Home + Work: Finding calm in the holiday chaos

My husband and I (Whitney) share an office. And when I say we “share,” I mean our desks face opposite walls in the same room that he mostly hogs while he’s on calls.

All day.

Every day.

Thankfully for both of us, one of my clients is Workhorse Coworking, so I mostly work from there. He gets to enjoy his calls in peace, and I get to get in the zone to write things like this. I also don’t have to jockey with him for whose Zoom has higher priority. It’s done wonders for our dual work from home relationship.

As you can imagine, our shared office becomes even more of a war zone over the holidays. We have two young kids, you see, and their requests from Santa includes a lot of things. I have many actual and existential issues with this.

And yet.

The boxes and bags start arriving and they have to go somewhere. Those packages also always include our annual Christmas card. And because this isn’t our first holiday rodeo, and our third both working remotely (I’ve been doing it since 2017), I’ve come up with a few — mostly healthy — coping mechanisms.

Batch tasks in spurts 

I am not a procrastinator, generally. Not in my life or in my work. I create an assembly line with my kids for our Christmas cards. I have them sponge paint our envelopes and spread them across our coffee table for them to dab. Imagine those big bingo halls you’ve seen with silver-haired ladies holding their spongy pens aloft, waiting for the next combo to be called. It’s like that, only with two small children boxing each other out as they fight over whether it’s green or red’s turn to pound a dot onto a white envelope. Overall, the bickering is light, and our work is complete after about 20 minutes.

I gather the stack of envelopes and, depending on how much energy I have to manage my charges, usually send them off on another mission while I start stuffing. I’ve found the best way for me to love the process (and I do genuinely love the holiday card, wrapping, etc. process) is to stuff, stamp, seal, and send no more than 15 cards at once.

The same goes for gifts. Wrapping doesn’t involve my kids as much now because most of the wrapping I’m doing is for them, but if I wrap a few things every day in the week or so leading up to Christmas, I feel less overwhelmed, and I’m happier while I wrap. Plus, my back doesn’t cramp, and that’s always a plus. Until then, gifts are shoved (I could say “tucked,” but that would be a lie) in that shared office closet. Out of sight, out of anxiety spirals.

Create and maintain boundaries

If you’re like us, you have a lot of people and things pulling at your time during the holidays.

What a gift! And, what an irritation.

Especially if your preferred mode is to be couch-bound with a cat on your lap and a book in your hands like mine is. My husband and I are constantly navigating new traditions and requests from our family and friends over the holidays, so we (well, I) communicate early and often about what our ideal season looks like.

The output of those conversations typically involves a little bit of compromise on both ends, but the forethought helps in huge ways when we’re split up and getting asked to do something or be somewhere that isn’t part of our pre-determined itinerary. In those cases, because we’ve already talked about what we both want individually and collectively, we are able to accept or decline in the moment or tell the requestor we’ll discuss and get back to them. Every exchange becomes easier because we know we’re on the same team, and that is a blessing in itself.

Remember, you deserve to experience the magic of the season, too. Even as an adult with young kids.

Put holiday activities on the calendar

We get about — and this is just an estimate—a bazillion emails from our kids’ school every day about holiday things we need to remember to accommodate: PJ day! Cookie day! Cocoa day! Concert day! Mommy’s head explodes day!

Just kidding about the last one. I made that up, but it’s basically a synonym for the others.

And in those days that we have to put on our calendar that we don’t really care about ourselves, it reminds me to put the things I do care about on the calendar: Free holiday trolley rides in downtown Edmonds, shopping small at the Holiday Festival & Craft Fair at the Lynnwood Convention Center, getting cocoa and checking out the boat lights at the Edmonds Marina, picking out a few giving tree tags and picking a day to drop off gifts, hitting up Double DD Meats for our holiday prime rib. We’ve also been into smoked bone marrow lately, and slurping down a canoe of collagen sounds downright luxurious on Christmas.

This includes holi-date nights with my husband, too. After his calls, naturally.

There are a ton of fun NYE events going on in South Snohomish County, including a pre-fixe early bird champagne dinner at Vinbero in Edmonds — my kind of night out!

If I’ve learned anything, it’s if I don’t put it on the calendar, it falls away, and then I wonder why I didn’t have any fun over the holidays. It’s a small thing that really does change everything.

Make space for you

With so many added to-dos this time of year, it’s easy to lose yourself in the shuffle. I focus on little moments of presence for myself, and my family: Taking time to meditate in the morning, laughing a little longer during overdue coffee dates, appreciating festive window displays, piling on layers and going on long walks by the beach, soaking in a warm bath filled with Fizzy Bizzy lavender CBD salts (created in nearby Shoreline and soooo dreamy), hand-writing cards to my clients, and sitting in gratitude whenever I start to feel overwhelmed.

I like to put my hand on my heart, feel myself breathe in, and audibly exhale. It sounds like a sigh, and maybe it is. Either way, it releases a lot, and it brings me back into the present, which is really all we have.

Double-down on gratitude

As much as my husband’s endless calls annoy me, I really do love that he’s easily accessible. I appreciate knowing he’s close by. I’m grateful for that, and I feel it (almost) every day—intentionally.

While the holidays can be a lot because they are, I work hard to remind myself that experiencing them at all is a gift. Many of us are missing loved ones this time of year, me included, and whenever things start to feel like they’re spinning out of control, I remember that I am blessed to be here celebrating another magical season with the people I love, a season I wish I could share with my dad who passed from brain cancer in 2012. I am grateful to experience it all with the family I created after he was gone.

So, I’ll take my husband’s endless calls and office hogging if that means I get to hug him more often. And I might even l

Especially right now. And hopefully forever.

Happy holidays to you, however you celebrate (or don’t). We’re thinking of you this season and wishing you joy, beautiful meals, and great company. Make it magical, okay?

— By Emilie Given and Whitney Popa

Whitney and Emilie

Emilie Given is a virtual assistant agency owner in Lynnwood, and Whitney Popa is a writer and communications consultant in Edmonds. They write this column together to share work-from-home ideas. They love where they live and are grateful the virtual world allows them to achieve more work/life harmony. They also co-host a weekly podcast where they share their entrepreneurship journeys while learning about those of others. You can learn more about Emilie here and more about Whitney here.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Real first and last names — as well as city of residence — are required for all commenters.
This is so we can verify your identity before approving your comment.

By commenting here you agree to abide by our Code of Conduct. Please read our code at the bottom of this page before commenting.