So, it looks as though Christmas is back on!
If you are anything like me, you won’t even have thought about it yet, let alone started planning for it. When Christmas plans were all up in the air, it was easy to ignore it or justify your lack of action “because we just don’t know what’s happening.” Like many others, I shrugged my shoulders and rolled my eyes but I did secretly hope for a quieter and simpler celebration this year. I love seeing the family but maybe not all at once, and not at the end of the most frenetic month of the year.
As leaked stories made the press, it dawned on me that Christmas WAS probably back on… but I really didn’t feel ready. It’s not just the visitors, or the food preparation, it’s the stuff! After clearing out piles of junk from the garage, the cupboards and the bedrooms during lockdown (and there still being suspiciously little space!), I don’t want to fill them all back up again with things that I neither need nor want.
Have a pre-Christmas sort out
A lot of people see January as a time for having a clear out, AFTER the avalanche of stuff has arrived and found its way into wardrobes, under beds and into cupboards. I say yes, do have a mini sort then, but the main clear out should be in early December (or any time before Christmas).
If you have children, it is likely that they are going to have a huge number of presents arriving through the door. Maybe they will get even more than usual this year just because 2020 has been such a difficult year.
Lockdowns, travel restrictions and shielding have meant that some families have been separated for nine months or more. Even if you decide that you are not going to go overboard this year, you can bet that the grandparents probably will! If you know it’s a lost cause asking them to buy less (or smaller – many younger children already have enormous bulky toys), then you will need to make space in your home and it really is worth doing this now.
Children outgrow the bigger bulky toys quite quickly. That Playmobile fire station with all the broken fire engines and tiny pieces that sits in a box under the stairs? Well, it may have cost £100, which is why you find it difficult to part with it, but it needs to go. And the Barbie house too. And the whole shelf of Mr Men books (and, yes, I know you loved them when you were a child), the Thomas the Tank Engine DVDs, the Scalextric set with the broken track, the Orchard Toy games and the over-sized stuffed teddies that you never know where to put.
Engage your children in the sort out
I’m not suggesting that you get rid of everything, just things that are damaged or genuinely no longer played with. If you are low on energy or time, it may be easier to do this by yourself or you can help your child to make decisions about their possessions. Depending on the age of the child you can explain that you just won’t have room for all the new Christmas presents – which should be an incentive! You can talk about your child’s age and how grown up they are getting (children love this, adults not so much) to justify getting rid of more babyish things.
I heard some great ideas on a podcast recently (“A Slob Comes Clean”). One suggestion was that Santa leaves behind a sack which needs to be filled with old toys to give to less fortunate children. The Elf on the Shelf gets involved too, only performing tricks if old toys are left out for him to take away. Older children could be encouraged to get money for items sold on their behalf or they may just see the logic in what you are saying about having a clear out.
Avoiding unwanted presents
If you speak to your child(ren) about what they want for Christmas you can then tell family members what to get for them. It can be embarrassing when a child opens a present in front of the giver and it’s not something that they like because kids are not good at hiding their true feelings.
Perhaps sit down with your children and do Google searches together. This can be as basic as ‘presents for 13-year-old boys’. If you run out of ideas, perhaps agree with them that vouchers or experiences are good options and, better still, they take up no space at all!
Another method is to draw up a list of gift ideas over the year. My son would never tell me in December that he wanted khaki trousers, but he did come home from his friend’s party in the summer telling me all about the camouflage items his friend had got and asked if he could have some too.
I also buy things over the year too as this minimises last minute panics. If you do this too, remember to check the cupboard/drawer in which you have hidden things so that you know what you have already bought and you don’t duplicate anything. There’s been many a year when I’ve checked the stash a couple of days before Christmas and realized I had more than I thought in there or that there were some perfectly good items I’d kept for re-gifting to family, but had forgotten about and so had bought them something else. The stash in the present cupboard then gets bigger. It used to be a shelf in the cupboard but now it’s the whole cupboard!
Think about a present embargo
Why not have a chat with family members about whether or not you actually buy each other presents anymore? Do you really want another jokey apron or Christmas jumper? Does your husband need another pair of comedy socks or another mug? I did this with my sisters recently and we all agreed to carry on buying for each other but we don’t buy anything for the husbands. Similarly, we have stopped exchanging gifts with my brother and sister-in-law in New York and this year we are not buying gifts for my husband’s brother and his wife, who have three children. As we have three children too, it all gets too expensive and stressful trying to come up with original ideas.
A subtle Christmas Day cull
When my children have received age inappropriate gifts (say Tinkerbell pyjamas for a ten-year-old) or multiple Lego sets, I quietly whisk them to one side to put in the present cupboard. If you don’t do it as you go along, they will open the boxes or rip off labels so that things can’t be re-gifted or given to charity.
No pressure intended!
This article is not intended to put more pressure on people to prepare for what is already a hugely stressful event. It is to point out that with a targeted focus on toys and presents, you can make space and/or control what will be coming into your home. This will mean less clutter and less stress. If you feel that it is already too late for this year, then bear these ideas in mind for another year.
If Carole’s advice has inspired you to have a pre-Christmas declutter, you can find your nearest APDO professional organisers in our Find An Organiser database.