Organize Your Holidays: The “Holiday Calendar” Method

Know what was on my Christmas list this year?

I wanted the gift of organization.

We all know that one person who’s ultra-organized…who has his Christmas shopping done in August, who has never forgotten a birthday or anniversary (I forget them even WITH my phone alerts!), whose children’s birthday parties always come off without a hitch and with no forgotten balloons, forgotten cake or forgotten birthday child (that last one wasn’t autobiographical, I swear…Okay, okay, so…don’t judge).

Organize Your Holidays (Really!): The “Holiday Calendar” Method

And I wanted to be that organized person. For just one year. So this holiday season, I gave myself the gift of organization. At first, it was a lot of tentative feeling around for what might work best, but amazingly, things did come together. In the end, it all it took was some pre-planning and a GREAT calendar. (And psst…a bit of help from a family of elves, but you can do all this even without special help, I promise. If you’re worried, see #5 below.)

I was so thrilled with this self-gift that I thought I’d pass it on. Here’s how to have a happy, stress-free and above all, organized holiday season. Enjoy!

1. Make a Calendar

It sounds so simple…maybe too simple. And anyway, perhaps you’re the type of person who hates marking things off this way and being confined to a schedule. I get that; I do. I’m not in love with the idea of being confined to dates and times either. I’ve always been a “go with the flow” kind of girl.

But do it. Trust me on this one. And have your calendar be separate from your phone. Why? Because if you’re like me, once you close out the phone alert, it’s gone from your mind in 3…2…soccerpracticelaundrywritethatarticlethats’dueohmygoodnessIforgotMom’sbirthday. Gone. Gone gone gone.

Don’t let it be gone. Make a calendar. Keep it on your desktop or laptop, wherever you check in often (even better: wherever you check in CONSTANTLY).

I like to make my calendars in an Excel spreadsheet because I can do my months by tab. Use the system that’s right for you (and can all be accessed from one place, let me repeat, ONE PLACE…being scattered is the exact opposite of what we’re going for here).

2. Start it Early

I know people who start organizing their holidays the summer before. (Actually, it’s not all that rare.) I didn’t. I started my calendar in September. I thought three months would be fine for my family and friends, and for my personality. I realized if I set up TOO many things to do, I’d (whoops) “lose” the calendar somewhere along the way out of sheer frustration.

So three months it was – actually, a little over three and a half, since I started my scheduling for Sept. 1 and ended it the week before Christmas.

3. Think (Really Think) About What You Want for Your Holidays

Ready to make your calendar entries?


And think.

Yes, REALLY think about what you ultimately want for your and your family’s holiday. What’s most important? Choosing the perfect, personalized gifts (or perhaps making them)? Holiday songs? The food? Décor?

Whatever is the single, repeating element to your “holiday wants,” that’s what to focus on and the final point you’ll want to reach by the date of the holiday. It could be one specific thing – say, holiday music – or it might be broader, such as “the big dinner” which will then encompass loads of other elements. Whatever it is, that’s going to be your visual. (For me, it was Christmas dinner. We celebrate Hanukah too, but Christmas was the dinner I was hosting. I envisioned warmth, satisfaction, laughter, and song along with the dinner.)

If your calendar is manual, draw a little image of that final goal on the date with “SUCCESS!” or another encouraging word over it. If you are using a spreadsheet or a document, import an image or simply write a word that has meaning for you along with that final goal. Each activity leading up to the holiday will have that goal as the end point, and all your choices will then be connected to it. It’s amazing how this one simple step will give you a guiding light for ALL your holiday organization.

4. Start Choosing REASONABLE Date Goals

Now that you know where you want to get, you’ll also have a better idea of WHAT you want to get, and to plan. You may have some shopping to do, or some cooking, decorating, planning, or all of these.

Start jotting goals on your calendar. I always tell myself I’ll “start wrapping presents earlier.” This year, I listed WRAP PRESENTS over five consecutive days ending two weeks before Christmas evening. And I stuck to it. When Day One came, I was just getting over a cold and was feeling quite “meh” indeed. I was tempted to forget (oops) about Gift Wrapping Day One, but realized I was sitting on my couch streaming movies anyway – was it really such a reach to sit on the floor instead, watch Netflix and wrap? No. Barring something pretty extreme, stick with your calendar.

A few items you may wish to include and put one or more dates down for, depending upon what your goals and traditions are:

• Buy/make holiday cards

• Put up holiday lights and holiday décor (I had two dates for this: indoors and outdoors)

• Send holiday cards

• Rearrange guest room and bring in extra bed for guest(s)

• Comb Pinterest for cookie recipes

• Bake and freeze cookies

• Watch favorite holiday movies (this was on my list; it always gets me in the mood. I had six movies over six nights)

• Shop for holiday clothes: myself and kids

• Shopping dates (or online buy-by dates)

• Shop for holiday dinner ingredients

…You get the idea.

5. DON’T Buy Boxes (Yet)

What about physical organization? When we talk about “organization,” that’s usually what we mean. I left this for later because my focus was on doing, but I did have things I needed to buy, including décor. I was inspired during the early phase of this organization project and was tempted to buy ornament boxes (until that time, I had them in tissue paper-separated jumbles), a “tree bag” and more.

You’re probably tempted to buy lots of organizing “stuff” too. Wait! You think you know what you need, but some items that will need to be put away later seem to “grow” (I have THAT many holiday village figurines? In how many set sizes?) or shrink (I thought I’d need the jumbo size box; now it seems empty and I’m stuffing the spare air with wadded magazine pages).

So wait. Until when, you ask? Call me crazy…but wait until the week after the holiday. This method was way less of a madhouse than I thought it would be. Apparently, people really are all shopped out after Christmas (I wouldn’t have known, never having really done any shopping during that exhausted but happy “downtime” week). AND stores are more than a little anxious to unload their stock, so you’ll get amazing deals.

But best of all, you’ll have everything out and will actually know what you need. Go minimal and if you need more, go out once more.

6. If You Can – Delegate

Don’t be afraid to ask for help, especially if you’re hosting the holiday. Get your family and friends in on the fun. Offer a fun lunch out post-holidays in exchange for a little elbow grease now.

All the organization in the world will come unraveled if you simply don’t have time to execute your own plan. A little help can go a LONG way to make your season brighter, and less stressful.

That’s it! It’s so easy to pull things together for a great holiday if you’re thinking ahead, and outlining exactly what you need to do. Nobody wants to be grumpy for Christmas because she’s exhausted (something that happened to me too many holidays in a row). Take the time ahead of time to get it all together, formulate a plan…and make things wonderfully, magically easy this year.

Your Home. Your Life. All Organic.