It probably sounds ridiculous, but how many of your traditions are actually chores that you don’t enjoy anymore? Do you scramble around the month of December trying to get it all done before your family and friends descend? Meanwhile, at the office, nothing is slowing down despite everyone’s misguided assumptions that it will? And maybe you have family coming in from the four corners, and cooking for all of them is just too much this year?
So what do you do?
There are some things that you just don’t have to do yourself. If you love it and you have time, go for it. But, if it is stressing you out and making you crazy then hire it out.
I learned this from some of the most formidable women I know, military wives. In many cases they were expected to throw parties as part of their partners job. When I was in high school, I made some of my Christmas money every year serving at those parties. I would arrive an hour before to lay things out on platters and get my instructions. By the time the people arrived, the hostess would have had 15 minutes to touch up her hair and makeup while I kept an eye on the kitchen. I would serve food and tidy up glasses and napkins for 2 hours. Then I would stay for another hour doing dishes and tidying up. I would walk out with fifty bucks and the hostess had most of her tidying up done. Win-win.
What can you outsource?
At the Holidays, almost everything!
The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker.
My mom worked in family support on a military base. She was called all hours of the night and day and Christmas is always one of the hardest times of the year. So she was prepared for anything.
She was smart; every September a guy would come over one evening with a sample of appetizers and my mom would place her fall order. The truck would deliver a pile of frozen appetizers, desserts and entrees directly to her freezer a few weeks later. She would book all of her Christmas baking with our local baker and my dad would make similar arrangements with the butcher. By the time Thanksgiving arrived, we were set. Whatever happened, we would be ready.
Whether you use a regular house cleaner or not. this is a great time to start using an occasional. Most cleaning companies will do a one-time cleaning for a small extra hourly fee. Make sure that you establish an hourly rate at the outset and a greatest number of hours that you are willing to pay for. Be clear about what it includes and what it doesn’t. People who are open-ended about these things often end up surprised by the bill when it arrives. See my housecleaning series for more tips.
- Christmas Decorating
Many interior decorators offer a home decorating service to get your home ready for the holidays. Depending on the decorator, this can be surprisingly affordable. Sometimes their price includes the cost of decorations, rented or purchased. Or you can get them to work with what you already have. Just make sure that those expectations are clear when you are negotiating price. If you are not sure you want to work with a professional, consider hiring an extra set of hands to do the heavy lifting, so that you stay fresh for the fun part.
- Christmas Shopping
Consider hiring a professional shopper, or even a virtual assistant for online shopping. In both cases, you give them your list of people and brief description of what they like and get back some suggestions from which you select your favorite and voilà. In either case, you can make the final decision and purchase, so it is pretty risk free. Just let someone else do the digging and research for you.
Definitely do a good part of your shopping online this year. Maybe not all the fun stuff, but at least the bits that are standard and easy to buy online.
- Christmas Dinner
Did you know that tons of people out there will deliver Christmas dinner to your home the day or two before with simple instructions for serving it fresh and hot the day of? And still more who will deliver it on the day, all ready for the table, although the latter is a more expensive option. Ask your local grocery store, or your online grocery store. You often have to book it weeks in advance, but many of them have partially or fully prepared options, ready for your family. Maybe just order the bits that are too much work?
- Groceries and Food
This is the year online grocery shopping goes national. Amazon, Walmart, everywhere you look, somebody is announcing they deliver. And the good news is, the local market at the end of the block has probably done it for years, using local students to do the deliveries for favorite clients. Use these services. Plan your meals and buy the groceries all at the same time. You can usually set up a future cart weeks in advance and then add a few last-minute things and order it a few days before you need it. Check out my meal planners and grocery lists.
Consider caterers for some of the cooking, it is a lot of work and some of them can be very reasonable, especially if they are trying to get established. This doesn’t mean you can’t make your famous deviled eggs, just do it ahead and ask the caterer to serve it as well. Also, many of your local restaurants will do beautiful party platters for you, some have entertaining menus, some you will have to make a special request. Just move the items to your own dishes to add that festive flair. Consider a bar tending service for larger parties. Because they bring their own booze, it can save you money on waste from over-stocking.
Want to make cookies with the kids, but don’t have time for the baking and cooling and they never turn out right anyway…? Talk to your local bakery. Order naked sugar, shortbread and gingerbread cookies in different shapes. Then bring them home and decorate. This also works great on gingerbread houses, cakes and other holiday baking traditions. All of the fun with half the mess.
Go to the mall, hire some high school kids or put an ad up in the community center. Lots of people love to wrap gifts, some people will even advertise. Keep your eyes open and your tree may be adorned with the prettiest presents yet.
- Christmas Lights
Many window & gutter cleaners, as well as local handymen will offer this service at the holidays. They already have the equipment, so why not? In fact, I would start with the folks you already work with; if they don’t do this, they probably know someone who does. It is a great time saver this time of year, and usually for a very reasonable price.
- Christmas Cards
There are dozens of companies out there that enable you to create custom cards online and mail them to all of your friends in less than half the time it used to take. Check out this great post for the best companies.
How do I find people to help?
The convenient thing about this time of year is that most people need a little extra money. There are suddenly people out there willing to work a few extra hours for gift and holiday money. Not all of them can manage retailers’ hours, so an ad on Kijiji, Craig’s list or in your local paper can go a long way.
Ask around to some of your friends, you might be amazed at how many do this in some way. One of my favorite house cleaners was always great this time of year, she was willing to help out with cleaning & decorating. It gave her a little extra money for Christmas presents.
Look for ads in papers and online. A lot of people and companies advertise extra services during the holidays. Not too many people are looking for what they usually do, so they create holiday services are handy and keep them busy until their regular jobs pick up again.
Isn’t this kind of impersonal?
Definitely not! You should still ice the cookies to look like snowmen. Go to the mall and buy a few fun extras for the holidays. Do all the parts that don’t make you want to tear your hair out. Just get some help with the rest.
Don’t let the joy of the season become the stress of the season. Pick and choose carefully and keep all of your favorite parts.