60 Holiday Hacks, Shortcuts, and Time-Savers You’ll Be Amazed You Lived Without
Traditions have always underscored the holiday season. It’s a time of routines, when the same people gather in the same place at the same time, and everyone welcomes the chance to act out familiar expectations. That’s why this year is so strange. Without the semblance of the same ol’ same ol’, how can it really feel like the holidays?
Perhaps the best way to celebrate the 2020 holiday season is to carry out traditions as simply as possible. Instead of lamenting the loss of a big party, embrace the warm intimacy of a small one or a virtual one. Rather than arranging a buffet on an oversized table, parcel beloved dishes into personalized deliveries. And speaking of sending things to go, ship a handful of presents in thoughtful (and ingenious) ways—even if it’s ordinarily a short trip away. This year, festivities need to be more light than bright, and there’s something exciting about figuring out how to make it work without losing all the fun.
To help with this paired-down plan, try these 60 holiday hacks that cover everything from wrapping tips and shipping times to decoration tricks and gift ideas, to get you from Thanksgiving all the way to the New Year. Every suggestion is designed to either be a time-saving creative outlet or a source of easy comfort, blending the best of brand-new twists with perennial must-haves. Read on to see how you can capitalize on the holiday spirit by keeping simplicity in mind.
Genius gift wrapping hacks
- If your wrapping paper is a bit too small to properly cover your gift, turn the gift diagonally on the paper for some extra room. It’s a holiday miracle!
- An inside-out paper grocery bag makes for a great recycled wrapping sheet, which also happens to be fashionably neutral. Add a ribbon and a sprig of lavender or evergreen for a minimalist finish.
- Use a bread clip on the end of your tape roll to help you easily find the edge. Nobody likes a tape Grinch.
- Instead of buying tags, get a tag maker—now you’ll never run out.
- A toilet paper or a paper towel tube can help wrapping paper from unraveling when not in use. To see it work, cut a slit in the empty tube and slip it around the wrapping paper roll.
- Use a pants hanger or paper towel holder to organize ribbons in one easy-to-see stack. Color-block the ribbons if you want to make them pretty to look at as you work.
- Are you using mason jars to conceal your presents? Dress them for the part by wrapping faux greenery around the lids.
- For those who are short on storage space, a garment bag can be used to corral wrapping paper in one clearly-defined place.
- Print out photos of loved ones as tags for their presents. Better yet, make them all childhood images, and older relatives are sure to smile.
- Dress up plain butcher paper by drawing stars or snowflakes on it with white marker. You’ll save on buying wrapping paper for different occasions and it’s the perfect mindless task to take on while bingeing Netflix.
- The secret to a pro-looking wrap job: Line up the seams of wrapping paper at or close to the bottom of the box, and tape along the edge. This creates a clean line so that the present looks perfect.
- If you’re not good at wrapping presents but you still want to do it, matte sheets are the most forgiving to any imperfections. Also invest in or recycle square gift boxes to make for an easy square canvas. You got this.
- For those loved ones who like vintage finds, wrap a present in a thrift-store bandana or scarf and add a brooch to one side. The receiver just got three presents in one.
- If you don’t have a box to wrap an oddly-shaped gift in, never fear. Cut a piece of cardboard slightly larger than the base of the gift, and place it at the center of thick wrapping paper. Gather the wrapping paper a few inches above the top of the gift, and secure it with ribbon.
- Care to know how to make tissue paper look its best? Lay a rectangle sheet of tissue paper flat on a surface, and then place one hand underneath it and the other pinching the center. Lift the tissue paper and make sure its edges are pointed down, and then do a light swirling motion in the air—almost like a magician—up and down to create a bouquet of even points. With the base still gathered in one hand, fix all the points so that they’re perfect, and place the base in the gift bag.
Mind-blowing bow tricks
- For those who learned to tie a shoe “bunny ear” style as a kid, the same method works perfectly for bows. Create two event loops of ribbon in each hand, cross the right loop over the left, fold the right loop behind the left and through the hole. Adjust to make the two ends of the bow even. Cut the ends into a V-shape by folding them in half and cutting at an angle from the open end in toward the folded end, as shown in the illustration above.
- Want to make a kid’s gift pop without a lot of effort? Use washi tape to adhere a fistful of crayons to the box, or a trio of candy canes. Say hello to your new title as “favorite.”
- Cut and arrange shiny red duct tape into a bow for a twist on the traditional ribbon finish. It looks especially great on patterned paper.
- The key to beautiful bows is in the scissors. Invest in two super-sharp versions, one for paper and one for ribbon. Paper dulls scissor blades so you’ll get neater-looking cuts on ribbon if you stick to using separate scissors for each task.
Smart shipping shortcuts
- If you’re shipping small gifts, skip envelopes and wrap individual presents in this Scotch roll, which conforms to and protects each little thing you send off. Because you can cut it to fit whatever gift you’re sending, you can use the same roll for all your gifts.
- You can order flat-rate USPS boxes to be delivered to your home—helpful if you’re sending out a lot of gifts at once.
- Here’s your cheat sheet for holiday shipping. If you live in the lower 48 states, keep these deadlines in mind for shipping with USPS: In order to ensure delivery by Christmas, mail retail ground parcels by Dec. 15 and first-class parcels by Dec. 18. Priority mail can wait until Dec. 19, while priority mail express pushes the deadline to Dec. 23. Hawaii, Alaska, and international deadlines can be found here.
- Before sealing a package, remember to shake it gently. If your present moves, it’s not secure enough for the road. Phew, that was close.
- Are you worried about potential water damage to your box? Line it with a garbage bag before placing the present inside. It’s better to have a dry gift than a damp one.
- Worn-out pool noodles can be cut to size and placed around the edges of a box to act as a cold-weather buffer. ‘Tis the season for seasonal fixes!
- If you’re shipping breakables, make boxes extra secure by adding egg cartons to the bottom.
- Holiday doodles make a boring shipping box feel a little more festive. Just make sure the label is clear and readable.
Time-saving tree tips
- A tree is tough to move, but it doesn’t have to be that hard if you place a no-slip bath mat rubber side up underneath its trunk. That’ll make it easier to rotate.
- Here’s an easy trick for buying lights: You’ll need 100 lights per vertical foot of a tree. Make sure to check that they’re all illuminated before getting to work.
- Opt for floral wire instead of ornament hooks to secure fragile ornaments to a branch.
- Put the tree topper on first to avoid the possibility of knocking off any ornaments as you reach for this so-called finishing touch.
- Add pieces of artificial pine garland to help fill in any patchy parts of the tree. See? All better.
- A trick for watering your real tree is to make sure it gets one quart of water per inch of trunk diameter. And don’t worry about adding anything other than water to your tree to keep it hydrated—it doesn’t have an intense nighttime routine.
- Use empty egg crates to store breakable ornaments when the holidays are through. (Yes, egg crates pull their weight during the holidays.)
- If you buy a real tree, ask to keep the trimmings to decorate with at home. Then, arrange them on a mantle, table, or anywhere else that needs some cheer.
- Instead of a traditional tree skirt, a sheepskin throw makes for one that’s stylish, festive, and cozy—plus, you can use it as regular decor during the off-season.
- Did a little tree sap get stuck on your skin? Olive oil will remove it just fine.
- If you have to bag your tree for removal at the end of the holidays, place a bag under your tree stand before setting the tree up. It’ll make everything easier once it’s time to take your tree to the curb.
- If your tree is placed in a corner, don’t add lights to the back. Instead, zig zag them from the top to the bottom of the tree so that they’re only covering what’s visible.
- If you want your lights to stand out, spray paint the cord a bold color before reattaching the bulbs. Gold, silver, and red are obvious contenders, but you can think outside the box, too—hot pink would be fun!
- Use a brush attachment on a vacuum to clean extra dirty fake trees. Otherwise, a microfiber cloth will do the trick.
- Want the option to move your (small) tree from a living room to a dining room and maybe even a bedroom? Put it on casters.
- An easy wait to “hang” lights: Fill outdoor lanterns with battery-operated lights for a soft holiday glow.
Easy decor ideas
- Add a cinnamon stick or two to a roaring wood fire to create that holiday-ready scent without using a store-bought candle.
- Store holiday decor in clear or matching bins so it’s easy to find next year. And don’t forget to add labels of what’s inside.
- A blanket ladder can make for a modern advent calendar that doesn’t take up extra space. String numbered bags on ribbon, and add them to the rungs.
- An abundance of holiday mugs can work as vases for small seasonal arrangements on nightstands and coffee tables. Springs of evergreen, small ornaments, and cinnamon sticks would look great.
- Use curtain rings, a tension rod, and decorative napkins to create festive cafe curtains for a kitchen or bathroom window.
- Festive scarves—like chunky knits, plaids, and anything with glitter—can act as makeshift runners under evergreens, candles, and pinecones for a table centerpiece.
- To make sure every room in your home has decoration, “wrap” the exterior bedroom doors with strips of oversized ribbon in your favorite color to resemble presents.
- Use Command hooks, not staples, to adhere lights to your roofline. Otherwise, those holes can cause damage you can still spot next summer.
- If your stocking looks flimsy before it’s stuffed with goodies, fill half of the stocking with plastic or reusable bags to make it look full before the big day.
- Put holiday lights on a timer, or go the extra mile and use a smart plug connect them to a smart home device like Google Home or Amazon Echo. You’ll be able to easily turn them on and off from afar.
Clever tricks for all the rest
- Use a “Secret Santa” site to help get gift lists for family and friends, like Elfster. That way, you’ll know exactly what a loved one wants.
- Need to send gifts in bulk? Buy a pack of drawstring gift bags and fill them with essentials everyone will love to have—hand sanitizer and lotion comes to mind.
- Paper cookie bags will make your homemade creations look professional, and you won’t have to worry about getting leftover containers back.
- Making a gingerbread house or fancy holiday cookies? Use condiment bottles to hold the icing, which makes it easier to apply.
- Much like popular eucalyptus, evergreen branches can be bundled and hung from a shower head for a festive and restorative bathroom detail.
- Use a spray bottle filled with water to lightly mist tree branches and wreaths to prolong their deep green color for as long as possible.
- You don’t have to wait long for a bottle of Champagne or sparkling cider to chill with this trick: Fill a bucket halfway with ice, and toss in salt to cover it. Then, put the bottle in and add water so the bottle is submerged up to its neck. It will be cold and ready to serve in 10 minutes. Cheers!