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Holiday entertaining: How to prep your home without the stress

Make cleaning, decorating, and repairs easier with this room-by-room guide to pros who can help



Prep your home for holiday gatherings

The holidays are prime time for decorating, cooking, enjoying family, and entertaining guests. But getting your home ready takes a lot of work. Between cleaning up, creating a cheery environment, and hosting guests, you may be overwhelmed with a huge to-do list.

One way to reduce stress and make sure the work is done right, is by hiring pros to handle some—or all—of the prep. In this room-by-room guide, you’ll learn more about services available for different areas of your home.

And remember: When hiring pros, make plans as early as possible because the holidays can be their busiest time. “We start receiving calls in July,” says Ken Medina, general manager of Holiday Light Professionals in greater Denver, Colorado.  

Create a welcoming entryway

A welcoming entryway
Outdoor lighting and a festive entryway provide a warm seasonal welcome.

You’ll want your home’s exterior and entryway to be as welcoming as possible when hosting family gatherings and holiday parties. That includes seasonal outdoor decor, which sets the mood for visitors coming to your home during this special time of year. 

Outsource your outdoor lighting

Sparkling lights look beautiful. But well-lit entryways, driveways, walkways, and stairs also keep visitors safe. Perhaps this year, you might hire a holiday decorating pro to create an updated look—whether simple or spectacular—and save the time and hassle of doing it yourself.

It can take an hour or less for experts to outfit a home in commercial-grade LED lights, says Medina of Holiday Light Professionals. Most homeowners need up to 4 hours to do it themselves. Learn more: How to hang holiday lights.

Lighting up a home’s roof line is the most popular choice, according to Medina. You can also try other lighting options, such as glowing wreaths and color-changing floodlights. Learn more: 7 festive alternatives to traditional holiday lights.

Green the hallway

A skilled floral designer can turn the area inside your front door into a winter wonderland. Cut flowers, mini-trees, plants, painted pine cones, ornaments, and other seasonal home decor create a welcoming environment for visitors.

“The scent of the evergreens are part of the appeal of the floral arrangement,” notes Julie Massar of The Potted Plant in Cottleville, Missouri. Consider expanding these arrangements throughout the rest of your home for a cohesive look and feel. 

Tracey N. of Arlington, Massachusetts, called on The Potted Plant to make a traditional tabletop floral arrangement for some friends in Missouri. The result? “The recipients are thrilled with the holiday centerpiece!” she says.

Cozy-up the living room

A cozy living room
A well-decorated living room provides a comfy setting for fun with friends and family.

With loved ones spending most of their time in the living room, you’ll want comfy furniture, glowing decorations, and maybe even a crackling fire to make this highly trafficked space feel as warm and welcoming as possible.

Delegate the decorating

Think of a holiday decorating service as an interior designer for this special time of year. They’ll make your home beautiful and festive, and in some cases, they’ll even deliver and set up a Christmas tree in your living room. 

For example, when Scott. H. of Santa Fe Springs, California, hired Magical Holiday Designs to help prepare for a party, “My house looked like something out of a Christmas movie,” he says.

Fireproof your fireplace

Fire safety should be top of mind during this time of year, as temperatures drop and fireplaces get stoked to keep things toasty. Yet, most homeowners don’t know the first thing about fireplace and chimney maintenance. 

Avoid a potentially dangerous situation—by hiring a chimney sweep for fireplace cleaning and an annual chimney inspection before guests arrive. Learn more: The complete guide to home fireplace safety.

Call in the kid and pet-sitters

Holiday hosting means making sure everyone has a good time, including pint-sized relatives and 4-legged friends. If the adults are outnumbered, or you can’t easily handle the influx of kids and pets yourself, turn to pros who can help.

A babysitting service can keep kids entertained with crafts, a holiday movie, or outdoor play for a few hours, or they can keep a watchful eye over kids and toddlers for a full day while parents indulge in some much-needed downtime. 

If your animal pals feel stressed around strangers or commotion, you may want to hire a dog-walking service to get them out of the house for a while. For example, Boston Dog Butlers in Massachusetts offers pooch grooming, as well as walking, supervised park playtime, even pet boarding

An added bonus: These pros often work overtime. “We run services all throughout the day on holidays,” says owner-operator Pete Kusinski. Learn more: The ultimate pet parents’ guide.

Create a festive kitchen and dining room

A clean kitchen and festive dining room
From a busy kitchen to a beautiful table, sharing food is a highlight of the holidays.

The kitchen is a place to get food prep done, but it often doubles as a gathering place to chat, munch on snacks, and help with dinner or dishes. And a beautifully set dining room table adds elegance to any meal. Here’s how to maximize your cooking and eating areas.

Deep-clean the kitchen

Nearly 3 out of 4 guests at holiday gatherings notice the level of cleanliness, according to a 2021 survey by the American Cleaning Institute, a cleaning-products industry organization. A home cleaning company can get your space spic and span by mopping floors, decluttering countertops, and making surfaces shine. By party time, you’ll have minimal last-minute cleanup to do yourself. 

For example, A Fresh Palette in Minneapolis, Minnesota, helps with chores spanning from straightening up to deep-cleaning. “I had them focus on high traffic areas—kitchens and bathrooms. Immaculate!” says Yelper LB L. Learn more: Pro house cleaners’ checklist.

Pro tip: If you have kids, pets, or adults with allergies or sensitivities to chemicals, you may want to opt for a company that uses eco-friendly cleaning supplies

Set a beautiful table 

Many people bust out the fancy placemats, tablecloths, and napkins during the holiday season, according to Joanne Walgren, owner of The Linen Boutique in Dallas. “A lot of customers come in for Thanksgiving and Christmas because they’re entertaining,” she says. With casual entertaining becoming more popular in recent years, a pro can also help you find beautiful linens that are washable and durable, Joanne notes.

Local home decor pros can also help you create a stunning tablescape, with an assortment of glowing candles in decorative votives, hurricanes, and candlesticks; glass or earthenware bowls filled with ornaments and tinsel; beaded garland; and embellished feathers, wreathes, and bows—the sky’s the limit. 

When it comes to floral centerpieces, florists like The Potted Plant will design “something long and low, so you can have a conversation over it,” says Julie Massar. “[A pro designer will] come up with something absolutely gorgeous.” Learn more: Top tips for a stunning seasonal tablescape.

Prepare a homey guest room and bathroom

A homey guest bedroom and bathroom
A comfortable guest room will help your overnight visitors feel at home away from home.

If you have guests staying over, you’ll want to make sure they feel comfortable and well cared for. Home service pros can help with that, too.

Gussy up the guest bedroom 

It’s easy to neglect a guest room or gradually fill it with junk other times of year. A home organizing professional can help you clear the clutter and make the room liveable again. Learn more: Reasons to hire a professional home organizer.

Spend at least one night in your guest bedroom, to make sure the space is comfortable for visitors—including the mattress, pillows, blankets, and sheets. You’ll also want verify that the thermostat delivers enough heat or AC to this room. 

Test drive the guest bathroom

Besides stocking your guest bathroom with extra toiletries—toothpaste, lotion, shampoo, and conditioner, soft, comfy towels and toilet paper— you’ll also want to test it, as if you’re a guest. Go through your personal routine there, to make sure everything is functioning, especially if it hasn’t been used in a while. 

Pay special attention to fixtures; Do the faucets work properly, drains flow freely, and the toilet flushes without a hitch? If you have dripping faucets, a clogged shower drain, or toilet problems, a local plumber should be your first call. Learn more: Questions to ask a plumber before hiring.

Need to get your whole house ready for the season? Read our Winter home maintenance checklist.

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