Holiday time tips

img_2244Over the years, I have seen some pretty silly ideas for saving time during the holidays. For instance, once of my old Good Housekeeping magazines from the 1960s suggests giving children toys to keep them out of the kitchen while you're making cookies, as if cookies needed to be baked for their own sake, as opposed to being something fun you do with your children. Likewise, sending one generic email to all friends and family about the holidays seems a little...un-festive to me.

But here are a few ways to do things more efficiently, so you can open up space for the fun stuff (see my 2016 holiday fun list here).

Address cards in found bits of time. I used the time I was sitting in the hallway during my son's wrestling practice last night to write and address about two dozen cards. Often, I'm just checking email during this time, so this was about higher-value correspondence.

Bulk shop. I am doing almost all of my shopping in 3 runs when I do not have other people with me. I am consciously taking half days to do this, but if you have a conventional job, bright and early on a weekend morning might help avoid the crowds. One run at Costco, one at Nordstrom, and one at Target, all done with specific lists. Some other items have been ordered from Amazon. Speaking of which….

img_2245Sign up for Amazon Prime. Seriously, if you are a busy person, this is one of the best investments you can make in saving time. We order almost all birthday gifts this way, plus random stuff we find we need like boys size 7 khaki pants or ice cube trays. Then the stuff comes in two days or less! While this is good for saving time in general, it's even more important during the holidays when navigating parking lots and crowded stores can make you feel especially bah humbug.

Don't over-individualize. True finding from social science research: people are happier with a good gift than an individualized gift. The more varied your gifts, the more likely you are to strike out with a few of them. Plus, your colleague, your neighbor, your uncle, and your cousin on the other side have no idea you gave them all the same bottle of wine. If it's a good bottle, and they all like wine, go for it.

Ask people what they want. Another finding: for the most part, people prefer stuff they ask for. It's also a highly efficient way of coming up with your gift list! Now, I will grant that I kind of like to be surprised, but you can surprise people within larger categories of Stuff They Like. Getting kids to write letters to Santa is a good way to get them to prioritize (and practice writing skills).

Bulk wrap. Since my toddler would destroy anything wrapped and left under the tree, I'll be wrapping almost everything on Christmas Eve. But in general, batch processing stuff like wrapping allows you to get into a groove. Listen to some music, or team up with a relative who's visiting, and it can be fun.

Entertain simply. If you're throwing a party, do one signature drink (rather than a full bar). 3-4 crowd-pleasing appetizers and one sweet could pretty much do it. The point of a party is to celebrate together and enjoy each other's company, not necessarily to channel Julia Child.

Decorate simply. OK, if it brings you great joy to risk your life on a ladder and light up your house like the Fourth of July, go for it. But a simple candle-looking light in each window looks amazing too, and takes no time at all.

What would you add to this list?

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21 Responses to Holiday time tips


  1. ARC says:

    Ooh, love these. I ordered probably 90% of our holiday gifts online this year, mostly from Amazon but also a few directly from shops offering free (slow) shipping. Doing it the first week of December made me not stress about whether it would get here in time.

    We also only do gifts for our kids and each other – no extended family gifts, no friend gifts, etc. With friends I’ll buy them dinner or coffee when we meet up instead. I like that I don’t “have” to buy xyz for a laundry list of people. For our parents/siblings, we do a charity donation, typically a DonorsChoose classroom in the town where they live.

    I don’t have destructive toddlers anymore 🙂 so I have been wrapping 1-2 presents a day, because I find the marathon wrapping session too painful 🙂 I’ve still got a lot to go, but not a mountain. And the girls are intrigued by new presents randomly appearing under the tree.

    +1 on the randomly addressing cards. I leave them out on my desk so I can do a few here and there. My goal is to finish it off this weekend so I can have an “end date” for that particular thing.

    The “Holiday Fun List” has also been great for us, in ensuring we get out for holiday stuff, but making me feel like I don’t have to sign up for *every* single holiday thing I hear about.

    Some years, we like to throw a low-key “Holiday Open House”, after Christmas, with snacks from Trader Joe’s and wine. People drift in and out anywhere from noon – 8pm. Great way to see people but not super stressful to get it together – the holiday decorations are still up, I just need to buy snacks and make sure they’re pulled out at various times, and open wine occasionally 🙂 And most people, if they’re in town, can make it at some point.

    • @ARC- Donors Choose is a great idea for people. Very hard to go wrong on that one! And ordering the first week of December when the inventory is still in and shipping is cheap is also a great way to avoid holiday rushing.

    • I love your idea of the Holiday Open House. I’m stealing it for later this year, and maybe at various times of the year too – birthday open house, Easter open house, etc. 🙂

  2. Sarah K says:

    These are great tips. Next year, I swear I’m shopping early and just taking a day or half-day off work to do it by myself instead of dragging my kids on a zillion little errands in the evenings in December when I really want to be home snuggling in comfy clothes!

  3. Lisa B. says:

    Great list and tips! Here’s mine – I pay my daughter to wrap our presents (except hers of course). It’s a job I hate and she likes earning her own spending money to buy Christmas presents and things for herself. She’s 13 but has done this for a few years now.

  4. Joanna says:

    I’m another big fan of Amazon Prime. Everything for the kiddo came from there this year. He’s so used to packages coming that it doesn’t occur to him it’s his Christmas presents. 🙂 I also like their subscribe & save. When he was little, I bought diapers, wipes, and formula that way, then pouch baby food, now it’s more like soap, dishwasher tablets, etc. Litter! I wish I could get the cat food on there.

    I’ve resigned myself to doing cards AFTER Christmas, usually during the week between Christmas and New Year’s. I might do them on Christmas Eve this year. Kiddo’s bday is in Nov and I haven’t done thank you notes yet. I used to enjoy this, but not so much now, so I’ll do it when I can. What I’m trying to figure out how to fit in is more holiday activities. There’s lights at the local zoo that I really want to go to, but it’s COLD!

  5. Anne McCormick says:

    Love this list… and the other ideas shared in the comments. I try to decorate with ‘winter’ items that last longer than Christmas since the putting up and taking down can be a lot of work.

  6. Calee says:

    Great list! I’ve found all sorts of pockets of time to put to Christmas sorts of things. My daughter is singing in our local performing arts center’s Nutcracker and it’s been a challenge to see what I can do between call time and pick up. So far I’ve stuffed & addressed Christmas cards, ordered my husband’s gift online (not from Amazon, we use it too much, he’ll see!) and done the grocery/ kids Christmas craft shopping. We’ll see her performance on Saturday, but I’ve got a few more blocks of time to use wisely! I wonder if I could wrap presents in the parking structure?

    • @Calee- I don’t see why not! Can you fold down a seat in the car to make a flat surface??

      • Calee Lee says:

        SUV for the win!

  7. Meghan says:

    Yes to Amazon Prime! I’ve been adding gifts to my shopping cart as I think of them, but not purchasing because we just finally nailed down our travel plans this week, and I wasn’t sure which of the kids’ gifts to ship where (we split the holiday between grandparents’ homes). It’s been so helpful to do it this way because I’m not losing track of what I’ve gotten/who I’ve gotten things for, and can see any imbalances and how much I really am spending.

    Like ARC, we really cut down on who we buy gifts for, and do charitable donations and a book for grownups. That also helps.

  8. DVStudent says:

    I feel like the Times just had an article on gift giving (or maybe it was WaPo) highlighting what you said: get people what they want and don’t go crazy with spending too much time picking out the PERFECT gift!

  9. Jennie Evans says:

    We have a very large family to buy for. (I think next year I am going to be the pariah and recommend that maybe we scale that back. I batch buy gifts a lot. Because we essentially have our own family and then 4 other Christmas celebrations to buy for with a multitude of children. This year’s big batched gift are bracelets. There is a lady in town who makes these and sells them through the local boutiques. I contacted her and told her the ages and she scaled them to fit all of the girls/women I had to buy for: 15. I got a simple copper with a single pearl and because I ordered so many she cut me a huge discount. I ended up paying $8.50 a piece. She even has them in individual bags with a little raffia and a cute tag. Score! My suggestion: Batch presents and look into local vendors who you can cut you a discount for multiple orders.

  10. I love many of these tips, but I have to say, I own a small business that depends on busy, successful people choosing NOT to order on Amazon. I own a bookstore and this season, I have had many people walk through and take photos of the books on display and I know they are going home to order on Amazon. But I also have many loyal customers who know if you want a vibrant community, particularly, in my case, a vibrant downtown, you have to spend your dollars in that community.

    • @Andrea- thanks for your comment! I am amazed at the discipline of those people walking in without buying. I know I personally cannot walk out of a book store without spending money. By the time I’m in there, there is no show rooming going on. I want the books now (and I’m probably buying a latte too).

      As for Amazon, I would say that the vast majority of stuff I buy on Amazon is not books, it’s other stuff, and particularly stuff that I would be buying from a corporate retailer anyway (boys khakis are Amazon or the Gap – not sure either is going to help the cause of small business).

  11. Katherine says:

    Many years ago, when our first niece was born, we started a savings account for her and put money into it for Christmas and birthday instead of adding to the huge pile of toys etc she was getting. Maybe a small token gift but the bulk into the account. We have done that for all nephews and nieces since and although maybe at times they have thought it wasn’t that brilliant I honestly don’t think they missed our present in amongst all the others. But when they turned 18 and with the wonders of compound interest could have a laptop or a top of the range camera or a nest egg for university or first house with our accumulated 18 years’ worth of gifts I think they appreciated it rather a lot! And so much easier to organise. Unfortunately none of our siblings have reciprocated so our daughters get gifts they don’t really need, although of course they like them, and no savings account for when they are 18.

    • @Katherine- I think that’s a great idea. And yes, it would add up! $25 for Christmas and $25 for a birthday for 18 years is $900 even with no interest.

  12. Claire Rodman says:

    Bulk baking/cooking/freezing ahead of time (cookies, stews, soups, sauces, portions of meat/fish/pasta/rice and beans) is a big help, and also ensures that on project nights, I can defrost a dinner instead of spending time cooking.

    For office and friend events, a batch of cookies is always welcome. I use the same basic Tollhouse cookie or Quaker Oats recipe, but vary with nuts, fruit, chips, etc. depending on food issues and also to provide variety. (And dough can be prepped and frozen ahead of time as well, to be clear!) Buying paper cookie Christmas boxes (and putting the cookies in a Ziploc before tying the ribbon) instead of tins is also cheap, lightweight, and if people don’t want to end up with the tins, they will be pleased to be able to toss the paper.

    And now that we are all adults, my family and I have agreed to exchange small practical items and give a bigger donation to a cause that the others would all support, but the reveal is the interesting, fun part.

  13. Claire Rodman says:

    Bulk baking/cooking/freezing ahead of time (cookies, stews, soups, sauces, portions of meat/fish/pasta/rice and beans) is a big help, and also ensures that on project nights, I can defrost a dinner instead of spending time cooking.

    For office and friend events, a batch of cookies is always welcome. I use the same basic Tollhouse cookie or Quaker Oats recipe, but vary with nuts, fruit, chips, etc. depending on food issues and also to provide variety. (And dough can be prepped and frozen ahead of time as well, to be clear!) Buying paper cookie Christmas boxes (and putting the cookies in a Ziploc before tying the ribbon) instead of tins is also cheap, lightweight, and if people don’t want to end up with the tins, they will be pleased to be able to toss the paper.

    And now that we are all adults, my family and I have agreed to exchange small practical items and give a bigger donation to a cause that the others would all support, but the reveal is the interesting, fun part.

    Happy 2017, all!

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