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21 Days to a More Organized Christmas: Introduction

It’s December 1! And that means that Christmas is exactly 25 days away.

I want to help you have a meaningful, memorable, relaxed Christmas this year. Truth be told, I want to have the same.

December is usually a laid back and quiet month for our family. However, with my book launch in January, I have more on my plate this December than I usually do–especially since this is my first book and this whole process is all brand-new to me! But, even with the extra responsibilities and learning curves that accompany the book launch, I really want to be able to savor and enjoy this season–not just rush through it feeling overwhelmed and behind.

So just like the 21 Days to a More Organized Life series, I’m writing this series for me. We’ll be talking about:

  • Organizing your Christmas list
  • Making and sticking with a Christmas budget
  • Freezer cooking for the holidays
  • Memorable family activities
  • Simple and inexpensive homemade gifts
  • Getting your home in order
  • Savoring the meaning of the season
    …and much more.

I hope you’ll join me on this journey toward an organized, stress-free Christmas season! Who’s with me?

photo by yvestown

21 Days to a More Organized Christmas: Creating & Sticking With a Christmas Budget

One of the key elements to enjoying a stress-free and organized Christmas is to plan a Christmas budget and stick with it. Here are four tips to help you:

1. Create a Budget

Yes, it’s kind of a no-brainer, but you can’t stick with your Christmas budget if you don’t have a budget in the first place. Take some time to look over your bank account and the money you have available, and the money you’ll have coming in over the next week or two (if any), and decide what is a realistic budget amount to set aside for Christmas.

If possible, only budget money you already have on hand, not money you are expecting to get in a paycheck soon. That way, you’re not banking on being able to spend money you don’t already have.

We typically start planning for Christmas spending halfway through the year. Since we use a cash envelope system, we just start socking away most of our gift cash for Christmas. In addition, we also save up our Swagbucks Amazon gift cards to use for Christmas presents. And I keep my eyes open for other ways to earn free gift cards or products that would be good for gifting.

By the time December rolls around, I usually have a nice stash of gift cash plus gift cards to use for gifts and this becomes our Christmas budget. By doing it this way, we don’t have to dip into any of our savings or other money to pay for Christmas–we just have to plan ahead and then look for deals to stretch that money as far as possible.

2. Make a Plan

After you get your Christmas budget created, sit down and make a list of everyone you need to buy Christmas gifts for. There’s a free printable Master Christmas Gift list here you can use to keep track of everyone you plan to buy for and what you’re planning to buy. If you prefer to keep a running total on a spreadsheet, you can download the Excel Christmas Budgeting Worksheet here to help you stay organized and stick with your budget.

3. Use Cash

If you’re at all tempted to go over your written Christmas budget, I highly recommend that you have a cash-only Christmas. Take the money you’ve allotted for your Christmas budget out of the bank in cash and then only use that money to pay for your Christmas gifts. This will force you to carefully evaluate each purchase to make sure it is the best use of your money and it will guarantee you don’t go over-budget.

Since many of the best deals are online, I suggest that you either use Paypal and refund the money to your bank account immediately from your cash envelope or take money from your cash envelopes and purchase gift cards for your online purchases. This is a bit more of a hassle, but it means you don’t have to worry about any staggering credit card bills come January!

4. Keep It Simple

Christmas should not be about impressing people with expensive gifts. If you’re going to give someone a gift, do it to bless them. Meaningful gifts don’t have to be extravagant and costly. Consider giving experience gifts or handmade gifts as opposed to high-dollar items. Sometimes, the most remembered gifts are those that took time and thought, not money.

photo by yvestown

What are your tips and tricks for sticking with your Christmas budget? I’d love to hear!

21 Days to a More Organized Christmas: Plan Ahead to Make Memories

Have you ever gotten to the end of December and looked back and realized it all went by in such a blur that you spent very little time doing the activities and projects you had hoped to do? That’s been me many years. I’ll have great ambitions, but I never make a plan, so nothing happens. And before I know it, Christmas is over.

Christmas Card Popsicle Stick Puzzles (Excuse the peanut butter smeared on the table! :))

Growing up, Christmas was my favorite time of the year. It wasn’t the presents or food as much as it was the special activities–making cookies and taking them to the neighbors, making homemade gifts, opening the advent calendar each night, reading Christmas books together, listening to Christmas music, making Christmas cookies, and so many other things.

I want my children to look back on the Christmas season and have some of the same fond memories. But just wanting that to happen isn’t enough; I have to intentionally plan ahead to make those memories happen.

Button Christmas Tree Activity from the Christmas Busy Bag Box

With this in mind, at the end of November, we took some time as a family to think what activities we really wanted to do this Christmas. Each family member got to choose 3-4 activities and we typed them up into a Master List. Once we had the list made, Jesse and I sat down with our calendar and planned when we were going to do each activity.

Decorate a Snowman Project from the Christmas Busy Bag Box (Download a free printable template here.)

We spread the activities out over the course of December so we could enjoy them more. I’m guessing some things will come up and we might not get to every single activity, but having it all planned out ahead of time is definitely going to guarantee that we do a number of fun, meaningful, and memorable family activities this Christmas.

If you’re looking for some ideas of special activities to plan for Christmas, be sure to check out my post with 6 Fun and Inexpensive Christmas Activities for Kids and my post with Six Free Printables for Advent.

What special activities do you have planned for the Christmas season?

21 Days to a More Organized Christmas: Plan Your Gift List

Once you’ve determined your Christmas Budget, it’s time to break that down further and create a gift list.

1. Use Your Budget As a Guide

If it’s not in the budget, you can’t buy it. Period. And even if it feels like you’re being a scrooge, I promise you that it’s always better to give small and simple gifts that you can afford than to give elaborate, extravagant gifts you buy on credit.

For the first few years of our marriage, we did nothing in the way of gifts for Christmas. We couldn’t afford to buy or make gifts, so we just didn’t. And we survived just fine. It wasn’t our first choice, but it was a sacrifice we made in order to survive law school without debt.

2. Pare Down Your Gift List, If Need Be

Sticking with your Christmas budget may mean that you need to pare down who you buy gifts for. I talked about paring down your gift list in my post on simplifying Christmas yesterday:

Evaluate your gift list: Do you really need to give a gift to your uncle’s neighbor’s dog? I’m pretty sure Fido will survive just fine without another fancy chew toy, so save your money and use it to buy gifts for those you really care about or want to bless.

Creating limits for how many gifts you buy helps to simplify things. reader Ashley says, “We give each of our children three, and only three, Christmas gifts. One gift is always something useful like pajamas; one gift is money for their savings; and one gift is something they want or a fun gift. By limiting the number of fun gifts to just one per child, we are able to say no when we see something they would love, but not love enough to be their fun gift.”

3. Be Free From Guilt or Obligation

Buying a gift for someone out of guilt or obligation gives you no fulfillment. I loved what Rachel from Small Notebook said in her post on simplifying Christmas without the guilt:

Sometimes Christmas seems like putting on a show. It’s wearisome, and it leaves us wanting more.

I’ve been thinking about what a simple Christmas would be like for us, and together with my husband we have chosen some things to cut back on. This means I won’t get to act like Martha and show off my amazing skills. (Which is a good thing, considering my past kitchen disasters.)

More and more, I have to remember that Christmas is not about me. It’s not about what I can do, what I can make, or how organized I can be.

If our Christmas is to resemble the way that Christ came to this earth, then we need to take a step back. The way Jesus was born was humble. It wasn’t a spectacular show. It wasn’t a production. I want my Christmas to reflect that, so I can dwell on him this season. (Read the full post here; it’s really good!)

4. Give Gifts That Are Meaningful

When you plan ahead and make a list of who you are buying gifts for, it allows you to put forth more time and effort into the actual gifts. Instead of hastily throwing together a gift or hurriedly running to the store and getting some generic gifts, planning ahead allows you to consider what would really bless the recipient.

Take time to consider each person on your list individually. Think what would really be meaningful to them. Ask another friend or family member for suggestions if you’re having trouble coming up with them.

Some people find it helpful to keep a running list of gift ideas and to update this list as someone mentions a particular like or interest. My husband does this for me and he always ends up surprising me with a completely unexpected gift that is something I love–all because he wrote down the idea on his list months in advance.

5. Experience Joy in Giving

When we give gifts we can afford and that we’ve put effort and thought into, there’s so much joy in giving! We don’t have to worry about a credit card bill coming in January, we don’t have to feel guilty because we just threw something together at the last minute. We can just thoroughly enjoy giving–no strings or guilt attached!

How do you plan your gift-giving? Do you use a spreadsheet online? Do you use a printed gift planner? Or do you use another method? I’d love to hear what works for you!

photo by yvestown

Practical Application

1. Sometime in the next 24 hours, sit down with your Christmas budget and plan out your Christmas gift list. Start by jotting down all the names of those people whom you’d like to give gifts to and then compare it to your budget.

2. If need be, pare down the list and then set a specific budget amount for each person.

3. Brainstorm possible gift ideas (we’ll talk about this more tomorrow).

21 Days to a More Organized Christmas: Gift Ideas That Won’t Break the Bank

In this series so far, we’ve talked about the importance of creating and sticking with a Christmas budget. We’ve also discussed how to create a gift list based upon your budget.

While you can take your budget and gift list and just go pick up a gift at the store or wait and find a deal online, there are other options to traditional gifts that can be less expensive. And for some on your gift list, these would be more meaningful than just buying something at the store.

Homemade Oreos from I Heart Naptime

1. Food Gifts

Unless your recipient has food allergies, it’s hard to go wrong with food gifts. Gifts in a Jar are always popular, though I’d recommend that you make and try the recipe-in-a-jar first, before making extras as gifts. We’ve had a few that looked like a great idea but actually turned out not to work well when you dumped the contents of the jar into a bowl and put the recipe together.

I also love the idea of giving homemade cookie dough. It can be frozen and saved to use after all the Christmas goodies are eaten up. And nothing quite beats freshly made chocolate chip cookies!

Other food gift ideas: Year-Round Yum, Vinegar Infusion Set, a coffee & tea gift basket, Homemade Marshmallows, and Homemade Hot Drink Mixes,

12 Days of Christmas Gifts for Teachers from How Does She

2. Consumable Gifts

As a minimalist, I love consumable gifts! They can be meaningful and memorable, but they don’t result in clutter. I shared five of my favorite consumable gift ideas here. JesseLeigh also shared a great post last year with many clutter-free gift ideas.

Other consumable gift ideas: Homemade Body Scrubs, Gluing Craft Box, 12 Days of Christmas Gifts for Teachers, a calendar, stationery or note cards, and gift cards.

Fingerprint Ornaments from The Gardner’s Dirt

3. Handmade Gifts

Most food gifts and consumable gifts are handmade, but there are plenty of other handmade gifts that don’t fall into those two categories. Handmade gifts are usually very economical and they can be customized especially for the recipient. Not everyone appreciates handmade gifts, but even if the gift you give isn’t something the recipient loves, I can guarantee that most people will feel very honored and blessed that you took the time and effort to make something for them.

I shared a number of do-it-yourself gift ideas for children here. Amy has a great list of 36 handmade gift ideas. And Brandy blogged on some great ideas for handmade gifts that won’t cost you anything.

Other Handmade Gift Ideas: The Question Jar, Homemade Playdough, DIY Car Mat Backpack, Fingerprint Ornament, and Build-Your-Own Snowman Kits.

Those are just a few of my ideas. I’d love to hear your favorite homemade gift ideas–especially those that have been especially well received! If you’ve blogged about it, be sure to leave your link in the comments.

Practical Application

1. Sometime in the next 24 hours, sit down with your Christmas gift list and finalize exactly what you are giving each person. If you find it helpful, use the Master List here or the Organized Christmas list here

2. Plan a shopping day or days in the next week and make a plan for where and when you’ll buy each item. If you’re planning to make any homemade gifts, write down all the supplies you need to buy and block off time on your calendar in the next week to ten days to make and finish these.

3. If you begin to feel overwhelmed at any time, step back and re-evaluate whether there are some things that you can cross off your list. It’s not worth making something if you’re going to be all stressed out about it for three weeks!

21 Days to a More Organized Christmas: Gather the Christmas Books

Christmas wouldn’t be complete without good Christmas stories. We checked out a huge stack of Christmas books from the library this year and, so far, here are our favorites:

The Christmas Story

The Gingerbread Boy

Gingerbread Baby

Gingerbread Friends

The Mitten

B is for Bethlehem

The Baby Born in a Stable

White Snow, Bright Snow

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey

Great Joy

What are some of your family’s favorite Christmas books read-alouds? I’d love to find new ones to add to our list of favorites!

photo by yvestown

Practical Application

::If you have younger children, gather a basket-full of Christmas read-alouds and plan a daily time to read for 10-15 minutes. Let your children choose from the basket to make it more engaging for them. For additional fun, wrap up the books and let them unwrap a few each day.

::If you don’t have young children, choose at least a few Christmas-related books to enjoy over the Christmas season–either reading through with friends or just yourself.