Everyone wants the perfect Christmas, but achieving those few precious days of fun, family and friends sprinkled with that special warm glow of content, requires organisation and forward-planning. Jayne Dowle share her 10 foolproof hacks to help the festive season go as smoothly as possible.
1. Take time off
Well in advance of the big day, carve out a few days of annual leave and devote the time to Christmas preparations. I always try to segue these onto a weekend in November, for example, so I have lots of time to organise myself and complete the jobs I need to do, from sorting out the kitchen cupboards in readiness for festive goodies to shopping for gifts.
2. Create separate lists
Whatever you do, make lists. I divide mine into 'food', 'drink' and 'presents' and save them until next year to use as reference. Lizzie Grant, a professional organiser and Founder of Declutter on Demand, a UK-wide based team of professional organisers, recommends using a scheduling app such as Trello to create to-do lists specifically related to Christmas. 'This will keep you on track and take the stress out of trying to remember everything you have to do,' she says. 'Digital lists are great because you can easily update them when you're out and about. Creating these lists once thoroughly will mean you can use them for years to come so you're always prepared.'
3. Gather recipes and serveware
Once you've written your lists, review them and be realistic about what you're actually going to have time to do – do you really need to make three different kinds of stuffing? I love cooking for Christmas but have been guilty of over-confidence on occasion. One good way to keep calm in the Christmas kitchen is to print out all the recipes you need in advance and gather them together in a wipe-clean folder, ordering by actual meal/day if necessary.
Also, dig out those large dishes, special crockery and other serving essentials the week before. Wash, dry and store in a safe place so there's no last-minute panic when the pans need dishing up at Christmas lunchtime.
4. A quick-fix tree solution
I love Lizzie's tip for cutting out the stress when you're decorating the Christmas tree. She says if you're running out of time to decorate, or discover at the last minute that you don't have enough decorations, place the tree in a corner of a room so that the back and sides are against the walls – 'that way you only have to decorate the front'.
Of course, organising decorations and baubles into colour-coded boxes when you packed them all away in January will help, so remind yourself to do it this year.
5. Clear out kitchen cupboards
Have a thorough sort out of your kitchen cupboards at the beginning of December, chucking out anything that's out of date, replenishing herbs and spices that are running low, and checking kitchen kit is in working order. 'You don't want to be making stressful last-minute dashes to the shops just before Christmas,' says Wendy Miranda, customer ambassador for home and kitchen retailer Lakeland: 'So are your knives sharp enough? Do you need a new set, or do they just need a good sharpening? Is the non-stick on your pans and roasting tins still good enough? Check now and avoid stress on the big day itself.'
6. Organise Secret Santa for family
Secret Santa could save your festive sanity. I instigated this tradition amongst immediate family, with an initial present value limit of £20, years ago – we recently agreed to a £25 limit to reflect inflation. Buying just one gift for adults cuts down seriously on shopping time, reduces spend on unwanted items and long-term, means that everyone's home doesn't end up full of clutter– presents they don't really want but are too polite to recycle or get rid of.
7. Make space
Build a present cupboard/shelf/box during the year, gathering gifts from sales, special shops and craft fairs as you go along, and buy Christmas cards in the January sales. I realise that it might be a little too late to do this as November approaches, but it's definitely worth organising your shopping time from now on. Put aside a couple of hours to choose and purchase cards, two or three half days to focus on buying gifts, and you'll feel far less frazzled and overwhelmed by everything piling up on you at once in the third week of December.
8. Set aside an afternoon to wrap presents
I love buying presents, but hate wrapping them. I'd left it too late for too many years, so last year took the plunge and set aside the best part of one Saturday in December to do the lot. I took up residence with wrapping paper, ribbons, labels, tape and tags at the kitchen table – you need a flat surface to organise yourself properly – and set to work. My top tip is either stick-on labels or pre-tied tags. Life is far too short to mess around with string.
I'm also a great believer in gift bags; not just for smaller or fiddly items, but larger ones to hold a number of presents for one side of the family or a particular household. Organising them in this way means things are less likely to go astray.
9. And the same applies to cards
I know some people send e-cards or give to charity instead of buying cards – although there are thousands of cards available benefiting good causes – but I still consider sending and receiving cards a special part of Christmas. Writing them, however, takes discipline. Louise Crockett, head elf and Father Christmas's PA organising personalised letters at A Magical Letter, suggests spreading the job over several days: 'Perhaps every evening at 8pm, aim to write five, or schedule a few hours to get them all done in one hit.'
10. Prepare a playlist
Christmas is all about the senses and that includes sound. Even if the turkey is burning and the cat's knocked over the Christmas tree, the right music will help to smooth things over. Take time now to put together your perfect playlists, from peaceful classics and carols to party tunes, using an online platform such as Spotify, says professional party organiser Liz Taylor of the Taylor Lynn Corporation: 'The beauty of this is that you can do most of the work now as you go along, and just add songs to it nearer the time.'
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