Stress Less

'Tis the season of frayed nerves. But being prepared for the holidays can help - a lot.  Local organizing expert Sandra Einstein offers 10 strategies for conquering chaos.

In your quest to make everyone else merry, you might be left having a blue, blue holiday season. But by planning, imposing organization on the chaos and taking time for yourself, you’ll be less stressed, and that means everyone has more holiday cheer.

Sandra Einstein, the founder and president of e=mc2 Organizing and Coaching Consultants Inc., in Gates Mills, offers advice on how to minimize holiday stress.

Take charge
Make a firm stand about what you will and won’t be doing this holiday season — don’t take on too much, and fully commit to what you want to do. Try to keep the holiday more simple and fun. “Taking control of your time can mean saying ‘no,’ ” Einstein says.

Simplify gift giving
Einstein suggests asking older children which one, larger item they might like as a gift, rather than tons of little presents. Organizing a name-drawing gift exchange with extended family can help keep your shopping time down — and your budget in check.

Pool resources
If you’re hosting a big holiday meal, why not ask your guests to bring something? Most people want to make a contribution, and by asking for specific dishes, you get what you need and avoid duplication. Einstein sends little notes, expressing enthusiasm that the guest will be coming, and politely requests the guest bring a salad, vegetable, coffee, dessert, appetizer, potatoes, wine, paper goods, or help clean up after the meal or make and serve coffee.

Manage the meal
Cooking things early and freezing them can be a time-saver on the day of the holiday. Einstein suggests labeling your serving dishes and pieces, so you remember what goes where, and anyone who offers to help won’t constantly ask where you want things.

Use your computer
Databases are great tools to manage your gift-giving and card-sending lists. “It makes it very simple year to year to add or delete people on the list and change addresses, as well as printing up envelopes or labels,” Einstein says. Be sure to order your cards early, especially if you want customized printing or photographs.

Start early
Make your shopping list early, and ask for gift ideas from your gift recipient or her family. By having your gift list in mind, you’ll avoid the holiday shopping rush, and maybe find things on sale. And always ask the store if they have gift boxes or a gift-wrapping service. It can be a huge time saver.

Have a gift stash
You might receive a last-minute invitation or host an unexpected houseguest or forget someone on your gift list. Einstein keeps a gift stash of things many people might like, including one-size-fits-all gift cards.

Prep your outfits
Maybe you haven’t worn your favorite holiday dress since last year — try it on in advance to make sure it still fits and is clean and pressed. Make sure you have everything you need, including the right shoes. “[Accessories] are things some people save until last minute,” Einstein says.

Make a battle plan
Plan ahead. Sit with your calendar, and “schedule an appointment with yourself” as Einstein puts it. Mark which days you will do what tasks, and synchronize this with family members. Consider a holiday binder, which keeps all your recipes and lists straight.

Take time for you
If you’re shopping and feel a meltdown coming on, just take a break. “Sit down, get something to eat or a cup of coffee; go get your nails done wherever you are,” Einstein says. “Just get yourself calmed, rather than just keep stressing.” Take time for you amid the holiday hoopla — read a book, take a bath, get a massage.

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