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6 Perfectly Practical Tips

Take the Stress Out of Holiday Decorating

I love Christmas. I always have. I love the decorating, the gift buying and the wrapping, the food, the music, the family time, the surprises, the traditions – all of it. 

Unfortunately, I’m married to someone who sees the holiday season as a time of stress. Don’t get me wrong, he loves Christmas and being with family, but having been in the business of retail for almost forty years, he’s not a fan of what he calls holiday hoopla. Fortunately, our daughter got my genes when it comes to the holiday, so each year we eagerly pull out the boxes of decorations and get down to business. 

After decades of juggling a retail career working both Christmas Eve and the day after, of having a child with a December birthday, and of being married to a bit of a Grinch, I speak from experience when offering this advice on how to make your holiday decorating less stressful.

1. Decorate in stages.
Trying to tackle every category, room, and surface in one weekend can be an impossible task. Phase in your holiday treasures over the course of the season. In our house, we start by pulling out the bells for the front door, making space for holiday cards, and setting up the advent calendar by December 1. Sometimes the tree stays lit, but undecorated, for several days. Everything else comes in over the next couple of weeks as time allows.

2. Use what you love.
You don’t have to use every single decoration you own every single year. Decorate with what makes your heart full – whether it’s your child’s homemade macaroni ornament or your grandmother’s special heirloom china. If it puts you and your family in a holiday mood, use it.

3. Shop in your own house first.
Not everything needs to be brand new and emblazoned with holiday colors and words. That glass bowl you got as a wedding gift is perfect to hold ornaments. For a festive and casual look, mix and match your existing candles and candle stands down the center of a table. You might rearrange family photos or pull out old albums to show your family who is most important during the season.

4. Help your kids start their own traditions.
My grandparents loved to travel in retirement. Everywhere she went, my grandmother brought back a doll, and each Christmas, those dolls came out to greet us. My mother continued the tradition with my daughter helping her set them up each year. A few years ago, we realized that my daughter had accumulated several international dolls of her own, and I asked if she would like to start the tradition at our house. She leapt at the opportunity, and now her dolls have a special place amongst our Christmas decorations. Other suggestions include having your kids decorate their own special tree, collecting their own ornaments each year (or nativity sets like my daughter), sending Christmas cards to their friends, making cookies to distribute to family, and so on. 

5. Share the tasks.
In spite of my husband’s occasional bah-humbug view of the holidays, he is always willing to participate in two major tasks: putting up the tree and organizing and sending Christmas cards. Because we have friends and family all over the world, sending cards has become a family tradition we all share. We all have input choosing photos and writing memories. Each family member handwrites greetings in their pile of cards, including our daughter who asked to include several of her friends a few years ago. Knowing that this shared task does not fall just to Mom makes it a much less stressful endeavor.

6. Be organized during take-down.
Decorating for the holidays next year will be much easier and less stressful if you put this year’s decorations away in a thoughtful manner. Box items either by category (nativity sets, books, ornaments) or by room. Make sure the items you’ll want to find first are near the tops of the boxes. Don’t over pack, especially if you have to carry that box to an attic or basement. Use safe packing material that will protect your truly special pieces (those compartmentalized boxes that come with fruit gifts are great for fragile ornaments). Be mindful of climate if storing items in outdoor spaces like sheds or in hot spaces like attics. Finally, label those boxes. Make everything easier to find next year for stress-free decorating.

One more piece of holiday advice – if I may – that has nothing to do with decorating and is all about you and your family: Try not to over plan. While Richmond has an abundance of fabulous holiday activities, you don’t have to do all of them every year. The best moments will be the spontaneous ones: singing carols in the car with your kids on the way home from school, taking cookies to a neighbor, watching your kids giggle as they unwrap surprises. The holidays are about enjoying the season. Regardless of how you and your family celebrate, I wish you a season of joy and peace.

Photos: Sarah Paxton

Sarah Paxton is president of LaDiff, which she co-owns with her husband Andy Thornton. She is also mom to a teenage daughter, Lucy, and tries to keep up with a shedding dog and cat.
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