Early Prep Work Can Make Holiday Gatherings Less Stressful

Ah, the holidays. Delicious food, creative decorations and relaxing with family.

Many of us get to sit back and enjoy the ambiance and have those Christmas cookies served to us on a silver platter.

The hosts, however, may see this time of year a little differently. After all, a mountain of work goes into preparing an elegant holiday gathering.

But you can dial down the level of stress a little by getting an early start and spreading your work over a week or two. Every holiday gathering is a little different, but here are a few suggestions that could save you from last-minute hassles this year.

Get Things Rolling a Week or Two Ahead of Time

Start out with some of the more enjoyable chores.

  1. Create a theme and decorate accordingly. If you’re looking for ideas, consider starting with a color palate. Here’s a luxurious gold theme. This homeowner paired bright whites and silver to set the tone. Meanwhile, you could go with some nontraditional colors, like this. Or incorporate some more rustic notes, using pine cones and straw accents to bring out the wood tones of your home, like this.
  2. Double-check your guest list, and try to confirm how many guests you will be hosting. That reduces the guesswork for your meal planning.
  3. Identify any significant home projects you want to complete before your gathering. Consider finishing off any carpet cleaning, painting or appliance installations about a week prior to your party.

The Week Before: Meal Plan, Cleaning and Shopping

  1. Create a menu of the food and drinks you plan to serve, and consider what dishes or desserts you could suggest for friends and family to bring over.
  2. Confirm your gift sharing plans. For many families, tradition dictates how this works. But if you’re having a non-traditional gathering, consider simply asking guests to bring a general interest gift under $20 — or whatever you feel is reasonable — to exchange with other guests. Real Simple has a huge variety of gift exchange ideas here.
  3. Get down and dirty with some deep cleaning. Consider cleaning out the fridge and stove, dusting off all surfaces and changing or cleaning the air filter.
  4. Make a list of groceries and drinks you’ll need, and purchase anything that won’t significantly decline in quality before you start cooking. Then, head to the grocery store.
  5. Fix up a guest bedroom if you have people staying over. Wash the linens so they’re fresh when people arrive.

A Few Days Before the Big Party

  1. Walk through your home as if you were seeing it for the first time. Does anything stand out as dirty or out-of-place?
  2. Get your family and friends involved. No one should have to tackle all the cleaning and preparations alone.
  3. Decorate your dinner table with some holiday flair.
  4. Blow the leaves and debris off any sidewalks, entryways, decks or patios.
  5. Prepare any food you can ahead of time.

A Few Hours Before the Doorbell Rings

  1. Empty the trash and recycling to avoid that unsavory chore in the midst of cooking.
  2. Light candles or consider an aromatic simmer pot scent — just boil water and add things such as cinnamon sticks. (See several recipes here.)
  3. Do a quick spot clean, including checking the walkways and entryways to make sure they are clear of leaves and debris for your arriving guests.