Ready. Set. Entertain! Tips for a Stress-Free Holiday Season

As much as we look forward to the holidays, the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day can often feel like an endless round of decorating, cooking, and entertaining. To reduce stress and prevent holiday burnout, use these tips to make this season easy, enjoyable, and memorable.

Be Realistic

While the idea of a houseful of family and friends sounds appealing, the holidays can easily morph into National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation unless you establish realistic expectations and reasonable boundaries. Before you offer up your guest room, sofa, or blow-up mattress, consider your own schedule and be clear about how much time (and money) you can commit to hosting, entertaining, and cooking.

Get Your Home Guest-Ready

Once you know when your guests will be arriving (and leaving!), you can relax and enjoy the process of getting ready. Look at your guest room from your visitors’ perspective to get a sense of how well it functions. Are there enough blankets and pillows? Is there enough light for reading? Is there room in the closet (and empty hangers) for your guests’ clothes? To make your guests feel welcome, set out a stack of luxurious towels, a basket of toiletries, a fragrant candle and matches, a bottle of water, a pile of new magazines, and a vase with fresh flowers.

Go Easy on Yourself

If you’re planning to host a dinner party for your family, neighbors, book club, or colleagues, go easy on yourself and don’t attempt to be the host or hostess with the most-est. Remember that the more relaxed you are, the more your guests will enjoy themselves, so relax and go with the flow. Instead of trying to plan, prepare, and serve a lavish gourmet dinner from scratch, pick one favorite menu item to prepare—an appetizer, entrée, salad, or dessert—and pick up the rest from your favorite grocery store. Recruit your kids and their friends to help you set up and decorate the tree and bake holiday cookies. If you’re short on time, call a local landscape center to install your outdoor holiday lights and shovel your sidewalks on the day of the party.

Countdown to the Party

The week before the dinner party, get out your china, glassware, and linens. Organize your serving dishes and trays with notes to remind you which dish goes where. Browse Pinterest for ideas for clever place settings, party favors, and instructions for making outdoor lanterns with ice blocks or paper bags. The day before the party, create a playlist of classic and contemporary holiday songs from iTunes, Google Play, or Spotify, set the table, and add fresh flowers or a festive centerpiece. Make room in your closet for coats or set up a coat rack. Place a large rug and a bench by the front door to make it easy for guests to remove their winter boots. On the day of the party, turn on the music, light a fire in the fireplace, relax, and enjoy your guests.

Seasonal Migration; Not Just for The Birds

As the weather takes a turn for the worse, the thought of getting away to a warmer climate becomes more appealing. The term “snowbird” is often used to describe those who migrate from colder climates to sunny locations for extended periods each year. Becoming a snowbird and owning a home in another state can provide more than just a respite from the cold. Read on for more about the benefits of being a snowbird.

Smart Ideas for Staying Warm: 5 Ways to Reduce Your Winter Energy Bill

If you’ve ever received a letter from your local energy company comparing your energy usage to your neighbors, you’ve probably wondered what you could be doing differently to save money. Here are five tips to help you reduce your energy costs while staying warm this winter.

Gift Giving Made Easy: Fun and Ingenious Ways to Streamline Your Holiday Shopping and Manage Your Budget

When it comes to holiday gifts, it really is the thought that counts. While it can be fun to indulge your family and friends with extravagant gifts, it’s not always necessary. With a little forethought and planning, it’s easy to manage your budget and impress your loved ones with cost-effective gifts that convey how much you care about them.

Get Your Garden Winter-Ready: 7 Easy Ideas for a Fall Weekend

Winter is a gardener’s friend, providing flowers, shrubs, and trees with a well-deserved opportunity to rest and rejuvenate after a lush, showy summer. To give your garden a jumpstart on next spring, spend a sunny fall weekend planting, mulching, and watering. With these autumnal preparations, your efforts will be rewarded next spring with a healthier, more beautiful landscape.

Getting Your House in Order: How to Build Your Own Home Repair Rolodex®

With cooler weather just around the corner, now’s a great time to get your personal Rolodex® of home service experts in order—before you actually need them. After all, the best time to call an electronics installer is before you buy the deluxe home entertainment system, and the worst time to find a friendly, cost-effective plumber is after your pipes have frozen. To help create your list of trusted home experts, here are some tips for finding the right people for each job.