Whether you're greeting carolers at the door, hosting friends for cocktail parties or family members for overnight stays, the holidays always mean guests -- and guests, no matter how welcome, always mean stress.
But with a little preparation, you can get your home ready for the next wave of holidays and not break a sweat as soon as the doorbell rings.
Start with the entryway.
This is the first stop for all your guests, so you'll want to tidy up the space to make it more welcoming for them and less hectic for you. Stow your unworn shoes in a closet and clear off a few hooks to make room for guest garments. If your entryway table tends to be a haphazard drop zone for mail, keys, coins and other little things, corral all that clutter into a basket.
Cozy up the guest bedroom.
Change the sheets, fluff the pillows, and designate a space for your guests to set down their suitcase or hang up their clothes. Create a charging station for phones and other gadgets by clearing an outlet to plug into and leaving a note with your wifi password.
No guest bedroom?
If all you have is a sofa bed for guests to sleep on, consider adding a foam mattress topper to make it more comfortable. Leave a few empty hangers in the coat closet for their clothes and designate a space to store linens during the day (such as the coat closet, your bedroom closet, or an ottoman) so you can still entertain on the couch.
Refresh the guest bath.
Hang a set of clean towels and stash extra toilet paper within reach in the bathroom. Place a toilet plunger in a discreet but visible spot beside the toilet — hey, it happens, and it's much less embarrassing for a guest to handle the problem himself than to ask you for assistance (especially if you're in the middle of entertaining a crowd).
A warm home is an inviting home.
I once visited a friend whose house was so cold (because he believed in setting the thermostat at 65°F to save energy) that I wore my down jacket the whole time I was inside. Needless to say, it was neither warm nor inviting. Don't make your guests suffer by being stingy with the heat. Keep the ambient room temperature comfortable enough for a single layer of clothes, and throw down a few rugs if you have cold floors.
If you have a fireplace, inspect your chimney to see if it needs to be swept or repaired. For wood-burning fireplaces and stoves, stack a night's worth of logs inside and keep another stack outside, near the house, in a sheltered area. (Need some 411 on firewood? Check out our guide.)
Stock up on snacks, wine, and beer.
Small nibbles like almonds, olives, cheese and crackers are a must to have on hand, whether you have a few friends show up unexpectedly or you're hosting a cocktail party with co-workers. Likewise, keep a few bottles of wine and beer (or cider and sparkling water) to offer your guests while they mingle.
Create ambiance on the fly.
Drape throw blankets over chairs and couches. Their function is twofold: to keep your guests comfortable as well as hide any pet hair or stains you weren't able to remove before company arrived.
Fill a vase with fresh flowers or better yet, hang a wreath on the door. Skip the artificial fragrances and make a simmer pot on the stove to add delicious smells to your home and help humidify the air.
No time to do a thorough clean of the house? Dim the lamps and light votive candles in each room; it's a simple trick that instantly makes a space feel warm and inviting.