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Are You Really Ready for the Holidays?

Prepare your home -- and yourself! -- for the holiday season.
wrapping presents

It's the night before Christmas – your kids are snuggled up in their beds dreaming of candy canes and where are you? Staying up all night frantically wrapping presents, baking cookies, cleaning your house and trying to create the picture-perfect holiday you should have given up on weeks ago?

If you're longing for a less stressful season, take time now to prepare yourself and your home for the holidays so you can actually enjoy them this year.

Get Over Your Perfectionism

Why do so many of us get overwhelmed by the holidays? According to Marla Cilley, a.k.a. cleaning and organizing expert Flylady, it's because we're trying to have the perfect holiday, and our perfectionism gets in the way. "We think we don't have the time to decorate the perfect Christmas tree so we put it off and don't do it," she says. "We're too busy trying to make the perfect finished product that we forget to enjoy the process. That's why we get too frazzled."

When we let our perfectionism get the better of us, we put things off until the last minute. "We don't think we have enough time to plan a little," says Flylady, who is also the author of Sink Reflections. She advises completing most of your holiday preparations by Dec. 1. "Then you can enjoy baking cookies and doing Advent calendars or whatever you like to do for the holidays," she says. "You can have fun being with your family instead of running around like a chicken with its head cut off."

One of Flylady's keys to getting past perfectionism is realizing "you can do anything for 15 minutes." Instead of telling yourself you don't have time, set a timer for 15 minutes and get something done. Wash the dishes in your sink, clear off a counter or de-clutter a room. If you keep making use of your time this way, you'll see progress. You can prepare for the holidays in the same way by decorating a little at a time, writing a few Christmas cards a day and planning your gifts, menus and activities.

"I used to find holidays stressful and then I made a decision just to enjoy," says Tracy Lyn Moland, mother of two and author of Mom Management: Managing Mom Before Everybody Else. "I do what I can but work at having fun with the people I love. I don't worry if something is missed or not as clean as it could be. I also make sure to maintain my fitness routines – that really helps to keep me sane."

She's also found that taking time for herself increases her ability to deal with the "craziness of Christmas." She participates in cookie exchanges, hires someone to clean her home and buys several of the same gifts to make shopping easier.

Get Organized

A little forethought will go a long way toward a stress-free holiday. If you haven't already, write down who you need to buy gifts for and what you think they'd like. If you take a few minutes to plan your purchases, you'll end up saving money and you may even get your shopping done early. You'll also keep from over-committing yourself.

Shopping for presents year-round, putting up her Christmas tree before Thanksgiving and buying ingredients for holiday dinners before December are some of the ways Sonya Weiss, a mother of four in Goose Creek, S.C., gets through the holidays. "When I get everything done ahead of time it's so relaxing afterwards," she says. "We like to drive around and look at the decorated houses, visit the county park light show, build a gingerbread house … I can't do those things when I'm not done with my preparations."

Several free planning guides are available on the Internet to help you get prepared. Flylady offers a Holiday Control Journal to help you keep track of recipes, gifts, menus, shopping, decorating, festivities and more on her Web site www.flylady.net. Another planner is available at www.organizedchristmas.com. Both are most effective if started in October but can still help you keep track even if you're not on their schedule.

Don't Expect to Be Superwoman

Unrealistic expectations can add to the stress of the holidays. Don't expect to be Superwoman.

Sheila Knight, a mother of two in Madison, Ala., admits to staying up all night one year making 20 Christmas goodie bags filled with homemade cookies, candies and snacks. "I always have these grand ideas of making special holiday meals and Christmas cookies, but once I get into it, I end up thinking, 'Whatever made me think I could do all this?'" she says. Learning not to put pressure on herself and delegating some duties to her husband, like shopping for teacher gifts, has made her holidays less stressful.

To keep your house tidy, Sandy Robinson, former Maid of the Year for Maids International, suggests cleaning daily and keeping on top of clutter. "Just getting the clutter out makes such a difference – you can breathe better when you clear the countertops, recycle magazines and newspapers and throw away the junk mail," she says. "Organize your refrigerator, pantry and clean up the kitchen so you can decorate and show off your baked goods."

What about cleaning for those overnight guests or your big holiday party? "Prioritize. That's what I do," says Robinson. "I think, 'Where is my company going to be?' I don't worry about my daughter's room or the laundry room. I work on the guest bedroom and the hall bathroom. Concentrate on the areas that need immediate attention."

Most of all, remember what's most important about the holiday: spending time with your family and friends. "I want people to realize they don't have to stay up until 4 a.m. on Christmas Eve stringing together a racetrack," Flylady says. "The main thing is your children need you. They're not going to remember how many toys were in front of the tree – they're going to remember the time they spent with you."

10 Housekeepers' Tips for the Holidays

Follow these great tips from the Maids Home Services:

  • Refurbish Your Refrigerator – If it's more than a week old – get rid of it! You will need plenty of room for desserts and any trays your guests may bring, and don't forget the leftovers!
  • Clear Your Countertops – Display your holiday cards to bring out the cheer of the season (not to mention your guests will be delighted to see their card on display).
  • Polish Your Powder Room – Give your toilet a good wash and be sure to add decorative soaps and scented candles for the extra holiday aroma. Also be sure to empty any garbage in your waste can.
  • Perfect Your Pantry – Stock up on holiday spices, canned yams, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie mix and other holiday-related yummies. While you're at it, collect any items you can spare to send to a local charity food drive.
  • Finish Your Floors – Whether tiled, wooden, linoleum or marble, give your floors the shine they deserve. Thoroughly wax, clean, mop and sweep for the multitude of feet that will pass through.
  • Unfasten Your Flue – Make your fireplace fire-friendly, and open the flue! Fires are a nice touch to the chilly holiday weather. Be sure to have a fire burning when your guests arrive. (And for children, keep marshmallows and supplies for smores in the pantry).
  • Shine Your Silverware – There's nothing tackier than spotted silverware. Polish to the point that people can see their reflection – they shine and you will shine too.
  • Drive Away the Dust – Grab old rags, a large bottle of your favorite dusting agent and begin. Be sure to pick up items and not just dust around. You are bound to have a guest who will notice any trace of dust (that's the last thing you'll need).
  • Whip up a Window Cleaning Concoction – A 1/4 cup of white vinegar to 1 quart of water will do the trick.
  • Turn on the Tunes – Nothing sets the holiday mood better than classic holiday music. Whether you're cooking, cleaning or entertaining, it's always good to keep things festive.

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