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Thanksgiving is only a few days away and I know that for most of you, the countdown to chaos has already begun. You are running around trying to thaw turkeys, figure out what the heck a brine is, how to clean the house for company when your kids keep making it a disaster area, orchestrating the great side dish cook-off of 2012 (one oven, eight side dishes and one turkey: enough said), not to mention the family drama that comes with the holidays. And as soon as Thanksgiving is done Black Friday madness begins–along with the dash to the great finish line: Christmas morning. For many of you, you are stressed out already. Just the idea of the holidays sends your shoulders into your ears, your ulcer begins churning, your palms sweat and you think “I wish it wasn’t like this.”  This is what the holidays have become in America–a great race to a pseudo-perfection that none of us ever achieve. Well, maybe Martha Stewart does. But then, I’ll bet she’s got a few maids, cooks, gardners and assistants helping out along the way. Us average schmucks don’t have that, yet we try to achieve perfection each and every year. But the harder we try, the more chaos engulfs us. We end up finishing the holidays spent, wiped out, and unable to really remember why we did it all in the first place.

The best advice I can give you is this: simplify. Don’t let the chaos monster drag you into his insanity this year. Step back, take a good look around, and simplify.

There are going to be a million and one great ideas come across your path this holiday season. This is one place where Pinterest is not your friend. I’m a huge fan of Pinterest and I will learn a lot this year–but at the same time I need to remember that not all great ideas are good ideas for ME. From parties to holiday shows to crafts to presents–they all will be great ideas. Even if something would be fun, that doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do right now. Think about how much time it will take to prep for it, to get there, to make/enjoy it, and to clean up or return home. What you need to do is sit down and look at each one and decide: is this worth my energy today? Will this bless me and my family, or will it add to the insanity? Even if something would be fun, that doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do right now. Think about how much time it will take to prep for it, to get there, to make/enjoy it, and to clean up or return home.

  • Cut back on the baking and the cooking. Do you really need 15 varities of cookies and cake bars? Or will three or four signature pieces make a bigger impact? At holiday meals, do you really need all of those sides and appetizers? Or are you worried you don’t have enough food? Instead of making six different sides all by yourself, either ask your family to pitch in and bring a dish, or simplify down to three or four you’ve made. Make them larger–enough for seconds or even thirds–and be done with it. You’ll be surprised how little extra effort doubling your dish will take, compared to making a whole new one.
  • Cut back on the decorating. This is one area where I struggle, because I LOVE Christmas decorations. I have inherited many of my aunt and my grandmother’s best decorations, and I love to get them all out every year. I’d have a tree in every room if I could. But I decided a few years ago that the huge storage tubs of decorations were insanely impossible, and so I began to reduce what I put up. It was hard to decide not to put out my grandmother’s beautiful angels, but one of the things I noticed was that without them dangling from the chandelier the other decorations in the room were a lot more important.
  • Set aside time for you in every day. No seriously, do it. I know this is one of those things that we all read and think “She has no idea how insane my life is. I could never set aside time for myself!” But really, I do. We all live those insane lives–if we let them get that way. Make a cup of hot cocoa for yourself. Snuggle up and stare at the lights on the tree. Read a good book. Watch a classic holiday movie. Go for a walk. Whatever it is that feeds your soul, do it! Even five minutes of quiet a day will make a huge impact.
  • Shop online.  Honestly, I’ve done 90% of my shopping online through Amazon for several years now, and I still fulfill my desire to buy unique items from small businesses. Amazon is a major employer in my area, and they are the online retailer for thousands of small local businesses across the country. Yet I can still get great prices that are competitive with the best sales at stores like Best Buy, Walmart or Target. (Amazon will meet or beat most of the deals any of those stores will offer.) And I get it all delivered right to my door, without fighting crowds or traffic. The other place I shop for gifts is Etsy. Etsy is an artisans paradise, full of unique, handmade gifts. So this year instead of heading for the mall or the big retailers, sit back and shop online first. I think you will be surprised how much easier Christmas shopping is when you don’t have to fight the madness at the stores!
  • Make your gifts where you can. A homemade gift says so much to the person who receives it. It says that you took the time not only to think of them, but to lovingly craft something just for them. I’ll have a series starting this week called Homemade for the Holidays that will share tons of great gifts you can make simply and easily for the loved ones in your life.

For the past four years I’ve run a Black Friday deals site through the holidays. I KNOW crazy. I’m really glad to not be doing that this year. But at the same time I know that I still have to be careful–I still have to vigilant. There is a whole world of “I should do that” about to come crashing in on me. Great ideas for crafts, for cookies, for holiday parties, for light shows, for holiday displays…the list is endless. They all would be good things. But that doesn’t mean that I will get to enjoy them, or that they would be good for me and my family. The last two years I worked on reducing the chaos outside of work, of making our family holidays a lot simpler. I will have to continue that this year to make sure that we don’t fall over that cliff of chaos again. I deserve to enjoy my holidays. So do you. Take time this year, to make sure you don’t just survive the holidays. Take time to make sure you ENJOY your holidays!



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