Feelings of peace, joy, and love are in especially high demand this time of year. And whether or not you’re “feeling it” may have to do with your home environment.
According to happiness expert Gretchen Rubin, this concept is one of the great secrets of adulthood:
"Outer order contributes to inner calm."
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No matter the size or location of your home or whether you rent or own, there are steps you can take to create space for the feelings of peaceful contentment you crave. Implement one or more that resonates with you and you'll be on your way to minimizing stress and maximizing calm.
Declutter to make room for holiday magic
Take the first step and momentum will follow. Once you can conquer an area that impacts your daily life, you will feel more motivated to continue. Begin with what you can see. Usually, this means desktops, dressers, and tables. Once those areas are decluttered, you can move into other spaces. Keep a focused mind on the (attainable) goals.
Know and remind yourself that this endeavor is something that you are doing for yourself and that you’re worth this effort.
―Adina Mahalli, mental health consultant and family care specialist with Maple Holistics
Create a positive association. I like to pair cleaning or decluttering with something I enjoy, whether it be a favorite Christmas movie playing in the background or grabbing a seasonal Starbucks latte before beginning the process to keep me motivated.
―Mary Cornetta, founder and co-owner of organizing company Sort & Sweet Inc.
Make it a game. A fun way to tidy up with kids is to set a time and play Beat the Clock. Tell everyone they have two minutes (or 10 minutes, 30 minutes, etc.) to put things in their proper place in the home. If the game isn’t motivation enough, say there is a special treat in store when the job is complete, such as a family movie night or a special snack.
―Eileen Roth, organizing expert and author of Organizing For Dummies
Invest in a guided system. As we move into a new year with new goals, a Decluttering Binder would be a wonderful gift for any mom who wants to learn how a little bit of decluttering every day can add up to big results. Packed with 46 pages of decluttering tasks, tips and tricks, age-appropriate tasks for little ones, and tips to keep the experience positive, it’s a perfect solution to keeping your home tidy and company ready without the hustle and stress of all-day cleaning.
―Jen Slezia, owner and creator of Journals to Freedom Printables
Clear a closet. Closets are an area that people often forget about. More often than not, you find tons of useless things in your closet that you are never going to use. So leave behind the mentality of “I’m going to use it in the future.” You probably won't. So free your closet and get the extra space to keep the clutter to a minimum.
―Abe Navas, general manager of Dallas-based house cleaning service Emily’s Maids
Give everything a home. The holidays bring with them stuff that only hangs around for a couple of weeks or months, but that doesn't mean the same rule doesn't apply. Extra coats and shoes from visitors and winter gear need a place to live. Hang a few sturdy removable hooks for extra coats and clear a spot on the floor for an old towel to use as a shoe spot.
Purge your pantry. The holidays are famous for food, and that means extra ingredients in our pantry, freezer, and fridge. Pre-purge the two-years-old dressing, unopened impulse-buy muffin mix, and tragic freezer-burnt burger patties now.
This is a great time of year to get rid of non-expired shelf-stable items too, as there are a lot of food drives going on. You'll be amazed at how easily you'll breathe opening your cupboards in the new year.
―Brittany Finkelstein, stress and workplace resilience coach
Donate your stuff. A worthwhile activity you can enjoy with your child is to create a pile of things you can give to other kids that might not have as many nice things to wear or play with. Making room for new toys is practical but even better is the teaching opportunity of redirecting their attention from getting to giving — a task they can be proud of.
―Sherri Monte, co-owner of Seattle-based interior design and organizing firm Elegant Simplicity
Sell your stuff. One great resource that helps you clear out old items from your home is Decluttr, which sells your electronics for you. This is an environmentally responsible option to consider when you’re done with old technology, DVDs, CDs, and other electronics. Once they give you an offer, you accept, and they provide the shipping box and paid label at no cost to you. Everything is done for you and you actually make money decluttering your home!
―Jeff Proctor, cofounder of DollarSprout
Give and receive gifts mindfully
Give experiences. Giving stuff just to give isn’t really productive for anyone. Think seriously about where the people you are giving to are at in their lives. Are they trying to cut down on stuff or do they already have a houseful of stuff? Are they trying to live a more minimalist life?
Consider giving items that will help make a person’s life easier. Think about giving an experience rather than an item — movie, play or concert tickets, a date night, a fun kid day out like a trampoline park, a membership to a science or art center or possibly a gift card to a restaurant. The best memories are made doing things together rather than getting material items.
―Marty Basher of custom closet module company Modular Closets
Give consumables. If I want to give something tangible — because almost everyone likes to open something! — I try to give consumable gifts like wine or candles versus ones that will live in their home forever (there is a limit to how many throw blankets someone can have).
Consider regifting. I'm a big advocate of re-gifting. Not only is it better for the environment, but it also cuts down on costs for you and it encourages the recipient to do the same. For example, I will re-gift all the books I read and the puzzles that I did within the year. This helps me de-clutter and allows the next person receiving it to do the same.
―Lauren Cook, MMFT, therapist, and author
Set a limit. We keep our gifts to three items per kid. If it was good enough for the wise men, it works for us, too. Generally, it's a toy, some clothing, and a book or game. Ideally, a few of the items can be enjoyed for hours at a time by more than one kid over the days off from school.
Be very selective about the electronics you give your kids. You will have to charge, add batteries, troubleshoot, repair, and eventually recycle each item. If you do bring in a new electronic item, immediately label the cord descriptively with label tape or masking tape and collect accessories and instructions in a plastic zipper bag, also well-labeled.
―Darla DeMorrow, certified professional organizer® and owner of Philadelphia-based HeartWork Organizing
Trap the wrap. If you celebrate part of the season with a big present unwrapping, add two things to the room: a trash bag and a recycling bag. Ribbons, bows, and paper can all go straight into the right place, as can any toy packaging that is immediately relegated to the heap upon receipt.
Repurpose cards. Sift through the holiday cards you receive and reuse cute cards by cutting images from the front, attaching string, and using them as gift tags for next year. Throw the ones you don’t want to save in the recycling bin.
―The team at Molly Maid, a Neighborly company
Display and store only the decor you love
Select ornaments with purpose. Our tree is not large, live, or trendy, but it's very, very special. We have always bought ornaments on our summer travels and now our tree is made up entirely of these memory-based ornaments. It's a great way to remember special trips and places we have been to.
Limit what you store. Invest in good storage totes and make a promise to yourself that you’ll keep only what fits into the totes you have. This will help keep you from collecting more items each year without assessing what you have each time.
Donate decorations. This is exactly the time of year when you can donate seasonal decor and know it will go to someone who will use it this season or next. Bring out all your holiday decorations and sort through them, looking for decorations that are in good shape but that you don’t absolutely love. Once the holidays are over, evaluate each decoration before storing it. Do you know someone else who would be thrilled to enjoy it next year?
―Jamie Novak, expert organizer and author of "Keep This Toss That"
Pack and store decor safely. For Chanukah, make sure to remove wax from candle holders before storing. For Christmas ornaments, store them in a thick box and make sure to wrap each one neatly with packing paper. To ensure no movement in the box, pack them tightly! Finally, clearly label all boxes for more efficient storage in the off-season and unpacking next holiday season.
―Lior Rachmany, CEO of NYC-based Dumbo Moving + Storage
Simplify your to-do list
Take shortcuts when you can. Although I love to bake, I just don't have the time in a week with three company holiday parties. For just $30 I picked up a beautiful Tiramisu from my corner French bakery. I support my favorite small business and get to bring something much fancier than I can whip up at home, saving me time in the bargain.
Drop the need to impress. The holidays are about family, friends, and gratitude, not about impressing people with your impeccable housekeeping, rushing to get through home projects during your time off, or proving to the world that you can do it all.
Your house is not a reflection of your worth as a person. If there's a bit more laundry or a pile on a table because you were finishing a Christmas play costume, building a gingerbread house, or sitting down with a cup of hot cocoa to watch Elf for the third time, ask yourself if it was worth the joy. You have 365 days in a year to do laundry and declutter; enjoy the few weeks where twinkling lights and free cookies are the norm, and managing the mess is expected to take a back seat to merriment.
Find your yeses. Moms everywhere run around like crazy trying to do a thousand things in order to make it all feel “special” for our families. But when we are overwhelmed, we end up feeling more like the Grinch than anything else. The holidays are a time of many, many event invitations: cookie exchanges, the neighborhood party, the office gift exchange...the list goes on and on. It’s not about saying no — it’s about identifying your yeses and prioritizing those over the things that don’t matter as much.
Ask yourself: Who do I want to spend my holiday time with? What stories am I telling myself about what the holiday has to look like?
―Tonya Dalton, productivity expert and author of "The Joy of Missing Out"
Schedule the fun. If you're solely focused on getting through your to-do list before you enjoy the season, you'll find yourself at the end of the season before you've had any fun. Add tasks to your daily to-do list like watching a movie, enjoying hot cocoa, or driving around to view the neighborhood lights. By adding the item to your to-do list, you'll feel like you're accomplishing something when you cross it off — and you are.
Focus on the present so you can enjoy it
Refuse to multi-task. Be present no matter what you are doing whether that is cooking a meal, writing a holiday card, or visiting with a friend or loved one. Do one thing at a time and vow to stop rushing.
When you wake up each morning, set an intention to be mindful and calm and to enjoy your day. Do not overcrowd your schedule. Say no to every request that is not a priority to the people and things on your list that matter most to you.
―Lynell Ross, founder and managing editor of wellness advocate website Zivadream
Put people first. Look one another in the eyes. It is so often that we are focused on our phones or another screen. Look up and look around.
Find an activity that centers you. Five years ago, I was working 24/7 and looking for a way to unwind and decompress. Everyone was talking about meditation and Headspace, but it just didn't really work for me. Instead, I started doing jigsaw puzzles and fell in love with them. They became my nightly meditation and I made a habit of working on a puzzle for at least 20 minutes every night with tea. It calmed me, I slept better, and for at least those few minutes was fully present, focusing on just one thing, away from any screens.
Puzzles are also a perfect family activity around the holidays to be connected and spend time together while doing something relaxing and healthy.
―Kaylin Marcotte, founder and CEO of female artist-focused puzzle company JIGGY
Don’t neglect self-care. Particularly during the busy holiday season, stress can creep in if you are tired, overloaded, or overworked. Whether you pause for a quiet cup of tea, take a break for a 10-minute meditation, or de-stress in a warm shower, give yourself the gift of daily self-care. You’ll feel better, more relaxed, and ready to handle the holiday bustle with a smile.
―Dr. Carla Marie Manly, clinical psychologist and author
Bonus tips for dog owners
Simplify your play area. If you're like me, you've probably accumulated a variety of dog toys and gear over the years, and chances are your dog doesn't use it all! Try keeping only the toys your dogs actually enjoys. For example, some dogs go nuts for squeaky toys. Others go bananas for rope toys. Stick with your pup's favorites and toss out the others!
To make more space in your living area, you may want to consider a dog furniture crate for sleeping. These turn an end table or side table into your dog’s sleeping area!
―Meg Marrs, founder of dog care hub K9 of Mine
Create a doggy oasis. The excitement of new people, delicious food, and extra noise during the holidays can make your dog’s manners diminish. But if dogs are rushed into a room and left alone, it could lead to separation anxiety, excessive barking, or destructive behaviors. Consider creating a space just for doggy in a separate room to provide a comfortable, quiet space with toys and a treat to chew on.
―The team at Zoom Room, a national indoor dog gym and training franchise
Set your dog up for success. If you’re bringing home a newly adopted dog, understand that life as this pup knows it just drastically changed from the kennel to your home. Follow these tips to calm the chaos for your dog as much as possible:
- Provide a safe space or two where the pup can go in the beginning, like an appropriately sized crate. One can be placed in the central part of the home and the other in a more quiet area. Never force your pup to go into the crate or safe area, but make it very inviting with treats, blankets, toys, etc. so the pup enters of its own will. Leave the door open so they can enter or leave freely.
- Provide long-term appropriate chews, like bully sticks in a bully buddy, to help them relax. Chewing releases the relaxing chemical serotonin.
- Give the dog 3–4 weeks to break out of their shell, become familiar with their new surroundings and routine, and to trust you. If they’ve been in a shelter, they’ve been failed by humans before.
- Manage your expectations. Not all dogs came from a good home the first time around and they need time to learn that you are going to be their furever home — trust them, love them and treat them kindly! They’ve been through a lot!
―Johnna Devereaux, Clinical Pet Nutritionist (CPN) for BowWow Labs