The words holiday and stress go together like Batteries Not Included this time of year.
Granted, part of the stress may come from being told we're supposed to feel stressed in December, but even the most laid-back person may feel that tinge of pressure.
Only 25 shopping days left!
Volumes have been written on making the holidays more manageable, less chaotic. But when time is short, who doesn't want an abbreviated version?
We've gathered 10 tried-and-true ideas that can help, from local professional organizers, national magazines and elsewhere.
So read on:
1. When setting a holiday budget, don't just budget for gifts. Keep in mind the tree, decorations, food, beverages, mailing costs, etc. These expenses add up quickly, so set a budget that covers them as well.
2. Look at your calendar and match what you have to do for the holidays -- shopping, wrapping, celebrating -- with your available time, says Linda Birkinbine, a local professional organizer who runs a business called Keep It Organized.
Says Birkinbine: "Your time is your container. You have to make it fit, or you will be overbooked and stressed. When you see the whole picture it is easier to let things go."
And don't forget to leave yourself some unscheduled time.
"A stressed-out, unhappy, often tearful person is not what the holidays are all about," Birkinbine says.
3. Buy nonperishable food and drinks for holiday dinners and gatherings way ahead of time. That way, you'll have all you need in stock at home except for fresh, last-minute foods. There's no need to be hauling cases of pop to the car an hour before guests arrive.
4. Stumped for gift ideas? Make it easy on yourself by picking a theme that encompasses everyone on your list.
The theme can be reading (magazine subscriptions, books on tape, cookbooks, home-made bookmarks), sleeping (pajamas, flannel sheets, fleece blanket); sports (tennis balls, team jersey, tickets to sporting events), etc.
Or buy the same thing for as many people on your list as possible, Birkinbine says.
One year it could be books; the next, warm soft blankets. Go for broad appeal.
"This year, most females on my list are getting something from the Vera Bradley collection of bags, purses and accessories," Birkinbine says.
5. Don't be afraid to simplify your gift list and limit the gifts you do give. Sometimes, one great gift says it all.
A suggestion: Grandparents, aunts and uncles can contribute money to a kitty to buy a larger gift for a child, rather than many unneeded gifts, suggests Linda M. Groat, a local professional organizer, life coach and owner of Simply Back to Basics.
Or choose a clutter-free gift such as a special outing, a renewable gift such as AAA membership, a lesson of some sort (golf, magic, etc.), organizers say.
6. Keep track of the gifts you do buy.
"Assign a 'home' for the gifts you buy. It can be a container, a closet shelf, a trunk or a dresser drawer," Groat says.
Otherwise, you lose track of what you bought for whom and where you stashed it.
How to deal with snoops? Groat recommends stashing storage bins of an unattractive color such as "wormy green" -- no see-through boxes -- in an out-of-the way place.
Either don't label them at all or label them wrong, maybe something along the lines of "Clothes to try on in 2008," she suggests.
7. There's nothing like a wardrobe crisis to escalate holiday stress. Think ahead to any parties you will be attending and decide early on an outfit and accessories, including hosiery.
Do the same with more casual clothes. Make sure your favorite velour outfit is clean and ready to go, the button is reattached to your cashmere cardigan or your favorite black pants are picked up from the cleaners.
8. Trade tasks. You love to bake cookies but your best friend doesn't. She on the other hand loves to shop while you detest it. You bake for her, she shops for you. Simple.
9. Shop for gift cards at drugstore chains or large grocery stores, Birkinbine suggests.
"Many have an impressive selection of restaurant, entertainment as well as stores. One-stop shopping," she says.
10. Rethink entertaining. Just because you always host a New Year's Day Open House for a guest list the size of Rhode Island doesn't mean you have to do it every year.
If you're ready for a change, come up with a simpler, new idea: Invite over the nieces and nephews for a movie night, for example. Tell stories. Get silly.
But don't keep the regulars on your guest list hanging -- waiting for their annual invitation.
"Let people know early so they can adjust, and it isn't such a shock," Groat said.
Similarly, realize you can let other things go.
"Skips cards this year if it will send you over the edge," Birkinbine says. "Or cut down on the number of paper cards you mail by sending free e-mail cards to friends who use e-mail."
Finally -- here is a bonus tip from Real Simple -- a streamlining idea shared by a reader on the magazine's Web site: Stick to realistic, daily "to do" lists.
Pick a number you think you can realistically tackle -- five tasks per day, for example, instead of 10.
"It's psychological: If I get five out of 10 things done, I just get frustrated. But if I get five out of five, I'm batting a thousand," the reader writes.
A good strategy all year round, but a sanity-saver in December.