There's a Method to the Madness

You know all those beautifully decorated homes showing up on Instagram? The ones where everything is white and glowy and pure perfection? That's not us.
This is more where we're at:

See that red nose, and antlers? They are waiting for CS to attach them to the car, so we can go see Christmas lights with the Littles next week. He doesn't love them on the car, but he loves me, and the Littles, so he'll oblige last minute.

I decided, in my typical not-completely-rational manner, to go through every single decoration, ornament, foot of garland, string of lights, and get rid of excess. That took a solid week, but I took an entire van full to Goodwill, bundled up bags of keepsake ornaments for all three of our kids, and drove across town with lighted garlands for our son's house. Better there than here. This is what I ended up with. Except for the two ancient light-up reindeer, and a small wreath for the front door.

We even gave our son's family our 7 1/2 foot, relatively new, pre -lit tree. Drove it over to them, then drove to Lowes and spent $120 on a 4 1/2 foot, pre-lit tree, because we're practical like that. We're starting the very slow process of downsizing, and figure we need to cull out about half of what we own. The next place we live will be about half this size, with half the bedrooms and closets and such, so the big tree moved away and a smaller one came to live with us.

The tree downsizing was CS's idea, and while I'm not signing up to have him choose wallpaper for us, sometimes it's nice to just say 'sure, why not?' It wouldn't have occurred to me, but it was a smart move.

After I said yes to a tree almost half the size, and gave away half the ornaments, he suggested we put it on the outer kitchen counter. We have this opening to the kitchen, that we never use for anything, so, again, I said, 'why not?!' And I actually like it! I wonder if it feels like Tom Cruise, or Dustin Hoffman, short but with tall shoes on?

We figure someday, when we move, we'll put this tree on the buffet table in the dining room, so why not go ahead and put it up there now? It took about an hour, start to finish, to take it out of the box, fluff it up, hang the ornaments and call it good.

Next, I decided the fireplace was sooty looking; it really needed a fresh coat of paint, which I did not want to do. Who wants to paint anything before they decorate it, but we had the extra paint sitting there in the pantry, and again, start to finish, it took about an hour. That first swipe of paint told the truth, it really did need freshening up. I actually neglected to take a photo of the finished product, but it's fresh-white, with a lighted garland, Jesus and his parents standing guard, and three stockings waiting to be filled. Side note: if you're ever trying to decide whether to put the TV above the mantle, go high or go home. We not only have a TV there, we have a Sonos bar and it leaves no room for decor. Next house the TV will move to another wall by itself.

IMG_1039Then it was time to start wrapping up gifts and getting them into boxes to mail. I always feel like Christmas can come after the boxes are shipped. I keep a closet of boxes and tape and labels stored upstairs, so it was bombs-away, throwing them all downstairs, watching the dog run for cover. That's Marvin the pig in the background, by the way. He's named after the grouchy property manager where we used to live..... a visual reminder to me to 'wag more, bark less' as my daughter puts it.

This is my spreadsheet. I know it seems a bit anal, but I've used it for at least 15 years. Just a simple Excel spread sheet that I save on my desktop. It's set up with an area for each family member, postage, shipping, decor, etc. and as I do shopping through the year, or come up with gift ideas I fill it in, updating it as I go. Finally in December I print it out, and I can see at a glance if a gift has been bought/ordered, did it come in, did I wrap it? What did it cost, and a running total of what I'm spending per person, per family and a grand total which is always more than I've budgeted :-) That's okay, it's Christmas.

There's even a reminder there to get separate birthday gifts for our granddaughter, JaeBeth, who was born on Christmas. It would be easy to forget to shop separately for her and that would not be okay. I keep a file called Christmas planning, and each year, after Christmas, I throw this one sheet of paper in it, so I can look next year and see what we gave this year. While it may sound complicated, it's actually super simple, and a big help. I throw it in my calendar when I am out and about, so I remember what last items need to be picked up, or what my spending budget is for a particular gift. That post-a-note is hiding CS's Christmas gifts in case he casually walks by. No peeking allowed!


So once the boxes have all been gathered, and the check off list is there, wrapping paper is gathered, tags, a dispenser of tape*, scissors, marking pens, it's time to get down to business. I make piles by family, and start wrapping. I've learned to write people's names on the packages, then tape the tag over it so that when the tag falls off in the shipping process they can still figure out who a gift should go to.


So the table looks better - I'm making progress. As a family's packages are completely readied, they are set aside with a box to mail them in. I keep bubble wrap and peanuts all year long too, to put around those gifts a bit more fragile. I wrapped a fairy wand that makes twinkly noises, hoping it doesn't go off in the shipping and alert security. Good, strong packaging tape is a must. I've received packages that weren't taped very well, and I don't want my packages to arrive in that shape.

All that's left at this point is packages for my parents, then I'll drag out the table runner, the collection of snowmen and plop them down on the dining room table. This Friday we've got Littles coming to help us put up the snow village in the dining room window seat, and decorate a gingerbread house for the birds, or little people, as they decide.

That's where we are, almost ready to relax, make popcorn and load Christmas Vacation into the DVD player. How are you doing with getting ready? Any tips for the process?

*Note: if you're still using those single tape dispensers, go to the office store and buy an office-style one; they cost around $5 and you can tape a package with one hand instead of two. This time of year we can all use an extra hand!


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