Merry. Bright. Organized.

Eight Steps to a Stress Free Holiday
Start the holidays off organized! Here are eight simple things you can do to help you plan and execute a fabulous holiday party without the headache:

1. Make a list, check it twice: It may sound obvious, but making a simple list can help you unclutter your mind, so that you can concentrate on the task at hand. Pick up a small holiday themed notebook (to keep you festive), and make a detailed list of everything you need to get done. If you'll be delegating tasks to family members, mark down who's doing what. Likewise, if you absolutely must tackle one task before a certain date, write that down, too. Make sure to list any supplies you'll need to accomplish each task. If you're in charge of a meal, you can even list your recipes right in your notebook for your next trip to the grocery store.

2. Cook Early: Make your side dishes and desserts the day before your big meal. Most side dishes and virtually all desserts will keep well overnight in the refrigerator or freezer. This way, the day of your party you can concentrate on your main dish, and simply warm the side dishes before dinner. If you'll be spending the day baking, take the time between cookie batches to wrap last minute gifts. If you're all caught up on your wrapping, take that time to put your feet up for a much deserved rest.

3. Give Simply: Avoid long lines and crowds at malls and department stores by giving gift certificates. They don't clutter, and they don't cost much to ship to friends and family out of town. Plus, everyone gets exactly what they wanted.

4. Try a Potluck: If you're organizing a large family gathering, ask everyone to bring their favorite dish to pass. This way, everyone can show off their culinary prowess, and you'll be saved from slaving away in the kitchen all day.

5. Create a Wrapping Station: Save time and energy by designating a corner of your home to gift wrapping. If you have a nice, comfortable place to work and wrap gifts, you're more likely to get it done before the last minute. Put up a card table in the corner of a spare bedroom, and keep your gift wrap, bags, tissue paper, tape, scissors, bows - all of it - right where you can easily get to them. Now, you don't have to lug your supplies out every time you need to wrap a gift. If you wrap gifts as you buy them, you'll save time, too. When the season is over, carefully store any leftover paper and bags to use next year.

6. Send an E-Card: So, let's say you've already mailed your cards this year, the holiday is only a couple of days away, and you get a card in the mail from someone you'd forgotten this year. It might be too late to mail them your best holiday wishes, but email is instant. E-cards have come a long way lately, too. Most of the popular greeting card brands offer e-cards on their web sites, and can be personalized with text and photos.

7. Pick up Extras: Buy a couple of extra gifts. Just in case someone drops by with a gift for you, and you don't have anything to give them. Holiday treats, candles, restaurant gift cards and ornaments all make great, simple holiday gifts for anyone. These gifts are also something you can use if you don't end up giving them this year. Wrap them up, and mark a code on the bottom so you remember what's inside.

8. Prepare for Overnight Guests: It only takes a few simple gestures to make your guests feel welcome and at home. Leave a basket of travel sized toiletries in basket in the bathroom with a note inviting your guests to help themselves. Ditto for a few books or magazines on the night stand. If the closet in your guest bedroom is full, pick up a collapsible wardrobe rack and hangers for your guests. These garment racks can easily be stored when they're not in use, and they provide a convenient spot for your guests to hang their clothes. Having a separate garment rack for guests also helps them not to forget any clothes when they pack to return home.