Organized Christmas

Holiday Grand Plan or House & Holidays Plan?

Which Holiday Plan is Right For Me? Posted by Cynthia Ewer on August 4, 2014

The question has been asked about our Christmas organizing plans quite a bit in recent days.

What is the difference between the Holiday Grand Plan and the House & Holidays Plan ... and which one should I follow?

Right off the bat, I'd say there's no "should" about which plan to follow. Which plan, no plan, custom plan--it's all up to your personal choice. But I did want to write about what the differences are, so that each one of us can make the right choice for ourselves.

Unlike the Christmas Countdown, which covers only holiday prep chores, both the HHP and the HGP are ambitious, all-autumn Christmas organizing plans. Both of them seek to move through the house on a weekly basis, with decluttering, deep-cleaning and organizing assignments designed to bring the whole house to a ready state by the time December rolls around.

History of the Holiday Grand Plan

As many of you know, the Holiday Grand Plan is the Web's oldest Christmas organizing plan. It grew out of a very early online "get organized" community on the old Prodigy service: Homelife - Get O.

In 1993, our group worked together to create the Cleaning Grand Plan; but most of the authoring was done by my good friend Katie Leckey. When autumn rolled around, Katie added a holiday prep component to the Cleaning Grand Plan, and that became the HGP we know today.

This history explains why there are a few puzzlers when it comes to the HGP. For instance, the front door/entryway portion comes at the very start of the plan, and many people noted that, "Hey--my front porch needs cleaning AGAIN" by the time they made it to December. Other objections are that this plan presumes an average suburban home, and doesn't really encompass alternate living arrangements very well. Still other people wondered, "Why on EARTH are we spending two weeks cleaning the attic and garage right in the middle of the holiday season?"

Simply put, the HGP grew out of another plan, and wasn't designed just for the holiday pre-season.

Behind the House & Holidays Plan

By contrast, that's what I sat down to do when I wrote the House & Holidays Plan: create a more realistic cleaning focus and flow for the pre-holiday months.

I also wanted to break down the plan into "areas", rather than "rooms". Some weeks, like Bed and Bath week, the "area" may be spread across two or more rooms in the house--but the idea is that assignments are focused on a single function, rather than a geographic area. By thinking about ALL bathrooms at the same time, you'll find it more efficient to deal with the chores on the list.

So, rather than a pretty rigid "front door to back door" approach, I went for something of a spiral. The plan starts with planning, creative areas, and the master bedroom--all "personal" spaces. Tackling them first gives the planner a place to go to create, relax and rejuvenate as she works the rest of the plan.

Then the HHP moves into family spaces, such as kids' rooms, guest rooms or the family room, and only then begins to take on more public areas ... and we END with the entryway/front-door area. The idea is to start with yourself, move on to the family, and only then tackle those areas and functions that will see guests, visitors or entertaining.

The second goal I had with the HHP was a more realistic and natural pace to holiday planning. On the HGP, there are a LOT of pre-season assignments dumped in the first two weeks, and for many of us, that's just too early--not to mention that the first two weeks of both plans overlap summer's end, Labor Day and back-to-school. On the HGP, we had lots of second-week dropouts as people decided that this was just too hard.

Instead, I tried to space HHP holiday prep assignments over many weeks, letting people move into seasonal planning more gradually.

So we START a Christmas planner, but we don't print off the world in a day or two. We BEGIN making gift lists, but we won't complete them for several weeks. The idea is to have a lot more wiggle room for busy weeks, vacations or simple personal "I can't think about this yet!" preferences.

Finally, I looked at what a lot of people do, which is combine a longer-term plan like HHP and HGP, with the Countdown, once it rolls in at the end of October. Knowing that many of us fall off the rails on the longer plan, then catch up with the Countdown, I tried to make sure that there was an easy transition from where we are on HHP to where we start with the Countdown, to account for this.

The Choice Is Yours!

So, which one is right for you? It's all a matter of your own preference--but since some of you have asked, I hope I've answered questions about the "whys" behind both plans.

--Cynthia Ewer

Summer Craft Ideas For Gifts In A Jar

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on July 31, 2014

It's summer and canning jars, like fresh produce, are in season--but you can do a lot more with them than put up tomatoes for winter!

Savvy holiday planners know that gifts in a jar are easy, welcome and fun to make, so check out these summer-inspired gift-in-a-jar ideas from

You'll find a great round-up of gifts in a jar, mason jar recipes and crafts projects to celebrate summer holidays ... or for no reason at all. Check 'em out!

Summer Gifts in a Jar

Need more ideas? Visit our Gifts In A Jar page for recipes, inspiration and easy gifts:

Gifts In A Jar Index

   Read More >>Holiday Topics: 

Cash In! Do-It-Now Ways To Save Money For Christmas

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on July 30, 2014

Think "Christmas" ... in July? Sure, if you want to make it an all-cash holiday!

Holiday spending can be hard on the pocketbook--and bought on credit, "Christmas Day" can stretch into the new year for weeks or months.

Ease the Christmas cash crunch with creative ways to save money for Christmas! Financial institutions offer dedicated Christmas clubs for the disciplined, but savvy holiday planners have found other ways to accumulate cash for holiday spending.

   Read More >> Article Topics: 

July Rudolph Club Meeting

Choose A Holiday Plan! Posted by Cynthia Ewer on July 25, 2014

Welcome to the Rudolph Club: your once-a-month meeting to simplify your holidays and get organized for Christmas!

At Organized Christmas, we know that the holiday season can be fast and furious. Solution? Take a day once each month throughout the year to plan and prepare for a more-organized holiday season.

On the 25th of each month, we'll bring simple assignments and easy tips to try now for a simpler, more joyous season. Over the year, you'll tackle planning and preparations to make the season lighter, brighter and less stressful come December.

July Assignment: Choose a Holiday Plan!

To cut chaos and simplify your holidays, you've got to have a plan. July is the time to take stock of the year's preparations to date, and consider how you'll organize holiday prep in the coming weeks.

Take A Breath!

It's only natural to begin to panic when the holidays come to mind; the preparations most of us make for Christmas can seem overwhelming if you don't keep them in perspective. The best antidote? Take a deep breath and consider all the progress you've made.

Have you begun to purchase gifts on sale and stock up on stocking stuffers? Is a Christmas newsletter begun in a file on your computer? Even if you're only beginning to ponder the coming season, you're ahead! So relax! "Christmas in July" or not, you've taken your first steps toward an organized holiday season.

Choose A Christmas Organizing Plan!

Some folks prepare for Christmas instinctively: throughout the year, they stock up on gift items, tuck away baked goods, and organize decor storage as a matter of course.

Then there are the rest of us, who are stuck watching these enviable organized ones from the sidelines.

The solution? A Christmas organizing plan. Part reminder, part countdown, with a holiday organization plan, you'll be nudged, reminded, and motivated to begin preparation at the right time for you and your family.

If you join a plan, will this be the year you "do it all"? Gosh, I hope not! These plans are created to be guidelines--and we all fall off their wagon! The good news is that any progress, no matter how small, bears fruit in the form of holiday stress relief ... so consider, today, which plan you'll follow.

Get Ready For Christmas with the Christmas Countdown!

The Christmas Countdown is a simplified, no-nonsense holiday organization plan. Beginning on October 26, 2014 it's a six-week set of daily reminder messages, printable Christmas planner pages, essays to make you think, and fun--and frugal--gift, craft and baking ideas.

The Countdown is for you if you want to simplify your holidays and prepare for the season in a gradual, low-stress manner. With no major cleaning or decluttering assignments, the Countdown is a streamlined path to an organized holiday season.

Bring The Holidays Home With The House & Holidays Plan

Need more help to prepare your home for the holidays? The House & Holidays Plan is a comprehensive organizing plan to ready the entire house for the holiday season: decluttered, organized and clean.

Once called the House & Holidays Plan, this 18-week program has been rewritten for 2013, with a fresh new emphasis. Authored by Organized Home editor, Cynthia Ewer, this whole-house plan includes both home cleaning and organizing assignments, designed to take you week-by-week to a Christmas-clean home.

Along the way, the HHP breaks down holiday chores into small, achievable weekly steps. You'll create a Christmas planner, get a jump on gifts and plan scrumptious holiday meals. Working together with friends makes the journey fun!

What if neither one of these plans feels right for you? Some readers who celebrate alternate holidays or who have other unique circumstances develop their own plans. Other folks use both plans, beginning work on their homes with the House & Holidays Plan, and swinging into high gear for holiday prep when the Countdown begins in October. Make these plans work for you by making them your own!

Ready? Deep breath! It's Christmas in July--time to decide how you'll get organized for the coming holiday season. Whatever plan you choose--or create--you'll be among friends!

July Rudolph Club Reminders:

Craft check! Have you planned to make hand-crafted gifts and decor items this year? Summer vacations, kid sports practices and lazy summer evenings are a great time to add crafted gifts to your stash, so haul out April's Gifts to Make printable planner form and get crafting.

Keep adding to your Holiday Letter. As outlined in the February Rudolph Club assignment, open a computer word processing file labeled "Holiday Letter". Once a month, add a quick summary of the latest month's events, memories and achievements. When November rolls around, you'll have a complete and contemporary record of the year's high points to include with your holiday cards. Set aside any photos that you may wish to include with your cards or letters.

Keep up with the Christmas Club Savings Plan. Check with your local bank; many financial institutions offer "Christmas Club" accounts that make saving easier. If not, begin your own Christmas Club by writing a check, however small, to yourself on the 25th of each month. Deducted from the running balance in your checking account, but not cashed, this practice can help create a welcome cushion for holiday expenses.

Monitor the progress of the Gift Closet. Have you added gifts this month? Record them on the free printable Gift Closet Inventory in your Household Notebook or Christmas planner notebook. It's a one-page reminder of what's tucked away for Christmas.

Frugal Finds for July Shop The Sales!

Now is the time that summer clearance sales offer the deepest discounts on summer merchandise. Spotted on the clearance aisles this week:

  • bird feeders, pet toys and doggie coats at rock bottom prices at the pet store
  • summer toys, decor and gift items at crafts and housewares stores
  • "Christmas in July" crafts materials and at fabric and crafts stores
  • clearance specials on patio furniture and plant stands

Back-to-school shopping isn't just for school kids--it's for frugal holiday gift-givers, too. Stock up now on loss leaders like crayons, markers, notebooks, stickers, calendars, planners and small electronics. Dorm room specials include clocks and small appliances, on sale now. Gift wrapping will fly if you add a few pair of scissors, rolls of tape and a gluestick or two!

Last source for great summer gift specials: catalogs and online merchants. Before the busy holiday season, these retailers offer discounted gift items as they clear away discontinued items or limited quantities. Make a point of stopping by your favorite online retailers to check summer clearance offerings; many include Christmas ornaments, decor or gift items in summer sales. Ditto mail-order catalogs!

Does your Christmas gift list include gifts in a jar? These popular layered baking mixes or journal companions require quart-sized canning jars. Buy canning jars now, while stocks are readily available for garden season.

Need more information about these popular make-it-yourself gifts? Find recipes, printable tags and tips here:

Holiday Plans: 

Back-to-School Craft: How to Make a French Memory Board

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on July 24, 2014

It's pretty place for photos, cards and mementos: a French memory board!

If you can sew a button and wield a stapler, you can make it.

Begin with a stretched artist's canvas, add batting, cover with cotton fabric, then criss-cross with ribbons.

Novelty buttons secure ribbons to the memo board's canvas and add a bright touch.

Light, pretty and oh, so easy!

To make your gift special, select fabric, ribbons and buttons to create a personalized memory board. Choose a child's favorite cartoon character and add bright ribbons. Carry out a sister's decorating scheme with coordinating fabrics and buttons. Give your favorite sports fan a place to display ticket stub and programs, done up in fabric displaying team logos.

Materials and Supplies
  • 16-inch by 20-inch stretched artist's canvas
    (find artist's canvas at crafts stores, art supply stores or the crafts section of Wal-Mart)
  • 2/3 yard lightweight cotton fabric (45 inches wide)
    (makes two memory boards)
  • 2/3 yard polyester batting (45 to 60 inches wide)
  • 4 1/2 yard woven ribbon
  • 5 novelty buttons with shank
  • 5 flat buttons
  • heavy-duty upholstery thread
  • tapestry needle
  • staple gun

1. Cut one 20-inch by 24-inch rectangle from cotton fabric. Press.

2. Cut two 16-inch by 20-inch rectangle from polyester batting.

Stack batting layers on top of artist's canvas. Place fabric rectangle over the canvas and batting; carefully turn the stack over to the back side.

3. Using the staple gun, begin stapling the cotton fabric to the underside of the artist's canvas.

Staple all four sides at the center of each side, pulling the fabric taut but not tight.

Work toward the corners, stapling every inch or so.

4. Carefully fold the fabric around each corner, mitering fabric to fit. Staple to secure.

5. Begin attaching ribbon by stapling to the back side of the memory board.

Start by stapling one strip of ribbon diagonally from corner to corner, stapling at one end.

Pull the ribbon taut but not tight. Staple at opposite end.

Add a second ribbon diagonal to make a large "X".

6. Add four more strips of ribbon, running them parallel to the first pair of ribbons to create a criss-cross pattern.

Staple each ribbon on the back side of the memory board.

7. To attach buttons, thread needle with upholstery thread.

Insert needle through one hole of the flat button, then from the back of the canvas to the front at the intersection of each ribbon pair.

Thread the needle through the novelty button, then back through the canvas and the flat button.

Tie the ends of the thread tightly.

The two buttons will "sandwich" the canvas, batting, fabric and ribbons.

Repeat at the other intersections between the ribbons.

Crafts by Occasion: Crafts By Category: 

Beat the Heat: Make A Cool Tie!

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on July 17, 2014

Beat summer's heat with this sew-simple craft project: a cool tie!

This bright cotton neckerchief has a summer secret: a filling of water-absorbing polymer granules from the garden center.

Soaked in water, the cool tie's polymer granules absorb more than 200% their weight in water. Tied around the neck or worn as a headband, a cool tie provides all-day cool relief through evaporation.

A cool tie is simple to sew, requiring only a straight-stitch sewing machine. It makes a great gift for gardeners! Printable Cool Tie gift tags adds a splashy note to your hot-weather gift.

  • 1/4 yard 45-inch wide lightweight 100% cotton fabric
  • 2 teaspoons Watersorb-brand polymer granules
    (to order Watersorb-brand polymer granules, and for more information about making cool ties, visit's Cool Ties page)
  • thread to match
  • sewing machine
  • pins
  • scissors or rotary cutter
  • bamboo or plastic point turner
  • copy of gift tag

  1. Cut cut a 7"-by-45" rectangle from fabric.

    For simplest cutting, fold fabric crosswise (selvedge to selvedge) and use a rotary cutter for a straight cut.

  2. Fold fabric strip in half lengthwise, right sides together.

    To form pointed end, cut a 45-degree triangle from each folded end. Cut back from the fold toward the selvedges.

  3. Locate the lengthwise center of the folded strip.

    Place 2 pins 1 1/2 inches on each side of the center of the strip.

    The pins mark the area to be left open to reverse the tie.

    Sew from point to center on each side, with a 5/8th inch seam allowance. Leave the area between the pins open.

  4. Using scissors, carefully notch seam allowance next to the tie point.

    Use a plastic or bamboo point turner to turn the tie inside out through the center opening. Press.

  5. Measure 10 inches up from each pointed end, and mark location with a pin.

    On each side, sew directly across the tie from end to end, backstitching at the beginning and end of the stitching line. This stitching creates a pocket for the garden polymer granules.

  6. Insert 2 teaspoons Watersorb-brand polymer granules into center of the tie through the opening in the seam.

    (Yes, that is correct: only 2 teaspoons. The polymer granules swell nearly 200 times their size, and will completely fill the tie when wet. One pound of polymer granules will make more than 55 cool ties!)

  7. Stitching close to the folded edges, sew the opening closed.

    For gifts, attach a copy of free printable Cool Tie gift tag.

  8. To use, soak cool ties in water for about 45 minutes.

    After the granules have fully expanded, pat the tie gently with a towel to remove excess water.

    Tie around neck or head for cool relief!

Safety Note: According to Ted Douglas, Watersorb/Polymers, Inc., polymer granules used to construct cool ties are non-toxic and meet EPA standards for potable drinking water. While non-toxic, dust from polymer granules may lead to irritation if inhaled. Mr. Douglas recommends wearing a dust mask while filling cool ties.

Printable Cool Tie Gift Tags

Fun BBQ Recipe: Beer Can Chicken

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on July 16, 2014 Description

In the Ewer household, it's a "can-do" barbeque treat: a whole chicken cooked on a hot seat. Grilled upright. while seated on a half-full beer can, Beer Can Chicken is steam-basted. from within, grilled a smoky golden-brown without.

The unusual cooking method, combined with a spicy rub and aroma from smoker chips, creates a tender meat, dripping with tangy juices.

Nobody cooks Beer Can Chicken better than our local expert, Dr. Steve Ewer. Here are Dr. Steve's tried-and-true recipe and his best tips. Happy grilling!

Ingredients 1 cup hickory or smoke chips 1 12-ounce can of beer, divided 1⁄4 cup dry barbeque rub (McCormick Montreal Chicken Seasoning) 1 3.5 to 4.0 pound chickenInstructions

In a 2-cup bowl, pour half the beer over the wood chips. Set aside to soak for 1 to 4 hours, adding water if necessary to cover the chips.

Using a bottle opener, make three more openings in the top of the beer can. Add 1 tablespoon spice rub to the beer remaining in the can. The beer can should be half-full of liquid. Lightly oil the exterior of the can with salad oil.

Remove fat from chicken, then wash inside and out, patting dry with paper towels. Sprinkle one teaspoon dry rub inside the crop (neck) cavity, and two teaspoons inside the main body cavity. Rub the outside of the chicken with remaining dry rub.

Set up gas or charcoal grill for indirect grilling. For charcoal grills, mound briquettes into two piles on opposite sides of grill. . Light. Preheat only one side of gas grill, at a temperature of 350 degrees.

Stand the beer can on an aluminum pie plate, piece of aluminum foil, or special beer can chicken roasting pan. Carefully ease the chicken onto the can, and spread drumsticks away from the body to support the bird in a tripod position.

Drain wood chips, and place them directly on charcoal, or in a smoker box for gas grills. Add chicken, locating the bird between the two piles of charcoal on charcoal grills, or on the side away from heat on gas grills.

Cover the grill and barbeque chicken over indirect heat for about 1 1/2 hours, or until the breast meat reaches 165 degrees. Remove chicken carefully, as there may be hot liquid remaining in the can.

Makes 4 servings.

Holiday Recipes: Main Dish Recipes

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like ... Site Updates!

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on July 9, 2014

Warning! Site updates ahead!

It's that time of year for Webmistress Ming (author Cynthia's techie alter-ego!) and the Organized Christmas Elves. During the hottest days of summer, we hunker down under the air conditioning, and spruce up our site for the coming holiday season.

During the next couple of weeks, expect a few loose ends around the site. Behind the scenes, Ming and Webmaster Ryan will be updating forms and features--and sometimes, the process can get a bit messy.

We'll do our best to get all spiffed and ready as quickly as possible. But until then, bear with us!


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