6 Reasons January Is the Right Time to Start Planning for Christmas


To ensure that I always spend the last month of the year relaxing, I start prepping for the holidays in January.

I know this sounds crazy, but hear me out.

December has always been the big travel month for me. When I was a single lady, celebrating New Year's Eve overseas was my yearly tradition. As a married lady, my husband and I still try and reserve the month of December for vacations. What this means is that I have no time in December to waste on holiday prep.

Here's how I get it all done earlier in the year.

1. It's All on Display So I Might as Well Look It Over Now

January is the perfect time to purge unloved decorations. Instead of mindlessly packing away all the Christmas lights, decorations, and ornaments in a post-holiday stupor, I take the time now to sort through my Christmas supplies. Before I stuff things back into the garage, I ask myself if I really love and use everything that I am storing for the next 11 months. For example, my husband brought beautiful mantel hooks into our marriage. I loved them, but our current house doesn't have a fireplace, so I sold them to a neighbor. No mantel also means we have no place to hang Christmas stockings either. Out they went. Also, why spend the time hanging and removing Christmas lights every year when we can use the white twinkle lights year round to light our garden? My husband loves decorating the house for Christmas, but we've gone from four bins down to one bin of holiday supplies that we have to store every year.

2. January Is the Perfect Time to Declutter the House

Why is my New Year's Resolution always "Get organized?" Because I live in a tiny house with two tiny closets, it's always a challenge to find space to store anything in Dinky Manor. I use my holiday gifts as a way to jumpstart my organizing goals for the year. Since I literally have to get rid of things to make space for new gifts, January is always about assessing what material goods actually bring joy to my life right now as opposed to more dusting.

On a side note, since books are my storage Waterloo, every year on New Year's Day I host a book swap party for all my favorite bookworms. Everyone brings the books that have been cluttering their shelves and dumps them on the communal table. Party guests take home whatever books they want for free. All the leftover books are donated to the Public Library Book Drive. I try to start every year with one empty shelf so I have space for new ideas.

3. After Christmas Sales Are the Work of the Clutter Devil

Many money advisers talk up buying Christmas supplies for next Christmas during January's post-Christmas sales as a way to save on the holiday budget. While January is definitely the time to stock up on cheap replacement twinkle lights, I make every effort to resist buying holiday specific décor, wrapping paper, or stationery, regardless of how deeply discounted the sale prices, because then I have to find a place to store it all year.

More importantly, shiny wrapping paper isn't recyclable. It becomes garbage very quickly. Instead of buying wrapping paper, I try to find greener alternatives. And, nothing is cheaper than something I already own.

For the record I will state that there is no shame is ironing the wrinkles out of used tissue paper.

I'm also a fan of wrapping luxury gifts like jewelry and cashmere sweaters in cereal boxes or tea tins for an extra layer of surprise. This year I used pages from the Arabic edition of the Financial Times, National Geographic maps, and old color copies of film location photos to wrap gifts.

4. Transform This Year's Cards Into Next Year's New Holiday Ephemera

I know. Even by my own standards Christmas cards are a waste of trees and money. But I love stationery. Also, I can't decorate my home with holiday e-mails.

Since I'm a masochist crafty up-cycler, I use old Christmas cards to create new cards with careful cutting and pasting. This year I went crazy with the glitter and the wavy scissors and turned some vintage Christmas cards into large gift tags that double as ornaments. (I got huge compliments on these.) Old cards and advent calendars can also be folded into gift boxes or holiday envelopes for wrapping small things.

Instead of buying separate thank you cards, I cut the fronts off old Christmas cards and use them as holiday thank you postcards. (This requires some organization to avoid "regifting" cards to their original senders!)

Used cards that don't make the literal cut for future Christmas crafts are donated to St. Jude's Recycled Card Program.

5. It Is Never too Early to Start Making Peace Keeping Gifts

I married into a ginormous Catholic family who take Christmas very seriously. Early on I figured out that I can avoid uncomfortable conversations with my in-laws by wowing them with homemade gifts. Instead of listening to them talk about politics and death, our small talk is all about my latest relish recipe or how the shawl I made was the perfect Alaskan cruise accessory. For many people, knitting is seasonal because who wants to hold a furry, wool blanket on her lap when it's 100 degrees outside? Unfortunately, last-minute holiday knitting comes at a price for me: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. I now practice preemptive needlework and complete one gift project a month, even in the dead heat of summer, instead of ruining my wrists by cramming it in when the temperatures dips in the fall.

I also rely on easy, handmade, non-knitted gifts that cost next to nothing if planned in advance.

6. Saving Money for Holiday Travel Is a Year Long Endeavor

Last year, my husband and I went on a super-tight budget with the goal of paying down the mortgage on my rental property ten years early. Although our Easter Island travel plans have been shelved for the foreseeable future due to this goal, we're still planning to fly cross-country to spend Christmas this year with friends and family on the East Coast. We will not be able to afford this trip unless we start budgeting for it now, as we've agreed that we won't take this trip unless we can pay for it without resorting to credit.

Do you long for a stress-free holiday or do you love the Christmas frenzy? Make your argument in the comments section!

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Guest's picture

All of your points really hit home with me.

Instead of giving small cheap toys for my nieces and nephews I invited them all to a post Christmas Wiffle ball game at an indoor facility. I provided the cost of admission, $10, snacks, juice water bottles and a special homemade chocolate snowflake lollipop for each child. Both parents and children had fun and all appreciated the January outing together.

1) I'm purging all but the 3boxes of ornaments decorations that decorate our home,
2) decluttering is my middle name in January and I'm still surprised how many people will still buy things from online yards ale sites even in January
3) just say no to buying
4) making homemade cards from an abundance of scrapbooking supplies then give them as gift sets to my busy mom sister in laws, who doesn't always need a last minute kids bday card
5)yes, I've begun handmades for December, ornaments, knit hats, slippers, especially during the winter sports season, being creative is relaxing
6). We don't have big travel plans with three active children but I'm starting the $5 savings challenge and hope to use it towards a 2015 Christmas gift to the theatre for my two daughters.

Keep inspiring, love following you in NJ. Colleen

Max Wong's picture

Hi Colleen!

Thanks for your inspiring comment! My side of the family actually doesn't exchange gifts for the holidays (for hoarding/OCD reasons) so we're always on the look out for fun family things to do instead during the holidays.


I think I'm going to see if I can use your wiffle ball idea with my husband's family and organize a family volleyball tournament. (They are California beach-y types).

Guest's picture

Great tips, thanks!

We live in a particularly small home as well, so saving every inch is important for us too.

Love the annual book swap party. I sense a new annual tradition in the offing.

And reusing the fronts of Christmas cards as thank you cards is absolutely brilliant! We inherited a large pile of cards that we're working through but once we're done, the thank you post card tradition is in the works.

Max Wong's picture

Hi Jack!

Thanks for your swell comment. You can use pretty much any piece of card stock as a postcard as long as it meets the measurements of a standard postcard. I've found this to be true abroad as well. In addition to Christmas cards, I like to cut up foreign food packaging when I'm traveling to use as travel post cards. People always laugh when they see how sugar cubes are advertised on the box in Italy for example: "A Burst of Energy in Every Spoonful!"

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