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Help for the holidays: taking the stress out of entertaining 

Tips for throwing your holiday party

click to enlarge Preparing to entertain guests during the holidays can leave us anything but jolly.

Preparing to entertain guests during the holidays can leave us anything but jolly.

At this time of year, our calendars are packed with time-honored traditions and cherished holiday to-do's. But there's one annual occurrence that inspires more dread than seasonal spirit: prepping our homes for guests. The mere thought of all that sprucing up is enough to make any holiday host turn into a Scrooge.

 In the spirit of achieving a more serene season, we've gathered some tips from pros with decades of experience in home organizing, cleaning and decorating. Holiday help is here.


STEP ONE
Create a plan of attack

Experts say the trick is to treat your holiday prep like any other engagement. Block out time on your calendar and honor that commitment. Having trouble staying accountable? "Hosting a party is a great way to get motivated because it gives you a deadline," says Stasia Cymes, author and owner of Clear the Clutter, a professional organization service. Once you set a date, work backwards from that date and prioritize the tasks that will make the biggest impact.

 "Instead of focusing on the whole house, determine high-priority spaces," Cymes says. "Then schedule a date (or several) on your personal calendar to tackle those goals. Common areas such as the kitchen, living room and guest bathroom are usually the most important because this is where you'll be entertaining."

 This is also a great time to tackle any minor home-improvement tasks you've been putting off.

 "If you've been considering a remodel, now is the perfect time to take on smaller home improvement projects so friends and family can enjoy the fruits of your labor with you," says Abby Sanders, marketing manager at Stone Interiors. "Investing in a new countertop or kitchen island will make you fall in love with your kitchen again, where you'll be spending plenty of time prepping meals and gathering with family."

 Even a modest update will make a major impact, but outsource as much as possible. Beware the trap of taking on too much and be sure you're making smart use of the time you do have.

 Cymes recommends downsizing belongings rather than wasting energy trying to find a place for items you'd be better off ditching.

 "The biggest mistake you can make is wasting precious time organizing your clutter," she says. "Less stuff creates more space in your home and you can immediately see the results of your effort."


STEP TWO
Time for the trimmings

Once you've got a (mostly) clean slate, it's time to decorate. That's the fun part ... maybe. If decking the halls feels daunting, it may be time to adjust expectations.

 "Perfection is an illusion and this is real life, so don't stress," Cymes says. "As long as your home is warm and welcoming ... that's what your guests are going to remember."

click to enlarge If you need help decking the halls, throw a tree trimming party. - Decorating is less daunting with family and friends.
  • If you need help decking the halls, throw a tree trimming party. Decorating is less daunting with family and friends.

 "You don't always have to buy holiday decorations to make your home feel festive," Sanders says. "Chances are you've already stocked up on some special foods, drinks and other treats for the occasion, so make that your centerpiece. Arrange a cheese board with your favorite nuts, fruits and cheeses, and display your wines in a stylish decanter to make the occasion feel more special."

 Another expert tip: Turn decorating into an event. Invite family members and friends to join you for an evening of tree-trimming. With the addition of some mulled wine and music, solo tasks that can feel like "work" might become a fun, beloved tradition.

 And if the Grinch taught us anything, it's that holiday warmth doesn't have to come from a store — so scout your surroundings for easy, natural decorations to amp up the holiday atmosphere. For a welcoming decoration on the cheap, Sanders suggests setting out a basket of pine cones adorned with a bright red bow, or stringing candy canes together with twine to display as a door hanger.


STEP THREE
Make future-you a happier host

The best holiday habits you can instill this year are the ones that will make next year less stressful. After purging your home, plan ways to keep the clutter at bay.

 "You may want to seriously consider gifting experiences instead of stuff," Cymes says. "Tickets to a play or a gift card to your favorite restaurant are the kind of gifts that keep giving because, instead of immediate gratification, they give us something to look forward to."

 Cymes also recommends setting up a year-round "donation station" in your home.

 "Throughout the year as you come across items that no longer serve a purpose in your life — uncomfortable shoes, your old blender, those 10 extra throw pillows — move them to your donation station," she says. "Once it's full, take it to (a) charity, schedule a donation pickup or put it on the curb." Not only will it encourage you to keep your home tidy well past the holidays, but the charitable aspect will help you stay in the giving spirit all year.

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