Holiday cards and gift shopping have you tied up in ribbons? Julie Morgenstern helps you cut through an unholy mess.
Promises, promises: Every year you vow to get your holiday cards and shopping done early yet inevitably end up doing the 11-hour-rite-of-season shuffle. Cards don't get mailed, or they arrive December 29. You can't believe you're rushing to the mall on December 24—again—busting your budget on expensive stuff you don't even like.

Here's how to make the season more joyous by simplifying and putting an end, once and for all, to last-minute madness.

1. Dream Small
Prioritize your card and gift giving. Limit your lists and put your fantasies of customized greetings and creative presents aside. Remember that the point of these holiday gestures is to express love, reconnect or observe social decorum—which you can do without time intensive labor.

2. Plan Ahead and Do a Little at a Time
  • Cards: The week before Thanksgiving, assemble your complete mailing list.
    • Divide the names into three groups, either alphabetically or by category (work, friends, family).
    • Beginning Thanksgiving weekend, fill out cards for one group each Saturday and mail them all by December 15. You'll be on time for Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year's!
  • Gifts: Within 24 hours of reading this article, make your gift-giving list, noting each person's interests, sizes and style.
    • Before you start shopping, scour your home for presents you tucked away and leftover gift-wrappings.
    • Plan three shopping trips, all before December 15.
    • Buying online counts as an excursion! Pick stores and sites that offer free gift-wrapping and will ship directly.

3. Keep Excellent Records
  • Charge all gifts to one credit card to keep track of expenses. Get in the habit of printing out and filing online purchase order confirmations.
  • In one folder, record what you gave each person and how much you spent to reference next year.
  • In another folder, file your final address list. If you receive cards this year from people not on your list, add their return addresses to the folder. The real key to streamlining is to build on your routine every year.
There's a lot more to the holidays than checking things off your to-do list. Getting organized will give you time to stop and smell the pine trees.


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