Simplify the Season

by Michelle Lee

Simplify the Season

'Tis the season for the holiday time crunch. Decorating, shopping, wrapping, and cooking, all in addition to taking care of a baby—it's enough to put a damper on any new mom's holiday spirits. Find lost hours in your day with these timesaving tips.

* Crush the "Martha myth." Drop the expectation that every good hostess has to cook from scratch and fashion homemade pinecone wreaths like Martha Stewart. "We all try to re-create the fantasy holidays of our youth, but end up burning ourselves out in the process," says Christina Baglivi Tinglof, the Glendale, California-based author of The Organized Parent. "Your guests are there to spend time with you and your family, not to critique your decorating or culinary skills."

* Barter. Share the holiday spirit—literally, suggests Debbie Williams of Houston, Texas, author of Home Management 101. Swap babysitting duties with a neighbor so you can each shop for gifts. Ask a friend to help decorate in exchange for some baked goods.

* Chip in. Adult relatives can pool their cash and buy one gift for each grown-up—it'll save time and you'll be able to afford pricier presents. If you're the designated shopper, research gifts online, create a game plan (who gets what, where to buy it), and try to shop in one day rather than browsing aimlessly.

* Host a cookie party. Each partygoer bakes a few dozen of her favorite holiday cookies, and then you get together and swap. If six bakers attend, each of you will leave with six different types of cookies.

* Bag it. Instead of painstakingly wrapping every gift, buy solid-color gift bags in bulk. Toss in a piece of tissue paper, then "drop and load" for simple wrapping, says Williams.

* Buy on the sly. For easier entertaining, season and dress up prepared foods. Add fresh, chopped chives to instant mashed potatoes or chocolate chunks to brownie mix. Another no-brainer: Decorate store-bought sugar cookies or ones made from prepared dough.

* Send a newsletter. Print out copies of a family newsletter to share the happenings around your home rather than spending hours handwriting holiday cards, suggests Williams. Tuck in a photo, and you're done.

* Divide and conquer. If you're hosting the holiday dinner, ask nearby relatives to bring hors d'oeuvres, side dishes, or dessert so that you can focus your efforts on cooking the main course, getting the table prepared, and enjoying the holiday spirit.