Creating a Life Free From Chaos

4 Ways to Free Up Time and Energy Before the Holidays

To Do: Everything

Photo by john.schultz/flickr

The holiday season is descending upon us, and if you’re anything like me, you might be feeling overwhelmed and at the end of your rope. Do you know the feeling of biting off more than you can chew, getting neck deep in too many projects? I do. Now is the perfect time to cut back, to simplify your commitments and your schedule. By finding ways now to create space in your life, you can create a happier, more joyful holiday as well. Here are 4 suggestions for freeing up time and energy.

  1. Reign in the crazy. My friends and I have a phrase we use whenever it looks like one of us is getting in over our heads — we tell her to reign in the crazy. This phrase most often creeps up when one of us is planning a child’s birthday party, but I think it’s the perfect mantra for the holiday season. While the holidays seem to be all about excess, they don’t have to be. Do you usually buy tons of toys for your kids and extravagant gifts for friends and family? Do you make mountains of food that ends up going in the trash because everyone is too stuffed to eat any more? Do you decorate every nook and cranny of your house, only to dread the part where the season’s over and you’re forced to take all of it down again and store it in too little space? Do you have to do any of that? No, you don’t. Take a hard look at your “usual” holiday habits and figure out which traditions mean the most to you and your family, then cut the rest out. Reign in the crazy.
  2. Say no. Of course, that’s the first thing all the books tell you to do. Just say no to as many of those extra tasks that creep up day to day as you possibly can. Evaluate all requests as to how they fit in with your goals before you commit, particularly in this busy season filled with parties, shopping, traveling and other holiday events. Be just a little selfish — stick to just the events and commitments that mean the most to you and let go of the ones that don’t.
  3. Trim the to-do list. My to-do list is crazy. I’m one of those people that writes every little thing down, just because I’m afraid I’ll forget something I “wanted” or “needed” to do. Take a look at your to-do list. Are there tasks listed that you don’t really “need” to do? Tasks that could be simplified, delegated or even eliminated? Get in the habit of using the words “I could” or “I’d like to” instead of “I need to” for all tasks that aren’t urgent or important. You can always create a “to-do later” list separate from your daily to-do’s, so tasks are noted but not staring you in the face each day.
  4. Do it little by little. I have a tendency to procrastinate on projects that I think may take a lot of work or that I just don’t want to do. The easiest way to handle those big projects, especially the dreaded ones, is to break them down into smaller tasks and do just a bit at a time, instead of trying to tackle the whole thing at once. It’s just too overwhelming. Instead of “decorate the house for Christmas,” try “decorate the mantle with stockings,” then “set up the Christmas tree,” then maybe “put up holiday lights on the porch.” It’s a lot easier to tackle one of those smaller tasks than to be faced with the open-ended prospect of decorating a whole house.

9 Tricks for Creating a Cozy, Welcoming Dining Room

photo by cmurtaugh/flickr

Eating together as a family is a great way to reconnect, and whether you have a formal dining room, eat-in kitchen or both, a streamlined, pretty dining area will make the experience even more special. If your dining area has been a little neglected, it’s time to clear it out and make way for the holiday season. Here are some of my tricks for creating a cozy, welcoming dining room.

  1. Decide what functions take place in your dining room. My dining room was just for eating and hosting company…until my son became a Cub Scout and his den started using it for meetings. Now I need to figure out how to gracefully combine scouting into a formal dining room.  What functions does your dining room fulfill? Is it strictly for eating, or is it also used for office work, kids’ art projects, homework, entertaining, crafts? Remove everything that isn’t directly related to those functions so you can see what you have to deal with.
  2. Clear off the table, and do your best to keep it clear. You can’t do any of the functions listed above if you can’t find the table!
  3. If you have storage pieces in your dining room, such as built-ins, curio cabinets or bookcases, clean them out so they only contain items related to the functions of your dining room. It’s great to store extra dishes, entertaining pieces, placemats and tablecloths in the dining room. It is not great to store extra toilet paper, bed linens or toys in the dining room.
  4. If you use the dining table as an office space, find a place to store your office supplies and files so they aren’t always on the table. A rolling file cabinet, some baskets or a pretty box can hide office paraphernalia so you can enjoy your dinner without distraction. This will be the tactic I take for the scouting materials that are currently taking over my table.
  5. Some people like to keep the table set for a meal all the time, as decor. I have cats and kids, so I don’t do that. I like my table clear, with a simple centerpiece of candles or flowers, so I’m ready to set as soon as we’re ready to eat. If the table needs to be used for something else, it’s simple to clear away that one little centerpiece.
  6. If you have kids and upholstered chairs, consider throwing together some simple seat protectors to protect your seating. Spraying the fabric with a stain resister works too. Make sure to attack any stains quickly so they don’t have a chance to set. I love my microfiber chair covers because (so far) I’ve been able to easily clean off anything my kids can throw at them.
  7. Dust off your light fixture, and if you can, add a dimmer to your overhead lighting to instantly add ambiance to any meal. I had to change a light bulb and the new bulb was perfectly clear while the rest were hazy. I had no idea it had gotten that dusty up there. A quick wipe down with a damp rag made all the bulbs clear again (and brightened the space immensely). How long has it been since your lighting has seen a dust rag?
  8. After every meal, clean the table. It’s annoying to find crusty sauce and milk splatters on the table hours after your last meal. Make sure you use a cleaner suitable for the type of table you have — no harsh cleaners on wood tables, please! Check under the table too for spills and crumbs.
  9. Don’t forget a little decoration. A clean, harmonious color scheme can set the tone for the space without creating clutter. A few simple pictures on the wall, some unfussy window treatments and a couple of candles can make the dining area feel cozy and welcoming without adding unnecessary clutter.