Save Your Holiday Season Sanity with this Simple Trick

Travel Mamas sometimes receives compensation and/or hosted travel and sample products related to blog posts. This story may include affiliate links for which we receive a small commission at no extra cost to consumers.

Did you ever have a year when you just couldn’t get your act together to buy a Christmas tree, let alone decorate it? The holidays can be overwhelming with so many to-dos to accomplish, and pressure to feel jolly all the while. Before your “ho ho hos” and “fa la las” turn into “no no nos,” try this trick for keeping your holiday season sanity. You can actually enjoy the winter holidays if you use my secret weapon: the Holiday Notebook. Here’s how to use this tool to make your holidays stress-free.

young woman losing her holiday season sanity

Do you need some help keeping your holiday season sanity? (Photo credit: Sebastian Gauert,

The Holiday Notebook

It’s not just Santa who needs to make a list and check it twice. We’ve all got lists galore at this time of year, and keeping track of them all is a trick in itself. The Holiday Notebook has saved my hide, and my holidays, for the last 10 years or so. It really changed the way I approach the entire season. It’s where I gather all of my holiday recipes, receipts, and Christmas card address list. I even include a minute-by-minute schedule for my holiday party prep. (What goes in the oven first: the baked brie or the pigs in blankets?)

It starts with shopping for yourself!

The first step towards holiday season sanity is buying a three-ring binder. Get some pocket dividers, transparent plastic sleeves and notebook paper, too. Next, add these to your Holiday Notebook and mark the dividers with relevant categories. For starters, I suggest Traditions, Calendar, Recipes, Gift List, Holiday Card List, and Holiday Notes.

Schedule family traditions

Gather up your family to make a list of favorite Christmas traditions. But here’s the thing: you don’t have to do them all. Decide as a group which activities are must-dos and which would be nice, if time and budget allow. Things you thought everyone loved may not be essential each year. For example, maybe The Nutcracker has lost its luster, or no one actually likes caroling around the neighborhood.

Next, list all of your holiday traditions in the Calendar section of your Holiday Notebook. Writing out all of your holiday to-dos will help to organize them before adding them to your primary calendar, whether that’s on the computer/smart phone or a family wall calendar. Make sure that “buy Advent calendar” happens before Advent actually starts. Schedule your cookie baking, writing your holiday cards, tipping the trash collector, and riding around to look at holiday lights. Realize that there may not actually enough time between Thanksgiving and Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Festivus to get it all done. Mix up a holiday cocktail and dive in anyway.

The Holiday Notebook helps with holiday season sanity

The Holiday Notebook to the rescue! (Photo credit: FortyForks,

Choose holiday recipes

Now it’s time to grab your recipe cards or make copies of favorite holiday recipes from cookbooks and slip them into the plastic sleeves for easy cleanup in the kitchen from the inevitable batter spills. Head to Pinterest and print out all of those tasty holiday dishes you’ve been meaning to try. Then, put them in your Holiday Notebook in the Recipes section. This will save you time in hunting down recipes and deciding what to make each year. Plus, you can mark up recipes with notes on how to improve them next holiday season, like “A dash more vanilla” or, “Two dozen wasn’t enough!”

Organize your holiday card list

Go on the hunt for last year’s holiday card list. In the future, it will be easier to find because it will be right where it should be: in your Holiday Notebook. For a smart solution, organize your list via an Excel spreadsheet and print out a copy. Be sure to add “prepare holiday cards” to the Calendar section of your notebook, too. Plan a night where the whole family can help address and stuff envelopes while watching a favorite Christmas movie or TV special.

Create your gift list

Finally, create your gift list to keep track of what to purchase for whom, and to stay within budget. Hide your gift list in that secret inside pocket of your purse or winter coat so no one will find it. After the holidays, slip it into your Holiday Notebook so that next year when you start shopping, you can remember what you gave everyone next year. (Is it just me that finds herself giving the same people the same gift year after year? No more! Thank you, Holiday Notebook!) I suggest saving receipts in one of the pocket dividers or plastic sleeves here so that if anyone needs to return or exchange gifts after the holidays, you know where to find them.

keep your holiday season sanity with a little art therapy

Decorate your holiday notebook in whatever way makes you happy (Photo credit: baavli/

Decorate your Holiday Notebook

With all of that extra time you have created for yourself, pour yourself some eggnog and decorate your notebook. If you want to get fancy, treat yourself to an adult holiday coloring book and colored pencils or markers to create a festive cover for your Holiday Notebook. After all, it’s going to be around for years to come.

And voila…holiday season sanity saved!

One of my favorite parts of the Holiday Notebook are the notes I keep from year to year about the holidays. I track who arrived first to our family holiday party, who left last, and who showed up on the wrong night (there’s always someone!). I write down what gave us the biggest laugh, and what we could do differently next year. As my children grow older and the years run together, I really enjoy remembering Christmases past. Ultimately, if the holiday season brings you more joy than stress, it’s a win for the whole family.

What are your tips for keeping your holiday season sanity? Let us know in the comments below!

About Paige Conner Totaro, The Startup Travel Mama

Paige Conner Totaro likes to help make dreams come true, whether helping people start businesses or helping people plan the trip of a lifetime. She made her own dream come true by taking a trip around the world with her husband and twin daughters in 2012 and is always planning the next adventure in travel or business (or both). Paige was a founder of Misra Records and Unquote Travel, a founding board member of the arts organization, Transformer, in Washington, DC; and a longtime board member and director of Washington Area Lawyers for the Arts. Paige is a fan of Scandinavian design, Ethiopian food, Arab hospitality, Japanese vintage stores, Brazilian music and Thai beaches, but also American craft beer, garage rock and roller derby. Can you see why her travel company is called All Over the Map? Connect with Paige on Instagram at @alloverthemap.

  1. Robin Masshole Mommy says

    I am seriously not trying to be braggy, but I was done shopping & wrapping before Thanksgiving 🙂

  2. Paige Conner Totaro says

    Go you! I want to know your secrets!

  3. Stacie @ Divine Lifestyle says

    A list is a life saver. A TOTAL life saver. I do everything around my planner, and that goes double during the holidays.

    • Paige Conner Totaro says

      I don’t know how anyone does without one! But may absolute favorite thing is going back through notes from past years, triggering memories that might otherwise be lost.

  4. I really should start planning ahead for the holidays. My holiday routine is less planning and more of a mad dash to the finish line. LOL

  5. Mary Edwards says

    These are all great ideas. I have a big family so the gift list gets crazy. I like your ideas of writing everything down

  6. I wish I was a little bit more organized for the holiday season – especially this year. Heck, I’m still running out purchasing presents tonight. I’ve never been this last-minute before!!

  7. Pam Wattenbarger says

    Planning ahead like this with the holiday notebook is a great idea. It can get really hectic during the holiday season.

    • Paige Conner Totaro says

      I have to say, when I pull it out each year, I makes me breathe a big sigh of relief, knowing that I’ve done it before, and I can do it again.

  8. I start so early, but still have things to do to be ready for the holidays. Making lists definitely helps me stay on top of it all.

    • Paige Conner Totaro says

      I use Google reminders for a lot of things, but having paper lists that I can cross off emphatically when done is very satisfying!

  9. Sarah Bailey says

    OK I totally need to try this, I seem to go half crazy over the holidays, I definitely need to plan better.

  10. I am all about making lists to help me get through the holidays efficiently. I have about lists I check daily, ranging from the movies we want to watch to the cookies we’ll be gifting, and of course, all of the gifts we buy too.

  11. Seattle Travel Blogger says

    Thanks for the informative article.
    These all look like good tips for keeping things together during the holidays.

  12. Louise Bishop says

    My family has a very different holiday season than most. It wouldn’t matter if I did make a list, we still wouldn’t fit everything in! haha

  13. Our Family World says

    I find it funny that I have everything here crossed out except for giving gifts to myself. Though I agree with the person above, sometimes everything wouldn’t really fit in just this weekend!

    • Paige Conner Totaro says

      Oh my gosh! I forgot to put self-care on my list this year! I guess that’s why I never managed to get my nails done….

  14. I think I need a holiday notebook for every major life event! In fact I will be using all your tips and creating a traveling notebook for my daughter who will be embarking on an international adventure for a month! These tips will really come in handy!

    • Paige Conner Totaro says

      Make it a small size so she can take it with her. And add some envelopes where she can tuck ticket stubs or maps or other little bits she wants to keep.

  15. I don’t get stressed out this time of year. I do get tired though. Planning better could help. 😉

  16. Reesa Lewandowski says

    I need to schedule family traditions. There are so many things I wanted to do this year and time got the best of me!

    • Paige Conner Totaro says

      That’s what inspired me the first time around. I wanted to make sure we did all the things that the kids thought of as traditions. Some of them surprised me!

  17. Janell Poulette says

    For me it’s list, lists, and more lists! It’s the only way I can keep myself organized!!

  18. I love this so much! I feel like this holiday season I’ve been so crazed! Great tips!

    • Paige Conner Totaro says

      Thanks, Brianne! I hope it helps you next year! It’s so important to give yourself some time to breathe and enjoy the holidays!

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.