Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Stress-Less Christmas

Is a stress-less Christmas really possible? I think it is. 

When I first had my oldest son, who is now 19, I started to hate the holiday seasons. I was a new mom, with a new baby, and had to try to figure out how to visit my family and my husbands family all in the same week. Along with juggling the malls and department stores to purchase approximately 40 gifts for family and extended family. To say the least, I started to get stressed out. I couldn't imagine doing all that year after year. 

Then during one of my holiday visits I was visiting with my elderly grandmother. She lived alone and really counted on my visits because she did not drive and she was unable to do a lot around the house for herself. As the visit was winding down I was looking through her book shelf. I noticed a book "360 ways to prepare for Christmas". I asked my grandmother if I could borrow it and the rest was history. 

Seriously, this book gave me some great ideas on how to limit some of the stress in my holiday life. Here is a little bit of what I took away from this wonderful book:

Tip #1: Setting up a gift closet.

For at least 17 years I've been doing this and I find it amazing that people haven't really thought about this on there own. It is the #1 suggestion I share with everyone when they ask how I have ALL my holiday shopping done by Thanksgiving. 

This is what I have done and continue to do....
I have bought plastic shoe boxes for all my "normal" shopping people. These boxes dont take up a lot of room and are easily stackable. I have taped a post-it note with each persons name on the front of the box. I stack them either on the top shelf of my bedroom closet or the front hall closet (I have moved these boxes from location to location over the years). I also have one "general" plastic box that I keep on the side for great deals and white elephant gifts. 

Through out the year as I'm wandering craft stores, antique stores, farmers markets, or even regular stores I always seem to find something that someone I know will love. I tend to never hold back and will purchase that gift right then and there, specially if it's on sale. Now, here's the trick, as soon as you get home grab that gift and put it in their plastic show box and shut the lid. You will be surprised at how quickly those boxes will fill up and now you will always be ready for a birthday, hostess gift, or Christmas with out all the struggle of last minute shopping and trying to figure out where the money to buy those gifts will come from. 

As for the "general box" here is what I do. This box is used for great sales that I have no clue who the gifts will go too and also for gifts we have recieved that are duplicates, not wanted, or simply just not us. 

It never fails that at least once during the year a toy company will have a great sale at the same time a store that sells their products will also have a complimentary sale. During those times I will purchase the products. Those go into the "general box" right when I get home. Then, when one of the kids comes to me and says they have a friend who's have a birthday party, or what ever the occasion, I am ready. This also goes for outlet store finds for those grown up people you know too. 

As for those unwanted gifts, what I call white elephant gifts, I have a little secret. I hate making people feel like all their efforts were for nothing. I have taught my kids the same thing. Sometimes the ones buying for you might not have had the funds to really buy things, were at a loss at what to buy you, or maybe they really thought it was somethings you would like. When I get a gift like this I always act happy, just as happy as normal, as I would if it was the perfect gift. I thank them, because truthfully it IS the thought that counts NOT the gift. When I get home, I put the name of the person that gave it to me on a post-it note on the gift and I place it on the gift and it goes in the "general box". 

So, your probably wondering why I put a note on the gift. This is so, when I find the right person to give the gift too I am sure that the original gifter, or their friends and family, are not the ones that are getting the gift. 

Trust me, you will eventually get rid of that gift. Work place parties, friends out of state, hostess gift for a party one of your friends invites you too, ect.

Another couple of things this system does is:
*Organizes the people you gift to year after year
*Makes it easy to see who you may have missed purchasing for as it gets closer to the my case, that means right around Halloween

Tip #2: Don't be afraid of home-made gifts

With the invention of Pinterest, and the Internet, this is something that's do-able for even the person that believes they are not creative. 

Most people really do appreciate handmade cards, presents and decorations. Don't be afraid to try something out. Start small and simple if this is your first time. 

Here are some of my favorite things to handmade for people on my list:

*Vinagers, dressings and oils-
For just a couple of dollars you can pick up some awesome jars with lids/corks. These make great gifts for anyone you know that loves to cook or eat! Do you know anyone that falls into at least one of those groups? I do. 
Look on-line to find some great recipes and for tips on how to prepare the bottles prior to using them. 
For vinegars I love to add fresh spices such as basil or rosemary to the bottles before adding the vinegar. 
Salad dressings are a combination of oil and vinegar with spices. 
Oils are the most fun for me to do. I love mixing rosemary with garlic in the bottles prior to adding the oil. Or mixing peppers and garlic. Most combinations infuse very well with oil and make a great addition to most dishes. 
The best thing about these types of gifts is that the longer they sit, the best they taste so you can make them a couple weeks before your ready to give them out. 

Here is a recipe you can try now:
Garlic Herb Vinegar

1 cup fresh basil sprigs
8 garlic cloves
4 cups red wine vinegar, plus more if needed

1. Rinse basil and dry completely between towels. Divide between 2 sterile pint jars. Crush the garlic with the side of a knife, and discard the papery skin. Add 4 garlic cloves to each jar. Pour in the vinegar and cap the jars tightly. 
2. Let the jars sit in a sunny window, turning every few days, for about 1 month before giving as a gift. During the turning process make sure the herbs stay covered with the vinegar, add more vinegar as needed. This vinegar can be stored at room temperature for approximately 4 months. 

*Infused honey-
I love honey. I love having a cup of hot tea in the morning (or at night because I try not to limit myself) with some honey and a slice or two of lemon. And, I have found that a lot of my friends fell the same way. Also, there are a lot of benefits to local honey found at farmers markets. 
So, this gift is always welcomed. 
My favorite honey to make is very simple. I start with a mason jar, usually about a 12 ounce size, and I layer in slices of lemon with slices of ginger. Once the jar is full I add the honey, making sure that the honey gets in between each layer. Once the jar is full I close the lid and put it in the refrigerator. I let the honey jar sit for about 2 weeks before I give it away. (Again, check on-line for tips to preparing the jars before doing this.)
When the gift goes out I decorate the top of the lid with some ribbon and a tag. 
*Homemade ways to hide gift cards or money-

So this year my grown nieces are getting cold hard cash from me. My plan for making this fun is.... Putting a paper roll (such as a cut piece of a paper towel roll) in the center of a mason jar, place the money in the roll and fill the empty spaces between the paper roll and the glass with plain m&m's. From the outside of the jar they will be thinking we gave them a jar full of m&m's. Once it is open, they will know the truth. 
Other ideas include:
*Homemade Chai or drink mixes-
Every year my sister in law gives me a mason jar full of Chai mix. All I have to do is add water to a spoon full and I get to sit back and enjoy. This is a gift that last me a couple of months and every time I make a cupful I think of her. I look forward to this gift every year. 
You can find several recipes for drink mixes on-line and most of them are very simple to make. 
*Cookie or soup mixes- 
I have never recieved or made these. Ever. But I love the way they look and I would try them if I was given one as a gift. 
Again, recipes can be found on-line. 

Homemade gifts such as listed above can be easy and fun to make. You can even have the kids help you make some of them which helps them feel included during the holiday gift giving process. You can even re-use jars that you have on hand to recycle and save some money. Just make sure if you are re-using jars to prepare the jars prior to filling them up. 

Tip #3: Don't be afraid to gather through out the year. 

Don't be afraid to buy in advance. Seriously!  

I purchase my holiday wrapping paper after Christmas. It's usually more than a ½ off. I can also dig through the bins and find solid papers or paper that will work well for birthdays and other celebrations. Same thing goes for after other major holidays. 

This tip also works for new Christmas decorations, gift tags, ribbons, ect.

Do you have a friend that decorates for every holiday and throws holiday parties? A Martha Stewart type? If so, after Halloween, or a similar holiday, purchase decorations that can used as a hostess gift next year at her Halloween party. Just put it in the "general box" when you get home. 

After Easter purchase cheap neutral baskets and use them instead of gift bags at Christmas time. Specially if your planning on making homemade gifts to give.  
Did you get a great gift bag that can be re-used? If so, fold it up and place it with your other bags and gift wrapping supplies. 

Tip #4: Repurposed and Reuse

I love going to antique stores and second hand stores through out the years. If you like the same things, don't be afraid to purchase gifts for those friends or family members that love the same things. 

For example, I have a friend who I frequently shop together with. We love finding hole in the wall shops in remote locations. Well this friend loves mismatched dishes, and tea. If during the year I find a cup and saucer that she would love, I purchase it. At gift giving time, I can put a few bags of our favorite tea in the cup with shredded paper and wrap the gift up. 

So, as you can see, a little bit of planning and you can have a little less stress during the holidays. It will only take you a few moments to get everything organized, and after a couple of years you won't even notice the time it takes to purchase a little throughout the year. 

Those are my you have any other ideas on how you can save some stress during the holidays?

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