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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.