can make your life easier by decluttering a few key spots. Make space in the hall closet for your guests coats and, while you do that, you might find a coat or two to donate. Next, pare down the linen closet and locate a set of guest sheets and towels for unexpected overnight company. This is the right time to go after the refrigerator: You’ll need room for all the prepared foods and platters. While you are in the kitchen, organize the cabinet with drinking glasses and coffee mugs to make it easier to reach for one without having the others topple out. Next on the list, sort through the utensil drawer so you won’t be frantically rummaging for the meat thermometer later. Finally, spend a moment straightening out under the bathroom sink; leave extra paper products so guests won’t have to ask you.

Practice as many of these organizational skills as possible, but above all else, stress-proof your holidays by keeping them as simple as possible! Prioritize the tasks that will make you happiest, and don’t worry about the rest. The magic can a bit messy this time of year, so savor the season and don’t stress the rest. Next, check out these 50 tips for staying organized year round.

Jamie Novak
Jamie is a cleaning and organizing expert with more than 20 years of experience. When she's not on deadline, you can find her searching for the mango slicer that mysteriously disappeared from her kitchen utensil drawer. The author of Keep This Toss That: the practical guide to tidying up she covers cleaning and organizing for