Help! The Holidays are Coming

woman with misteltoe, snow and decorations on her head. Needs help! the holidays are coming
Image by Amy from Pixabay

Somewhere around Halloween, the holiday crush begins. Reminders of the impending holiday season are everywhere. For some, this is a happy time, full of joyful anticipation and preparation. For others, it can be a difficult time. For many, November and December feel overwhelming, with the pressure to “pull off” the perfect holiday season looming like a dark raincloud. It’s common to feel a bit of anxiety and think, “Help! The holidays are coming!”

Part of the challenge of the holiday season stems from our worry that we are somehow failing to doing things “right.” This mindset is neither accurate nor helpful. Social media can create tremendous peer pressure. Remember, each family has its own traditions, pace, challenges, and needs. What is right for you and your family this year is all that matters, bearing in mind that each year is unique.

One way to get the most of your holiday season is by creating a plan for achieving your goals. A good plan will include:

  1. A word or phrase defining the mood/mindset you want to establish and sustain throughout the holidays.Depending on the year you are having, this may be “peace,” “celebrate,” “recover,” “coast,” or something else. Having a word or phrase to which you can return in stressful moments can be a beneficial way to keep things in perspective.
  2. A prioritized list of what you/your family want to do.
  3. A time-dated task list to help keep you on track and avoid the last-minute crunch.

Recognizing that each family is different, I’ve assembled a Big Holiday List to use as a jumping off point for making your own plan. On this list I’ve included the following categories:

  • Travel Planning
  • Holiday Cards
  • Entertaining
  • Gifts
  • Recreation
  • Decorating
  • Miscellaneous

You may have similar or different categories. Take the time to personalize it to fit your family’s desires. If you can, save a copy of this list that you can keep for future reference.


October or Earlier:

Travel Planning

  • Identify where/when the family will be traveling.
  • Ensure travel dates are on everyone’s calendars.
  • Submit for vacation days/PTO at work
  • Purchase tickets (if necessary)
  • Make hotel, rental accommodations (if necessary)
  • Arrange for house sitting (if applicable)
  • Arrange for pet boarding (if applicable)
  • Arrange for airport transportation (if applicable)
  • Arrange for availability of sufficient prescription medication to last while you are away (if applicable)
  • Arrange for airport transportation, (if applicable)

Early November:

Holiday Cards

  • Decide if you will send holiday cards (personal? professional?)
  • If yes, what type of cards will you send? (physical or digital)
  • When will you send cards (e.g., to arrive by Thanksgiving, mid-December, in the New Year, etc.)
  • Take photograph(s) for the card, if desired.
  • Design/select cards.
  • Assemble your recipient list (update addresses as needed)
  • Order cards (if appropriate)
  • Arrange for shipping of cards (e.g., will you address and stamp them yourself or will you pay a vendor to handle this for you?)
  • Buy holiday stamps (if desired)


[Note: for more detailed tips on planning a party, click here.]

  • Will you be hosting out of town guests during the holidays?
  • Will you host any events during the holiday season?
  • Select date(s) for entertaining.
  • Reserve rooms or locations, as needed.
  • Ensure dates are on everyone’s calendars.

Mid November:


  • Plan menus. (Be sure to note any food allergies or sensitivities of your guests. If you entertain frequently, keep digital records of your menus for future reference)
  • Determine guest list. (Are spouses, significant others, children invited?)
  • Make a serving/seating plan (Where will the bar be? Where will people sit and/or stand?)
  • Send out invitations.
  • Polish silver, unpack specialty cooking and serving pieces, etc.
  • Arrange for suppliers, if applicable (e.g., caterer, bar tender, florist, chair rental, babysitter, etc.).
  • Prepare guest sleeping accommodations (time to clear out the guest room!)


  • Assemble your list of gift recipients, potentially including:
  • Work Associates
  • Service providers/teachers/bus drivers/caregivers etc.
  • Family
  • Friends
  • Hosts/Hostesses
  • Charities
  • Set a budget for gift giving.
  • Use a tool (sheet of paper, spreadsheet, gift-tracking app) to keep track of everything.
  • Note shipping deadlines for international recipients.
  • Assemble wrapping supplies (review what you have and what you need, including tape and gift tags).
  • Clear no longer used toys and clothes to make space for items that may come in over the holidays.
  • Begin shopping.


  • Decide which parties, concerts, shows, services, light displays, or other special events you wish to attend. Remember to consider both personal and professional events.
  • Identify which activities your family wishes to enjoy this year (e.g., baking, games, outings, traditions, etc.)
  • Ensure all dates are on everyone’s calendars.
  • Purchase tickets, as necessary.
  • Schedule babysitting and pet care (if applicable).

Late November:


  • Continue shopping, as appropriate.
  • Wrap and box gifts to be shipped.
  • Wrap and hide gifts for those living in your home.


  • Finalize food and beverage details.
  • Shop for ingredients as needed.
  • Clean or arrange for any needed extra cleaning service.
  • Plan wardrobe for each event. 

Early December:


  • Clear away everyday décor to make space for holiday items.
  • Purchase/set up holiday decorations (as appropriate for your celebrations)
  • Set out holiday dishes (if applicable)
  • Bring out “jingle wear,” holiday books, holiday toys, and other seasonal items (be sure to establish a home for new items coming out).


  • Clear space in your pantry, fridge, and freezer for holiday entertaining items.
  • Purchase remaining food and drink supplies.
  • Prepare food (depending upon schedule, this might be in mid/late December)
  • Ready guest accommodations
  • Attend early December events!

Holiday Cards

  • Sign cards (if applicable)
  • Address and stamp envelopes (if applicable)
  • Arrange a place in your home for incoming cards.


  • Ship gifts to distant recipients.

Mid & Late December:


  • Make packing lists. (Tip: give the list to children who are old enough and have them set out their own items for your review)
  • Buy hostess gifts. (Tip: ship gifts ahead to minimize packing pressure!)
  • Confirm travel reservations.


  • Wrap remaining gifts.
  • Deliver gifts to local recipients.

Entertaining & Recreation

  • Take time to enjoy events and traditions that you have prioritized this year.
  • Send thank-you notes, as appropriate.

    *     *     *

Getting ready for the holidays can be exhausting, but keeping on track can help ease the stress. Remember to breathe, hydrate, and take time to enjoy whatever it is that you and your family most cherish.

What tip do you have for organizing during the holidays?

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18 thoughts on “Help! The Holidays are Coming”

    1. I like the idea of a word or mantra because each year is truly different. We shouldn’t feel pressured to recreate the same feeling every year, as this is probably unrealistic anyway. New year, new goals!

    1. Love that idea of involving the family in the planning. “Pulling off” the holidays can end up being one person’s job, and that isn’t really fair or necessary. The anticipation can be part of the fun, so why not loop everyone in from the beginning, right?

  1. This is a magnificent, comprehensive list for approaching all of the many tasks associated with the holiday season. However, my favorite part of this post was your idea to set “A word or phrase defining the mood/mindset you want to establish and sustain throughout the holidays.” If we aren’t careful, the holidays can take up all the air space in our lives and leave us gasping for breath. A theme word (akin to a word of the year) really helps set intentions, creating limits on what (valuable) things belong and what (unnecessary) things do not!
    Julie Bestry recently posted…Spooky Clutter: Fears that Keep You from Getting OrganizedMy Profile

    1. Each year our word might be different. I have some friends going through extremely difficult times right now. Their word probably isn’t “jolly.” Some years, we just want to find a few moments of peace, or focus on gratitude, worship, or something else. We don’t have to produce a five-star event each holiday season, right?

  2. I like the reminder that every family member is different and things change each year. As family members age what they will be able to participate in may change. Planning what you can in advance is great. Your plans may change last minute as other people’s plans change. Being flexible is the key to holiday planning. For instance, planning the menu in advance is helpful. Leaving buying the food until later lets you adapt to new plans and buy accordingly. Doing the things that are not impacted by others, writing cards and decorating first, leaves time later for the items that are impacted by others. Doing as much or as little as you want to do will make your holidays enjoyable.
    Julie Stobbe recently posted…An Interview with Judith Kolberg an Organizing Specialist in Chronic DisorganizationMy Profile

    1. An excellent point, Julie! Flexibility is key. Doing what we can control first is a great mindset to keep in mind.

      I agree that as we age, our desires and plans may differ. We may be a guest instead of hosting the big event. Or, we may just not feel up to big celebrations and instead value peaceful time at home.

    1. And you want to enjoy the whole season. A bit of intentionality can really help ensure you don’t miss what’s important, and you can move more peacefully through all of the special experiences!

  3. I surely agree that the holidays can be overwhelming. I think my word will be “enjoy”. I have trouble enjoying what I am doing because of thinking what I still have to do. You list will be a big help to me.

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