I used to really love the holidays and everything they entailed: the decorating, the gifts, the food, the baking, helping others, volunteering at community functions, the shopping, and the parties. I also loved the planning. But by far, my favorite was the excitement that leads up those festive days.
In fact, sometimes the planning AND anticipation were so much fun that the actual holiday could be a let-down. Sniff, sniff.
For a girl with OCD tendencies like me, all of those things that I loved about the holidays have taken their toll on me through the years. In fact, I've been burned out. I have gone from being the person who used to decorate three Christmas trees each year at a local tree festival (plus putting eight themed trees all over my house), to being the girl who hangs a stocking on the Command strips that have been on my fireplace for nine years and calling the decor, “Done!”
As I have gotten older, the thoughts of bringing out the Halloween village, the fall decor to be used at Thanksgiving, and a different themed Christmas tree for each room is slightly overwhelming. To do that means I don't get to do other things, like make food for dinner on every day that isn't a holiday.
(And that, my friend, is a dangerous thing, considering I get quite “hangry” in an instant when I haven't eaten. Food has to come before decorations. Good, filling food. Not just a granola bar. Eight-themed trees= no decent dinner in my belly.)
Not only are there decorations. But during this time of year there is the yard that is covered in leaves. It's quite easy to trip over a tiny branch or to slip on a pile of acorns hidden under that giant oak leaf.
There is the guest room to ready and the bathrooms need to be cleaned when family comes to stay. The menu must be planned with everyone’s eating habits incorporated since there are carnivores, pescatarians, and vegans in the family. Snack foods for everyone’s desires must be ready on hand. Why should people have to leave to go to the store three blocks away? I should have everything one could ever want properly stocked and stored, right? (Yes, I go to great lengths to make sure that everyone is comfortable and has their favorite things. And yes, you should be laughing at those lengths. They are TOO MUCH.)
The more I plan and organize for the big day, the longer my list gets. Currently, I’m working two weeks and three pages behind on things for home, work, and holiday prep. The more I clean, the more crevices I find to clean. Thanks to bathroom breaks, I find more recipes on Pinterest that just have to be made or else the entire holiday gathering is a bust. That means the more I have to buy and cook.
The list just keeps getting longer- all in the name of hospitality and holiday spirit. Yes, you know what I'm talking about.
So what do you do when your to-do list is longer than your legs and you're not sure where to start? What do you mark off when everything seems like it will make it the most special holiday every?
Here's my thought process for creating the most special, stress-free holiday occasion ever:
- Get clear on the most important thing you want to experience at your holiday gathering this year. Is it happiness? Laughter? Salivating taste buds? Making memories? Recollecting memories? Relaxation? Taking time to define this year's most important experience will serve as your built-in guide to knowing what to ditch and what to keep.
- Know how you will create that experience. If you're going for laughter, does that mean going to watch the new comedy at the movies? If you want to revisit old memories, will you incorporate photo albums on the coffee tables or special ornaments on the tree? If your focus is on relaxation, how can you delegate some of the preparations to other family members? Can some of those chores become “gifts” for others to give to you?
- Define your experience levels. What will it take for you to be satisfied with this year's holiday experience? What would make you happy with this year's holiday experience? And what would just send you over the moon ecstatic with this year's holiday experience? Realizing that handmade gift tags will make you ecstatic, while printing off a full sheet of free Martha Stewart tags will make you satisfied can save you a lot of pressure on yourself.
- Decide what needs to be repeated. Just because you always serve the giant wheel of brie from Sam's Club every year, doesn't meant that it has to be served this year. Yes, it's become a tradition. But when you feel like every beloved dish that's ever been served at an occasion has to make an appearance each holiday, you spend too much, have more to do than you can ever fit in, don't leave room for new holiday favorites, and you end up with a boat-load of leftovers. Pick out 1-3 things to repeat and cross off the rest. From recipes to decorations, changing it up will make a definite difference in your stress. Not to mention it will make it easier to decipher what year it was in the photos.
- Leave some things open-ended. Every meal you plan won't happen. They will decide to go to their favorite hole-in-the-wall while they are in town visiting or they will eat breakfast late and not want lunch. Something always happens and never, ever, have I ever cooked every meal I have planned. Someone will bring a brand-new card game to play. Someone else will be getting over a cold and won't have the energy to go for the annual hike. Something always happens. Always! And yet, things naturally regroup on their own. It all flows. Just let it!
- When someone offers to help, let them! How many times does one of your guests ask what they can bring? Most of the time, always. And how do you respond? Do you tell them something or do you brush it off and say that you have it all under control? From bringing their air mattress they keep in their attic to helping you with putting up the tree, allow guests to help with more than setting the table.
As you are battling the thoughts of doing more and more each holiday, take a time out! Instead of hiding in the bathroom (where you will be like me and will only find more things on Pinterest to add to your list), go through the six tips above and get clear on what's the most important thing to you.