Black cats, green-faced witches, zombies and goblins don’t scare me nearly as much as the realization that Christmas and Hanukkah are only a few short shopping weeks away. Although you may be up to your eyeballs in Halloween treats and pumpkins, carving out a little time to prepare for the winter holidays may be the biggest trick to staying ahead of the seasonal chaos this year.
If you find yourself scrambling each year for last-minute groceries and gifts, you’re not alone. According to Richard A. Feinberg, a professor of consumer sciences and retailing at Purdue University, holiday shoppers procrastinate even more than they think. While urban legend proclaims the day after Thanksgiving as the busiest shopping day of the year, Feinberg found that the 22nd and 23rd of December were the two busiest shopping days of 2001, and that half of all holiday shopping occurred during the two weeks just before Christmas - a close call even for the savviest of Santas. Aside from getting your tasks taken care of, working ahead can actually make holiday shopping enjoyable, decorating more fun, and entertaining easier.
Try out these time-saving secrets of the season with your family this year to head off havoc and make your holidays merry and bright:
Give early. Are you going to see your family for Thanksgiving? Are out-of-towners arriving next week? Check a few tasks off your list by rounding up gifts for those you’ll see before the holidays, and capitalize on your opportunities to give early. It’s a great way to ignite the spirit of the season with your family and friends, avoid shipping hassles and extra costs, and check at least a few people off your gift list early on. Or, consider buying gifts from mail order or online catalogs and get a start on your orders right now. Since most holiday catalogs have been out since early October, place your orders as soon as possible, before the inventory runs out, and while you can ship your packages without worrying about rush charges or delivery dates.
Get wrapped up in organization. Do you have enough paper? Name tags? Ribbon and bows? Clean out that wrapping paper box now and get rid of the scraps and pieces from last year. Select just one or two large rolls of wrapping paper to cut down on clutter and stock up on ribbons, bows, name tags, packing paper, boxes and mailing tape. Set aside a place to organize a wrapping station, perfect for wrapping presents as you buy them.
Coordinate your calendar. Enlarge a copy of your monthly calendar for November, December, and January, and hang it in a place where all can see. Schedules fill fast, so mark in important dates as soon as you know them, as well as deadlines for grocery shopping and time for gift hunting, house cleaning, tree trimming, and even hot chocolate drinking. The more time you allot now, the less chance of running out in the next few weeks.
Bake ahead. Start with cut-out cookies that can be frozen and easily thawed for the kids to ice. Whip up a few batches of brownies or ginger snaps and tuck them away in airtight containers in the freezer. Fudge, chocolate-covered pretzels, whatever your specialty - adding a few nights of baking to your week is a great way to stock your cupboards with treats for guests or last-minute gifts. And don’t limit yourself to sweets. It’s great to have a frozen lasagna or chicken casserole ready for drop-in visitors or your own family during the hectic holiday rush.
Address your cards. Why wait? Gather your cards, envelopes, address book, and stamps in a basket that you can sit in your living room or by your bed and write out a few or a bunch at a time. Once December 1 comes, they can be out of your hands and in the mail.
Run out of gift ideas? If you’re sending far enough ahead of time, chose a gift that can be used during the holidays. Tree ornaments, fancy chocolates, or holiday-themed linens and clothing can be an "Open Now!" gift that won’t get lost among all the others, are a hit with anyone celebrating, and can be enjoyed immediately.