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Posted on Thu, Nov 11, 2010 : 1 p.m.

Ask Betty: 11 tips for getting organized so you can enjoy the holidays

By Judy DiForte


photo by Flickr user HeartofSand

If you’re like me, you close the door on the last trick-or-treater, turn around and, WOAH! The Big Three Holidays are bearing down on you like an avalanche. The cooking, the shopping, the cards, the tree, the decor, the wrapping, the parties…

There’s not enough time!

We know that by the middle of next month, we'll be sucking our thumbs in the fetal position, so why wait?  Let's just grab the leftover Snickers, curl up and start gaining the five pounds we'll be resolving to lose come New Year's Day. 

I think the problem stems from our mental vision of Martha Stewart-esque perfection. We imagine mirthful flocks of friends dropping by unannounced as we waft through the scene in chic holiday attire, passing trays of unpronounceable edibles, amid sophisticated (yet whimsical) decorations. It’s all perfect. And, of course, it’s all homemade.

So, how do we get there? Is it even possible?

“Organization” may sound dry and clinical, but this time of year, it’s our ally. Like any tool, organization can help us create the desired outcome. Does it promise perfection? No, but is it really perfection we want? Or is it good will, cheer and happy family memories? OK, it is perfection we want — and the other stuff, too. Here are 11 tips for approaching that vision.

* Start now, while time is on your side! Get yourself a multi-page folder or binder, create sections for each coming holiday and start making a list. (Don’t worry; I won’t say, “Check it twice.”) Get some plastic sheet protectors, plenty of paper and a calendar. Get used to keeping your binder with you. (In January, when you’re packing up decorations, tuck your holiday binder in with them.)

* Will you be hosting Thanksgiving dinner? List all the guests expected for the day. Next, list all the dishes you plan to serve, then all the ingredients you’ll need. Keep any recipes you’ll be using in your binder.

* Already feeling overwhelmed? Then consider asking guests to bring a dish to pass. Not only does this ease your load as host, but it’s fun. People like to contribute, and being responsible for only one dish allows each person to shine.

* If you’re sending holiday cards this year, determine how many. Buy the cards and stamps, then divide the number of cards by the number of weeks before your mailing deadline. Keep that number of cards with you in your binder, with address book and stamps and write a few every time you have 15 or 20 minutes.

* Tidy and clean the public areas of your home. If you don’t have time to clean, hire a service. Then pull out your holiday decorations, and pack away some of your tchotchke and bric-a-brac to better showcase your holiday decor.

* Consider gift shopping online. This saves lots of time, reduces stress and can actually be fun! Many vendors offer free shipping near the holidays, too. As gifts arrive, wrap and tag them right away and keep them together.

* If you’re shipping gifts, mail packages when you mail your cards. Take advantage of the post office’s free priority mail boxes. They also have fixed rate boxes, but use these only when your items are heavy for their size. If you have lots to ship, consider scheduling a free pick-up. (For more information, go to

* Keep your camera out and accessible, and remember to snap friends and family who stop by. Have snacks at the ready for unexpected drop-ins. Crackers, cheese and grapes arranged artfully on a platter always look festive. Cranberry juice mixed with ginger ale is a perfect beverage. (Use your nice dishes and glassware.)

* Expecting overnight guests? This is tough if you use the guest room for storage most of the year. If possible, move the clutter to the basement, garage — anywhere it won’t be seen over the holidays.

* Imagine a nice hotel room — calm, clean, clutter-free. Dress the guest bed with fresh sheets, plump pillows and an extra blanket. Have a reading lamp on the nightstand and a couple of magazines or books to choose from. Make plenty of closet room for hanging items, and offer one or two empty drawers. A single fresh bloom breathes life into a room. Add a sprig of evergreen for a holiday touch.

* Your NOT-to-do list: Think about activities in past years that hated doing. Don’t do them this year! Hate making cookies? That’s what bakeries are for. Hate stringing lights on the tree? Ask a family member, or pay a neighborhood teen $20 to do it for you.

We tend to think that during the holidays, we are duty-bound to give everyone else a good time. But the truth is, when we have fun, our guests and family will, too. Joy is contagious. Your family’s best holiday memories — and yours — will include how much you enjoyed yourself.

And those extra five pounds? Well, that’s a blog for another day…

Judy DiForte is a professional organizer for The Betty Brigade, a full-service personal assistance and concierge company based in Ann Arbor. Email her at



Thu, Nov 18, 2010 : 2:39 p.m.

Wow - helpful AND funny! Maybe I can do it this year after all. Thank you for the great read and tips. :)