Organizing Theory & Artistry

Stressed Out by the Holidays? Relax, You’re Supposed to Be!

Stressed Out by the Holidays? Relax, You’re Supposed to Be!
One of the unpredictable factors this time of year is weather.  Here, scenes from today's dangerously beautiful ice storm.
One of the unpredictable factors this time of year is weather. Here, scenes from today’s dangerously beautiful ice storm.

This holiday season I have definitely bit off more than I can chew. At the moment, I have just returned from a journey of 4,000 miles. I have a mountain of laundry, luggage to unpack, Christmas shopping to finish, thank you notes to write and, on top of it all, a tremendous chest cold and sick children to tend to. I don’t expect anybody to feel sorry for me. Most people this time of year have their own burden of stresses.

As an organizer, it has been interesting to read the different thoughts and opinions of other professional organizers on managing Christmas stress.

  • Marcia Francois advocates that people be realistic and say no frequently.
  • Marilyn Bohn accepts the stress and has the gift of providing quick, helpful tips to better cope. In her recent newsletter, she gave out a great tip about temporarily storing your regular home décor in your Christmas decoration boxes to rotate and freshen your look for the holiday season, which was brilliant.
  • Beth Dargis gives a humanistic approach and advises that it is OK to feel however you want during the holidays and to remember to be kind to others.

Christmastime is an organizational challenge by any measure. There is so much to do and so many expectations to satisfy. Eric Hoover’s article in The Washington Post complaining about people who fail to sign and write personal notes on each of their holiday cards has hit a nerve with many. (I like NPR’s response.)

At a time of year when we are invited to create a utopian world of holiday magic, it is OK for us to complain that others have failed to assist in creating that world for us? In a time of such excess and indulgence, is it OK to feel dissatisfied?


The real stress of Christmas is that mismatch of expectations. We can’t bake cookies, shop, decorate and attend holiday parties without feeling pinched for time. We can’t feel like our time on these activities was well spent when someone is there to complain that despite our efforts, we didn’t quite achieve holiday bliss.

Christmas celebration is in many ways a gambling proposition. You may be literally throwing your time and money away with nothing to show for it. But every once in a while you get it just right and that big win is addictive. Seeing our loved ones overjoyed is one of the best rewards there is!


So, it’s time to get comfortable with holiday stress. No amount of organization will make it all go away. Nothing is going to go exactly as planned. At least someone will be disappointed. But if we are lucky, at least someone will be thrilled and reenergized about life….and if we are really lucky, those people just might be us.

If you are feeling simply overwhelmed by the holidays, take a moment to identify the things that are most important to you and just focus on those. Let everything else go. Make sure you take time for yourself too, whether through rest, exercise, meditation, knitting or vegging out in front of the TV. Even a short rest can be motivating when you are super-stressed.

On the practical side, however, two priorities this week to make your holidays go a little smoother.

1) Finish any holiday shopping that has to be shipped. Shopping time is shorter this year and regular shipping deadlines are already upon us. Save yourself expedited shipping charges and make sure your gift gets there on time. I was shopping last night and was surprised to see that some estimated delivery times are already around December 23.

2) Send any photos to be printed. Some photo printing deadlines are coming up as early as tomorrow with standard shipping.

Tomorrow, I will start recounting our holiday road trip across the U.S. I hope you will find it a fun celebration of Christmas in the United States.