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Holiday countdown: Are you Holiday ready?

Whether you are hosting an official get-together or simply have the type of house where people love to drop by (usually with an appetite!), the holidays can get a little stressful.

But a few key shortcuts and tips can help you keep your sanity and be ready for (almost) anything. Here are 14 that will help.

1. Join Next Door if it’s available in your community. This private social network is a great place to find everything from babysitters to items for sale in your area, and can be a great resource in a pinch if you need a plumber recommendation or someone to put up your Christmas lights.

2. Check your prescriptions—right now if you don’t want to forget. You don’t want to get caught on Christmas Day with an empty bottle of needed medication and a closed pharmacy.

3. Dishes looking a little raggedy? Pick up a couple of packages of white dishes and accessorize around them. You can get service for four for under $30 at Target—cheap and easy and they coordinate with anything. Supplement with disposable plates and silverware (we love these silver-rimmed plates and “good” plastic silverware) so you’re not doing dishes all week.

4. The knock on the door always comes when you’re not yet done with the massive cleaning undertaking you had to endure to get ready for guests. So make sure you start cleaning early and have a massive supply of trash bags, paper towels, cleaning spray, and Mr. Clean Magic Erasers. If you don’t already have a cabinet full of Magic Erasers, go straight to target and buy as many as you can fit in your cart. Seriously. They can take anything off of anything. And if you have kids or dogs or both, you have stuff on your stuff. A few minutes with the magic bar can wipe away a multitude of sins.

5. Now for the plastic bags. They’re key to cutting corners on cleaning. We always feel compelled to clean every inch of our house when we are having company. But there’s no shame in finding a few shortcuts. Go through your dirty laundry and separate into “need it now” and “can wait till after the guests leave” piles. Now take everything that can wait and stuff it in a plastic bag. Store in the garage, the back of a closet or under your bed if you have to. Presumably, no one will be looking there. Plastic bags are also a lifesaver if you need to quickly clean out a closet or a laundry basket.

6. If you’re cooking a turkey or a roast or some other meal that has the potential to go really wrong, make sure you have a backup. A pre-packaged, family-size, already-thawed lasagna (it can always be lunch the next day if you don’t need it that night) can be a lifesaver in a pinch and is a tad more festive than pizza.

7. Hit the grocery store on off hours. Early in the morning, late at night, or right in the middle of the workday are the best times if you can swing it. Not having to fight to get down the aisle or wait in a 10-person checkout line will save you time, but, more importantly, it will save your sanity.

8. Take advantage of holiday sales to stock up on “just in case” essentials. At this time of year, great deals can be found on everything from inflatable mattresses to sheets and towels to baking items.

9. Schedule payments early. It’s easy to get caught up in holiday festivities and forget about the have-to stuff of everyday life. Set aside a little time early in the month to get all your bills paid or set up payments online so you won’t have to worry about it for the month. If you’re not able to schedule payments, set an alarm in your phone for the day you need to make them.

10. Think about New Year’s Eve before Christmas. If you’ll be ringing in the holiday at home with guests, you don’t want to be the house with the mismatched noisemakers and picked-over party hats. Tragic!

11. Ask your housekeeper to come after Christmas dinner to take care of the cleanup—and be prepared to offer her a higher rate than you typically pay. She may or may not be willing to work on a holiday, but if she is, it’s a win-win for both of you.

12. Stock a few board games and simple crafts. You can get games for under $10 and holiday craft kits that will keep the kids engaged for hours.

13. Tape, tape, tape. It’s the one thing you’re sure to run out of on Christmas Eve in the middle of a gift-wrapping frenzy. Wrapping paper and gift bags in bulk ahead of time can save you time, money, and hassle.

Other things to stock up on if you think you’ll have friends or family stopping in or if you’re hosting the holiday get-together:

14. Everyone has had that awkward moment when someone shows up with a gift and you’re empty-handed. Put together a few just-in-case gifts so that will never happen again. An oversized mug stuffed with gourmet hot chocolate fixins’ or a movie gift card packaged with some microwave movie-style popcorn and a couple of full-size candy bars makes it look like you gave the gift some thought, and not that it was an afterthought.

Mary DeRose Davis

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