The 12 Days of Holiday Organizing by Sara Skillen


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What’s on your holiday to-do list this year? One thing on mine was to write this guest post about the 12 Days of Holiday Organizing. For some reason I was struggling with the topic a bit, so to prepare I did a little informal polling on people’s holiday plans. Given what I see and do in a typical work day, I don’t think too many of us have trouble spending too much, extending ourselves too far, and getting completely overwhelmed any time of the year. Most people still don’t seem to have a grip on what is coming in the next four weeks (Poor things. Bewildered and slightly fearful, murmuring “What?? The holidays…?! ”). Thus, I wanted to focus on the unpretentious, the lean, the meaningful, and in that spirit I made the radical decision to outline ten days.

That’s right - not twelve.  I’m a professional organizer, so I purged two days (you can binge-watch something on the extra two).

Let’s see if the season this year might inspire a little less glitz and a little more introspection - this post may be as much about what NOT to do as what TO do when getting ready for your celebrations.  Without further ado, I present 10 days of ways to celebrate a more peaceful, orderly holiday season:

Day 1 - Un-shop.  Go through your home well before the Big Day(s) with a few boxes and start rounding up the things that apparently don’t work for you anymore. Not just clothing, but maybe that Belgian waffle maker that never sees the light of day, the books you’ll only read once, the electronics that have already become obsolete.  It’s time to find those things a new home at a local charity or recycling facility - so take them out to your vehicle right now.  Put them in the trunk and get them to where they will have the best chance of being adopted and loved. Back at the home front, you’ll have more space and less to take care of.

Day 2 - Plan your work and work your plan. I’m a bit of a diagram and list nerd, so I have all of my to-do items in Wunderlist (including my brain dumps for 2017 goals). I also created a color-coded chart of holiday considerations (decisions to make, scheduling, tasks, shopping, decorating, cooking). You certainly don’t have to follow my weird lead, but coming up with a solid plan means less frazzled nerves, and ironically, more time for spontaneity. So pull out the calendar and get a framework pinned down, especially if you are traveling (or others are traveling to you). Take it all the way to January 2.

Day 3 - Shop local. Is Nashville not one of the best places on the planet for local shopping?  November 26 is/was Small Business Saturday, and you can check out all sorts of places around town to fill out the unique, not-your-average-gift-giving list. If you’re up for a short road trip, downtown Franklin is a great place to start. Check out their festivities for that day, but remember that any time is a great time to support local a business. Organizer caveat: yes, you can absolutely give a gift certificate for organizing services, but please make sure your loved one actually wants it. No one craves a surprise “why-can’t-you-get-your-____-in-order” message in her stocking.

Day 4 - Listen.  I mean really listen. When a loved one tells you they don’t want another thing, believe them.  According to a recent SpareFoot blog survey a whopping 81 percent of Americans would rather receive experience-based gifts. And friends, Nashville is chock full of experiences. So “Listen” can also mean, “Hey, instead of another artisan hand-carved shaving set, what say we head downtown and listen to some music?” If you have kids, get them tickets to a play or a museum or a concert.  I guarantee you will never have to clean any of those things up off of their bedroom floor.

Day 5 - Like getting organized? Start with that pantry.  The pantry is a great space to get in top shape during the holiday season. Even if your culinary adventures only extend to making cereal, you see that space every day.  I find that organizing pantries often gives people a real sense of control and satisfaction, because even if life is imploding all around you, by God, you can get those cans and spices in order.  So here’s the routine - pull everything out, check those expiration dates, discard and donate (see also “Un-shop” above). Put back the things that are needed - “like with like”, and place the stuff you reach for most often front and center.

Day 6 - Lights? You want lights? I recently read that approximately 15,000 people end up in the emergency room each year due to holiday decorating-related injuries. That is a lot of physical therapy. Maybe instead of channeling the inner Clark Griswold you could check out Cheekwood’s annual Holiday Lights.  Or, take a drive through a neighborhood where other people have wrecked their backs to decorate. And candles. Just buy some candles.

Day 7 - Give your time. Another way to cut back on excess stuff: Instead of a shopping trip, check out local organizations that could use a little help sorting food for the needy, providing love to animals, or hanging out with the elderly or the homeless. You may even find something that inspires you to keep going with your volunteer work on a regular basis throughout the New Year (cutting back on even more shopping trips!). 

Day 8 - Those co-workers. And service providers. And teachers. And...  There is often the expectation that absolutely everyone you come into contact with, from the guy who picks up the dry cleaning to the lady at the drive-through teller, must have a gift from you. Of course, all (most?) of those folks are deserving of a gift, but the business of trying to decide what to bulk purchase (or make) for everyone can be a real drain on your mental AND financial resources. I’m all for pairing down the list, but for those who really do make the cut, a donation to a worthy organization in their honor is a nice way of saying “I appreciate you,” without cluttering up their spaces or your brain.

Day 9 - Decoration organization.  I’m hoping to keep my own decorating pretty simple this year, and do my best to use things that are sustainable or timeless (read: no fake greenery or plastic pumpkins). Still, whatever you decorate or wrap with has to be put somewhere during the rest of the year. Hold off on this project until after you’ve used what you’re going to use this year, then take a hard look at what didn’t make it out of the attic or garage. If you have excess lights (see Day 6 above), consider a holiday light recycling program like this one. If your storage is not temperature controlled, reflect on what’s going to hold up well, and invest in storage that will protect it.

Day 10 - The day after.  Rest, nibble on some cookies, talk to people you care about, express gratitude. And stay away from the sales.

Sara Skillen is the owner of SkillSet Organizing based in Franklin, TN. Her mission is to help busy people from all walks of life manage their stuff, their time, and their technology. An active blogger and speaker, her tips and ideas have been featured in Fast Company, Entrepreneur, Angie’s List Experts, and NOU Magazine, as well as her own blog “Sorting Through the Haystack”. Sara is an Evernote Certified Consultant, and became a Certified Professional Organizer® in 2015.