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Simplify your holidays

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FILLED WITH holiday dread? Wishing, like Scrooge, for the whole month of December to be over? Worse, are you worn out and sick?

It’s time to simplify your holiday plans. Less can be more, so slow down and give the season’s spirit a chance to fill you. Here are some ideas:

Don’t go card crazy
Pare down your card list — send only to people you rarely see. Get your kids to help; they can apply return address labels, stamps and envelope seals. Order stamps online, by mail or during checkout at the grocery store. Keep your address book on computer. This makes address changes simple, and lets you print out address labels. If you want to write a personal message in cards, do a few each day. Take cards to the coffee shop and write while you sip. Skip the December mailbox jam, and send New Year cards or letters after the holidays when there are fewer distractions for you and your recipients. But avoid e-mailed holiday greetings unless your mailing list is international.

Gifts of time
A poll by shows that 77 percent of Americans want a simpler holiday season. Try to spend time with family and friends — not out shopping for and delivering their gifts. Or give them the gift of time, such as gift certificates for baby-sitting, cooking, organizing, housecleaning or — one of my own — washing Dad’s car inside and out.

To bake or not to bake
Instead of baking 12 recipes, make larger quantities of just a few favorites. Or use store-bought treats. Or skip it altogether. Holiday baking is a nice gesture but not required.

Make your home a “perfection-free” zone
Those decorated rooms you see on television or in magazines are made by teams of people and sleighfuls of money. Resist trying to reproduce them. Do what you can and enjoy it. Remember what Salvador Dali said: “Have no fear of perfection — you’ll never reach it.”

Don’t shop ’till you drop
Like Santa, make a list, check it twice and stick to it. Avoid shopping at peak times, typically weekends and mid-day. The crowds are far lighter on early weekday mornings and at night. Shop by catalog or online when possible. Rethink habits, too, especially for extended families. Consider drawing names, giving family-style gifts, buying only for small children or donating to a favorite charity. Or put your money toward a family trip. If those on your list have plenty, give edible gifts or restaurant or movie gift certificates.

Decorating dilemmas
I love poinsettias, but they always die. Bulbs such as amaryllis, however, can be used again next year. Regarding trees, consider a small live tree to plant after the holidays (or donate it for planting in a park). Try a lifelike artificial tree; it’s easier to put up, tidier and a one-time expense. For fragrance, use fresh evergreen wreaths or boughs.

It’s a wrap
Set up a gift-wrap area with all supplies: paper or gift bags, scissors, tape, gift tags, pens, ribbon or bows, and tissue paper. Use gift bags whenever possible; they save time and can be reused. Or use only white paper you jazz up with holiday ribbons and tags. (A bonus is that leftover paper can be used any time of the year.) If children like to wrap gifts, hand over the job. As often as possible, use store gift-wrap services.

Quiet time
Smell the evergreen. Sit by the fire. Stare at the tree and remember the family history its ornaments tell. Do as my friends, Mark and Maria, and pick a night to star-gaze this month. Building quiet, reflective time into your day will help you pace yourself.