Some of the best gatherings around the holidays are spur-of-moment, when friends or family call a day before—or even an hour before—and want to stop by for a visit. But is your house ready? Have a speedy plan and you can happily open your doors and bring on the fun.
You see that friend in the grocery store, the one you’ve been trying to meet up with for months, and you realize you both have the night free. Or cousins from a few states away are in town and you know you may not get to see them if you don’t plan something quick. Even for the strictest organizers among us who cringe at the thought of not having time to make a to-do list (not to mention bake that fabulous dessert recipe they’ve been dying to try), last-minute get-togethers will inevitably pop up over the holidays.
In my family, we often repeat a phrase from one of our favorite comedians when describing the chaos that ensues after finding out company is headed over: “the flight of the bumblebee.” That’s when everyone is buzzing about; Mom and Dad are barking orders, kids are moving items from room to room (there’s always at least one clash of bodies in the hallway), vacuums and brooms go into fast motion, and everything sitting on the floor that isn’t furniture gets shoved into closets (or, yes, I’ll admit it, under and behind that furniture).
Keeping a house clean enough every day just in case guests come over isn’t possible for all of us. At my house, we call the normal state of affairs “lived in.” But when Mom starts tidying up at full speed, one of the kids will immediately ask: “So, who’s coming over?”
Adopt these strategies to take the sting out of those frantic bumblebee moments.
First Things First
It might be overwhelming when you first think about the possibility of entertaining guests—especially if it’s at the end of the week and your regular cleaning day hasn’t happened yet (if you’re like us, Saturday mornings are catch-up days). But it might seem overwhelming simply because you’re thinking about your WHOLE house. Think only about the rooms your guests will be using. Bedroom doors can be shut, as well as the doors to your den, basement, and any bathrooms that you won’t be using for guests.
Then start at the front door and work your way around the house using the same route your guests will likely take. Clear the entryway; make sure you have ample space in the closet or on the coat rack for winter gear, then head to the living room, then the kitchen and dining room (if you’re hosting them for a meal), then the bathroom. Take care of each room separately, but don’t let yourself get bogged down with any certain task. (This is not the time to clear off the top of the refrigerator or wash a window.) If you ARE one of those cringing organizers and prefer a technical approach, take into consideration the time you have and divide that by the essential rooms you’re cleaning. If, for example, you determine you can spend 15 minutes per room, set a timer so you won’t get distracted. If you’re really short on time, don’t bother pulling out a box of cleaning products. Grab an all-in-purpose cleaner and a washcloth and take it room to room. Again, consider the major areas, especially the two T’s: you’ll want to wipe down all the tabletops, and, of course, the toilet.
One of the mistakes we all make is not leaving enough time to tidy up our own selves. Some fast cleaning can lead to sweat and frazzled hair for sure. Calculate the time it will take to scrub yourself up, too.
If you know anything at all about housekeeping, you know the domestic arts gurus say “the basket” is the way to go. “The basket” can be a laundry basket or any container that is easy to move around the house. In the spirit of the childhood game of “which one doesn’t belong,” pick up anything that shouldn’t be out: toys, clothes and papers (ugh, that ever-growing pile of papers). Then stash the basket behind one of those closed doors. You can do all the sorting and distributing later.
One of the best coffee tables you can buy is a chest, for just this reason. Keep it empty at all times, except for when guests come over, then it can quickly become a perfect hiding place. (By the way, the oven is a great stashing place for dirty dishes, too—just make sure you remember they are in there).
Sometimes we become so focused on our interior that we don’t think about what our guests see when they pull up in the driveway. Send someone out to make sure the driveway is clear of water hoses, bikes, kids’ toys or fallen branches. Then peruse the walkway and porch and give them a quick sweep. Make sure you have your vehicles situated in the right place so your guests can park easily.
Phone A Friend
Depending on how much lead time you have, consider checking with any of the number of friendly housecleaning businesses in the area who may be able to work you in. You might have to pay a bit more for a “special occasion” cleaning, but it may be worth it, especially if you have to work all day or have back-to-back holiday parties to attend. These services could be a lifesaver.
Leave It Bee
While you’re stressing about dusting your house, you might just need to dust off your pride. Odds are, if your guests are special enough folks to invite over in a jiffy, they won’t mind your “lived in” look.
Stop the buzzing about, light a candle, flit around with an air freshener for a few minutes, and look forward to a great time. After all, family and friends are what make the holidays. Take advantage of the extra time to spend with the swarm of people you love.