Each year I begin Christmas shopping on January 2nd. It starts with a spreadsheet and I pick up clearance items here and there throughout the year, storing them in color-coded plastic totes in my attic. The weekend after Halloween, I wrap everything and write out all my cards. When it comes to Christmas, I am the poster child for being organized.
Surprise! You’ve Got Guests!
But Thanksgiving? Thanksgiving is a whole other story. I cannot cook. In fact, while enjoying the holiday with extended family one year, my oldest son took one look at the table and burst into tears. Thanks to the animated special A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, he was hoping for popcorn and toast because, “It’s all Mommy can cook without burning.”
Because my housekeeping skills are only rivaled by my cooking skills, you can imagine my horror when some family friends announced that they would be dropping in on us over Thanksgiving last year. Sure, we have a housekeeper who comes in twice a week to maintain the mess, but I have teenagers, two large-breed dogs, and half a hoarder’s worth of clutter.
Getting Advice from the Help
My husband is lucky. I don’t ask for a lot–cute shoes, gourmet caramel sprinkled with natural sea salt, and lattes from my favorite coffee shop are about it. So when I asked for a little help cleaning the house, he did the next best thing. He hired someone to come in for a few hours each week.
My teenage sons are great about taking care of the outside of the house. From touching up the paint on our raised panel shutters, to cleaning the gutter and raking and cleaning up the leaves, they’re great. But when it comes to inside chores, they’d rather play video games than dust. Who can blame them? It was easier on us all to outsource the house cleaning.
And this woman is a lifesaver. I’m pretty sure that in her spare time she wears a cape and tights because she’s the Superwoman of cleaning. However, she has her own family to look after and was taking off the last two weeks of November. Desperate for some kind of miracle to keep up the illusion of a neat and tidy house, I begged her for advice and she was nice enough to give me these tips:
- Clean out the fridge. Just because we homeschool our children doesn’t mean the containers in the fridge should look like science experiments gone awry. Keep at least one shelf empty for food your guests might bring for health reasons, like diabetes or allergies.
- Wipe down the counters. Sticky messes are not only difficult on the eyes, but they’re a natural attractant for pests like ants and roaches. A clean house is more likely to be pest-free. To keep up the illusion, we set out a few family photos in frames on the back of the counter where junk mail once piled up.
- Clean the bathroom. Nobody wants to smell a dirty toilet or take a bath in a tub ringed with stains from previous use. Decorative soaps, even cheap ones from the dollar section of the department store, in a glass dish next to the sink or a basket of potpourri on the back of the toilet can give your bathroom a boost of holiday spirit.
- Stock the pantry. If you know your guests enjoy a particular type of snack, they’ll be pleased to find that you have it on hand. If your guests are staying for Thanksgiving dinner, be sure you have plenty of spices, canned goods, and other ingredients necessary for traditional fare. Whatever is unused after your guests depart can always be donated to charity.
- Get the fireplace ready. If you have a fireplace, even if it’s out of commission, you can decorate it with an assortment of over-sized candles or a small LED display of some sort to give your space a warm, welcoming feeling.
- Clean without chemicals. More and more people are finding that chemicals are the reason for their allergies. Mix up your own ingredients for furniture polish using 1/4 cup olive oil, 6 drops of citrus oil, and a cup of shaved beeswax. For windows, use 1/4 cup of white vinegar to 1-quart of water and use coffee filters instead of paper towels to prevent lint or streaking.
Speaking of windows and getting them picture-perfect for your guests, use sites like http://www.sunbeltshutters.com/ for great tips and information about updating your window treatments for the holiday season.
- Cue the background music. Provide a clock radio for your guests, especially if the space where they’re sleeping each night has no other media-related amenities.
Fortunately, we kept our guests so busy with checking out local attractions and inviting in other mutual friends that they didn’t have too much time to discover all the dirty little secrets regarding my horrible housekeeping skills. With the promise of visiting them for Christmas, I relaxed thinking I was in the clear.
Upon returning home, one of our guests posted on Facebook, “Have more fun than if we’d stayed at a hotel. Thanks for the warm reception and we can’t wait to do it again next year!” Next year? Oh well, at least this time I have at least 350 days to prepare!
Photo by jenniferworthe/Flickr