Military spouse life is tough enough without the added stress of the holiday season. It’s even more difficult during the holidays because of situations that are all too common for military families: some are kept apart because of a deployment or a change in duty station; others may live too far away to visit and celebrate with any other family members.
On top of this, just the hectic nature of this time of year can make otherwise savvy military moms feel like they’re going crazy. You want to enjoy the holiday season but the shopping, cooking, and decorating can feel like a lot—especially if you’re already on a tight budget. I offer a few suggestions that may help you visualize the type of holiday you want, create your plan of action, and then sit back and do the best you can.
Here are 10 tips that help keep me sane during the busiest time of the year.
#1 Pinpoint priorities
If you’re able to, sit down for a cup of coffee with your spouse and talk about what’s important to both of you for the holidays. Decide what non-necessities can be scratched off the holiday to-do list. For example, maybe neither of you cares if the shrubs are lit up. Next, talk over the holiday budget and plans. There’s nothing less festive than a huge credit card bill come January. With a bit of planning you can commit to simply wrapping up a few small Dollar Tree finds, baking some cookies, and focusing on spreading the holiday cheer versus spreading yourself too thin to enjoy it all.
#2 Declutter like crazy
While January is a popular time of year to declutter, it can be even more powerful to start downsizing this fall. Purge your closet, the kids’ closets, the kitchen cabinets, and the toy box. I often sell clothes I’m not wearing and pick up a Christmas sweater I can enjoy for the holiday season as a little reward. I “trade” my kids’ video games in and put the credit toward a new Santa purchase. In the kitchen, I declutter my spices, sharpen my knives, and clear out the freezer before December to make room for holiday cooking (and save money in the process by eating the food we already have!). You might even want to declutter the photos on your phone to free up space for new pictures. This could make creating photo cards or gifts faster and easier, too. Decluttering is a great way to give yourself the energy boost you need for the holiday season. Give it a try!
#3 Tackle chores together
I like taking our Christmas card photo early in the fall so that I feel like I’m ahead of the game. This is something you can do with a friend: pick out outfits for the kids, find a cool setting, and snap each other’s family photos, then save your favorites. I’ll often invite a friend over and we’ll listen to Christmas music, drink tea, and design our cards on Shutterfly. Doing Christmas “chores” with a girlfriend makes it so much more fun. You can even turn a chore or holiday activity into a date with your spouse. Could you go get the tree together, go on a drive to look at holiday lights, or attend an evening church service together? You don’t want to get so busy shopping and cooking that you forget to snuggle on the sofa and watch a comedy with your partner.
#4 Think small
As a life and career coach for military spouses, I’m always telling my clients to think big, but when it comes to gifts, think small. When I was little we had a grab bag in my ballet class. I remember that I got a small Lifesaver box and it was one of my favorite gifts. It didn’t cost a fortune but it was fun and thoughtful. You don’t need to go crazy buying expensive items, especially if you’re mailing gifts to family far away. Consider sending something like that Lifesaver box to nieces and nephews, a nominal iTunes gift card for a teen, or a favorite used book (which you can send at the media mail rate) instead of mailing bulky, overpriced gifts that will leave you feeling strapped in January. Younger kids are happy with stickers and a few small toys from Dollar Tree. Adult friends and family are usually relieved when you suggest a family grab bag versus gifts for all, or even forgoing gifts for the adults altogether. A little goes a long way.
#5 Use a holiday planner
I have a little red notebook from CVS, with lined paper and a pocket in the front, that’s become my holiday notebook. It’s a great place to track ideas and holiday to-dos. For example, my sister-in-law complimented my sunglasses and I jotted that down in my phone notes as an idea for her gift. When I was at Target my daughter asked for a toy that I wasn’t getting for her in the moment but I snapped a photo of it to put in my “Christmas planner.” I also keep a list of whom I’m buying for and what, and the amounts I spend. Then I check off each item when it’s wrapped. This helps me remember what I have wrapped and tucked away.
#6 Set up a portable wrapping station
I keep wrapping paper and supplies in our storage area, which is great for wrapping gifts throughout the year. But when it comes to wrapping Christmas presents, I need to be more discreet. So, I created a “wrapping station” in an under-the-bed box stocked well before the holidays with scissors, a Dollar Tree tape dispenser, sticker tags, tissue paper, and boxes. This way I can pull it out from under my bed, wrap a gift, hide it (I hide my kids’ gifts in our artificial tree box), and check this task off in my holiday notebook. If you end the season low on wrapping supplies, consider purchasing more for next year right after the holidays when they’re on sale.
#7 Create a Santa stash shelf
I’m not a shop-all-year-for-Christmas-gifts person, but if I buy something to support a friend selling items for a fundraiser or see something cute on sale (like a mug that reminds me of my best friend), I tuck it away on my gift shelf. When the holiday season comes around, it feels good to have a few gifts from the heart tucked away already and shopping becomes less time-consuming. I also place four upright bags in the back of my closet and stash away stocking stuffers that I find on sale when I’m out and about.
#8 Support your community
Put your values into action and support military-owned businesses or companies that offer a military discount. I buy holiday gifts and Christmas ornaments from military spouses who have shops on Etsy.com and I buy Rodan + Fields products from Holly Schlachter, another military spouse. It feels good to support other entrepreneurs and organizations that appreciate our sacrifices. I also use my USAA points and turn them into gift cards so that I don’t need to use cash.
#9 Choose portable décor
If you’re a military spouse facing a relocation, don’t waste money on bulky Christmas decorations that are hard to pack up for a PCS. I love using simple, clear glass Mason jars, holiday greens, and battery-operated white lights versus buying huge plastic decorations and scented candles that you can’t take with you on an overseas move. Make decorating simple and elegant. Take it a step further and use your post-holiday time to declutter your collection of décor versus storing items that you no longer love. Military spouses need to be realistic by opting for shatterproof plastic ornaments and battery-operated candles.
#10 Save room for traditions
Make time for some traditions, such as going caroling. Our family has the same orange rolls on Christmas morning and we love this tradition, but I also like to add in some new activities. This year my daughter is dancing in the Nutcracker, so seeing a show as a family might be a fun new tradition to establish. Perhaps inviting over a family with a deployed spouse for Christmas dinner, donating those “decluttered” toys, or giving an extra new gift to a family in need could become a family tradition. If you clean house and plan ahead, you’ll have so much less stress and so much more energy to enjoy that holiday cheer.
What are some of your go-to ways to prep for the holidays?Read comments