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Christmas_giftsRISMEDIA, November 17, 2009—(MCT)-The holidays typically send most families into high-stress mode. But before you start panicking, “The No. 1 thing is to put the pressure on paper,” says Deniece Schofield, a home management expert and author of several books on organization, including Confessions of a Happily Organized Family. “Make sure everything is written down, because if it’s in your head, it’s stressful,” she said.

To keep stress to a minimum and stay on task, Schofield recommends starting a notebook and making lists to keep yourself organized and save time. The real key is to get your planning under way as soon as possible, especially with the holidays being right around the corner.

Tips to calm the chaos:

Keep a schedule—List the many things you have to work around: check office and school calendars (will your kids need holiday costumes for school performances?); note when you have to get things in the mail so they’re received on time, when you’re going to decorate the tree, events going on in the community, and service projects for the family, such as adopting a family or volunteering at the food bank.

Get your ducks in a row—Create a list of who you want to give gifts to; who your kids want to give gifts to and what they want to give; things you want to make vs. things you want to buy; and your Christmas card recipients. (Most experts also agree that this is time to evaluate your budget. Be realistic. You’ll want to be able to stick to it).

Use waiting time—Standing in line? Waiting for a doctor’s appointment or dinner to cook? Take advantage of little chunks of time to plan things, make your lists, or work on little craft projects. You can do this throughout the year but especially during the holiday season.

Gift lists—Create a list of what you have given people as gifts. That way you don’t risk giving something you’ve already given. While you’re at it, start next year’s gift list. Keep your radar up during the year and make notes, so when it comes time to shop, you have a list of things people want and will enjoy.

Decorations—Take inventory of your holiday decorations, make a list and identify what box they’re stored in. When you’re boxing them up at the end of the season, sort and store them by room, not by what they are. Then next year, you can decorate from one box at a time, one room at a time, if you don’t have a large block of time to do it all at once.

Get wrapping—Set up a card table in a corner of a room and make that your gift-wrap center, so when you buy something, you can wrap it right away and avoid the last-minute crunch. Stand up rolls of wrapping paper in a waste basket, or hang in a garment bag. If you buy 30-inch-long rolls of paper, cut them in two—one 18 inches and one 12 inches—then put them in empty aluminum foil boxes for easy dispensing. A desk or wrist tape dispenser releases strips of tape with one hand. And those spindle paper towel holders are great for storing and dispensing rolls of ribbon.

Holiday house cleaning—Houseguests—either for dinner or for weeks at a time—are often a key part of the holidays. But this isn’t the time to clean out the basement or reorganize storage closets. Ultimately, your goal should be that you’re not embarrassed by your home and that everyone will be welcome and have a good time. Back off the big projects and just do those things that pertain to that direct goal.

Tackle the big meals—Holidays are often all about the food. If you’re playing host, do a lot of stuff in advance, and realize that a lot of things can be reheated just before guests arrive. If you’re hosting a casual affair, have your guests contribute a dish or drinks.

Evaluate what worked, and what didn’t—Immediately after the holidays, ask yourself: What would you have liked to do this season, but you ran out of time? Which of those things could you plan to do now or do earlier in the year so you don’t run out of time? Is your gift list going to change next year? Were there certain baked goods or foods that people really enjoyed? What decorations or ornaments would you like to add, exchange or get rid of? What projects would you like to do next year, and when should you start them?

Then work ahead for 2010— With kids, it can be difficult to buy gifts too far in advance- they tend to want something they just saw on TV. But with other people, you can pick things up during the course of the year to save time and money. And don’t forget to take advantage of the after-holiday sales. You can get staples like holiday napkins, cards and gift wrap for a fraction of the seasonal price. Just be sure to write down what you bought and where you have stashed it, so you’re ready to go next year.

(c) 2009, The Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho).

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.