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You can simply the holidays.

The holiday season is in full swing. Are you ready for a relaxing and fun-filled holiday season? Or are you already caught up in the frenzy of shopping, decorating, cooking and entertaining without a clue as to how to keep your sanity? If you choose the first option, then I've got a plan for you!

Let's face it, new merchandise in the shops, catalogs arriving daily, email brimming with offers, magazines full of decorating ideas, and the TV screaming "buy me!" can turn the best of us into plastic-tossing shop-a-holics. In our quest to create the perfect holiday, we often think that bigger is better and have this crazy desire to outdo whatever we did last year, even though it almost killed us! Some people think that if they buy more of the newest seasonal offerings that the holiday will be perfect. Not true! The best way to have a wonderful holiday is to simplify it and enjoy the time you’ll spend with family and friends. It's easy to make smart choices and balance your schedule so that you, too, can enjoy the holiday season.

Here's the plan:

1. Reduce clutter. It is the best way to improve your home. During the holidays you’ll have more stuff in your home and you’ll need to make room for it. Holiday décor, family gatherings, baking and cooking will make your home busy and over-crowded, so eliminate everything that could potentially be in your way this holiday season. Make room for the new items and collections and for all of the “stuff” that your family will bring with them.

2. Plan ahead. It is possible. Find out what family plans are and adjust schedules accordingly. Mark your calendar and stay ahead of your to do list by not putting items off until tomorrow.

3. Shorten your gift list. By doing this you will spend less time shopping and save money. Make a gift list before you shop and stay focused. If you have a fixed budget stick to it. The holiday should be joyful, not painful. If you overspend it will come back to bite you in the end, so don't do it!

4. Maximize shopping time. Now that you've made your list, plan your trip to gather your items in the least amount of time. Spend less time “shopping” and more time interacting with your family and friends.

5. Keep decorations simple. Mass produced inexpensive decorations are everywhere and it's easy to load up on stuff without thinking of where you'll put it. Don’t do it! Look over what you already have, then decide what you need - or can do without. Remember, whatever you buy has to be put away again after the holidays! Choose carefully and you can make a spectacular focal point with a minimum of "things".

6. Host a “Decorate my Home” party. Invite a few close friends over and decorate your home together. It is a great way to spend time with people and to get your home decorated at the same time. Snacks, drinks and music make for a great decorating party.

7. Bake cookies with friends or family. Make a list of all of the items you will bake, divide the shopping list and share the expense of the ingredients. Make a big mess in one kitchen and cleanup together. This is a great way to get your baking list done and have a larger assortment of goodies. You'll save money and have fun cooking with the crowd!

8. Plan your menu. If you are hosting family over several days, plan your menu for each day and shop accordingly. This will reduce last minute running around and create a lot less stress.

9. Keep parties small. You’d love to include everyone but be realistic. Invite those that you truly want to spend time with. Smaller gatherings will be easier to prepare and accommodate.

10. Shorten your to do list. It is easy to make a long list of the things you want to do; there's nothing wrong with that. But as your time gets tighter, start crossing off items. Do only what is truly important and eliminate the rest.

I write all of this as a former “my holiday has to be perfect” person. I finally realized that it is about being with people and enjoying everything about the holiday. It isn’t about spending time in long lines, being stuck in the kitchen all day or cleaning the house for hours before guests arrive. I used to go all-out and create a "Martha Stewart" holiday. It was perfect and beautiful. But it was stressful and a lot of work. I created long days and nights for myself and had no time to enjoy the results. Then one year I decided enough was enough and simplified. It was still wonderful. My home was beautiful, and I had more time to have fun and enjoy my family and friends.

Please give consideration to my list and learn from my transition from a stressful holiday to creating a simplified holiday. There’s a saying, “If it isn’t fun, why do it?”. Well that certainly applies to the holiday season. You can simplify your holiday season so that it will be more meaningful. I hope you give it a try. Merry Christmas!

My go-to simple cookie recipes:

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