Between shopping, visiting the family and going to all those crazy holiday parties, the winter season is never easy for anyone. So, with the help of organizational wizard Heather Burke, member of the Professional Organizers of Canada and owner of Ottawa-based Smart Space Organizing, we put together a few (okay, well, a lot of) helpful tips to help you make it through this winter break with minimal stress levels.

Home for the holidays

Pack smart
Even if you're only spending a few days with your parents, you're going to need to pack a suitcase. Sure, you might want to bring your entire collection of makeup or every DVD you own, but try to only bring what you absolutely need. If you can, leave some room in your suitcase so you can "take back anything you're not using so your room doesn't get too full," Burke said. "You'll want to bring more winter clothes (back to London with you)."

Parents will be parents
You may hate it, but keeping this fact in mind is key when you're going home for the holidays. "It doesn't matter whether you're in your 30s, 40s, 50s or 60s — if there's a parent around, they will still treat you like a child! It's a built-in nature," Burke said. If you really can't stand stand when your parents baby you, talk to them about it before you head home.

Meet the family
If its your fi rst time meeting your partner's entire family, you might feel overwhelmed. Remember to be polite and prepared. Learn something about each of the people you're going to meet. Is there anything you shouldn't talk about? Who is mostly likely to ask intrusive questions? You don't have to answer the tough, invasive questions — change the topic in a humorous or polite fashion.

Accept terrible gifts with grace
It'd be nice to think you're old enough to not get upset when you receive a gift that's less than stellar, but if you're still a pouter when it comes to presents, we say this in the nicest way possible: get over it. It's time to adopt an attitude of gratitude, friends.

"The focus should never be on the gift," said Louise Fox, owner of and So suck it up, say how nice it was that the individual thought of you and deal with it later. Think about it: regardless of how silly the gift may seem, someone actually thought to get you something, so remember your manners.

Deal with family feuds
If some of your holiday parties have ended with holes in the wall or tears, you're not alone. There are also those great questions that family members always like to ask around this time of year, such as "When are you going to get a boyfriend/ girlfriend?" and "What are you doing with your life?"

First, get prepared. You know this happens every year, so come up with appropriate but not offensive replies, said Fox. Answers like "Why do you ask?" or "Wouldn't you like to know?" coupled with a cheeky sense of humour can put the other person on the spot.

It doesn't hurt to look at your own attitude too, so check yourself before you wreck yourself. Avoid alcohol if it triggers confrontation, and if all else fails, remember you may have little nieces and nephews looking up to you so set a good example.

Blow off steam
Despite all your planning, you may run into an unexpected stress trigger. Taking some time to step out of the house and go for a walk is an excellent idea if (and, likely, when) the family starts to fi ght. Instead of turning to alcohol to relax, make yourself some hot chocolate, get a nice warm blanket and snuggle up with one of your favourite movies. "Yoga, a nice walk or any form of exercise (will help). Alcohol is a stressor," Burke added. And always remember, focus on having fun and enjoying your time with the family!

Party down

Use a calendar
Now that December is beginning, it's a good idea to start planning out your holidays now. "Take your calendar and start marking in the days that have been planned for you," advised Burke. Mark down all of the dates of holiday dinners and parties you know you're going to be attending. This way, you know exactly when you'll be free for other holiday fun, like ice skating, tobogganing and shopping for gifts.

Don't overdo it
It may seem like a good idea to stuff your face will all the home-cooked treats you can get your hands on, but remember, you're likely going to have to enjoy similar foods at a few different parties and dinners, so don't pig out. Pace yourself so you can enjoy every holiday dinner you need to attend, and don't forget to try something new. Maybe that tofurky doesn't look super appetizing, but try it - you could surprise yourself or at the very least, spice up your usual holiday dinner.

Know when to go
Spending time with the family can be relaxing, but spending too much time together can be stressful. Know when you're all partied out and when to say your goodbyes. A great way to leave gracefully is to show the host that you had a great time. Big smiles, hugs and a "thank you" are great ways to let the host know how much fun you had — even if the party was less than stellar.

Catch some z's
There's no faster way to party burnout than not getting enough shut-eye. Making sure you have plenty of time to sleep will keep you chipper no matter how many parties you have ahead of you. Don't let party time cut into your sleep time.


Gifts and cards
It would be nice if we could hand-pick and personalize each gift we give, but that could lead to a major stress meltdown. One way to avoid this stress is planning your shopping in advance (we're talking months prior to the big day). Burke strongly recommended giving "event" gifts: plan a group dinner or head to the spa together. "Really look at who you want to give gifts to and generally try to do it as an experience. People don't remember the gifts they got; they remember the times they had with the people they love." Burke also suggested sending e-cards instead of the store-bought paper ones to save money but either way, send a greeting with a personal touch.

Who to buy for
Having too many people on your shopping list is never a good idea. Figure out a few people you really want to buy gifts for and consider sending cards to everyone else. "Spend time with friends and family and try to buy gifts with sentimental value rather than dollar value to avoid stress," advised Carolan Prior, a Fanshawe student and holiday shopping wiz kid.

Stay organized
"There's the stress of trying to get everyone the perfect gift and not spend too much money," Prior said. She also mentioned that lack of budgeting and organization are the biggest causes of her shopping stress. Know how much you can afford to spend and how many people you want to buy for. Start planning your budget early. It's never a bad idea to start your holiday shopping ahead of time, either!

Don't forget what the holiday season is really about: spending time with family and friends. Know when you need to step away from the situation. Get lots of rest and relaxation time. And don't freak out if the holidays don't go as smoothly as you'd hope — the less time you spend stressing out, the more fun you'll have!