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Blog: Easy Organizing For Active Kids And Busy Parents
Using Technology to Simplify Your Holiday Preparations

Well, it's "Black Friday," the official start of the holiday frenzy.  As I see it, you have two choices:  1. You can stress-out and overwhelm yourself (again) to the point of wishing the holidays away, or 2. You can make an effort to simplify your schedule, and your to-do list, and make more time for a memorable holiday season with your family.
If you chose the latter, one foolproof way to get more done in less time, without hiring a personal assistant, is to enlist the help of technology, specifically your handy, dandy personal computer.  The following tips and suggestions can help you shave time off your holiday chores and give you more time for sipping cocoa, singing carols, or playing dreidel games with your loved ones.
1.    Manage your gift-giving list as an electronic file on your computer.  This can be as elaborate as a spreadsheet or as simple as a list in a word processing document.  Start by listing the names of family members you need to buy for in the first column, beginning with your immediate members and progressing down through your more distant relatives. Continue this column with people you need to buy for but are NOT related to (friends, neighbors, teachers, etc.).  After each name, write your budget for this recipient and then any gift ideas you may have.  The beauty of having this on your computer is that you can print it out to have as a tangible list as you shop, but if you change your mind about gift ideas, you can easily update your original file (no more crumpled, scratched through papers to lose track of).
As you buy gifts, mark them off on your list by BOLDING the items. When you finish shopping for a recipient, bold his or her NAME, too.  When I buy gifts for my two daughters, I always try to make things as equitable as possible.  So, I take this a step further and also highlight in green those items that I bought that are equal to a gift for the other, and highlight that gift, too.  This way I can tell at a glance how my shopping is progressing, and I cannot ever be accused of playing favorites.
Keep this electronic file and make a copy to start you on your way next year.  Simply delete the items and update any changes to the recipients you need to buy for.  It will also serve as a reminder of gifts you gave the previous year, so as not to repeat gift ideas for the same person.
2.   If you send photo cards, order them online.  Either splurge on the added convenience of postal delivery, or order them from a site that has a local storefront and coordinate your pick up with your next shopping trip.  Shutterfly.com allows you to pick up your prints at Target® if you choose, and drugstores such as CVS® and Walgreens® let you pick them up at the store, too.
3.   Create a separate electronic database for your holiday mailing list. Outlook® is great for this.  Add a new folder to your Contacts and copy all the names and information for those on your holiday card list.  Than create a mail merge, using a nice font for personality, and use your printer to address your cards in no time.  As you receive cards, save the envelopes with the return address and check them against your database, noting any changes and then promptly recycling them, to avoid building up clutter.  Use the notes section to indicate the year you received the card.  Next year when it is time to send greetings, you can take note of those on your list whom you DID NOT hear from the previous year, and make a decision about whether or not to continue sending to them. 
4.  Order your holiday stamps online and arrange for free, in home package pick-up from the U.S. Post Office.  Avoid the lines at the post office and make sure you get the stamps you WANT by ordering online from the United States Post Office (the website always seems to have a better selection than the bricks-and-mortar version).  Delivery is usually within a day.  You can also schedule free package pick-up by your carrier and download software from their site to help you print out shipping labels and postage from home.
5.   Avoid the crowds and comparison shop online for the items on your list.  I LOVE a good deal, but running from busy store to even busier store during the holiday season can really turn me into a Scrooge.  For bigger ticket items, I always comparison shop online.  Shopzilla.com is a great site for comparing prices.  If electronics are on your list, Cnet.com is a great resource for any product questions you might have, and much more efficient than trying to track down a busy store employee. Most times, I end up purchasing online, too, especially during the holiday season, when many sites offer GREAT shipping deals.  Today may be "Black Friday," but it is followed by "Cyber Monday," and you can be sure there will be tons of bargains and deals all over the net.
6.   Create your holiday menus on the computer Scan or re-type your recipes and keep them in an electronic folder marked "Holiday Meals."  Or download new recipes from the internet to keep in this folder.  If you like to serve the same dishes year after year, you'll have everything you need at your fingertips next year.  If you like to change it up, you'll be able to quickly see what you previously served to avoid any repeats.  This idea also makes it easy to share your recipes, either with guests who want to try out your creations on their own, or for handing down treasured favorites to the next generation.
7.   Email your holiday party invites.  Some may think this to be impersonal and an entertaining faux pas, but for casual, informal gatherings, it really is the simplest way to go.  And your guests will be more likely to respond, and respond on time.  You can even decorate the email with colored text and insert graphics to make it more festive.  As an added bonus, it is less time consuming than calling your guest, and a much "greener" way to spread the word send an email, save a tree!
While some of these suggestions may cause you to spend a little more time initially as you set up the systems, they will save you tenfold in years to come when you simply need to update your databases and revisit your favorite website resources.  This year, with Thanksgiving arriving so early, you can use those extra days before December 1st to get everything in place. Good luck as you strive to make this a less-stressful, more relaxing holiday season!
Coming Next Week:  Controlling clutter and prioritizing go hand-in-hand.  Next week, I'll discuss ideas and tips for teaching your kids (and maybe even yourself) the art of prioritizing and how it can help you to get organized in the first place, as well as to maintain that organization and eliminate clutter for GOOD,  Until then, have a great week!
Simply yours,

posted on: 11/23/2007 9:00:00 AM by Debbie Jordan Kravitz
category: Family

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Easy Organizing For Active Kids And Busy Parents

by Debbie Jordan Kravitz

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About Debbie:

Debbie Jordan Kravitz is a Professional Organizer, Author, and Owner of Virtually Organized by Debbie LLC. She is also a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) and the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization (NSGCD). Debbie's goal is to help her clients customize, organize and simplify their lives so they can spend less time searching for their things and more time doing the things they love.

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