Holiday Triage: a slash-and-burn survival guide


Our tree on December 15: a study in minimalism.

Let's all come clean. You just looked at the calendar, did some quick math, then freaked out. (It can't just be me.) Because seriously. December 16? What the?

I have my excuses, and you have yours. But all that aside, it's crunch time. For real. And as of this moment we have no cookies, no twinkle lights, no rustically wrapped gifts tucked under our rustic (and still not decorated) tree.


So two nights ago I faced a choice: panic or make a plan.

I chose the latter. (Well, I chose both, but after trying them on I settled for the second option. It was a more comfortable fit.)

And my plan, it turns out, helped calm me down before I even baked a single cookie. My plan made it all manageable by deciding what mattered most and letting the rest go. Here's how:

  1. There are currently 5 days before Solstice Night and 7 days before Christmas Eve.
  2. There are 247 tasks that I would like to complete before that time, some of them epic like, oh, I don't know – cast on, knit, and cast off a man-sized sweater.
  3. It's not all happenin'.

So to make sense of the madness I divided my pre-holiday tasks into categories. And from now until Solstice we'll do one thing from each category.

I have four categories, and I slashed my to-do list down to five items for each category.

Because no one needs 12 batches of cookies. No one.

Here's my list:


  • Lights and tinsel on the tree
  • Lights on the house
  • Decorate Solstice tree
  • Set up Christmas Village
  • Driveway lights and star on barn


  • Solstice Spirals
  • Gingerbread houses
  • Coconut snowballs
  • Ninjabread (Yes. Ninja.)
  • Thumbprints


  • Food pantry donation
  • Kids & Pete
  • Mom, Dad, & Leah
  • Friends
  • Neighbors


  • Bathrooms
  • Living room
  • Kitchen & Mudroom
  • Bedrooms
  • Hall & Stairs

And suddenly – just like that – my list went from dozens of things pressing down on me until I could scarcely breathe to just four tasks a day. I can manage four. Four a day? Done and done.

We gave this a test run yesterday, the kids and I. And I was a teensy bit discouraged only because I realized I wanted them to hit the ground running and crank out a wrapped gift and a squeaky clean, well decorated room that smelled of gingerbread before lunch time.

Which, um, didn't happen.

So think of this as your list. Not your sweetie's, not your kid's, but yours alone. Then dig in!

(My kids did get crackin' just after lunch time and worked like mad to finish a gift and get our tree tinseled and lit. Sage suggests that if you do involve your children you give them an easing in period. Good call, kid.)

Because honestly. What really needs doing before Christmas? Very little, my friend. Very little. 

Because sure, you and I may celebrate differently this season. But all religion and customs aside the holiday spirit has little to do with a sparkling toilet or 32 gifts beneath the tree.


And you arriving at the holidays all relaxed and loving and go-with-the-flow?

It turns out that is the nicest gift of all.


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8 thoughts on “Holiday Triage: a slash-and-burn survival guide

  1. Megan says:

    So timely! I was freaking out last night in a panic trying to figure out how I was going to accomplish everything AND go to work. I just made my list and I”m off to accomplish a few things now. Thanks for the reminder. It’s about the season and the joy, not the 3834783 presents under the tree.

  2. Kim says:

    Thanks for keeping things realistic Rachel. I’ve actually visited your page as my mini break from my huge to do list. Now I’m off to pare down my list, then put my feet up and enjoy some twinkle lights and Christmas music. You’re the best xx

  3. KC says:

    The only thing left on my Solstice to do list is to make a yule log cake, make your homemade eggnog recipe. And finish needle felting king winter. This year we went extra simple and are only doing one present per family member. It’s actually really refreshing.

  4. Jennifer says:

    A big beautiful snowstorm will always do the trick….because really, who wouldn’t rather be out snowboarding or skiing or snowshoeing or cross country skiing! (This is also why my house is not always clean nor the laundry done.) I guess it all comes down to looking beyond one’s self to the bigger wider world and the opportunities presented to us everyday. Throw it out the window…go sledding, look at ice crystals, watch the antics of our four footed/furry friends, whatever. It’s only a batch of cookies or an extra string of lights not strung.

  5. alexandra jacobs says:

    This post is just what I needed today! So thank you SO much Rachel!

    Do you seriously know how many times your words saved my day? Well I can’t count them….

    So often, I read here just what I truly need: words that make me feel not the only one struggling, not so bad, that bring me a sense of community, even though we live 5000 km away from each other and have never met.

    Thanks, really.

    Alex, from France!

  6. Randi says:

    You have inspired me to further simplify this season. For once I have had NO sense of panic at all! Thanks for helping to keep things in perspective; more fun, more hugs, more laughter, less feeling that everything NEEDS to be any way at all.

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