Five ideas for post-holiday organization

Good day, Unclutterers. We hope all of you who celebrate Christmas had a good one. Now is the time to enjoy the time off from work, the company of friends and family, and the leftovers from last night’s dinner.

Additionally, December 26 is the perfect time for a little post-holiday organization. Nothing too taxing, we want you to enjoy your holiday. With that in mind, here are five simple, effective things you can do today to stay on top of things.

  1. Prepare for ornament storage. It’s common to feel sentimental about the things we own. Holiday ornaments often fall into that category. Protect the decorations that mean something to you with safe, secure storage. A specialized bin like this one will do the job, but really you can make one nearly as effective with a plastic bin and some styrofoam cups. In either case, prepare your solution now so that it will be ready when you’re putting the decorations away.
  2. Organize a wrapping station. A gift-wrapping station will serve you well through the years. Perhaps you struggled a bit this season. If so, take an hour or so to sort that out . A hanging gift wrap organizer keeps things tidy and accessible. Take a quick inventory of the supplies you currently have. If required, take advantage of post-Christmas sales and pick up any supplies you may need.
  3. Figure out how you’ll store those lights. The coat hanger trick is a good one, as are storage reels. A piece of cardboard works perfectly for me.
  4. Unclutter unwanted items. For many, an influx of new toys will raise the question of what to do with the old ones. Here are many options, from donation to re-use.
  5. Make thank-you cards. If there are kids in the house, use scraps of colorful wrapping paper to make thank-you cards. Find pieces you like, cut into festive shapes and affix to plain thank-you cards. Grandma, grandpa, aunties, uncles, etc. will love to receive these.

When you put the decorations away should be based on your schedule or perhaps family tradition. Some do it right away while others may wait until January 6, the Christian celebration of Epiphany. In either case, a little preparation will make that process easier.

Practical stocking stuffers

My sister’s Amazon wish list is among the dullest you’ll ever see. Here’s a small sampling:

  1. Sensible shoes
  2. A hat
  3. Raincoat

You get the idea. Every year it’s similar and every year I roll my eyes. Where’s the fun? Where’s the splurge? Where’s the total resignation to unbridled avarice? Her list is so…practical.

And that’s perfectly fine.

Today I recognize that frugality is a part of the uncluttered lifestyle. Flamboyant gifts have their place and are a lot of fun, but I shouldn’t knock level-headed, useful alternatives. I’ve always defined frugal as “nothing is wasted,” but it’s also got a good dash of “simple, plain and useful.” I’ve written about many products that suit that description here, and today I’ll continue the tradition with practical stocking stuffers. Here are some good ideas for the “practical” loved one on your list.

  1. The Coast HP1 Focusing 190 Lumen LED Flashlight. Hands down the best flashlight I’ve ever owned. Sturdy, reliable, well made and bright. Buy a few and and put one in your house, your car and your bag.
  2. The classic Victorinox Swiss Army Pocket Knife. I own two of these, and I keep one on the key chain of each of our cars. I use them several times per week, for everything from tightening loose screws to opening packages. And while you’re at it, why not add a pocket-sized sharpening stone?
  3. The Pocket Reference, 4th Edition. This little book contains just about everything you would ever want to know and it fits in your pocket. Plus you don’t need a full battery or a strong Wi-Fi signal to use it.
  4. The Accugage 60XGA Tire Gauge is one of the best in the industry. It is easy to read and reliable.
  5. A subscription to Dollar Shave Club or Harry’s. You’re going to buy razors and blades anyway, so just have them shipped to your house. I’ve been a happy Harry’s customer for years.
  6. Chargers, adapters and backup batteries. It’s no fun when a treasured gadget’s battery dies. An external battery pack like the Jackery Bolt will keep your devices running and running.
  7. Lastly, how about a magazine that speaks to the recipient’s interests or hobbies? Rolled up and tied with a bow, it’s a great addition to any stocking.

There you have it. Look beyond the extravagant to find the useful, practical gifts that people love. They’ll be glad you did.

How to hire a professional organizer for the holidays

Holiday organizing sometimes means calling in a professional.

The winter holidays represent a busy time for many people. In addition to the day-to-day tasks of running a household, you may take on:

  • Traveling
  • Hosting visitors
  • Planning/hosting a party
  • Decorating the house
  • Shopping
  • Cooking

…and so on. Add to that the general cleaning, laundry, maintenance, homework, etc. of a typical month and it’s very easy to get stretched way too thin. When that happens you might consider hiring a professional organizer. This extra set of hands can be a real life-saver, if you approach it carefully. Here are a few tips for finding, hiring and getting the most out of a professional organizer around the holidays.

Find the right organizer for you

Hiring the right organizer for you isn’t as easy as firing up Google and contacting the top result. There’s a lot to consider, starting with trust. This is a person who will be working in your home, and potentially be working with stuff you don’t often share with strangers. The truth is just about anyone can call themselves a “professional organizer.” There are, however, a few steps you can take to find a trustworthy, qualified professional.

Your best option is to start with an industry association such as the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO). There are NAPO members all over the world however, many countries have their own associations. See the International Federation of Professional Organizing Associations (IFPOA) for an association in your country.

Most associations require their members to have a certain amount of training and carry insurance before they can be listed on the association website. Additionally, members must adhere to a strict Code of Ethics.

It is also a good idea to ask around. Perhaps a friend, relative or coworker has used an organizer successfully. Create a list of two or three likely candidates and then schedule interviews.

Spend twenty or thirty minutes to spend talking with each candidate. Many will offer this type of consultation for free. During this chat, you can get to know his or her personality, experience, credentials, history and organizational philosophy. Get even more specific by asking about:

  • How long have they been in business?
  • What type of organizing do they specialize in?
  • What do they charge and is there a written contract?
  • Do they prefer to work alone or with others?
  • Can they provide references?

Professional Organizers in Canada (POC) has a great list of Frequently Asked Questions about hiring an organizer that may be helpful.

Once you’re satisfied with that I think of as the “technical” aspect, move on to the tricker questions, like:

  • How do they deal with clients who have a strong sentimental attachment to items?
  • Can they remove items marked for donation?
  • Will they purchase organizing items like baskets and bins or is that my responsibility?

A consultation can help you get the kick-start you need, find the right person and most importantly, identify the person you’re going to get along with.

How much will an organizer cost?

Rates for a professional organizer can range from about $50 to $100 an hour, and most have a 2–3 hour minimum requirement. You’ll want to know if he or she charges by the hour or by the project. Rates may vary between geographical areas and travel charges may apply depending on your location. While it’s possible to find that person who will work for $20 per hour, that “bargain” might not deliver the results you’re looking for.

Other considerations

This one might sound silly, but ask if they have advertising on their car. Perhaps you don’t want the neighbors to know you’ve brought someone in. Most organizers have confidentiality agreements to protect your privacy. If the organizer doesn’t mention this, raise the subject with him/her.

Also, know just what type of work you’re looking for. In this instance, you might want help with prepping for a party or organizing holiday decorations. Therefore, someone who specializes in bathrooms or kitchens might not be your best choice.

Pro organizer or personal assistant?

Perhaps you want to go in the other direction entirely. That is to say, hire someone to take care of the little errands while you stay home and organize the party, put the decorations away neatly and efficiently, etc. In this case, a personal assistant may be what you need. Websites like Care.com can help you find one.

In any case, best of luck with getting it all done. Hiring an organizer or assistant can be a great way to reach your goal and enjoy a more stress-free holiday. Let us know how it goes.

How to store Halloween decorations and costumes

As Halloween ends, two tasks stand before us. We’ve mentioned what to do with all that candy and in this post we’ll discuss organizing and storing Halloween decorations and costumes. Careful planning will keep your favorites in good shape for years of reuse.

For me, holiday decorations symbolize more than festivities. Many of the pumpkins, ghosts and black cats that we display each October have been with me since childhood. There’s the plastic pumpkin from the 1970’s that I distinctly remember putting on display as a child, long ago. The “mummy” that frightened my 11-year-old when he was a toddler now elicits a laugh whenever we remember his request to turn it to face the wall.

Is it crazy to have a emotional connection to a plastic pumpkin? Maybe. But there it is.

Protect your memories and traditions by following these steps:

  1. Use a durable, clearly-labeled bin with a lid, like these 14-gallon totes. The label makes the decoration bin easy to find next year. The lid keeps out dust, moisture, insects, humidity, light, and critters: all threats to the decorations you love.
  2. Put a laminated list of contents on the lid. If you’ve got enough stuff to occupy more than one bin, type out a list of what is in each, laminate it, and use some Velcro strips to affix it to the lid.
  3. Wrap breakable items in bubble wrap. When I was young, people used old newspaper to protect fragile decorations that were going into storage. Often, the result was shattered shards neatly wrapped in newspaper. Get some bubble wrap from the post office or a packaging store for added protection.

Aside from the decorations, consider keeping some of those costumes. Yes, some can be donated, but others are great for dress-up or can be re-used as paint smocks and so on.

Younger trick-or-treaters love playing dress-up. Get your money’s worth out of that costume by adding it to their play bins. Find a bin to store them or install some hooks in the play area. Plastics masks might not last long, but cloth outfits will provide lots of fun pretend play.

Other costumes – kids or adults – that you want to reuse can be hung in a closet with other clothes. Rubber masks are easily popped in boxes and kept on a closet shelf away from light and humidity.

If you lack the closet space, consider a vacuum-sealed bag. Items that can’t lay flat can be wrapped up in acid-free tissue paper, as that will help them keep their shape. Just remember to launder costumes and wipe masks clean before putting them away.

Like many things, decorations and costumes represent an investment. For many of us, their value is beyond the monetary. Fortunately, it’s easy to keep them around for years.

What to do with all that Halloween candy

1610_candy_chemistryIn one week’s time, many of us will find an unwieldy pile of candy on the kitchen table. Or spread across the living room rug. Or even, if your kids are like mine, stuffed inside a plastic pumpkin mixed in with empty wrappers, discarded boxes of less-favorable raisins, and utterly forgotten pencils.

Halloween is almost here.

I love Halloween and I enjoy trick-or-treating with the kids. Heck, I’ll even grab a few peanut butter cups out of their stashes. But as a veteran of the holiday, I know the routine: within a few days, this candy will be forgotten about and left to collect dust. What is there to do with this sugary clutter? Actually, a lot.

Now, before I get started with a list of what you can do with that leftover Halloween candy, a note: I’m not saying, “Take your kids’ candy away!” While I realize that sugary snacks are often nutritionally bankrupt, I also want kids to enjoy the brief time that they get to be kids. If that means scarfing down a Pixie Stick or two (or ten), great. Have fun. In this article, I’m referring to that abandoned pile that becomes clutter. That said, let’s get to it.

Re-use

  1. Freeze your favorites. If you’ve ever asked yourself, “Exactly what’s fun about those tiny, ‘Fun Sized’ candy bars,” here’s the answer. When frozen, they’re fantastic. Put a few in the freezer for a frozen, out-of-sight treat for weeks to come.
  2. Cooking. Whip up some M&M cookies, chunky brownies or what-have-you. My favorite recipe for leftover Halloween candy is Trash Bark. Melt some chocolate, dump in the works and enjoy a holiday bark that puts the peppermint variety to shame.
  3. Transfer it to another holiday. Put some candy aside for an Advent calendar, gingerbread house or piñata filling.

Donate

  1. TroopTreats gathers and ships items needed and appreciated by troops who are serving our country abroad. Help them feel a little of that Halloween spirit no matter where they are with a donation of holiday candy.
  2. Do a buy back! Many business — especially dentist offices — will collect unwanted candy and distribute them to members of the military.
  3. Ronald McDonald House charities gladly accept Halloween candy every year, for distribution among the families of the severely ill children that they serve.

Learn Food Science

Did you know that you can paint with Skittles, practice prediction skills with candy bars or blow up balloons with Pop Rocks? Maybe the kids are strong-willed enough to discover exactly how many licks it does take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop. You can do these things and more, while showing the kids how to have unexpected fun with candy. Of course, if you’re enjoying the science and want to explore even more, a kit like Candy Chemistry is a lot of educational fun.

There are a few ideas. If you’ve got a great solution that I haven’t thought of, sound off below. And quickly, before I secretly eat the whole stash!

Offloading unwanted stuff

Receiving gifts at the holidays is fun, but it also means there’s now more stuff in your home. A few years ago, we outlined what to do with unwanted toys, including donation, repurposing, and selling. This time, we’ll look at options for moving your unwanted items of all kinds out of your home.

Yerdle

The premise is simple: “Post a pic of your unused stuff and swap it for what you want.” Take a nice photo of an item you no longer need (a tutorial on taking great product photos from the folks at Ebay will serve you well). Next, post your photos to Yerdle with a brief description. When someone likes what you have, they’ll request it. The folks at Yerdle will send you a shipping label (as long as your package is under 10 pounds). You then earn “Yerdle Bucks” that you can spend on items that you want.

Gone

Another option is Gone. The goal with Gone is to make the offloading process as easy as possible. In fact, once you’ve listed what you’ve got for sale, the folks at Gone find the best possible price for your item for you, as well as providing shipping labels and getting you paid via check, PayPal, or Amazon.com Gift Card.

OfferUp

OfferUp focuses on what’s available to you locally. It’s got more of a focus on buying than selling (the site looks like store), but you can definitely offload items to OfferUp.

Selling/donating older phones and tablets

Many people use the December holidays as the opportunity to upgrade their smartphones and tablets. While you can find a new role for your old tablet or phone, you’ve also got the option to sell or donate it.

Be sure to prepare a smartphone or table for resale or donation, including:

  1. Removing all data, and
  2. Finding the vendor you’ll use to sell or donate your phone

Companies like Apple, AT&T and Sprint (among others) have buy-back programs, while groups like Cell Phones for Soldiers and Goodwill will accept your donations.

As for choosing a vendor, you have several options if you wish to sell your device. Gazelle and GreenCitizen will both buy your devices if they meet their guidelines.

Old standbys

Of course, you can’t deny old favorites like Ebay and Craigslist. Additionally, a few years ago we looked at four ways to sell unwanted stuff, like yard sales and and consignment shops. Finally, we know it can be hard to part with sentimental items, and we addressed that issue in 2010.

The take-away here is to make room for the wonderful new things that will enter your home this holiday season.

A tidy method for wrapping gifts

“Will you wrap this gift for me? Just don’t look inside. It’s for you.”

I’m ashamed to admit I’ve spoken this sentence. More than once.

There are many things I can do in this world. For example, I can set up a wireless printer and play the ukulele. But until recently, I could not wrap a present well. And it is all thanks to Japan.

A few days ago I was spread out on the floor with boxes, paper, tape and bows surrounding me. Despite my sustained concentration, I was turning out one lousy gift-wrap job after another. Frustrated, I turned to YouTube. A search for “gift wrapping easy” eventually led me to the “Japanese method” of wrapping a gift.

I’ve never been to Japan and don’t know if this is how most Japanese people wrap gifts, but in any case, this method is fascinating. By placing your package on a piece of paper cut just bigger that the box meant to be wrapped, slightly off center, sets you up for this unique method. The whole thing is a few, precise, neat folds to memorize and execute. With a bit of practice it shouldn’t be too hard.

This “diagonal” gift wrapping can be done quite quickly once you’ve got the hang of it and only requires three pieces of tape. I’ve even seen it done with a beautiful cloth instead of paper, which looked fantastic.

Have you tried this method? Is there another clever, atypical and ultimately effective gift-wrapping method I should know about? Please share, because I need all the help I can get.

Holiday preparations you might overlook but will save you time and energy

For those who celebrate winter holidays, December is usually time for family, friends, and lots of preparation. A good amount of what is on your to-do list is obvious: shopping, cleaning, and cooking. But not everything is as obvious, so the following are six items that you might overlook but can still plan and organize for during your preparations. Doing this work now can help your holidays (and winter) go more smoothly.

Make room in the coat closet. Incoming guests arrive with bulky coats and hats that must be stored away during their visit. I don’t know about your house, but our coat closet is pretty full before anyone new arrives. Prepare now by making some room and a few extra hangers available. Also consider, if you live in a snowy climate, guests might arrive with wet hats and gloves and slushy boots. You’ll want to have a plan for where you’re going to put those additional items without making a mess, too.

Prepare bad weather gear. Tell me if this sounds familiar: You need to shovel a mountain of snow, but the shovel is across the yard and in the shed? That situation is not ideal. Before the first flakes fall, I get my shovels, bucket of salt, and scrapers for the car out of the basement and into their winter storage locations. Now, when the snow falls, you can start shoveling right away as all of your equipment will be ready and you won’t have to worry about your guests slipping and falling.

Plan ahead for post-holiday light storage. Holiday presents mean, among other things, an influx of cardboard boxes. If you don’t already have an organized light-storage method for after the holidays, keep a few of those boxes because they’re perfect for storing holiday lights. Break the box down flat and then cut the boxes down into their individual sides. Wrap lights around the cardboard squares/rectangles prior to storage. They won’t tangle and you can even leave a note to yourself on the slab of cardboard yourself: “Kitchen window,” “Tree.”

Outfit an ornament repair center. Many people have an eclectic collection of holiday ornaments, from the inexpensive pieces you picked up on a whim to the old, sentimental decorations with high sentimental value. It’s a bummer when they need repair and it’s a real problem when you’re not equipped. A little glass adhesive, some pliers, a wooden stick or a pin-tool (for applying adhesive), a razor blade, and plastic gloves will serve you well.

Make shelves and food easily viewable in your refrigerator and pantry. There’s nothing like opening the spice cabinet and being confronted with the backs of several dozen little plastic containers. Where was the allspice again? It’s like a memory game, and it’s not fun. Turn everything with the label-side out for easy reference or write on the lids with a permanent marker the shaker’s contents if you can’t see all the labels.

Set tables the night before a holiday meal. I’ve spent a whole day cooking only to notice that, just as the final dish has finished cooking, the table is not set or decorated. Before you hit the bed at night, set the table and save yourself a lot of time the next day. This is a great activity for children, too, if you’re looking for ways to get them involved.

Have a great — and organized — holiday season.

Storing Christmas decorations

If you celebrated Christmas this year, you’re likely ready to take down your decorations (if you haven’t already). The following are suggestions for how you can do that chore and be organized in the process.

Trees

Artificial trees must be broken down and stored, and there are numerous storage solutions available to you. In our house, we use tree bags by Vickerman. They easily hold a tree and its stand. The handles on the bag are nice and wide, so you can get a good hold of it while crawling into the eaves of the house (where we store ours). The bag’s material is sturdy, too, and after years of use there’s not a tear or a puncture to be had. Plus, they fold up to be quite small when the trees are out and on display.

If you have a real tree that is ready to go, you have a few options. Stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s will often take your trees, as will local Boy Scout and Girl Scout groups. Alternatively, call your local municipality, as many governments have erosion programs that utilize old Christmas trees.

Lights

It’s tempting to toss these into a bag and figure you’ll deal with the mess in 11 months. Again, there are several options here, but my favorite is the good old coat hanger. Just wrap them on, hook them into place and hang as you would an article of clothing.

Extension cords

This is one of my favorite tricks for storing outdoor extension cords, so often used for outdoor lights. Don’t wrap it around your arm or wad it into a ball. Instead, braid it. By putting the two ends together, making a loop, pulling the length through to make another loop, repeating until you have a perfect braid that can be hung in the garage or basement. The best part is that the next time you use it, you only need to “unbraid” the length that you need.

Ornaments

Some of our ornaments have a strong sentimental value and deserve a little extra protection. An archival storage box does the trick. For the rest, we use significantly less expensive containers that are sturdy and easy to store. What I like here is that the wing-top folds completely out of the way, making it easy to get items and hands in and out.

Wreath

For storing wreaths, we use a wreath-shaped storage containers with a handle. My wife made a pair of artificial wreaths a few years ago that fit nicely in these containers, which keep them protected throughout the year. I will admit that after a few years of use, the latches aren’t as trust-worthy as they’ve been, so I’ve supplemented with a little bungie cord. Other that that, they’re fine and easy to transport.

What are your strategies? Let us know in the comments.

Holly jolly clutter

While it’s such a fantastic privilege to be able to share gifts with friends and family this time of year, this privilege often comes with the side-effect of discovering clutter in your home. I’ve found several options for dealing with holiday clutter, some of which come from Unclutterer readers, and I’d like to share them with you.

Way back in 2007, we suggested you use the “one for one” rule. That is to say, if you receive a coffee maker, get rid of the old one. Love that new pair of jeans? Eliminate an existing tattered pair. For many items this rule is a good one to follow, but it’s not always practical. For instance, you can’t swap out consumables, like one-of-a-kind homemade items or cards.

Speaking of cards, readers Jan and Kate have shared some awesome suggestions for processing greeting cards. Jan cuts the front of cards off and reuses the colorful cover as a post card. Kate massacres (her word) the cards to use their images as gift tags. Those are both good ideas.

While you’re at it, this is also a good time to do a general purge of the items and decorations you typically only see once a year. If something is worn beyond repair or no longer working correctly, get rid of it. Decorations that are faded or looking a little long in the tooth should go, too. Resist the urge to just pack them away and get them out of sight until next year. And, if you have ornaments or decorations that need to be repaired, do that work now so you can enjoy the items this season.

If there are any items you didn’t unpack this year and left in the holiday decorations box, it might be a sign that it’s time to get rid of those things. Items you simply don’t like any longer can always be donated to charities and organizations that decorate for the holidays. You’ll enjoy freeing up some space and the eventual recipients will have the benefit of your generosity.

Gift giving is a tricky business and you may receive some items you appreciate but aren’t interested in keeping. If you’re thinking of re-gifting the item, check out Clementine Daily’s interview “Regifting: Yay or Nay?” with a modern manners and etiquette expert Diane Gottsman. She provides tips for doing this in such a way as to be considerate to everyone involved.

I’m sure several of you also have inventive and effective ways to manage holiday clutter. So, share your favorites with everyone in the comments below. How do you deal with the holly jolly clutter?

Cleaning up after the holidays

Every great party is followed by a great cleanup. The holidays are a shiny, tinsel-strewn example of this. While I love the holidays, I also recognize that it’s an invitation to mess. First of all, you bring new stuff into your house. There are also get-togethers, lots of newly-emptied boxes, paper all over the place, decorations, and so on. But there’s hope! The following suggestions are a few things you can do to keep the cleanup stress to a minimum.

For many, the holidays include the accumulation of stuff. What’s the best way to handle the influx without creating new piles of clutter? Try the one-in-two-out method. It’s pretty simple: for each new item you received and want to keep, you get rid (donate, recycle, sell) of two items you previously owned. For example, if the kids got new PJs, pass on two older pairs to younger cousins. If new books arrived, pull two from the library to give to loved ones or friends who might like them. Perhaps a local preschool could benefit.

I mentioned the influx of new toys briefly. The one-in-two-out rule works well, but you can expand on it. You can donate older toys that are still in good condition. Consider seeking out a toy drive. Ask your local chamber of commerce for help if you don’t know of any in your area. Police stations and fire stations often take donated toys, too. Stuffed Animals for Emergencies, Inc. looks for stuffed animals in particular.

You can re-purpose old toys, too. For example, these wooden block wall hangings and this animal head coat rack are two great recycling ideas.

I’d be remiss if I neglected addressing ornaments and lights. Storing each can be a real challenge. On one hand, many ornaments are precious and carry much sentimental value. On the other, it’s as if Christmas lights were made to tangle themselves into a frustrating rat’s nest between January 1 and December 1.

Durable Christmas ornament storage boxes are super for organizing what you have, protecting your ornaments, and keeping out pests. They’re made of thick plastic, stackable, and feature a single compartment of each ornament. Here’s a tip: take some of that crumpled-up, leftover wrapping paper and stuff it inside the compartments for jiggle-free storage of your smaller ornaments.

As for the lights, don’t end up like this. To store your lights, first make sure all the bulbs are working. Next, keep the spare bulb with their parent strands. Finally, employ the awesome cloths hanger trick. The idea is to wrap a strand around a coat hanger, tape the end pieces down and then stack them in a plastic bin. I love it. Housekeeping has a few good ideas, too, like the Pringles can trick. Remove the lid, cut out the bottom and wrap the lights around the tube.

Preparing for house guests

For those of us who celebrate, the holidays mean that you’re likely to have house guests. Some will stay for a day, while others will be in it for the long haul. My wife and I play host to several far-flung relatives every year, many who stay for a week or more. It’s great to be around everybody, and a little planning makes it even better. The following are a few organized ideas you can employ to make the whole experience better for everyone.

Pre-visit

Before the gang shows up, there’s some preparation that needs to be done. I suggest you begin by delegating. There’s a lot to be done, and taking it all on by yourself is a bad idea. First, write down what needs to be done before everyone arrives. Next, divvy up who’s going to do what. Not only that, but set a start date and deadline for each task. That way, projects like “ensure that all bath towels are clean and available” and “wash all bed linens” not only have a due date, but a person in charge. Make this list public to everyone in your home so that accountability isn’t a mystery to anyone.

Next, prioritize. The lists you generate while working on the above will probably contain many items that must be done, as well as some that would just be nice to get done. From there, I suggest making three lists:

  • Priority A: Do or die, must be done.
  • Priority B: It would be nice if these things happened.
  • Priority C: Aspirational goals. Everyone will have a great time, even if these items are not completed.

After making this list, you’ll have a real good handle on what must be completed to pull off a successful and relatively stress-free hosting, and what’s nice but not crucial. Then, act accordingly.

During the visit

My family is not content with sitting around. They like to go, see, and do. This is a lot easier when the going, seeing, and doing have been defined ahead of time. Make a note of who’s “on point” for a given activity well before the guests arrive. Who will drive to caroling in town? Who’s in charge of dinner? Having those questions (and more) answered ahead of time will benefit everybody.

When my extended family goes on summer vacations together, we create sign-up sheets for determining who wants to do what. It might sound overly formal, but it helps the 13 of us stay on top of things without a doubt.

It’s also important to be flexible. The schedule isn’t the end-all and be-all of your time together. It’s merely a formalized suggestion. There will be times when plans change. Go with it. You’ll have a much better time than trying to stick, unyieldingly, to the itinerary.

Finally, don’t forget the little things or the regular routine. Who’s going to make breakfasts? Or take the dog out? Run to the dump or turn the laundry over? Answering these questions ahead of time is a good idea.

Odds and ends

Here are a few tricks that my wife and I have used at home with great success. First, we put a folder full of take-out menus in our guests’ bedrooms. That way, they know what’s around and can make their own plans if they like. Also, make a “Boredom Jar” like the one I described earlier this year. To make one, print many answers to “What can I do?” onto thin strips of paper. Next, glue them to popsicle sticks and stick them into a jar. Now, when the kids ask, “What can I do?” just point them to the jar.

Hopefully something here will work for you. Good luck and have a great holiday season.