25 Holiday Hacks to Make Your Life a Little Easier This Season

iStock
iStock

Chances are you’re already stressed out by the holidays. That’s no good. It feels like you don’t have enough time, enough money, or enough of a break during the break, which is why it’s important to take care of yourself and find shortcuts for making the holidays less tense.

Whether it’s decorating, wearing an ugly sweater to your office party, or finding the perfect gift, here are some holiday hacks to take the stress out of the season.

1. USE SANTA’S BAG TO ORGANIZE YOUR GIFTS.

Santa's Bag app screenshots
Santa's Bag

Santa's Bag, an excellent shopping list manager app, lets you keep tabs on your budget, your gift ideas, and your recipients so that no one leaves empty-handed—and you don’t end up with an empty wallet.

2. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF FREE SHIPPING DAY ON DECEMBER 15TH.

Person delivering package to woman at house
iStock

If you’re planning to purchase gifts online, you can shave a bit off the bottom line by doing it on December 15th, a.k.a. Free Shipping Day. As of this writing, more than 400 retailers are participating, including Kohl’s, Target, and Barnes & Noble.

3. FIND STORES THAT HONOR ONLINE PRICES.

woman looking at smartphone in clothing store
iStock

Stores like Macy’s, Home Depot, and Bed Bath & Beyond will price match that perfect gift with the price on their website, and those savings can stack up quickly. Be careful to check for small print like blackout dates and be sure to have your phone with you to show the sales clerk.

4. PICK UP COOPERATIVE BOARD GAMES.

Photo of a family playing a board game
iStock

While you’re price-matching and enjoying free shipping, check out board games like Pandemic, Castle Panic, and Forbidden Island to bring out the cooperative spirit while passing the time with your family. Games like TableTopics can also be a great way to launch some fun conversations.

5. TURN YOUR PUMPKINS INTO SNOWMEN.

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Just as there's always that one neighbor whose holiday lights are still twinkling come Valentine's Day, there's a good chance that there are still some pumpkins hanging around your neighborhood, even though we're more than a month past Halloween. If that's you, turn your laziness into a craft by piling your leftover pumpkins up and turning them into a snowman. It's simple to do, fun for the whole family, and gives you an Earth-friendly excuse for still having a jack o' lantern in December.

6. LET SANTA IN WITHOUT A CHIMNEY.

Santa
iStock

If your child is worried about how Santa will visit the house without a chimney to climb down, pick up a Magic Key and hang it on the door Christmas Eve. You can also build a DIY chimney out of cardboard boxes.

7. LET APPS BE YOUR GUIDE.

Honey app
Honey

Try using an app like Hopper to help you optimize your flight or an app like Honey to automatically apply promo codes to online shopping trips. You can also use apps from stores you like to get special rewards and coupons.

8. INVITE YOUR CROCK POT TO PARTIES.

Crock-Pot
Amazon

Utilizing your slow cooker can be a big help for family dinners and parties. Recipes are usually simple and delicious, there’s enough for everyone, and you don’t have to be stuck in the kitchen while everyone else is having fun. When dinner’s done, make a big batch of hot cocoa or mulled wine.

9. SET UP A SECONDARY FRIDGE WHEN ENTERTAINING.

food in fridge
iStock

Parties take up a lot of room in your refrigerator, so organize a cooler with condiments and extra ingredients you’ll need access to while cooking, or use it to stow random items you won’t need so you can use that valuable refrigerator real estate for drinks or party food essentials.

10. COOK AND BAKE AHEAD AS MUCH AS YOU CAN.

A photo of gingerbread cookies being iced
iStock

Instead of cramming your cooking into a single day, reduce the stress of getting it all done on time by prepping foods in advance. Items like mashed sweet potatoes, beet soups, and veggie salads can be made up to a few days prior to the party. The same goes for several pies, dough-based deserts, and cookies. All you’ll have to do is bake and chat with your friends.

11. ENHANCE YOUR OVEN SPACE.

Betty Crocker 3-tier Oven Rack
Amazon

Just like with your precious refrigerator space, there’s never enough room in the oven for everything you want to cram in there. You can expand that space with a tiered oven rack; perfect for dishes like pies and casseroles.

12. STOCK UP ON BUTTER.

stack of butter
iStock

Seriously. Almost every recipe uses it. You’re going to run out (and have to run to the crowded grocery store at the worst possible time).

13. USE SQUEEZE BOTTLES FOR KID-FRIENDLY ICING PROJECTS.

Girl and woman decorating cupcakes
iStock

If you’re looking for a fun way to bring the little ones in on the baking without the Jackson Pollock-style messy aftermath, use condiment bottles to make it easier for small (and big) hands to apply that royal icing.

14. PICK UP BROKEN GLASS ... WITH SANDWICH BREAD.

Photo of a broken red wine glass on the floor
iStock

These things happen (especially where there’s hot mulled wine available), but it’s annoying to need to pick up broken glass shards while you’ve got dozens of feet shuffling around the floor. The easiest, safest way to handle the situation is to grab a slice of sandwich bread (yes, really); press it on the ground to grab big and tiny bits of glass, then toss it in the trash.

15. MOVE THE CROWD TO AVOID DIRTY DISHES.

adults drinking wine in the living room
iStock

The curse of hosting a party is that you don’t get to enjoy your own gathering. Clean-up can be a major culprit because you don’t want people chatting around a pile of dirty dishes, but people will start saying their goodbyes as soon as you rinse the last dish. To avoid both, have your guests move into a different area to visit after dinner and leave the dishes for the morning.

16. DE-STALE YOUR LEFTOVER CHIPS.

Bag of potato chips
iStock

When you have five half-emptied bags of chips following a party, and you’re looking at eating nothing but chips for the next week, you can either feed the birds or take the inevitable staleness out of the chips by tossing them into your oven for a few minutes.

17. MAKE BOWS OUT OF TAPE.

holiday pattern Scotch Duct Tape
Amazon

Duck Brand makes duct tape in festive patterns, which you can use to make sturdy, attractive bows for presents and decorating. They have snowmen, penguins, and candy canes, and if you need to do some quick air conditioner repair work, you can always undo the bows.

18. TURN A MASON JAR INTO A SNOW GLOBE.

mason jar snow globe
Mashable Watercooler, YouTube

Looking for a unique, inexpensive keepsake for each holiday season? This mason jar snow globe is ingenious. It’s simple to make, and since it’s customizable, you can make one every year with craft-sized versions of Christmas trees, menorahs, or whatever your imagination invents.

19. USE A LASER PROJECTOR FOR YOUR OUTDOOR LIGHTS.

holiday lights projected onto a house
Amazon

If you don’t have the time, inclination, or a large enough ladder to string up lights all around the outside of your house, consider buying a laser projector to create an incredible design without all the hassle.

20. TAKE THE TANGLE OUT OF YOUR HOLIDAY LIGHTS.

holiday string lights
iStock

If you find yourself wrestling with the tangled, Christmas light Kraken, it’s time to set your future self up with an organized solution by cutting your own cardboard holders for plastic bins, wrapping them on plastic coat hangers, or wrap them around tension rods before stowing them away.

21. GET YOUR WRAPPING PAPER SAFELY SORTED.

gift wrapping materials
iStock

Like lights, you can buy an expensive wrapping paper-specific storage container if you’d like. You can also use a wire wastepaper bin, a wine crate, clip them to plastic rings to hang on hooks on the back of a door, or keep them in a hanging garment bag. (Plus, ribbon rolls stays obedient when you keep them on a paper towel holder.)

22. IMPROVISE IF YOU RUN OUT OF WRAPPING PAPER.

wrapped gift
iStock

Instead of yet another trip to the store, you can use brown bags, map pages from an old atlas, newspaper pages, scrap fabric pieces, or your ugly Christmas sweater to creatively wrap a gift.

23. GET RID OF GIFT CARDS YOU DON’T WANT.

gift card
iStock

Maybe you wanted Home Depot but they got you Starbucks. Or maybe you wanted Target but they got you Jiffy Lube. Either way, Gift Card Granny offers a way to sell unwanted gift cards and buy discounted ones from tons of stores.

24. GET RID OF YOUR TREE WITHOUT DROPPING THE NEEDLES.

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The beauty of a live Christmas tree is only rivaled by the metric ton of pine needles that fall off as you drag it out of your house. To avoid leaving a needle trail, wrap the tree in trash bags (or a special tree removal bag) before carrying it out. Just remember to remove the trash bags once you get it to the curb (or else your tree will end up at the garbage dump instead of being mulched).

25. REMEMBER TO TAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF.

woman meditating on bed
iStock

The holidays are demanding, and hacks can only trim your time and budget down so much. With so much extra duties on our plates, it’s important to actively plan some low-key relaxation time for yourself. Prepping a big family dinner or party? Maybe plan to get a quiet coffee with a friend the day before. Struggling to come up with activities for all your visiting relatives? Even five minutes of solo meditation can make a big difference.

This Course Will Teach You How to Play Guitar Like a Pro for $29

BartekSzewczyk/iStock via Getty Images
BartekSzewczyk/iStock via Getty Images

Be honest: You’ve watched a YouTube video or two in an attempt to learn how to play a song on the guitar. Whether it was through tabs or simply copying whatever you saw on the screen, the fun always ends when friends start throwing out requests for songs you have no idea how to play. So how about you actually learn how to play guitar for real this time?

It’s now possible to learn guitar from home with the Ultimate Beginner to Expert Guitar Lessons Bundle, which is currently on sale for $29. Grab that Gibson, Fender, or whatever you have handy, and learn to strum rhythms from scratch.

The strumming course will teach you how to count beats and rests to turn your hands and fingers into the perfect accompaniment for your own voice or other musicians. Then, you can take things a step further and learn advanced jamming and soloing to riff anytime, anywhere. This course will teach you to improvise across various chords and progressions so you can jump into any jam with something original. You’ll also have the chance to dive deep into the major guitar genres of bluegrass, blues, and jazz. Lessons in jam etiquette, genre history, and how to read music will separate you from a novice player.

This bundle also includes courses in ear training so you can properly identify any relative note, interval, or pitch. That way, you can play along with any song when it comes on, or even understand how to modify it into the key you’d prefer. And when the time comes to perform, be prepared with skilled hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides, bends, trills, vibrato, and fret-tapping. Not only will you learn the basic foundations of guitar, you’ll ultimately be able to develop your own style with the help of these lessons.

The Ultimate Beginner to Expert Guitar Lessons Bundle is discounted for a limited time. Act on this $29 offer now to work on those fingertip calluses and play like a pro.

 

The Ultimate Beginner to Expert Guitar Lessons Bundle - $29

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12 Things You Might Not Know About Juneteenth

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

There's more than one Independence Day in the U.S. On June 19, 1865, General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, and announced enslaved people were now free. Since then, June 19 has been celebrated as Juneteenth across the nation. Here's what you should know about the historic event and celebration.

1. Enslaved people had already been emancipated—they just didn’t know it.

The June 19 announcement came more than two and a half years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. So technically, from the Union's perspective, the 250,000 enslaved people in Texas were already free—but none of them were aware of it, and no one was in a rush to inform them.

2. There are many theories as to why the Emancipation Proclamation wasn’t enforced in Texas.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendering to Union General Ulysses S Grant at the close of the American Civil War, at the Appomattox Court House in Virginia on April 9, 1865.
Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendering to Union General Ulysses S Grant at the close of the American Civil War, at the Appomattox Court House in Virginia on April 9, 1865.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

News traveled slowly back in those days—it took Confederate soldiers in western Texas more than two months to hear that Robert E. Lee had surrendered at Appomattox. Still, some have struggled to explain the 30-month gap between Lincoln’s proclamation and the enslaved people’s freedom, leading to speculation that some Texans suppressed the announcement. Other theories include that the original messenger was murdered to prevent the information from being relayed or that the federal government purposely delayed the announcement to Texas to get one more cotton harvest out of the enslaved workers. But the real reason is probably that Lincoln's proclamation simply wasn't enforceable in the rebel states before the end of the war.

3. The announcement actually urged freedmen and freedwomen to stay with their former owners.

General Order No. 3, as read by General Granger, said:

"The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere."

4. What followed was known as “the scatter.”


Internet Archive Book Images, Flickr // No known copyright restrictions

Most freedpeople weren't terribly interested in staying with the people who had enslaved them, even if pay was involved. In fact, some were leaving before Granger had finished making the announcement. What followed became known as "the scatter,," when droves of former enslaved people left the state to find family members or more welcoming accommodations in northern regions.

5. Not all enslaved people were freed instantly.

Texas is a large state, and General Granger's order (and the troops needed to enforce it) were slow to spread. According to historian James Smallwood, many enslavers deliberately suppressed the information until after the harvest, and some beyond that. In July 1867 there were two separate reports of enslaved people being freed, and one report of a Texas horse thief named Alex Simpson whose enslaved people were only freed after his hanging in 1868.

6. Freedom created other problems.

Despite the announcement, Texas slave owners weren't too eager to part with what they felt was their property. When freedpeople tried to leave, many of them were beaten, lynched, or murdered. "They would catch [freed slaves] swimming across [the] Sabine River and shoot them," a former enslaved person named Susan Merritt recalled.

7. There were limited options for celebrating.

A monument in Houston's Emancipation Park.
A monument in Houston's Emancipation Park.
2C2KPhotography, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

When freedpeople tried to celebrate the first anniversary of the announcement a year later, they were faced with a problem: Segregation laws were expanding rapidly, and there were no public places or parks they were permitted to use. So, in the 1870s, former enslaved people pooled together $800 and purchased 10 acres of land, which they deemed "Emancipation Park." It was the only public park and swimming pool in the Houston area that was open to African Americans until the 1950s.

8. Juneteenth celebrations waned for several decades.

It wasn't because people no longer wanted to celebrate freedom—but, as Slate so eloquently put it, "it's difficult to celebrate freedom when your life is defined by oppression on all sides." Juneteenth celebrations waned during the era of Jim Crow laws until the civil rights movement of the 1960s, when the Poor People's March planned by Martin Luther King Jr. was purposely scheduled to coincide with the date. The march brought Juneteenth back to the forefront, and when march participants took the celebrations back to their home states, the holiday was reborn.

9. Texas was the first state to declare Juneteenth a state holiday.

Texas deemed the holiday worthy of statewide recognition in 1980, becoming the first state to do so.

10. Juneteeth is still not a federal holiday.

Though most states now officially recognize Juneteenth, it's still not a national holiday. As a senator, Barack Obama co-sponsored legislation to make Juneteenth a national holiday, though it didn't pass then or while he was president. One supporter of the idea is 93-year-old Opal Lee—in 2016, when she was 90, Lee began walking from state to state to draw attention to the cause.

11. The Juneteenth flag is full of symbolism.

a mock-up of the Juneteenth flag
iStock

Juneteenth flag designer L.J. Graf packed lots of meaning into her design. The colors red, white, and blue echo the American flag to symbolize that the enslaved people and their descendants were Americans. The star in the middle pays homage to Texas, while the bursting "new star" on the "horizon" of the red and blue fields represents a new freedom and a new people.

12. Juneteenth traditions vary across the U.S.

As the tradition of Juneteenth spread across the U.S., different localities put different spins on celebrations. In southern states, the holiday is traditionally celebrated with oral histories and readings, "red soda water" or strawberry soda, and barbecues. Some states serve up Marcus Garvey salad with red, green, and black beans, in honor of the black nationalist. Rodeos have become part of the tradition in the southwest, while contests, concerts, and parades are a common theme across the country.