27 Tips and Tricks for a Stress-Free Holiday Season

monkeybusinessimages/iStock via Getty Images Plus
monkeybusinessimages/iStock via Getty Images Plus

The holiday season can be a stressful time of year for many people. But if you approach it armed with these helpful tricks, and a little yuletide cheer, the holidays can be an anxiety-free affair.

1. Buy a few small gifts for emergencies.

A small gift in a brown box with a blue ribbon in a bow around it.
Julia_Sudnitskaya/iStock via Getty Images Plus

When unexpected guests drop by, or you get invited to a last-minute gift exchange, it’s nice to have something small on hand to offer, from canned preserves and candles to blankets and cozy socks—so stock up ahead of time!

2. Measure your space before you buy a tree.


andreygonchar/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Whether you're going real or fake, picking the right Christmas tree is one of the most important parts of the holiday season—and there's nothing worse than finding the perfect tree then bringing it home ... only to realize it doesn't fit in your space. So before you go head out to the local tree farm or Christmas tree store, measure your space (don't forget to factor in the height of your tree stand). It's also not a bad idea to measure the door you want to squeeze the tree through. And before you get it inside, prune any areas that are unruly or extend outwardly from the shape of the tree. Keep in mind that pine trees tend to have longer needles, and fir trees tend to have softer needles. If you have allergies, consider a spruce tree; its scent is less pungent and fragrant than pine or fir. You can also go artificial, in which case you'll want to make sure you bend the branches and fluff the tree to hide the spaces between each layer. Then light a pine-scented candle to make it smell like the real thing.

3. Before putting your tree in its stand, cut it around the base.

A person using a chainsaw to cut a small disc off the base of a tree.
eyecrave/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Cut a 1/2-inch thick disk off the base of the tree trunk to make it easier for the tree to absorb water. Your tree stand should have a deep reservoir; once your tree is set up, fill it to the top. After that, add water daily so it doesn't dry out—you'll need about 1 quart of water per inch of the trunk in diameter.

4. Use a PVC pipe and a funnel to get water to your tree.

An easy way to water your tree without getting gook or needles all over you is to place a 3- to 5-foot 3/4-inch PVC pipe into the reservoir with a 45-degree elbow connector and a funnel attached to its top. Then all you have to do to water the tree is pour water into the funnel, so it travels through the pipe into the reservoir.

5. Make room for big presents by elevating your Christmas tree.

A big pile of brightly wrapped presents next to a Christmas tree.
Karin de Mamiel/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Trying to shove large presents under a low tree can be pretty frustrating, not to mention messy—so give your tree a boost. Place a few paint cans in a wide cardboard box to keep it sturdy, then place your tree on top. (You can also use a block of wood.) As an added bonus, your elevated tree appears larger than it really is and has a bigger presence in the room.

6. Use hand sanitizer to get rid of tree resin on your hands.

Close-up of a person putting hand sanitizer on their hands.
Elenathewise/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Let’s face it: Getting a real tree for Christmas is really messy. When you inevitably get tree sap on your hands and clothes, using soap and water to remove the sticky resin isn't the solution. Instead, trying using hand sanitizer. It contains alcohol, which will break up the resin on your skin in only a matter of seconds. If you don’t have hand sanitizer on hand, cooking oil, peanut butter, or even toothpaste should also do the trick.

7. Use a lint roller to get rid of errant pine needles.

Regular watering of your tree will greatly reduce the number of pine needles that fall off it—but your tree will still shed, and those needles will end up everywhere. And even vacuums can't get every little needle. One of the best ways to clean up loose pine needles from your furniture is using an oversized lint roller. It might seem awkward, but it does the trick. If you’d rather stand while getting rid of the needles, consider buying a rubber broom, which works even on carpets: Use shorter strokes, which will build a static charge and help you pick up needles quickly. If there are still small pine needles hanging around, use a piece of duct tape (sticky side out) wrapped around your hand to dab needles off the floor.

8. Keep fake trees from tipping over with a bag of rice.

If you’ve got an artificial Christmas tree this year, make sure you use a hefty weight around the base so it doesn’t tip over when you’re decorating (or after you're done). A 10-pound bag of rice on the back of the base of the tree should keep it sturdy; you can also use a few bricks to balance out the weight.

9. Trim your tree in the right order.

White and red ornaments and pinecones on a Christmas tree.
EarnestTse/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Hanging and wrapping garland and tinsel should be the first thing you do after you set up your tree. Use a simple burlap garland or tinsel to fill out any shallow spots or holes. It’s also an easy way to spruce up your tree if you’re using an artificial one or you don’t have a lot of ornaments and other holiday decorations. For every foot of your tree, you should wrap about 9 feet of garland or tinsel around it. Next, add lights, starting from the bottom and working your way up. Real Simple recommends placing the lights randomly, putting some near the trunk and some near the front to create depth. For every foot of your tree, you should use about 100 lights (or more if they're particularly small). You can also use large and small sized lights around your Christmas tree to make it look fuller. Then it's time to hang your ornaments. Make sure ahead of time that you have enough hooks for each ornament you use (or pick up some green florist’s wire, which blends in better than traditional hooks). If you have pets, use ribbons instead of hooks, so your cat or dog doesn’t get hurt if they play with the ornaments. (Also consider placing ornaments on higher branches so there’s less a risk of your pet knocking one over—or chewing on one.) When placing ornaments around the tree, put heavier and larger ones on the sturdier inside branches, and the smaller ones on the outer tips. Lastly, place the topper at the very top.

10. Set up a spreadsheet to track budgets and presents.

A spreadsheet for tracking holiday gifts.

Martha Stewart recommends making a list, separated out by category, before you head out to do your holiday shopping, which is a solid tip. But if you celebrate the holidays in several different locations, or need to buy for a ton of people on a budget, you might need to go a step further and create a holiday spreadsheet, which Mental Floss's editor-in-chief swears by. It should have rows for gift recipients and where they're located; the gift you're planning to buy; how much you have budgeted for that gift, and how much you actually spent; and whether or not the gift has been wrapped. This not only helps track where you are with your shopping, wrapping, and transporting of gifts, but also with budgets. Creating a new sheet within the tracking document every year will allow you to see what you've bought for everyone on your list in previous years, so you don't accidentally repeat yourself.

11. Keep your receipts.

A person sitting in front of a computer with receipts.
Ridofranz/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Unfortunately, not every gift will be a hit—or a fit. So keep your receipts together in a safe place, writing the recipient’s name on each one, in case they need to make a return or exchange. (Or ask for a gift receipt when purchasing the gift, and tuck it into the packaging so that the recipient can take care of any returns on their own, without the awkward task of having to ask you for the receipt.)

12. Wrap first, add decorations later.

An orange cat sitting on wrapping paper as a person wraps presents in the background.
helenaak/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Regardless of whether you call it a gift or a present, Martha Stewart offers this wrapping tip: Wrap the presents first and leave the decorations for later. If you have to travel, you’ll be able to easily stack the wrapped gifts, and you won’t smush your decorations. When wrapping or decorating, keep these expert tips in mind.

13. Remove packaging before wrapping gifts.

Ripping through wrapping paper is fun for kids. What's not fun for kids (or adults) is trying to get through the tape, zip ties, screws, and heavy plastic that surround their new toys. Valuable playtime is at stake, so give your kids a break by removing the toy from its packaging before you gift wrap it. Use a package opener tool to make quick work of the maddening manufacturer's packaging before placing the toy back into the outer box and then wrapping it. If a toy needs some assembly, take the toy out of its package and put it together before you wrap it with wrapping paper. Now when your kids open their gifts on Christmas Day, they can spend more time playing with their toys, and you can spend more time relaxing.

14. Use a toilet paper roll to hold wrapping paper.

An empty roll of toilet paper on a blue background.
AlexWang_AU/iStock via Getty Images Plus

The best way to secure and hold your wrapping paper in place for storage is to use an old toilet paper roll. Cut the tube longways down the middle to open it up. When you’re done wrapping, take the opened toilet paper roll and wrap it around your wrapping paper like a napkin ring. The wrapping paper will stay secure and not unroll when you store it. If you have multiple rolls of wrapping paper leftover after the holidays, store it in an old waste paper basket or hang them in a garment bag until next year. It will keep them neat and tidy, instead of loose on the top shelf of your closet.

15. Use a paper towel holder for easy access to ribbons.

A curly green ribbon in the shape of a wreath on a red background.
Yuliia Zaitseva/iStock via Getty Images Plus

A paper towel holder can be used for more than just paper towels: Place a few spools of gift wrapping ribbon in a paper towel holder from largest to smallest from the bottom up. This is the quickest way to organize and dispense ribbons to finish off the perfect holiday gift.

16. Stock your kitchen with basics and supplies ahead of the holiday meal.

A pantry with flour and sugar and cocoa.
nedjelly/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Nothing will send stress skyrocketing than starting to cook a meal and realizing you don’t have an ingredient you need. To make sure you’re covered, go shopping for essential ingredients ahead of time—just make sure you don’t use them all before it’s time to prep for your party. According to experts, the best time to shop for specific ingredients for your meal is a couple of days before the holiday. Make sure you bring a list so you don’t forget anything.

17. Make a meal plan—and stick to it.

After you’ve gotten your guest list together, and determined whether anyone on the list has a food allergy or dietary restriction, it’s time to choose which dishes you’ll serve. You can keep things simple—and your sanity intact—by serving no-cook appetizers. Once you’ve determined what you want to serve, it’s time to go shopping, and though it might be tempting to deviate from the plan, don’t do it! It will only cause stress.

18. Set reminders and put together a to-do list well before the event.

A notebook with "To Do List" written in it on a table with Christmas presents, decorations, and cookies.
Julia_Sudnitskaya/iStock via Getty Images Plus

It’s also helpful to set reminders for when you need to do certain things, like calling the butcher, so that you don’t forget anything in the run-up to the holiday. Give yourself a list of other little things to do every day—like decorating, for example—so you don’t have to do it all immediately before the day.

19. Forgo individual cocktails for a batch of punch.

A bowl of mulled wine.
Kyryl Gorlov/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Individual cocktails might be classy, but avoid them; they’ll keep you behind the bar when you should be chatting with guests. Instead, Real Simple advises making a big batch of punch. You could also go with Martha Stewart’s suggestion: a self-serve cocktail bar.

20. Set everything up the night before the party.

A table set for dinner with a plate topped by a napkin tied with a string that holds two cinnamon sticks and a sprig of a tree to the napkin. A pinecone is in the background.
Edalin/iStock via Getty Images Plus

The key to a stress-free event, according to Good Housekeeping, is to set up for your party the night before. Rearrange furniture, set the table, and make sure there’s plenty of toilet paper in the bathroom. You can also prep ingredients the night before to make the day of the party a little less stressful. Putting together a list of what needs to happen day-of can keep you on track, too.

21. Use bread to clean up broken ornaments or glass.

Whether you drop an ornament or your party guest drops a glass, don't reach for the vacuum—the glass can damage it. Instead, reach for the bread bag: After sweeping up the big pieces with a broom, you can easily clean up tiny shards with a slice of bread; just press the slice onto the floor where the glass was shattered, then toss it out.

22. If you’re flying for the holiday, pack light—and smart.

A green suitcase with a santa hat on top, on a blue background.
Alexey Surgay/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Getting hit with an overweight baggage fee is no way to kick off holiday travel, so make sure you pack light. Use these tips to make the most of the space in your suitcase, especially when you’re packing winter clothes (or for basic economy) and don’t forget to swap a few belongings with the people you’re traveling with so that you’ll still have some things on hand if one of your suitcases gets lost. And if you’re flying with gifts, leave the wrapping for later in case the TSA needs to examine them.

23. Know what to say and do if your flight gets canceled.

According to Cranky Concierge’s Brett Snyder, the first thing you should do when your flight is canceled is call the airline—even if you’re in line to speak with a counter agent. “This way, you’re essentially cutting the line in front of you,” Snyder told Real Simple. And no matter what the situation, remember to be polite; Snyder even recommends offering the agent a sandwich, which can set you apart from other irritated customers. “Don’t forget that ticket agents have been doing this all day, and many haven’t had a break,” he said.

Here are a few other tips for what to do if your flight gets delayed or canceled.

24. Get your car’s maintenance done before you travel.

A mechanic adjusts something under the hood of a car.
dragana991/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Getting over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house will be impossible if your car breaks down. The Better Business Bureau recommends getting any necessary car maintenance done before you make a long trip, and to have a car safety kit—which should include a blanket, radio, first aid kit, and jumper cables, among other things—in your vehicle just in case.

25. Store strings of lights on a hanger.

Tangled christmas lights in a box.
mikeinlondon/iStock via Getty Images Plus

When the holidays are over, prepare yourself for a stress-free season next year with a little prep work. Christmas lights are a pain to untangle every year. Instead of messing around with a rat’s nest, wrap your lights around a plastic coat hanger or cardboard paper towel roll. It will be easier to untangle and unwrap as you string them on a Christmas tree or window. Be sure to plug the ends into each other to keep your lights secure and tangle free.

26. Use coffee tins, apple containers, or egg cartons to store ornaments.

Instead of throwing ornaments in an old shoebox, place medium to large ornaments in an old coffee tin or cheap plastic drinking cups. Clean out an old coffee tin and gently place larger Christmas decorations wrapped in newspaper inside. For medium-sized ornaments, store them in plastic drinking cups inside of a larger plastic storage bin. Use an empty egg carton to store smaller Christmas ornaments. Plastic apple containers or paper beverage trays work great, too. This is a good way to keep ornaments tidy, compact, and easy to access next year.

27. Save time for next year by wrapping your fake tree in plastic wrap, ornaments and all.

Taking down a Christmas tree is never as fun as putting it up, so if you’re using an artificial tree, simply wrap the entire Christmas tree with lights and decorations on it with plastic wrap. Once you’ve wrapped it around the tree a few times, store it in your basement or garage. When Christmas comes again the following year, it will be easier to set up and display for another holiday season.

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

See Deal


At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

7 Pieces of Reading Advice From History’s Greatest Minds

When it came to books, Albert Einstein subscribed to the "oldie but goodie" mentality. He wasn't the only one.
When it came to books, Albert Einstein subscribed to the "oldie but goodie" mentality. He wasn't the only one.
Lucien Aigner/Three Lions/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

If there’s one thing that unites philosophers, writers, politicians, and scientists across time and distance, it’s the belief that reading can broaden your worldview and strengthen your intellect better than just about any other activity. When it comes to choosing what to read and how to go about it, however, opinions start to diverge. From Virginia Woolf’s affinity for wandering secondhand bookstores to Theodore Roosevelt’s rejection of a definitive “best books” list, here are seven pieces of reading advice to help you build an impressive to-be-read (TBR) pile.

1. Read books from eras past // Albert Einstein

albert einstein at home circa 1925
Albert Einstein poses at home in 1925 with a mix of old and new books.
General Photographic Agency/Getty Images

Keeping up with current events and the latest buzz-worthy book from the bestseller list is no small feat, but Albert Einstein thought it was vital to leave some room for older works, too. Otherwise, you’d be “completely dependent on the prejudices and fashions of [your] times,” he wrote in a 1952 journal article [PDF].

“Somebody who reads only newspapers and at best books of contemporary authors looks to me like an extremely near-sighted person who scorns eyeglasses,” he wrote.

2. Don’t jump too quickly from book to book // Seneca

seneca the younger
Seneca the Younger, ready to turn that unwavering gaze on a new book.
The Print Collector via Getty Images

Seneca the Younger, a first-century Roman Stoic philosopher and trusted advisor of Emperor Nero, believed that reading too wide a variety in too short a time would keep the teachings from leaving a lasting impression on you. “You must linger among a limited number of master thinkers, and digest their works, if you would derive ideas which shall win firm hold in your mind,” he wrote in a letter to Roman writer Lucilius.

If you’re wishing there were a good metaphor to illustrate this concept, take your pick from these gems, courtesy of Seneca himself:

“Food does no good and is not assimilated into the body if it leaves the stomach as soon as it is eaten; nothing hinders a cure so much as frequent change of medicine; no wound will heal when one salve is tried after another; a plant which is often moved can never grow strong. There is nothing so efficacious that it can be helpful while it is being shifted about. And in reading of many books is distraction.”

3. Shop at secondhand bookstores // Virginia Woolf

virginia woolf
Virginia Woolf wishing she were in a bookstore.
Culture Club/Getty Images

In her essay “Street Haunting,” Virginia Woolf described the merits of shopping in secondhand bookstores, where the works “have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack.”

According to Woolf, browsing through used books gives you the chance to stumble upon something that wouldn’t have risen to the attention of librarians and booksellers, who are often much more selective in curating their collections than secondhand bookstore owners. To give us an example, she imagined coming across the shabby, self-published account of “a man who set out on horseback over a hundred years ago to explore the woollen market in the Midlands and Wales; an unknown traveller, who stayed at inns, drank his pint, noted pretty girls and serious customs, wrote it all down stiffly, laboriously for sheer love of it.”

“In this random miscellaneous company,” she wrote, “we may rub against some complete stranger who will, with luck, turn into the best friend we have in the world.”

4. You can skip outdated scientific works, but not old literature // Edward Bulwer-Lytton

edward bulwer-lytton
An 1831 portrait of Edward Bulwer-Lytton, smug at the thought of people reading his novels for centuries to come.
The Print Collector/Getty Images

Though his novels were immensely popular during his lifetime, 19th-century British novelist and Parliamentarian Edward Bulwer-Lytton is now mainly known for coining the phrase It was a dark and stormy night, the opening line of his 1830 novel Paul Clifford. It’s a little ironic that Bulwer-Lytton’s books aren’t very widely read today, because he himself was a firm believer in the value of reading old literature.

“In science, read, by preference, the newest works; in literature, the oldest,” he wrote in his 1863 essay collection, Caxtoniana. “The classic literature is always modern. New books revive and redecorate old ideas; old books suggest and invigorate new ideas.”

To Bulwer-Lytton, fiction couldn't ever be obsolete, because it contained timeless themes about human nature and society that came back around in contemporary works; in other words, you can’t disprove fiction. You can, however, disprove scientific theories, so Bulwer-Lytton thought it best to stick to the latest works in that field. (That said, since scientists use previous studies to inform their work, you can still learn a ton about certain schools of thought by delving into debunked ideas—plus, it’s often really entertaining to see what people used to believe.) 

5. Check out authors’ reading lists for book recommendations // Mortimer J. Adler

mortimer j. adler in 1983
Mortimer J. Adler in 1983, happy to read the favorite works of his favorite authors.
George Rose/Getty Images

In his 1940 guide How to Read a Book, American philosopher Mortimer J. Adler talked about the importance of choosing books that other authors consider worth reading. “The great authors were great readers,” he explained, “and one way to understand them is to read the books they read.”

Adler went on to clarify that this would probably matter most in the philosophy field, “because philosophers are great readers of each other,” and it’s easier to grasp a concept if you also know what inspired it. While you don’t necessarily have to read everything a novelist has read in order to fully understand their own work, it’s still a good way to get quality book recommendations from a trusted source. If your favorite author mentions a certain novel that really made an impression on them, there’s a pretty good chance you’d enjoy it, too.

6. Reading so-called guilty pleasures is better than reading nothing // Mary Wollstonecraft

mary wollstonecraft in 1797
Mary Wollstonecraft in 1797, apparently demonstrating that a book with blank pages is worth even less than a novel.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

To the 18th-century writer, philosopher, and early feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, just about all novels fell into the category of “guilty pleasures” (though she didn’t call them that). In A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, she disparaged the “stupid novelists, who, knowing little of human nature, work up stale tales, and describe meretricious scenes, all retailed in a sentimental jargon, which equally tend to corrupt the taste and draw the heart aside from its daily duties.”

If her judgment seems unnecessarily harsh, it’s probably because it’s taken out of its historical context. Wollstonecraft definitely wasn’t the only one who considered novels to be low-quality reading material compared to works of history and philosophy, and she was also indirectly criticizing society for preventing women from seeking more intellectual pursuits. If 21st-century women were confined to watching unrealistic, highly edited dating shows and frowned upon for trying to see 2019’s Parasite or the latest Ken Burns documentary, we might sound a little bitter, too.

Regardless, Wollstonecraft still admitted that even guilty pleasures can help expand your worldview. “Any kind of reading I think better than leaving a blank still a blank, because the mind must receive a degree of enlargement, and obtain a little strength by a slight exertion of its thinking powers,” she wrote. In other words, go forth and enjoy your beach read.

7. You get to make the final decision on how, what, and when to read // Theodore Roosevelt

theodore roosevelt in office in 1905
Theodore Roosevelt pauses for a quick photo before getting back to his book in 1905.
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division // No Known Restrictions on Publication

Theodore Roosevelt might have lived his own life in an exceptionally regimented fashion, but his outlook on reading was surprisingly free-spirited. Apart from being a staunch proponent of finding at least a few minutes to read every single day—and starting young—he thought that most of the details should be left up to the individual.

“The reader, the booklover, must meet his own needs without paying too much attention to what his neighbors say those needs should be,” he wrote in his autobiography, and rejected the idea that there’s a definitive “best books” list that everyone should abide by. Instead, Roosevelt recommended choosing books on subjects that interest you and letting your mood guide you to your next great read. He also wasn’t one to roll his eyes at a happy ending, explaining that “there are enough horror and grimness and sordid squalor in real life with which an active man has to grapple.”

In short, Roosevelt would probably advise you to see what Seneca, Albert Einstein, Mary Wollstonecraft, and other great minds had to say about reading, and then make your own decisions in the end.