This month is all about the holidays-from decorating the house inside and out to making sure you have everything you'll need to keep warm and safe. With so much to accomplish in just 25 days, it's best to develop a plan and stick to it. Here are my top five “Must-Do” Projects for December, with a Countdown to Christmas topping the list.
1. COUNTDOWN TO CHRISTMAS
The holiday clock is ticking and there's so much to do, right? Pick up a fresh tree (or unpack that artificial one)… untangle and test the strings of mini LED lights that you hastily put away last year… start looking for places to hide the gifts you've already started to purchase at stores and online… No! Stop! With a little smart planning you can get all of your holiday activities done in record time-and still enjoy the season.
For starters, begin to clear away everyday decor from shelves, mantels, and tabletops. If you are going to decorate for the holidays, it will be much easier to work with a blank canvas. Likewise, make sure you have sufficient room for the tree. A tree that looked to be a perfectly appropriate size at the lot may actually appear quite different once it's made it through the front door into the living room. Consider rearranging the furniture-or even removing some-to give the tree the space it deserves. And, if it's a fresh-cut tree, be sure to locate it away from heat sources and direct sunlight, and water regularly to prevent it from drying out too quickly.
Next, before the holiday cards begin to arrive, plan a spot to display them, whether on the mantel or in a decorative holder. Check the return addresses on the incoming envelopes against the addresses in your address book to be certain you're up to date, then recycle the envelopes. Before you start wrapping gifts, create a wrapping station where everything you need is in one place-scissors, wrap, ribbon, tape, tags, and a pen. Once the gifts have been wrapped and tagged, be sure to designate an out-of-the-way spot to hide them, like in a guest room, under a bed, or at the back of a closet shelf. You'll probably want to find a different hiding spot from last year, just in case the kids are wise to you!
Because food and entertaining are an important part of the holidays, be sure to create some order in the kitchen as well. Clean out the pantry and refrigerator before you start shopping for food and ingredients for your holiday meals and treats. If you bake, make sure countertops and work surfaces are clear and uncluttered. You'll want to have space not only to roll out the cookie dough, but also to hold the cut-out cookies prior to and after baking. Take inventory of your containers to make sure you have enough on hand for storing cookies and keeping leftovers fresh and available.
2. KNOW YOUR FIREWOOD
Nothing celebrates the colder weather like the distinct scent and sound of a crackling log in the fireplace. A steady supply of firewood can help offset your heating costs and, unlike oil and coal, wood is a resource that can be replanted for future fire-burning pleasure. Before you start using your fireplace, make sure that your wood is properly seasoned and the right type for your heating requirements. Hardwoods, like oak and maple, burn slowly and steadily. They must be seasoned for at least a year or you'll be making more smoke than heat. Softwoods, like pine and fir, season faster and grow faster. They're easy to split and easy to start, but watch out for sparking and creosote buildup in your chimney. Because most firewood is seasoned outdoors, it will contain insects, so you don't want to store more than a day's worth inside your home at a time. Nor do you want to stack great piles of it against the outside of your house. To store a year's supply, you need a woodshed or some other covered storage area set away from buildings.
3. CREATE DIY DECORATIONS
While there are an infinite supply of ready-made holiday decorations to purchase, there's something about the season that heightens the appeal of handmade. A wreath form purchased at a craft or hobby shop can be transformed easily into a festive wreath to hang above a mantel or on the front door. Pinecones and evergreen branches can be woven into garlands to decorate the house inside and out. And if you are looking for a way to personalize your tree, there are an endless number of creative ornaments you can make. Here are 58 Outstanding DIY Ornaments to get you inspired. Make one for yourself-or as a gift to give.
4. SNOW AND ICE REMOVAL
The best solution to preventing ice buildup is to keep the snow off your drive or walkway so that it won't compact and freeze. Shovel or snow blow early and often. If you're tackling the job manually, choosing a shovel with an ergonomically curved or adjustable handle will keep you from injuring yourself. So, too, will pushing the show, rather than lifting it. If you are using a snow blower, be sure to have it maintained regularly and heed all warnings from the manufacturer. For ice on steps and walkways, weigh the pros and cons of salt vs. sand, or consider more environmentally friendly solutions.
5. HOLIDAY CURB APPEAL
We spend most of the year improving the curb appeal of our homes-making sure that it is distinctive from those around it, welcoming to visitors, and eye-catching for passersby. Holiday curb appeal should be no different. While you may be tempted to outdo the neighbor's light show, consider decorating your house to play off its architectural style and design features. Be sure that the lights you hang are UL-approved for safety and, for energy savings, look into the newer LED varieties. (If you are hanging lights, you'll find some helpful tips here.) And remember, a house doesn't have to be wrapped in lights to set a holiday mood. Sometimes a couple of well-placed spotlights on evergreens or wreath-bearing doors and windows can be an effective way of marking the season and showing off the architectural elements of your home.