by Kristen Howerton

(NAPSI)—You can get the best out of “the most wonderful time of the year” if you heed these smart suggestions:

1. Keep it simple. You don’t have to “do it all.” Opt out of traditions or decorating obligations that make you feel frazzled instead of joyful. Prioritize what’s important to you and give yourself permission to say no.

2. Start early. Make deadlines for yourself. Set a time to write cards and a time to wrap gifts. Get the kids to help. Let them try their hand at baking, addressing cards or wrapping gifts. It may not be perfect, but it makes them feel important.

3. Be prepared for holiday parties. For most people, the holidays mean spending more time out of our own homes. Keep a couple of bottles of wine on hand for hostess gifts. Grab some coloring books to take along for when the kids get bored. Don’t forget a secret weapon for when nature calls while you are out and about: Air Wick’s V.I.Poo toilet spray can be stashed in your purse and is an excellent foul-odor neutralizer. Just a few sprays in the toilet before you go and you can help avoid the embarrassment of a smelly bathroom at someone else’s house. It comes in fruity, rosy, lemon and lavender scents. Incidentally, V.I.Poo is the perfect stocking stuffer for just about anyone in your life, because, as you know, everybody poops. It’s sure to bring a laugh or two when everyone is gathered around the tree. Learn more at

4. Prioritize quality family time over gifts and perfection. Try to cultivate a holiday season that is less about spending and more about making memories and giving presence as well as presents. Give your kids Christmas traditions to remember. Let go of the pressure to do everything perfectly. Your Christmas tree doesn’t have to look like a magazine illustration. You don’t need to change your pillows or plates for the season. It’s okay to bring premade food to the class party. Let yourself off the hook for having a picture-perfect Christmas.

5. Clean out before opening presents. All too often, Christmas afternoon is spent figuring out where to store all the new stuff. Try clearing out a space before Christmas day. Ask your children to find 10 toys to donate and do an audit of their closets. Get rid of the unused to make room for the new.

• Ms. Howerton, a marriage and family therapist, is known for her popular blog about negotiating the indignities of motherhood, “Rage Against the Minivan.”

On the Net:North American Precis Syndicate, Inc.(NAPSI)