Sunday, November 30, 2014

Christmas Countdown to an Organized Christmas - Day 6 - Start a Christmas Card List

Article and Photo Courtesy of Organized Christmas

Will you send holiday greetings to friends and family this year?

Lovely as the tradition can be, it takes more time than you think to select, address and send holiday cards or Christmas letters--and a haphazard approach to season’s greetings is a recipe for Christmas-card chaos.

Remind yourself of last year. Was the job of writing and addressing holiday greetings meaningful--or manic?

Between procrastination and failure to plan, too many of us find ourselves scrawling signatures late into the night, in a frantic dash to beat the postman to the mailbox. Next day, our eyes blur as we sort the incoming mail: did we remember to send a card to Aunt Kaye?

Not this year! Take charge of sending holiday cards and letters with a Christmas card list. Properly pruned, it'll let you home in on holiday greetings without the chaos.

To Do Today

Print and make a Christmas card list

The shortest route to stress-free seasonal greetings? Make a Christmas card list. Print the Christmas card list form to organize card chores..

A sustainable bonus? Our printable card list tracks records for four years, so you can fill it out once, use it through 2017. Sweet!

Placed behind the Christmas Cards divider in your Christmas planner, the Christmas card list holds address data, and tracks cards sent and received. It’s the place to assess and address Christmas greetings each year.

... and prune it!

Marking down names for Christmas cards or holiday letters, it’s easy to feel giddy. Stop! Make your list, check it twice, then prune it properly for seasonal simplicity.

Sending traditional Christmas cards can be a pricey proposition, in time and money. To bring the effort back to a reasonable level, scrutinize your card list with an eye to cutting back.

Do you need to send separate cards to family members who will receive a gift, too? Have card exchanges with folks from the old neighborhood dwindled to a perfunctory annual exchange? Is it truly necessary to send cards to neighbors?

Chances are, if you feel the time has come to drop the custom, the recipient feels the same way. Clarify the goals behind season’s greetings, then trim your list accordingly.

Seven Tips for Sparkling Christmas Letters

Christmas is coming, holiday cards and letters fill the mailbox--and it's time to write your family's annual Christmas letter.

Want your letter to stand out from the crowd? Looking for ways to spice up the same-old, same-old Christmas greeting?

Try these seven tips for a sparkling holiday letter.

1. Start off on a positive note
It's a trend you can count on! Roughly 95% of holiday letters begin with a sentence like this: "I can't believe the year has come and gone so quickly!" While we all feel this sentiment, it's not the happiest way to begin a holiday letter.

2. Start holiday letters with a cheerful bang, not a whimper about the passage of time. Try openers like, "One of the blessings of this time of year is the chance it gives me to connect with you, my friends and family." or "We've had a happy, busy year here in the Adams household!"

Even a stock "Holiday greetings from the Young family!" is a better opener than the traditional plaintive cry about the passage of time.

3. Shorter is sweeter
Even the most doting aunties can be daunted by a multi-page, single-spaced Christmas letter that drones on (and on and on) about the minutia of family doings. Keep Christmas letters short and sweet! Hit the year's high points, and save the day-by-day description of your summer vacation for long lunches or personal phone calls.

4. Write in your own voice.
Too often, holiday letters show symptoms of "writer-itis": big words, turgid sentences, piled-up adjectives. Friends and neighbors don't want to hear from Edward Bulwer Lytton, they want to hear from you! Use your own voice, and write as you speak. You'll bring a breath of fresh air--and a happy echo of your own personality--to your letter.

5. Keep your audience in mind
Like pantyhose, holiday letters aren't "one size fits all". Business associates won't be interested by a chatty, family newsletter, while distant cousins don't care about the ins and outs of workplace politics.

Before you start your holiday letters, picture the recipients in your mind and write in a way that will make sense to those who will receive them. Use a free printable Christmas card list to group recipients and organize cards and letters.

If your holiday letter will be sent to far-flung friends or long-ago neighbors, be sure to identify family members by relationship, not just name. Hearing that "Wallace is a happy Rebel this year" can mystify those who don't remember him well. "Oldest son Wallace, now 18, is thriving in his first year at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas" gives the reader the details he or she needs to catch up with Wallace's activities.

If your letter will be sent to casual acquaintances or business contacts, keep family stories to a minimum--or send a card instead. Sure, you sit next to that nice fellow at each week's Kiwanis meeting, but will he really be interested in a season's worth of your grandchild's soccer scores?

5. Resist the urge to embellish
It's a holiday-time stereotype: the braggin'-braggin' Christmas letter. While it's only natural to put your best foot forward, keep your perspective as you write. Your true colors and real personality are a lot more interesting to your friends than a puffed-up presentation of the year's events.

6. Be selective about photos
With the rise of digital photography, there's been a corresponding inflation in holiday letter photos. Last year's nominee for the Photo Overkill of the Year award: a holiday letter which contained over 50 tiny tiled photos of the writer's children at Disney World. Not only couldn't I see one thing about the children, I was barely able to identify the different Disney characters in each shot!

Share photos selectively and sparely. One or two great shots that illustrate your text are much better than an over-the-top photo barrage.

Finally, if you will include photos as part of your Christmas letter, use brochure paper so that photos print clearly.

7. Make it personal
A sparkling, informative holiday letter is underdressed if it doesn't contain a personal touch. Add a short handwritten note to your holiday letters for a warm finish.

Alpha computer geeks among us may use word processing software to personalize each letter. However you achieve it, be sure that the recipient can feel your warm--and personal--regard.

Simpler Seasons Greetings: Using Computers to Send Christmas Cards

As an online old-timer, I can attest to this fact: few subjects stir as much controversy as computers and Christmas cards.

The questions come year after year. Should we use the computer to address the cards? Write a Christmas letter on inkjet letterhead?

What about pre-printed signatures? Is it okay to use e-mail to send holiday greetings?

What's the right-and-wrong of harnessing computer technology to make it easier to send Christmas cards and holiday letters?

This issue has more partisans than the Congress. On one hand (and I say that advisedly) stand the Purists. They're best exemplified by the middle-aged "etiquette columnist" from a small-town Southern newspaper who sniffed at the very idea of computer-generated address labels. Charging that "these computers are taking over everything!" this techno-Luddite insisted that only hand-signed, hand-addressed cards would meet her parochial standard. "Oh, my aching hand," I moaned, as I turned quickly to Dear Abby and the comics page.

At the other extreme lie the Technology Elite. Actual Christmas cards via snail mail? How provincial! This group sends send real-time streaming video greetings to their cutting-edge friends. What? Some stodgy relatives might not possess the latest and greatest mobile devices to receive these offerings? Get with the century, people!

When it comes to the tradition-versus-technology debate, most of us, it's safe to say, fall somewhere in the middle. We like to receive cards. We like to send them, but we get bogged down writing 150 "personal" greetings and hand-addressing the envelopes. Most of us believe that some personal touch, say, a signature, is required. We're also somewhat apt to misplace the address book and last year's Christmas card list.

[As to the issue of Christmas letters, I refuse to enter the fray. Either you like them, or you don't. Either you send them, or you don't. I don't want to hear a peep out of anyone on this debate! Take it outside!]

It's helpful to see the question as a continuum. There are several intermediate steps between "everything by hand" and "total cyber" greeting strategies, and one may be right for you:

  • traditional cards, signed by hand and addressed by hand
  • traditional cards, signed by hand and addressed by computer
  • Christmas letter computer-printed on special holiday paper, signed by hand and addressed by computer
  • computer cards containing a printed, personalized greeting, signed by hand and addressed by computer
  • 100% virtual card sent via the Internet

Which one is right for you? Only you can decide.

There are two strategies, however, that are key to an organized holiday season: a computerized address list, and proper mail addressing.

Harness computer power

First, whatever level of holiday greeting meets your comfort zone, put your address list in a computer database. It's the single biggest time-saving tip when it comes to holiday cards and letters.

(Yes, our Printables library does include a traditional Christmas card list form for completeness, but I hope you won't use it!)

Even if you choose to address cards by hand, you'll benefit from the speed and convenience of a computer database or contacts manager.

Changes of address are simple to record. Hard-copy address lists are easy to print. Integration with smartphone and mobile devices makes it easy to keep contacts up-to-date.

Computer-printed addresses save a tremendous amount of time and energy, two scarce resources during the holiday season. You'll have much more time to write a truly personal note if you're not addressing envelopes by hand.

Heed hints from the Post Office

Second, when the Post Office speaks, listen and learn! A greeting delayed, so to speak, is a greeting denied. Addressing envelopes for today's automated mail delivery system will get your greeting cards and Christmas letters on their way in good time.

Forget everything your fourth-grade teacher told you about flowing capitals and indented addresses. Here is how the Post Office would like to see your cards addressed:

P O BOX 1234
ANYTOWN WA 98765-4321

The rules are: (1) use block capital letters, (2) do not use periods or commas, (3) use proper postal abbreviations and (4) use the nine-digit zip code, if you know it.

Missing Zip codes? The Internet makes it easy. Find the USPS Zip Code Locator here. Get a list of state and addressing abbreviations here.

Today's software can often go a step further and add a postal bar code to the envelope or label, but I hesitate to raise the ire of the Purists to quite that extent. Let's just say if you're on the Geek Cool side of the fence, it's a nifty touch, and the Postmaster will thank you.

One family's method

Over the past few years, our household has traveled halfway down the continuum and everyone seems pleased with the result. In early November, I draft our Christmas letter [I stand revealed!] and print all the envelopes.

After my spouse reviews the letter and makes any additions or corrections, I print personalized copies for each recipient on our list. Word processing software with mail merge features make it easy to add the correct names to each letter.

We use pre-printed inkjet letterhead with holiday themes, although new computer cards are now available for purchase at office supply stores. Sophisticated greeting card software can also create custom cards with a computer printer.

The letters are matched to the envelopes. During weekend TV time over the next two weeks, both of us write a personal message on each letter. Fold, seal and mail, and our greetings are on their way in early December.

Think it over. How can you use the power of your computer to speed and organize this task? Whatever you choose to do, now is the time to begin! Build your list, buy your supplies and pick up your stamps this week . . . for an organized Christmas!

Today's Recipe
Have you heard of freezer cooking? Sometimes called Once-A-Month Cooking or Feed-The-Freezer Cooking, it's a method of preparing family entrees for freezer storage-so they can be cooked easily and quickly weeks to months later. Franchised "meal assembly" storefronts (like Dream Dinners) make it simple to learn this time-saving cooking method.

The busy holiday season is the perfect time to rely on freezer cooking to keep the family fed. However you obtain them--whether from a freezer cooking session, purchased from the supermarket or from a visit to the meal assembly store--stockpiling a few freezer meals ahead of time is a proven stress-buster for the holiday season.

New to freezer cooking? Check out this complete guide from sister site OrganizedHome.Com.

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