Team, if you wanna have a more relaxed and enjoyable December, it’s time to get organised for Christmas now. And, it’s honestly not as hard as it all sounds – if we can do it, honestly, you can do it too.
I like to think of myself as a fairly organised person (I never miss deadlines! I never forget a birthday!), but, if I take a cold hard look at things, I’m aware that the data would actually suggest I’m quite the opposite.
A few data points I can quickly think of include: Every time I turn up early for a meeting, Emma and Kelly look absolutely stunned to see me. I never leave enough time at airports. I’m constantly getting fined for forgetting to pay road tolls. I never know where my glasses/phone/keys are. Just last week, Kelly had to make emergency calls on my behalf because I’ve left things too late to get a wedding dress.
It’s probably about now that you’re wondering why on earth you’d take my advice on how to get organised for Christmas. It’s a fair question, but please hear me out, because despite my organisational failings, Christmas has become something I am overly organised for – and, look, if I can do it and make Christmas less stressful, you sure as heck can too.
I always bite off more than I can chew at Christmas – especially now that I have kids. It’s entirely self-made pressure, where I want to create a series of magical moments for them, but I’m also aware that this is also insane behaviour that is likely just deeply entrenched in my subconscious by societal pressures and the number of ridiculous Christmas movies I’ve watched in my time.
I remember a study a few years back revealed that – rather unsurprisingly – Christmas is largely the work of mothers. The study of 2,000 parents found that it’s not just the mental load that left to mum at Xmas – she ends up being responsible, on average, for 24 jobs over the Christmas period. Men, on the other hand, are mostly just expected to do a few tasks like carving up the turkey or ham.
We split jobs in my family – we have a shared to-do list in the notes app. My partner is aware of this divide of labour at Christmas, and, sure, he enjoys Christmas, but he doesn’t have the same drive to do all the things I think we need to do. So, he probably has a few more ‘practical’ things to just get us through Christmas – like, actually doing the picking up of the click and collect items, etc. But I don’t often don’t include my weird list of whimsey to our shared list. And, honestly? If I’m not stressed, I do get a kick out of them.
So, here’s how I try to spread the tasks out, so I can make room for more joy (for my family, and for me – because, if I don’t have to go to the mall on Christmas Eve I can get a massage instead!)
Drip-feed the Stress to Make Room For the Joy
Back when I was a carefree youth, Christmas was my favourite time of year: the magical romance of it all! The fairy lights! The trees! The Christmas parties! Binge-watching Christmas movies in your Xmas Pjs! What’s not to love?
But as time went on, Christmas became a stress point. Work always got outrageously stressful, leaving little free time to get my own personal life in order. I was always exhausted. The thought of Christmas shopping was overwhelming and would snowball in my head (yes, on more than one occasion I was one of those fools running around St Lukes mall on Xmas Eve). I’d always have a boy drama (exes love to reappear in December)*. Navigating who to spend it with was a minefield I left to the last minute.
All that stress meant I could no longer actually enjoy the fun and festivity of Christmas. Even putting the tree up would stress me, because instead of being a little beacon of magic and joy, it caused panic. It was like seeing the blinking fuel light come up on the dashboard, when you’re far, far away from the next gas station.
My new strategy, that I put in place last year, has cut out the stress (or actually just drip-fed it over a longer period of time so that it is manageable) and allowed the joy to come back in.
There is still plenty of time for you to do this too! Here’s what I’ve instated:
Shop (or at least make a list!) Ahead
Why is it that I can never think of a present for anyone if a Christmas carol is playing?! It’s impossible to think under December pressure.
But now, I don’t have to. I have cut out my Christmas present stress by not doing it in December. I would roll my eyes hearing this in the past too, but honestly, it’s actually not that difficult.
See, instead, as soon as I think of a present idea for someone throughout the year, or I see something they’d like, I get my phone out, open up the Notes app and add it to my Christmas Shopping List ideas. If that something I see is on sale, I buy it immediately and put it in my wardrobe and tick that person off my list.
The sale thing is important to note, because one downside of being organized means you run the risk of financial frustration when you see that item marked down by 30% a few weeks later, so it can pay to hold on. It’s surprising how fast sales come around – and, there’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday around the corner! After that, it’s a bit of a dead-zone, with some items actually increasing in price before xmas (or, they try to trick you into thinking you’re getting a bargain with something like a ‘Buy 2 get 1 half-price’ BS).
I save wrapping the presents until December, because that’s actually a part of it all that I really enjoy.
Drip-feeding the buying has meant I’ve saved money, bought better presents, spread out my spending so December isn’t so gnarly, and, I’ve saved my sanity.
Shop in the Post-Christmas Sales
If you really want to get your shit together, think way ahead and get next year sorted. Honestly, Christmas decorations and trees are dirt cheap after the big day. Likewise anything with Christmas on it. If it’s non-perishable, buy it and pack it away for next year – your future self will be delighted (as long as you remember you did it!!)
Last year, I’d looked at all the beautiful Peter Alexander matching family Christmas PJs and decided it wasn’t worth remortgaging the house for. But, a week after Christmas, those same PJs were reduced to clear – down from $75, to $15 a pop. I bought the size my kids would be this year, so, we finally get to live out our festive dreams (for a fraction of the price. I bought all four of our pjs for less than what it would have cost for one person on Christmas Eve).
Get a Calendar
Get yourself an old-fashioned wall calendar and put it up somewhere central, like your kitchen. As soon as an engagement comes up, put it in the schedule so you have a clear picture of things to come. Encourage everyone in your household to do it too, or just write things in when you hear them mention them if they cannot be trusted.
To ease the stress, I now try to be proactive and organise things I want to happen, well ahead of time. I booked our visit to see Santa in October, as well as a couple of friend Christmas rituals (like our old Creme Magazine team Love Actually and Platters night – a must-do each year). I also book in a few rest days throughout December – which are out of bounds for booking anything (except watching Home Alone) – to make sure that I don’t overdo things.
The added beauty of booking things in early and being proactive about scheduling events, is that you don’t end up having to just fit in with other people’s schedules (because they’re already so booked up) and can pace things out. If you have a clear calendar, you’re also less likely to run the risk of double booking yourself.
When it comes to scheduling the big day, make a plan well ahead of time. My partner’s family make it easy by doing a big Christmas get together every other year – this is brilliant. It takes out the awkwardness and makes the expectations clear to everyone. It can be such a minefield – particularly if you have separated parents – to get around to everyone, but if it’s instead a situation of taking turns, it takes some of that tension out of the equation. I know that’s not an option for all, but, whatever your situation is, if you can, try to make a decision early.
When you’ve decided where you’re going, find out the details – or help define them, if needs be – around what the approach this year will be to food and presents. If you can push everyone towards a situation where you’re buying as few gifts as possible, that is obviously ideal. Having that time to plan ahead also means you don’t have to do a panic shop for presents OR join the queues at the supermarket on Christmas Eve.
A note of caution I learned from last year: the one stressful thing I did was decide that we should make Christmas Reindeer as the dish we take for lunch, which my partner and I would assemble on Christmas Eve. They, of course, did not take the 20 mins we imagined. We had a little baby at the time, who of course did not go to sleep at the time we imagined, and instead we were still affixing reindeer eyes to pretzels well beyond 11pm. My advice would be to not attempt anything cutesy and overly complicated for Christmas Eve. That’s prime ‘putting your feet up’ or going to bed early time.
A true revelation came when I realised I could just say no to stuff at Christmas.
Now, when people say, ‘Ohmigod, we must catch up before Christmas! When are you free?’ I instead suggest we catch up in January.
Christmas is not Armageddon. There is a whole other year that follows it – and generally, people are a lot calmer and in a better headspace to catch up in January. You do not need to see everyone you know in December, just because Christmas is coming and perhaps you’re feeling bad because it’s a reminder that you haven’t seen them in months. It’s ok. You can see them in January. In my experience, they will likely be relieved by this revelation also.
Pay it Forward
Hopefully, with a bit of prep (and saying no), you’ll have more time on your hands in December. If you really want to let some joy into your heart, December is the month to pay it forward.
There are SO many charities who could really benefit from your time, skills and money at this time of year. Whether it’s writing Christmas cards to people in retirement homes who don’t have family and will be alone, or taking your kids on a shopping trip where you buy presents for other kids who wouldn’t otherwise have something under the tree this year. Alternatively, you can donate your time to charity.
Find a charity that resonates with you and find out what you can do to help.
*I’m sorry to say I’m yet to discover a good solution to this issue.