Does the thought of shopping, cooking, cleaning and entertaining for the holidays have you feeling overwhelmed?  If so, hold on.  Inhale … exhale. We have developed some tips to help you alleviate the stress and handle the holiday rush with ease. Some of these suggestions make perfect sense. Yet others are little-know secrets that will help you alleviate holiday stress once and for all. Are you ready to get started? Let’s go!

Start the clock: One way to reduce holiday stress is to plan and utilize a holiday calendar. Your calendar will serve as your road map. Create or purchase a binder with tabbed dividers to keep track of recipes, new decorating tips, simple gift ideas,  addresses of friends and relatives, holiday entertaining ideas (buffet, brunch, dinner or party) and your to-do-list. Each weekend or one day per week, you can set a date to pick up items, start decorating, or finish projects. Also, pencil in a few hours each week for quite time and pampering.

Send holiday cards early: Make a list of people to whom you would like to send cards. Purchase holiday cards and postage. Gather addresses, print the addresses onto self-adhesive labels, and organize in binder. Invite a few friends over with their cards (cookie baking and wrapping gifts, too), pop open a bottle of wine or champagne, put on your favorite holiday music and turn it into an enjoyable affair. Prepare cards in mid-to-late November so they will be ready to go in early December. If you still haven’t prepared cards, you still have a couple of weeks.

Shop for gifts online. Prepare your budget and “gift list” in advance.  Shop online and avoid the crowds and picked-over merchandise.  Many stores, such as Macy’s, Target and Old Navy, offer exclusive merchandise and coupons that are only available to shoppers online. You want your gifts to be personal, so try sites like, Overstock and Smart Bargains. Shop early—the early bird often gets the best gifts. If you must shop in person, avoid weekday-evening crowds and weekend crowds.  Prepare for unannounced guests who may drop by without being invited by purchasing a few inexpensive gifts (bottles of wine, candles, CDs, scented soap) to have on hand.

Organize the house: You’ve got shopping and errands to do, so consider having your house cleaned by professionals such as Molly Maid or Merry Maids, both are nationwide. Depending on where you live, services may cost a few hundred dollars, but if you can include it in the budget, it’s well worth it. Next, think about how you’ll entertain. Will it be a party, brunch, buffet style, or will this be a sit-down meal in your dining room? Arrange your space accordingly, and make sure you have enough supplies on hand, such as napkins, plates, wine glasses, silverware and disposable towels.

Prepare the meal: In order to avoid spending hours racing around the kitchen before your guests arrive, prepare dishes in advance and freeze them. Stock up on baking ingredients early. Another option is to hire a caterer or personal chef, or have guests bring their favorite dish. Shop at Sam’s or Costco for great dishes, cakes and other baked goods. “Setting up a coffee bar with flavored liqueurs, brandy, whipped cream and grated chocolate adds a nice touch,” says Damita Holbrook of Glam Event Solutions in Atlanta.

Set the table: Take inventory in advance. Don’t wait until it’s time to set the table to realize you’re short five dessert spoons or in need of a big punch bowl for the eggnog. Once your menu is planned and the guest list is set, make a list of how many place settings you’ll need. Decide which serving pieces you will be using, and prepare for a few extra guests in case your neighbors pop over. Also, take inventory of your liquor cabinet or bar and restock.

Decorate with simplicity: Creating a festive environment doesn’t have to be hard work. Visualize how you would like your house to look, or thumb through some magazines for ideas and choose your favorite holiday color scheme. “Make your front porch warm and inviting with a big wreath,” says Holbrook. “Place poinsettias throughout your house. Create a soothing atmosphere by playing your favorite holiday music. Light candles scented with cinnamon, peppermint, pine, even sugar cookies.”

Finally, keep a few bottles of your favorite champagne chilled for those spontaneous get-togethers, have fun and cherish the holidays.