13 Things to Get Organized Before the Holidays

Ah, October to January: ‘tis the season to be up-to-your-eyes busy. With more commitments, gatherings, to-dos and to-buys than perhaps any other time of the year, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed with everything happening between Halloween and New Years.

A little preparation can go a long way as you get ready for whatever forms of excitement — family time, travel, social events, work parties — are in your calendar.

If you’re the organized type, this might be quite exciting: the possibilities for getting ahead of things are endless (and the excuses to make color-coded lists are also pretty vast). If you’re less of a planner, this will either sound excessive or daunting. Or both.

Trust us on this, though: a few lists, a little sorting and a bit of planning ahead will help to make your season bright and just a little less hectic.

If you’re celebrating

1. Gift list

When it comes to gifts, figure out well in advance of the holidays who you’re buying for, what you’d like to spend and what kinds of gifts you’ll consider for each. (Get ahead of the ball on this one. If you need to do some recon because you have no idea what your nephew is into these days, some extra notice allows you to check in with other family members to gauge your options and prevent you from doubling up on the same gift.) Figure out how much of your shopping can be done in the same store/mall/internet retailer and plan a day or two to hit the stores/internet to get everything in order.

2. Décor

Your holiday décor probably sits in the back of the closet for the majority of the year. Take some time before Halloween to sort through it and decide what you’ll actually put up this year and what you need to part ways with. If you haven’t hung up that plastic Santa since college (and he’s somehow still with you), this might be the year to donate him to the Salvation Army. Consider simplifying the theme of your décor for Thanksgiving and your winter holidays by using natural items from outside — leaves, sticks (made beautiful with gold leaf paint!) and seasonal produce work great as décor and can be composted or consumed at the end of holiday time. (Bonus: this frees up space in your closet throughout the year!)

3. Wrapping supplies

Same goes for wrapping: do you remember what you ran out of last year? We sure don’t. To avoid a wrapping emergency on your way to a gathering, check your wrapping inventory and make time to fill in the gaps before things get crazy. Wrapping paper, gift bags, ribbon, bows, tape and tags are good staples; if you’re feeling green, reusable cloth gift bags and cloth ribbon make great alternatives to traditional paper.

4. Cards and postage

How many times have you found yourself staring down December 22nd with the uncomfortable realization you forgot to send out holiday correspondence two weeks ago — and you’re fresh out of stamps? Don’t spend an afternoon at the post office: organize your stationery situation in advance to ensure you have holiday greeting cards, postage and your family’s current addresses handy. (Ask them at Thanksgiving if you’re not sure!) Pro tip for next year: take advantage of holiday card clearance by stocking up in summer on last season’s selections. Arrange them in your beautifully organized décor closet (see above).

5. Host gifts and thank you cards

Having a few gifts — bottles of wine, baked goods, chocolate, candles, kitchen accessories, succulents — and a box of thank you cards on hand is never a bad idea, perhaps never more than during the holidays. Unexpectedly invited to drop in at a party? You won’t have to worry about showing up empty-handed. Just pull from your stash and arrive looking like the uber-thoughtful person you are!

If you’re traveling

6. A packing list

Put together a basic packing list for all of your events and travel. You may find you’ll bring the same core things to most of them (an outfit, a change of shoes, toiletries, a gift for the host). You’ll save time by having a go-bag 80% ready and adding in or swapping out items for each individual event. At a minimum, having a list of essentials to check off can save you from arriving at a work party only to find your running shoes don’t *quite* match your cocktail dress.

7. Travel kit

You may already carry this in your gym bag (hooray, you’re all set!), but if not, a small always-packed kit of toiletries and travel essentials can be super helpful no matter how far you’re venturing at holiday time. Before your calendar becomes packed, stock up on mini shampoo, conditioner, face cleanser, moisturizer, sunscreen and deodorant — or if you’re looking to cut down on plastic and cost, invest in some small reusable three-ounce containers to fill from your larger-sized bottles. Bonus emergency items that you may be glad to have include bandaids, safety pins, fashion tape and dental floss.

8. Itineraries and tickets

If your holiday plans involve any travel at all, save yourself some airport stress and put your itineraries, tickets, confirmations and passport in one convenient place. Make sure you’re 100% clear on when your flights/trains/cars depart and where you need to meet them. Pre-pay for baggage and set yourself an alarm to check in online the day prior to save time when it’s time to leave.

If you’re hosting

9. Guest towels, bedding and toiletries

Whether you’re hosting for a dinner, an overnight or a week, you’ll want to check that your supplies for your guests are good to go. Think about towels, bedding, toiletries and other homey touches to make your guests feel welcome (and to make you feel calm and collected).

10. Your kitchen

Whether you’re baking a batch of cookies for the office or hosting a series of dinners at your home, getting organized can make the whole process a lot more fun and a lot less stressful.

Assess your pantry situation. Are you all set with staple ingredients for baking and well appointed with dry goods and canned goods? Do you have easy-to-forget items like vegetable broth and nutmeg? Are you set up with nibbles and snack items that will come in handy for unexpected visitors? If you’re hoarding canned goods you know you’ll never use, consider donating them to a local food bank.

Check out your fridge and freezer, as well: if there are items in there that you’ve been saving for a rainy day for longer than you can remember, consider using them promptly or composting them to make space. Stock up on beverages — adult and non — for visitors, and bring items to the front that you’ll want to have easy access to for holiday meals (or easy regular meals when your schedule is jam-packed).

Lastly, set yourself up for cooking and leftover success and double check your supply of food storage items: reusable containers, sustainable food covers (we love Etee in place of plastic wrap or foil), parchment paper, muffin cups and toothpicks are handy sustainable options to have at the ready.

If you expect your holidays to be busy…

11. A calendar

Avoid double booking and burnout: get your plans on paper before your plans get you. Consider color-coding for things like “family,” “friends,” “work” and “volunteering” to keep things separate and prioritized. If you have kiddos — or will be attending events for others’ kiddos — get those on the calendar to block off nights you’ll be trick-or-treating or patronizing the Thanksgiving pageant. Account for travel to and from events (or far-off destinations) and factor time for sleep, workouts, grocery shopping, food preparation (especially if you’re contributing a dish or a goodie to a gathering), work projects and personal projects.

12. A shopping list

As you consult your calendar, consider what each of your commitments will require you to purchase. (Hint: everything above may be a good place to start.) Practical items like groceries (day-to-day items as well as specialty and baking ingredients), décor, wrapping supplies and cleaning supplies can be sorted out in advance; plus, you may end up saving some dollars as some of these you can buy in bulk.

13. Your charitable contribution plan

If you’ll be making some end-of-year donations to nonprofits, write out the specifics of your plans: to whom and when you will donate, as well as how (Online? By mail? In person?). Make sure your finances are in order — i.e. you have enough in your account to cover whatever checks or e-payments you’re sending — and consider creating an electronic or a paper folder for receipts so you’re ahead of the game come tax time.

The takeaway

Holiday time can be crazy and full, but the whole point is to connect, celebrate and take a little respite from the regular crazy of your life to be with people you love. Make things easier on yourself by taking the time to plan ahead and glide through ‘til New Years like a sleigh through snow.


Amy Height is a holistic health coach, triathlete and yogi traveling North America full-time to discover the best in nutrition and fitness. She shares healthy living ideas and plant-based, gluten-free recipes at From the Ground Up Wellness. Follow the adventures and find some fit-foodie inspiration on Instagram, amyheight.