Our Best Holiday Hacks

Our Best Holiday Hacks

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If you’re from a family that’s as opinionated and politically diverse as mine, the holidays can be an interesting time, to say the least. (I have been using this New York Times piece to prepare—wish me luck!) Even gift-giving can be fraught in these uncertain times, so I reached out to my fellow IDEOers for their favorite holiday hacks. From “forgotten socks” to Arduino-cooked steaks—they ginned up some gems.

I grab things that remind me of a loved one at any point during the year, then stash them in a box. By the holidays, I'm usually in fairly good shape, and it's fun to see what I've collected. It is like a pre-Christmas, as I forget what's in there! Early in December, I take stock and make a shopping plan based on what I already have.

I decorate for Christmas before I go out of town for Thanksgiving. Sure, it's oogey to jump the gun, but I'm grateful to come home to a winter wonderland, and it diminishes the time crunch and stress during my favorite time of the year.

Our family tradition was always to take down decorations on the Feast of the Epiphany (1/6), so this gives me permission to enjoy the season into January. Before taking down decor, I take pictures, so the following year I can look at how I did it before. It helps me feel less overwhelmed: I can either try new things or reconstruct favorite arrangements from years past.

—Katie Gorman

Surprisingly, a ton of yoga places are open on Christmas day. Last year, I took a yoga class on Christmas day in the afternoon. It's actually so great and magical to be giving yourself that space when you are SUPPOSED to spend the whole day with family.

Honey! And no, I'm not calling you a name. Honey is a Chrome extension that automatically looks for discount codes for you, then applies them during your online shopping checkout. Saving money is fun!

—Magen McAfee

We use Elfster to facilitate our secret santa within the family because we can't be together to draw paper names like we used to.

Whenever they have a promotion, I order free 4x6 prints from Shutterfly, then tape them to handmade construction paper cards to send out at Christmas. I buy things at extreme discount as early as October and leave the original price tag on for gifts.


I usually use the holidays to have some great food with my parents. And this is what happens when a product designer is afraid to fail at cooking steaks—a quick prototype of an Arduino sous-vide cooker. Happened to me last Christmas…

For my husband and I, our gift to each other is permission not to buy gifts for each other. Once a year, we buy a piece of "anniversary art" together, and we get all year to shop for it. Other than that, it's nice to opt out of the consumerism that can cast a shadow on the holiday season.

—Denise Burchell

This year, we've decided to just make donations instead of buying gifts for our immediate family. For our extended family, everyone draws names, so we each only have to give one gift.

—Mollie West Duffy

(And a few from me!) My son is three years old and needs nothing—he’s got more toys and books than he knows what to do with. Whenever anyone feels they must give him a gift, we point them to a link that allows them to give directly to his college savings account. What better gift than to give to his future education? Ugift529.com.

Also, the gift of dinner out is awesome, but dinner with babysitting is amaaaazzzzing. UrbanSitter—our go-to for our favorite sitters—offers gift cards for childcare. Add an Uber gift card to make the whole night complete!

—Katie Clark

I'm traveling to my partner's home city this Thanksgiving. Her parents are very traditional so we'll be in separate bedrooms for the holiday. I plan to purposefully forget to pack things like socks so that we have an excuse to go on shopping excursions together to reconnect.

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