holiday hacks

“I would enjoy the holiday season a lot more if it weren’t so much effort,” said my coworker at a staff meeting sometime in late May.

Since I’m the sort of person who sings Christmas music in the shower year-round and wears a different festive sweater for every day of December, I desperately wanted to jump to the defense of “the happiest season of all.” But in the moment, I couldn’t come up with a strong counterargument—the holidays really do take up a lot of our time, effort and money.

The following calendar is my (quite belated) response to her statement. I reached out to friends, family and coworkers, combed the internet and spent WAY too much time on Pinterest with the goal of finding one action per day to make the holidays a little less draining. If it prevents even one “bah humbug” from being uttered this holiday season, my work here is complete.

Before Thanksgiving
Hang your holiday lights any time in the fall when the weather is mild. People aren’t likely to notice them until you turn them on. This minimizes the amount of time you will need to spend in possibly frigid weather later for any additional decorating.

Friday, November 24, 2017
If you dare to go shopping today, visit, a site which compiles all major Black Friday ads in one central location, and create a shopping strategy. Remember, if you don’t find what you are looking for today, you may find it close to home tomorrow on Small Business Saturday.

Saturday, November 25, 2017
 You will see some of the best discounts on artificial trees the weekend after Thanksgiving. If you prefer a live tree, now is also the time to buy. Pre-cut trees will begin to dry out, prices may rise and certain varieties will become scarce after this weekend. Keep in mind that the average cost of a live tree is $6 to $10/foot.

Sunday, November 26, 2017
Start making lists, if you haven’t already! If you want to go high-tech, download the Santa’s Bag (iOS) app, which helps you maintain your shopping lists, budgets and gift tracking, all in one place!

Monday, November 27, 2017
Take advantage of Cyber Monday specials today. If you wrap them as soon as they arrive, you can place them under your tree or incorporate them with your other décor so that they add to the festive atmosphere in your home all season long.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017
You know that hard-to-buy-for person? Pretend like you already bought them something and make them guess what it is. Whatever they guess is probably a good place to start.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017
If you are sending holiday cards, send them today to out-of-towners only. It’s more meaningful to go out of your way to meet with local friends and share your holiday greetings in person.

Thursday, November 30, 2017
Save on some of the cleanup later by placing a board over your mantel. It will protect the mantel from messy glitter, tape residue and scratches, and if you use a board that is longer than your mantel, you can lengthen your holiday display and give it a fuller effect.

Friday, December 1, 2017
Use plastic ornaments on the bottom portion of your tree. Kids, pets, vacuum cleaners and unruly guests can easily shatter glass ornaments by knocking them off the bottom branches. 

Saturday, December 2, 2017
Get yourself a Light Tester/Repair Gun. You will be glad you have it when you are decorating your tree at 11 p.m. and you realize that none of your lights work so you have to make a Walmart run (this happens to me every single year).

Sunday, December 3, 2017
Decorate doorways, wall sconces and the tops of picture frames using evergreen tree clippings from the yard. You can wrap the base of each strand in a wet paper towel to help keep them fresher longer, and then cover the paper towel with ribbons or bows.

Monday, December 4, 2017
Command Hooks are your best friend. They come in multiple indoor/outdoor varieties and colors, and they are great for hanging wreaths on glass or on doors! Simply tie a ribbon around the wreath, string it over the opening of the door/window, and attach it to an upside-down command hook on the other side.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017
Make or buy one enormous batch of basic sugar cookie dough and repurpose it into different batches of cookies. For example, add peppermint pieces to one batch, use a bit of food coloring and icing on another, or simply allow them to be sugar cookies! Use cookie cutters, toppings and your creativity and no one will realize you used the same dough for each batch.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017
When you finish baking and decorating your cookies, allow them to cool completely and then let them sit in the freezer for at least an hour. Then you can pack them into bags, with paper towels between each layer, and store them in the freezer until the holidays. Uncooked cookie dough can also be frozen for up to three months. has some great tips for freezing and thawing cookies.

Thursday, December 7, 2017
Start saving brown paper bags from the grocery store. You can use them later to wrap presents (with the plain brown side facing out) and dress them up using twine, tree clippings or bells. While this is obviously a money-saver, it also helps to give your gifts a vintage holiday vibe.

Friday, December 8, 2017
If you would rather buy wrapping paper, you only really need two patterns—one for kids and one for the adults. The Dollar Tree has some of the best wrapping supplies. They usually also carry extra-large decorative bags, and it is completely acceptable to put multiple presents in one bag and consider them wrapped.

Saturday, December 9, 2017
If you are going to be away from home for an extended period or are too lazy to water the tree regularly, make a DIY Christmas tree watering system using a bucket, plastic tubing and some compression couplings and brass adaptors:

Sunday, December 10, 2017
Go shopping! Studies show that the best days to shop in December are the 10th through the 18th if you are hoping to score a great deal.

Monday, December 11, 2017
Use your phone to snap a photo of the contents of your fridge and pantry before going grocery shopping for large meals such as Hanukkah dinners or other holiday parties.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017
When preparing latkes, you can wash your potatoes in the dishwasher. Just put them on the regular setting without soap.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017
If you don’t have one already, now is the time to buy a tiered oven rack. It will come in handy by maximizing the amount of space in your oven when it comes time to host guests.

Thursday, December 14, 2017
Rather than taking the time to iron your holiday tablecloth, simply put the tablecloth on your table and spray it with Downy Wrinkle Releaser Plus. It will remove wrinkles and creases within minutes and freshens the fabric with a nice, clean scent.

Friday, December 15, 2017
It’s national Free Shipping Day! Stores such as Toys R Us, Target, Best Buy, Sephora and more have offered free shipping on this day the past, so plan to finish up any remaining shopping from the comfort of your home tonight.

Saturday, December 16, 2017
Get outside! The peak of the holiday season is when seasonal affective disorder sets in for many people, and the best way to beat the winter blues is to bundle up and go outside for lots of natural sunlight.

Sunday, December 17, 2017
Set aside some “me” time to be spiritual. Whether it’s going to church or making time for yoga class, take some time to be quiet and contemplative, without worrying about holiday stressors.

Monday, December 18, 2017
Bookmark or download a Santa tracker app for the kiddos to enjoy. These fun online programs usually track Santa’s activities through the entire month of December and include countdowns, games and the ability to message Santa on his sleigh.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017
Ship Christmas presents by today at the latest to avoid paying extra for expedited shipping. If you are shipping internationally, you need a minimum of two extra weeks to ensure it will arrive in time.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017
Buy and wrap one or two “generic gifts,” such as bottles of wine or gift cards, in case you forgot someone. Make sure the gifts are something that you also like so that you can reward yourself if you make it through the holidays without needing to use them.

Thursday, December 21, 2017
If you are giving cookies as gifts, make festive cookie boxes by repurposing old Pringles cans or tin foil boxes using wrapping paper and ribbons.

Friday, December 22, 2017
Chop vegetables a couple days before cooking a large meal and store them in the refrigerator until you are ready. This will save you a lot of time during meal prep.

Saturday, December 23, 2017
You can start cooking days before your party. Check out Ina Garten’s Make It Ahead cookbook, which features recipes for every course that can be made days to weeks in advance. Her turkey recipe will save you the trouble of cutting and assembling the turkey on a platter during the day of the meal.

Sunday, December 24, 2017
If you are hosting, use your crockpot to free up your oven for other things. You can actually cook an entire ham or turkey in a crockpot (there are some great recipes at, but you can also use it to cook side dishes or to keep your eggnog warm.

Monday, December 25, 2017
If you are traveling with the kids today, save a gift for them to open on the car ride. You will hopefully get top-notch behavior and a more enjoyable car ride in return.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017
If you plan to use the same decorations over again, take pictures of them on your phone. This will save you the hassle of trying to remember how they are supposed to look when you are decorating next year. Go the extra mile by printing the photos and storing them with the corresponding decorations.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017
Make a basic spreadsheet of the gifts you received and from whom. This will help you with future gift ideas and when deciding how much to spend on each person next year.

Thursday, December 28, 2017
If you have an artificial tree, simply wrap it head to toe in plastic wrap, with all the lights, decorations and garland still on it, and carry it down to the basement (maybe take off your tree topper). Then next year, you simply carry the tree back out of storage, spruce up the branches and ornaments, and you’re rockin’ around the Christmas tree!

Friday, December 29, 2017
For safe storage, place your ornaments in egg cartons or plastic cups and string your lights around a clothes hanger or a piece of a cardboard. You can also use a hanger to help store your wreaths—simply hang the wreath on the clothes hanger, cover the entire thing in a garbage bag, leaving the hanger’s hook exposed, and then hang the wreath over a pipe or rod in storage.

Saturday, December 30, 2017
If you are having a New Years Eve party, host it after 9 p.m. so that guests don’t expect a full dinner.

Sunday, December 31, 2017
Happy New Year! Just before midnight, use a kitchen towel to grip the cork of a champagne bottle and twist the bottle gently until it pops. This will prevent the cork from harming anyone or anything in your home.

But don’t forget…
Enjoy yourself! With a little mind over matter, you may make it out of this holiday season unscathed—or, dare I say, a bit cheerful! After all, it IS the “most wonderful time of the year!”