If it seems you never have enough time to do the things that make for lasting holiday memories—from a night of caroling to simply watching It’s a Wonderful Life—look to your calendar for help. Be intentional with this special period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Laura Vanderkam, author of 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think ($16, amazon.com), suggests making a short list of specific memories you’d like to create and scheduling them into your calendar just like any other appointment. It can be something as simple as shopping with your sister, but scheduling will help you distinguish between what’s important and what can be let go.
2 of 8Ariel Skelley, Getty Images
Shop When Others Don’t
To avoid getting your bags—and your holiday spirit—crushed by throngs of weekend shoppers, take advantage of retail stores’ extended weekday hours. “Toy stores, which can be a nightmare during the day and early evening, are wonderfully quiet after most kids’ bedtimes,” says Susan Hamersky, owner of the Los Angeles–based errand and household services company California Concierge.
3 of 8Bob Hiemstra
Come Up With One Go-To Gift
Santa surely doesn’t bring a different gift to everyone on his list, so neither should you. Vanderkam recommends selecting one gift for those outside your immediate family that has meaning to you. Maybe it’s a bottle of wine from a place that’s special to you, a book you loved, or a donation to a charity that you admire. Bonus: You might even be able to get a discount or free shipping for buying in bulk.
4 of 8ML Harris/Getty Images
Buy It When You See It
If you come across a great gift for someone when you’re shopping for something else, don’t fall into the I’ll think about it and come back later trap. If you do, you might forget about it, never get back, or lose out if it sells out before you return. Buy it on the spot, tape the receipt to the gift, and stash it in an area where you keep other gifts. (Note the deadline for returns in case you decide against it.) Even if you don’t have someone in mind for it, occasions come up, and if you get the gift when you see it, you won’t have to make a special trip later, says Smallin.
5 of 8Hector Sanchez
Pre-Mix Dry Baking Ingredients
Streamline the holiday baking process with this pastry chef secret: Mix or sift your recipe’s dry ingredients ahead of time. Store the mixes, labeled, in zip-top bags or small containers. When the time to bake strikes, you can take out one container, rather than three or four. “It’s quick and creates very little mess, but you’re still creating something from scratch,” says Ronna Welsh, a Brooklyn, New York–based chef and founder of Purple Kale Kitchenworks cooking workshops. Try this with cookies, waffles, quick breads, and cakes. Plus, your mixes can be used as gifts in a pinch—just pour them into nice jars and tie the recipes to them with bows.
6 of 8Jim Franco
Print Postage at Home
To save time—and money—when shipping gifts, pick up a variety of free Priority Mail boxes and envelopes from the post office before you wrap your gifts, suggests Donna Smallin, an organizing expert in Michigan. (Or you can even order them at usps.com, also for free.) Here are additional tricks from the pros: Keep the size of the gifts small enough to fit into the standard-size boxes. Once the boxes are packed, you can print shipping labels at home on usps.com and bypass the post office lines—or even arrange for a free pickup.
7 of 8Tim Evan Cook
Set a Time Limit for Cleaning
When prepping for a holiday party, give yourself a limited window of time to do the necessary cleaning—like two hours the night before the guests arrive—suggests Vanderkam. Housekeeping tasks can easily expand to fill the available time; a time limit creates much-needed discipline. Which rooms to tackle first? Hamersky suggests starting with those that have the greatest potential “yuk–factor,” such as the bathrooms and kitchen.
8 of 8Mikkel Vang
Bleach Out Moldy Grout
Get that guest bathroom grout gleaming before the guests arrive with no scrubbing—that’s right, no scrubbing—with this trick from Smallin: Soak paper towels in bleach, lay them on grimy or moldy grout areas, and leave them on for 12 hours or more. The results: Clean and sparkly white grout and caulking!