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The holidays are always stressful. And with the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual schooling, remote working and a presidential election, the lead-up to this holiday season has the potential to be even more hectic than usual.

That’s why making a plan – whether you’re preparing for guests or just straightening up the house before the holidays – is essential to successfully pulling off a stress-free season.

With that in mind, we spoke with Mara Clements of MoreSPACE Professional Organizing and Kelly Daughtry of Kelly’s Kleaning to learn some tips on how to declutter, store decorations and design a guest space from an extra room.

Making a list

A good way to get started on any big project and avoid unnecessary stress is to make a list of what needs to get done. This list can include tasks such as making room for decorations, preparing a guest room, planning meals and shopping for any items you might need.

“If you’re prepared, you will have less stress and you will enjoy the holiday even more,” Daughtry says.

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Breaking it down

Getting organized for the holidays can seem overwhelming, but Daughtry and Clements agree that honing in on the specifics is one way to make an organizing project more manageable.

“It’s hard for most of us to look at a big project and not get overwhelmed,” says Daughtry, who started her cleaning business in 2000 and recently expanded to add organization services. “But the key is breaking it down into smaller pieces and just doing one piece at a time. It’s much less stressful.”

Any decent article on the finer points of organization would be sure to mention Marie Kondo, the recently crowned queen of organization, and Clements agrees that Kondo’s organization philosophy is a good method to follow.

“I'm a big fan of taking one room – or drawer or cabinet – at a time if you're prone to getting overwhelmed,” says Clements, who has been a professional organizer since 2008. “Marie Kondo suggests one category at a time. Books, papers, clothes, etc. But that could almost be too much if you have a short timeline. If you're not sure how or where to start, I would consider hiring a professional to jumpstart your process. It's nice to have an outsider's view to help you wrap your mind around the ins and outs of decluttering, organizing and styling your home.”

Declutter before you decorate

Decorating your space is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the holiday season. Unfortunately, putting out seasonal decorations can often lead to a lot of chaotic clutter in your home, so before you decorate you should take some time to free up some space.

“The way you do that is you ask yourself ‘Am I going use this in the next two or three months?’ and if the answer is ‘I don’t really need it,’ then that gets put in a storage container or that gets put aside,” Daughtry says. “Be practical. You don’t want to put your coffee maker or your can opener away, but maybe some knick-knacks and decorative stuff because you’re going to want to put out some holiday decorations. Use the rule if I’m not going to use this from now until New Year’s then it doesn’t need to be out and can go in a storage container.”

Storing your stuff

It’s easy to accumulate a lot of holiday decorations over the years, so coming up with good ways to store and access your stuff is imperative to avoiding holiday clutter. 

“Decide how much room you're willing to set aside for your decor. A large bin? Five large bins? A whole closet? Then stick to your boundary. This will force you to keep only the things you truly use and love,” Clements recommends. “I find that using clear, stackable, plastic bins with labels works really well.”

Daughtry seconds that idea.

“Boxes and bins, especially clear plastic bins, are really good for keeping things organized,” Daughtry says. “And keep things organized in categories – like Christmas tree decorations – and put them in a clear plastic bin and always label it, even though it’s clear. And keep it in a place where it’s not underneath 50 pounds of other stuff, where you can get to it.”

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Making room for guests

Obviously, with a global pandemic, this holiday season will be unusual. Things may be different and it’s important to acknowledge that you just have to do the best you can.

For many people, gatherings might be a little more intimate this year, but if you are having guests, you’ll need to make room for them. Chances are, if you’re lucky enough to work from home or if you have kids who are attending school virtually, you’ve converted any extra space into offices or makeshift classrooms, but that space can also be used for guests.

“If you’ve had to convert an extra room into an office, maybe it won’t be quite as perfect of a guest room as you would’ve had but just make sure that the room is bright and cheerful and clean for your guests,” Daughtry says. “If there’s a desk in the corner that you’re using for your child’s schooling or whatever, it’s ok, your guests will understand.”

Daughtry says that keeping the room stocked with clean, fresh linens is a must and adds that including a basket with soaps, lotions and hand sanitizers is a good touch – especially this holiday season.

Practicing your newly acquired decluttering skills can come in handy when making space for guests, too.

“Empty at least a few drawers and half the closet for their things,” Clements says. “Keep surfaces cleared off. Have a luggage rack or chair for them if there's space. Add touches of comfort like pillow shams, toiletries, and fresh towels. Think ‘bed and breakfast.’”

Clean home, clean mind

Having a clean living space is essential for your physical and mental well-being.

After you’ve decluttered your space, make some time for a deep cleaning before you decorate.

“A good cleaning is a good idea,” Daughtry says. “Especially where guests are going to be, such as the bathroom that they are going to use, your living room, your kitchen and your dining room. Just giving a really good cleaning and disinfecting, especially where people’s hands touch. You’re going to have to keep up with that, obviously, but that’s a really important thing to do.”

Holidays are always hectic, with shopping, baking and balancing your time. This year may feel even more stressful, but coming up with a plan early will help you actually enjoy your much-needed rest during the holidays.

“Being organized just decreases stress. And it also keeps you physically healthier,” Daughtry says. “If your home is organized it creates a calming effect. You’re not bombarded with all this stuff.”

Clements agrees.

“You feel lighter,” Clements says. “You can think more clearly, you're less stressed, less overwhelmed, more inspired, more creative, more open and you spend less,”

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Kelly Daughtry maintains a blog with helpful tips called The Cleaning Spot on her website kellys-kleaning.com.

Mara Clements offers tips on her website morespaceorganizing.com.