Week #4 of All Done By December One – A Party and Entertaining Plan

Christmas party fun

Photo: dpstyles

December is the season of holiday parties, which can be both a good thing and a bad thing. I spoke with a friend yesterday, and she told me she was thinking about skipping her neighborhood’s annual Christmas party. While the event was a perfectly fine affair, it was always crowded and hot and loud—and not really her cup of tea. When she posed the idea of ditching the party to her husband, guess what he said? “HURRAY!”

While it’s relatively quiet in November, think about the parties you’d really love to attend—and host—during December. What would be truly fun and festive? Most of us have certain events we’re obligated to attend—the company party, for instance—but what about the rest? If you’re routinely attending things you don’t enjoy merely out of habit and tradition, think again. Who would you really like to see this holiday season, and how would you like to celebrate?

It’s easy to get over-booked and tired during the holidays, too, so you may wish to “X” out some evenings on your calendar when you’ll stay home and relax.

My friend and party planner extraordinaire Maury Ankrum has a special gift for entertaining and throwing parties, and she has inspired me to open my doors more often and have people over without worrying that everything has to be perfect. In fact, I’ve discovered that most people prefer a casual gathering in the kitchen with easy food and drinks.

One of my better parties was one in which I invited the women in my neighborhood to come over one Thursday night after work. Everyone wanted to bring something, so I suggested an appetizer or favorite libation. We ate and drink like royalty that night and had a great time in the kitchen, and when everyone left I realized I had three more bottles of wine than I began with!

The key in holiday entertaining—like so many things in our busy lives—is balance and moderation. Consider the month of December with a calendar in hand. If you’d like to host something in your home, plan it now. Those December days and nights are precious and special, so accept invitations as judiciously as you can and leave some space for mellow nights at home.

Are you hosting any holiday gatherings this year? What are your plans? Any tips you’d like to share about keeping things sane and simple? You know we’d all love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.


The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. Don’t forget to enter the giveaway to win 3 scrumptious boxes of John Wm. Macy snacks – just in time for Thanksgiving.

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of six books about home design and food. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Week #3 of All Done By December One – Consider Cards and Paper

Family portrait

Photo: Chris, Awkward Family Photos

Do you send holiday cards? If so, you’re not alone. According to the Greeting Card Association (and you knew there had to be one), Americans purchase a staggering 1.6 billion holiday card “units,” some of which are boxes of cards, each year.

I’ve always liked Christmas cards, so our household accounts for about 75 of those “units” purchased each year. I love receiving cards, too, and keep them in a basket out on our coffee table during the holiday season. Those that include a family photo are always special, and I even like the form letters including a bit of news. Yet as I consider simplifying and striving to have a more eco-friendly holiday, I’ve been rethinking sending cards.

Some of the alternatives I’ve considered include:

  • Sending an online Christmas card via e-mail.
  • Setting up a family holiday page on my website.
  • Making a holiday video.
  • Sending a postcard instead of a traditional card. No envelope stuffing or licking, and postage is cheaper, too! (First class postage is 46 cents, and post card stamps are 33 cents.)
  • Forgoing cards, and connecting with loved ones on the phone or in person.
holiday cards

Photo: Designs by CnC

How about you? If you’re planning to send traditional Christmas cards this year, you may wish to begin some of the related tasks in the coming week:

  • If you want a special holiday portrait, schedule the appointment to get the photo taken this week. Or gather everyone in their matching red-checked outfits and snap the photo.
  • Alternately, create a collage-style card with photos you already have. Track down the photos this week.
  • Create your mailing list. A computer mailing list program can save you lots of time addressing envelopes, and you can even use Microsoft Excel’s mail merge feature.
  • Make, purchase or order Christmas cards. Or decide on an alternative like an online card and get started.
  • Purchase stamps. The US Postal Service now sells stamps on eBay, or you can order them directly from USPS.com and have them shipped to you.

You may also want to stock up on tape and recycled wrapping paper or reusable gift bags this week while you’re out and about. Don’t forget to check out the Happy Simple Holidays Pinterest board for eco-friendly, no-cost and low-cost wrapping and card ideas. I’d love to hear your thoughts, ideas and comments about holiday cards, and whether you’re sending them this year.

Here’s to taking more small steps during the next 30 days, and your happiest holidays ever,

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. After the holidays, we’ll donate our used greeting cards to St. Jude’s Ranch Recycled Cards Program.


About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of six books about home design and food. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Week #2 of All Done By December One – Make a Gift Plan

Opening a gag gift

Photo: VoxEfx

Have you ever felt like the gift-giving part of Christmas was out of balance with how you really wanted to celebrate? Is it possible to have a fun holiday without breaking the bank? In the next week we’ll focus on the gift aspect of the holidays and see if we can get creative while reigning things in a bit. If you’re participating in “All Done By December One,” you may wish to:

  1. Make a master gift list. Write down every single person for whom you want to present a gift. Check your list twice, whittle away what you can, and keep it reasonable.
  2. Set a spending limit for each person, and a total amount you will pay for gifts this year – without taking on even a penny of debt.
  3. Purchase, make or creatively obtain at least one gift for someone on the list this week. Be sure to share what you do in the comments section below!
  4. Find a creative way to wrap or package it using materials you already have on hand. You can view a bunch of fun, frugal wrapping ideas on my Happy Simple Holidays Pinterest board.


Recycled wrapping paper

Recycle bags and paper to wrap gifts – photo by Christine Wisnieski


If you’re planning to give some holiday gifts this year, one step that might help is to take some of the mystery out of the process. Since 2002, our family has been using Christmas Wish List, a site where we each post a short list of things we truly want or need. Using the site felt a little piggy at first, but we have all benefited from much easier gifting and shopping, and we’ve also enjoyed receiving things we can use. We no longer have to guess about gifts, and our wish lists often contain homemade and used items. Your Christmas List and Smart Christmas List are other online gift list sites you may wish to explore.

This year, our family has set a $25 limit on gifts. So…what can you buy or make for $25 or less?

  • Used books in good condition
  • Copies of old family photos
  • A Mason jar filled with crunchy homemade granola
  • A nice bottle of wine or sparkling cider
  • Fancy soap
  • A favorite movie DVD and a bag of organic popcorn
  • A potted amaryllis bulb
  • A pound of really good coffee
  • Warm gloves
  • A CD with a live performance by a favorite artist
  • A donation to charity: water in honor of your loved one, to fund a clean water project

Let’s be real, though. These ideas are all fine and well for adults, but how can we be thrifty when it comes to older kids and teens who might ask for non-frugal gifts like name-brand clothes and shoes, cosmetics, electronics and gift cards?

Swagbucks gift cards

Photo: bfishadow

One solution I’ve found is to use Swagbucks as my search engine. It returns results from Google and its sponsors, and you win points while you’re searching that can be exchanged for free gift cards and other goodies. Swagbucks has gift cards and codes from many major retailers teens like – iTunes, Old Navy, Target, Amazon, Best Buy, etc. You can also redeem the points for gift codes to buy fave teen presents like Nike shoes, American Eagle clothing and ULTA cosmetics.

It’s free to sign up, and the nice people at Swagbucks have set up a special referral code for Happy Simple Living readers that you can use to get 70 free Swagbucks in addition to the 30 you normally get for signing up. (NOTE: This special code is only valid through this Sunday, October 27.)

Sign up using this link: Swagbucks, click the text that reads “I have a sign up code,” and enter:


While we’re on the subject, many of you report that you’re cutting back on holiday gift giving in favor of enjoyable experiences. Most of my friends and I have stopped exchanging Christmas presents, and instead we do something fun together – like go to a play, or have a Simple Christmas Cookie Exchange. If you talk with your friends, chances are they’ll happily agree to forgo the presents. Or you could try a White Elephant exchange, or give gag gifts.

See if you can make some progress around the concept of gifts this week. You may wish to check in with the “All Done By December One” group on Lift whenever you successfully spend ten minutes on a holiday task. Be sure to give each other props (thumbs up) while you’re there! Also, we’d all love to hear some of your gift-giving ideas and thoughts in the comments section below.

Connecting with you is an ongoing gift for me, my friends.

Hugs and good luck with your efforts this week,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of six books about home design and food. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Week #1 of All Done By December One – Make a Few Lists


Photo: Nina Matthews Photography

It’s the hap-happiest time of the year–at least, that’s what the song tells us. So why has Christmas evolved into such a stressful season of spending, over-scheduling and weird expectations? My friends, let’s quietly and purposefully reverse that trend. If you’re reading this blog, you’ve probably already taken steps to simplify your holidays. This year, let’s take it one step further by getting the extra tasks done early, so we actually have time to relax and enjoy the season.

If you’re participating in “All Done By December One,” these are some suggested things you might like to tackle during Week #1.

1. Write a list or a few sentences about the experiences that would make this Christmas season feel really special to you. What would put the joy and meaning back into your celebration? You may want to read “Your Best Holidays Ever” for some ideas, or check out my Christmas wish list.

2. Make a budget for gifts and festivities. Keep it realistic, and commit not to take on even one dollar of credit card debt this season.

3. Make a gift list. Whittle it down. Talk to your friends and family, and challenge any tradition that involves mindlessly exchanging gifts. Chances are, everyone will be in favor of having more fun and spending less on stuff. One of this blog’s most-read posts is the story about the McDonald family, who decided to drastically simplify their holidays—with very satisfying results. Check out “One Real Family’s Real Simple Christmas,” and you might be inspired to do the same.


Ahh…my favorite slippers

4. Think about you. What would you like for Christmas this year? A nice pair of cozy slippers? Chocolate-covered caramels? A new novel to read? Let’s all commit to finagling a little something special for ourselves this season, even if we have to do the buying or making. Agreed?

In the coming week, check in with our group on Lift, if you like, whenever you successfully spend ten minutes on a holiday task. Be sure to give each other props (thumbs up) while you’re there! Also, we’d all love to hear some of your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.

Good luck with your efforts this week, and remember—baby steps now will pay big dividends later…


The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of six books about home design and food. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

All Done By December One Starts in Two Days

My son showed me that funny video last week, and I had to share it with you because it tickled my funny bone. Plus, it’s a perfect lead-in for a question:

Would you like this holiday season to be filled with more laughter and joy, and less stress and spending? “All Done By December One” kicks off on October 15, and you’ll be amazed at how organized you can get for Christmas in just 10 minutes a day. More than 60 folks have already signed up to tackle some holiday tasks early this year, in order to have some precious time during December to actually enjoy the season. Would you like to join in the fun?

This year, we’ve formed a group on Lift – a simple, surprisingly motivating spot where you can stop by and let the world know that you’ve done your daily 10 minutes. Lift is free, and currently very un-commercial. You can check out the group here:


(While you’re there, check out some of the amazing things people are accomplishing in small increments, from writing books to exercising to expressing gratitude and more.)

If you’re “in,” you can join the Lift group or simply leave a comment below. You can subscribe to free e-mail updates or simply check back at Happy Simple Living during the next six weeks for ideas and encouragement to simplify the holidays, get organized early and make some breathing room during the season for the things that really matter. Here’s to more time for family, friends and animals singing Christmas carols this season!


The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. I’ll be posting about other topics during the coming weeks, too, for those who don’t celebrate Christmas.

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of six books about home design and food. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Do Something Nice Today and Enjoy a Better Tomorrow

Getting the coffee ready

Are you familiar with the FlyLady? Marla Cilley, a.k.a. The FlyLady, has a wonderful system for getting your house organized, and whenever I faithfully follow her program I reap such benefits. By getting in a routine and consistently focusing my attention on one area of our house for just a few minutes every day, our home becomes tidier, less cluttered and more enjoyable.

Perhaps one of the things I love best about the FlyLady’s approach is her gentle, feel-good encouragement. For instance, one of her very first baby steps is to get in the habit of cleaning and shining your sink before you go to bed at night. In her sweet way, she tells you that in the morning when you see that sparkling sink she wants you to feel a hug from her. It’s funny, but when I do take time to clean and polish my sink at night, it always makes me feel happy the next morning.

So recently, I’ve expanded that idea of a morning blessing. I always make the coffee before I go to bed at night (and may I just say right now:  God bless the person who invented the automatic coffee maker). Now I also set out my coffee cup, my homemade healthy sweetener and a spoon on a pretty French floral dish. It’s like a little gift that I give to myself to make the morning ritual nicer, and it always makes me feel happy.

I’ve been exploring other ways to spread some love the day before for a better tomorrow.  For example, sometimes I lay out my clothes, undies, jewelry and shoes for the next day which always helps me feel a step ahead somehow. Recently I had a meeting downtown, and the night before I printed out the directions in a nice large font and taped the paper to the door so that I wouldn’t have to scramble and figure out where I was going at the last minute. I arrived at the meeting twenty minutes early, relaxed, and even found a great parking place!

How about you? Can you do something today to bless yourself tomorrow? I welcome your thoughts and comments, and hope you have a happy Friday, an even better Saturday and a really wonderful weekend.


The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of six books about home design and food. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.