The holidays are upon us at last, and with it, festive additions to our to-do list. Don't fret! Follow these 10 steps to creating a holiday-ready home in no time.
1. Make the most of your tree. The tree is the biggest holiday focal point in any home, whether it's a 10-foot tall giant or a tiny tabletop tree. If you're using an artificial tree, get one that's pre-lit so you don't have to mess with lights. If you prefer a "live" cut tree, remember to trim the trunk at least two inches and keep it watered. Don't let it dry out or you'll have a droopy, needle-less treet. Decorate it with meaningful things you love, whether it's handmade gifts from a child or an antique ornament that's been passed down for generations.
2. Make your home's first impression a welcoming one! Replace your old or worn welcome mat with a new one for the holidays and you'll be amazed at how it brightens up your entryway. Personalized mats also make great gifts.
3. Bring on the guests. Keep a bottle of your favorite wine along with a bottle of non-alcoholic sparkling juice (as well as cheese, crackers and mixed nuts) in case surprise guests show up. Keep an extra bottle of wine on the counter in a pretty gift bag to use as a backup bottle or an emergency hostess gift, should you receive an impromptu invitation for cocktails from a friend.
4. Add a festive blanket and throw pillows to your sofa. Even a single pillow or soft blanket in a holiday theme makes a huge impact in any room. If you've got sewing skills, buy a pillow form at a fabric store and some pretty fabric that catches your eye and make one yourself. If you have a favorite holiday t-shirt that doesn't fit anymore, turn it into a decorative pillow and enjoy it each year.
5. Wrap it up in style. Instead of keeping presents hidden away in bags, wrap them up in coordinating papers and bows and keep them under your tree. Buy a set that includes tags, bows and matching papers so your tree looks picture-ready. Invest in a roll of wired ribbon and make your own bows for the most important gifts under your tree. To really complete the look, make sure you use a tree skirt at the base of your tree. It hides the ugly tree stand and provides a beautiful backdrop that spotlights those gifts.
6. Organize your cards. When you receive cards, add the return addresses right away to your contact lists so you have the senders' most recent information on file. Make a list of everyone you're sending a card to and make sure you have enough stamps ahead of time. Get the cards in the mail at least a week before the holiday. If you have extra cards from last year, swap with a friend.
7. Keep visitor-friendly food on hand. Not everyone's into cookies or nuts about nuts. Make sure you have some on hand anyway for guests, but add some fresh fruit and veggies to snack on, too.
8. Buy a holiday-scented candle. Keep the wick trimmed short (don't let it burn unsupervised), and enjoy its inviting, wonderful scent all season long. When choosing a candle, make sure you give it a sniff first so that your house doesn't end up smelling like disinfectant instead of freshly-cut fir.
9. Pay attention to plants. If you're adding holiday plants to your décor, make sure they're pet-safe and child-safe. Many beautiful seasonal plants are highly toxic and are better choices for outside your home than on the coffee table. Christmas cactus is one bet that's generally safe, and they're a beautiful addition to your decorations, but they may have been treated with pesticides - not good for kitty's tummy. You can find a list of commonly-encountered plants and their toxicity to animals here.
10. Ring in the holidays with music! Whether you prefer traditional tunes or modern holiday melodies, there's a channel or playlist to suit everyone. Free internet radio stations and apps allow you to choose by genre or even decade in many cases. If your cable provider offers a music package, tune in and you're likely to find dedicated holiday music channels this time of year, most of them commercial-free.
Above all, make sure you're relaxed and have fun, and your holiday home will reflect this.