Holiday Organizing: Tips to Keep Your House Clutter-Free

So it’s December and my house looks like a holiday card factory that had an unfortunate run-in with Santa’s bakery.

It’s hard to be ho-ho-ho when your house is a mess-mess-mess.

Here are 18 quick tips that will reduce the jumble, get you organized for the remainder of the holidays and give you a jump start for next year.

Start a Three-Ring Binder

It’s not too late. Start a binder with at least these categories: gifts, decorations, cards, tips, holiday meals and ideas. And even if you have it all on your iPhone, print out hard copies that you can keep from year to year.

  • Gifts: List out everyone you need to buy for, ideas and gifts you have already bought. This helps make sure the kids are even-steven and that you don’t buy your best friend a scarf three years in a row. Not like I’ve ever done that…
  • Decorations: Kathy Lee, who decorates her beautiful Wilmette home, photographs what she’s done and keeps a list of wreath sizes, which light lengths go where, etc.
  • Cards: Keep a hard copy of the spreadsheet you use for mailing labels. Why? Because computers crash and even with backups, you might find yourself hunting for 125 missing addresses. If you need help making labels, check out this tutorial.
  • Tips: My friend Astrid Ellis sent me this great idea: She keeps a list of who she tipped and how much she gave, so “I don’t have to figure out all over again who I gave money to and how much. My fear is that I will give less and they will think they didn’t do as good a job this year!”
  • Holiday Meals: Plan your menus, print out or photocopy all the recipes and keep them in one place. No need to search through your entire cookbook collection looking for the sweet-potato puree recipe.
  • Ideas: Write down what worked and what could be improved. Because next year you won’t remember that you need to rent twice as many champagne glasses as guests for your holiday soiree.

Bust Clutter

Yes, there’s a lot to do, but does it have to be done all over your house? Consolidate and control the mess.

  • One at a Time: Never start a new project until the old one is put away. Finish the cookie baking before you start roasting and packaging your famous spiced nuts. And “put away” means every last thing is in its proper place, counters wiped and dishwasher running.
  • Touch it Once: Instead of leaving your wrapping supplies on the dining room table for weeks, choose one night, send the kids upstairs with a movie, make cocktails for you and your husband and wrap everything—together. Less mess, more fun. (But see below for an alternate wrapping idea.)
  • Hands Full: If you’re going upstairs or down to your basement, grab a pair of shoes or a basket of laundry and take it with you. Make it a goal to never waste a trip. Try to teach this to your family, and if you do, write me immediately and tell me how you did it.

Hire Help

  • Wrapping Salvation: Kathleen Dillon hires a high school student to wrap all her presents. At $10-12 an hour, she considers it money well spent. Just make sure they label everything!
  • Extra Cleaning Session: At Thanksgiving, I hired my cleaning lady to come before and after my houseguests left. She appreciated the extra cash, and the money spent was well worth the sanity saved.
  • Consider Catering: Not only will you save time, you’ll save mess. Here are two articles with catering and takeout suggestions that are lifesavers over the holidays: Caterers Make the Event and It’s a Party: Take-Out Meals Good Enough for Guests. (If you’re feeling brave, here’s our best advice for how to cater your own party.)

Combat Last-Minute Craziness

  • Set Deadlines: The last day to mail things via USPS priority mail is December 21 for Christmas delivery, so write that deadline on your calendar, and make sure everything is wrapped, addressed and mailed by that date.
  • Call for Pick Up: Once they’re addressed, Lee recommends using the USPS website to print postage from home and arrange for a pick-up. No standing in line!
  • Get Ahead: Clean out your refrigerator and freezer now. Use up the frozen veggies and half-eaten containers of ice cream. Wipe down the shelves and throw out anything not labeled.

Organize Post-Holiday Clean Up

  • Toss It: Throw out the ornaments that never make it on the tree. Toss the used candles (and the ones that clash with every tablecloth you own). Three tree skirts? Donate the two you loved, but can’t remember why.
  • Store Like with Like: If you have special serving plates for Hanukkah, store them with the Menorah. Put all the cookie cutters away together. Then label everything and get it in storage bins and out of your kitchen.
  • Get Everyone Involved: Dangle a reward if everyone will help wrap lights, put away the stockings, etc. It’s way less fun than decorating, so offering a trip to go ice skating or a game of Life can motivate the troops to speed things up.