Saturday, December 4, 2010

Stress-Free Holidays... or Something Like That

I headed out of the house to run a quick errand the other day and couldn't believe how stressed-out I felt by the time I arrived at my destination. And then I remembered that it's December, and in December, people are crazy on the road. Have you noticed that yet this year? All of a sudden the Christmas spirit hits and what's supposed to turn everyone into selfless, giving, caring human beings instead transforms ordinary people into extraordinary jerks. But then, it's not just on the road; it's everywhere! And it's not just other people... that's right, it happens in my home, my life, and my heart, too. And while we can't change how stressed out the people around us are, we can definitely be more conscious about the stress in our own lives this holiday season. Here are a few tips that I've found helpful so far in achieving a low-stress December...

1. Keep Christ on the Throne
I want to put this out there first because most times in life if we can stay focused on Christ everything else will fall into place. It is important to remember what we are celebrating during Christmas, and that is the birth of our Savior. If we can keep our eyes on Jesus, it suddenly becomes a lot easier to let the little things go and see situations for what they are and do all the other things I'm about to mention. He is the one who enables us to be at peace in our souls, no matter what time of year it is.

2. Organize
Sounds so simple, right? But how often are we running around town the few days before Christmas because we don't know what dish to bring here, or what gift to give there? Organizing early relieves stress. For our family there are three areas that I have gotten organized early this year: Budget, Gifts, and Events. It has been especially important in these areas to know what we are doing ahead of time, while there is still time. That means sitting down with hubby and deciding how much we're going to spend, who we're going to buy for, what we are going to buy, and where we are going to go (and not go) this Christmas. I am very visual, so having it all written out on a note card is tremendously helpful. I carry the note card with me so I can reference it whenever I forget what I'm doing or where I'm going or why I'm going there! Wait, how much money am I supposed to spend on that secret santa gift? Note card!

3. Prioritize (Events and Everything Else)
You can't do it all. Wait, let me say it again, with a little more emPHAsis... YOU CAN'T DO IT ALL. That's right, and neither can I. We like to think, especially at Christmas-time, that we are all-powerful all-conquering wives and mothers. We are the hostesses with the mostesses and ain't NOBODY gonna bring a better casserole to that potluck! This, I believe, is the central source of almost every woman's holiday stress. And do you know what that really is, all masked in homemade wrapping paper? It's pride. The best place to start in prioritizing is admitting that we can not, in fact, do it all. Now that that's out of the way, we are free to make room for a few special events in December, and politely decline a few other invites. Decide what is important in your family, and what is not, and prioritize accordingly. No one benefits from running all over town to make a bunch of appearances. And NO ONE benefits when the woman of the house is too high-strung to enjoy anything that's going on.

4. Set a Budget, and STICK TO IT
In our family, we do not put Christmas gifts on credit cards. It's all cash at Christmas. We are not able to do this because we have a lot of money, on the contrary, we have both been working only part-time or volunteer jobs for the last year, at least, with plenty of medical expenses to top off the regular bills. Sticking to a budget is all about deciding what is important to your family, and setting financial goals and expectations accordingly. If we expect of ourselves to pay for Christmas in cash, then we will take the necessary steps to make that happen. Maybe that means we start saving a little earlier, or maybe that means we buy smaller gifts and less of them. I want to encourage you, this is especially easier to do while the kids are still young and we are teaching them what to expect from us. If our young kids expect hundreds of dollars in gifts each Christmas, it's only because we have enabled those expectations. So go ahead and establish a budget first, then decide who you can afford to buy for and what you can afford to buy within those means. Organizing and prioritizing. Remember that Christmas is about Jesus' glory, not ours in giving the best gifts to everyone.

5. A Little At A Time
In other words, don't procrastinate. Do a little something every day this month. That big list (which hopefully is a little smaller after prioritizing) will shrink a little more with each passing day. By the time the 24th rolls around, the lights will be hung, the gifts will be wrapped, and there will be hot apple cider on the stove for the whole family to enjoy. Riiiiight. :) But really, not all the gifts have to be bought at once. And if you get half the tree up today and half up tomorrow and decorated next week, GREAT! Tree is done! If you hate shopping for a new dress for the party, do it NOW, even if the party isn't for two more weeks. Doing a little at a time allows us to take our time on the road, smile at people we stroll past in the store, and continue being pleasant to our kids. Ha. It allows us to move with ease through the holiday season, thinking about other people first.

6. Keep A Clean Home
This is that icing on the cake tip. It is not equal to remembering Jesus... cleanliness is not next to Godliness, but it helps a ton in alleviating stress when we can manage it. We have some friends who set their kitchen timer for 15 minutes every night and pick up the house until the timer dings. It is amazing what can get accomplished in 15 minutes! I always feel so much better the next morning if I take a few minutes to finish the dishes the night before. Our homes are supposed to be our havens away from stress. If we feel anxious in our homes because of the pile of papers, or the sink full of dishes, or the should've-been-mopped-yesterday floor, we can not expect to feel peaceable anywhere. This, I am finding, is true any time of the year, but is magnified during the holidays. Prioritize making your home the place you want to come home to.

This Christmas I want to remember Who I celebrate. I want to enjoy the company of my family. I want to be a giver of hugs and kisses and stress-free smiles. I'm guessing you want all these things, too. We will only achieve this for ourselves and our families if we are intentional. I can do it and so can you... let's choose a stress-free holiday!

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