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23 Essential Ways to Prep Your Home for Holiday Visitors, According to Experts

These tips will have your home ready to welcome your holiday guests with open arms.

Between finding the perfect gift for everyone on your list and preparing multi-course meals, getting ready for the holidays is no easy feat. And when you've got family to host for the occasion, things get even more complicated. From making beds to ensuring everybody is caffeinated, fed, and entertained, it's a big job for even the most experienced hosts. To give you a leg up, we talked to top interior design and party planning professionals to find out the easiest ways to get your holiday prep done before those family members show up at your door!

Give your guests a handwritten welcome note.

welcome note on white towel
Shutterstock/Svetlana Levachova

If you're eager to make your guests feel welcome and cared for when they arrive, write an individual message to them that you leave on their bed, suggests Spoak interior decorator Sarah Leimbach. Include your WiFi password, instructions on how to use any appliances in the room they're staying in, and recommendations for stores, restaurants, and entertainment in the area if they're going to be venturing out alone. "It's a small touch but adds a lot of thought," says Leimbach.

Or create a welcome area in each bedroom.

white nightstand with notebook, coffee, tablet, and plant on it

Have guests spending the night? Make them feel at home by creating a welcome area in their bedroom with "magazines and books, a notepad for them to write in, and maybe some games, both multi-player and individual," says Bonnie Aunchman, a Cape Cod-based interior stylist.

Set out some extras to keep them comfortable.

blue alarm clock and succulents and candle on nightstand
Shutterstock/Antonova Granna

Just because your guests aren't staying in a hotel doesn't mean you can't give them the hotel experience. If you can afford splurging a bit to make your home feel like theirs, Aunchman suggests setting out "a candle, tissues, a small candy dish, and alarm clock" to help them feel comfortable in your space. And to save them a last-minute dash to Target, you might want to set out an extra phone charger, too.

Make your mudroom welcoming.

gray mudroom with twinkly lights and white boots on a wooden bench
Shutterstock/Dariusz Jarzabek

If you want to avoid having every chair, table, and bed in your house being used as storage space for outdoor wear, there's no time like the present to start clearing out your mudroom.

"Make sure your mudroom/entry way is ready to accommodate guests. No one likes walking around the house with big boots and coats on," says Leimbach. If you want to make it especially festive, a strand of twinkly lights, a potted poinsettia, or a holiday-scented candle can all add to the ambiance.

Fill your home with a festive holiday scent.

silver pan with fruit and cinnamon in it next to a clear bowl of honey with a dipper

While making your home look festive for holiday guests is a great start, filling it with festive scents is equally important. Instead of continuously baking or lighting candles to make your home smell amazing, "simmer a small saucepan with water, apples, and cinnamon sticks for a happy, nostalgic scent that fills the home," suggests Spoak designer Katie Hayes. This is a great trick for covering up other cooking smells, as well—just pop it on the stove for a few minutes and the whole space will smell delicious in no time.

Set out an array of travel-sized toiletries.

set of travel toiletries with flowers and seashells

With all the hectic travel plans that tend to crop up during the holidays, odds are your guests may have forgotten something essential along the way. To help keep them comfortable, "stock the restroom with supplies and a basket of toiletries they may have forgotten to pack," suggests Aunchman. Include a travel toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash, soap, and shampoo just to have all your bases covered.

Empty out a dresser for your guests.

red dresser with empty drawers on a black and white rug
Shutterstock/Africa Studio

Those suitcases sprawled all over your floor can make even the most pristine spaces look like a pig sty, so before your guests arrive, make sure you've got plenty of room for them to store their stuff.

The easiest way to keep your home organized while they're there? "Empty some drawers in their room and have empty hangers so they are not living out of a suitcase for their stay," suggests Aunchman.

Have their breakfast essentials handy.

french press, silver kettle, and two white mugs on kitchen counter
Shutterstock/Piotr Wytrazek

Having guests who wake up earlier than you can cause a real crimp in your routine. If you want to get the sleep you need when your family's staying over for the holidays, make sure you've got their morning essentials set out for them in the kitchen.

"If they drink coffee/tea, ask before they arrive how they like it," says Aunchman. "For many of us, it's what we look forward to in the morning and we want it a particular way." Get their preferred milk, leave out some mugs and spoons, and add a little note instructing them on how to use any machines they might not otherwise be familiar with.

Give your appliances a thorough scrub-down.

hand in yellow glove cleaning oven with blue sponge

If you want to make your home clean and hospitable for guests this holiday season, it's going to take more than just some vacuuming and mopping.

"Give your kitchen appliances a thorough cleaning so they're ready to help you bake your best recipes," says interior designer Jody Wallace of Greylyn Wayne Interior Design & Home Staging. Wallace also suggests clearing out and sanitizing your fridge so that you have somewhere to stash those holiday treats until they're ready to be served.

Set out some seasonal accessories in the kitchen.

three rolled up holiday kitchen towels

If you're eager to create a festive feel for your guests but don't want to go over-the-top with your seasonal décor, try sprucing up smaller spaces, like your kitchen and bathroom, with holiday-themed accessories.

"Consider replacing your hand towels, cooking utensils, and countertop cookie jar" with seasonal ones instead, suggests Wallace.

Add some extra lighting to the darker corners of your home.

pine cones next to small glass containers full of tea lights

One of the best ways to make your home feel inviting to your overnight visitors? Brighten it up! In addition to hanging twinkly lights and replacing dim or burned-out light bulbs, Wallace suggests adding "a holiday-scented candle to every room in the house for warmth and additional lighting."

Bring some greenery indoors.

red pitcher full of holly leaves and berries
Shutterstock/Ivonne Wierink

The weather outside may be frightful, but if you're eager to make your interiors delightful for your guests, bringing in some plants will make your space feel instantly cozier.

"Bring elements from the outside in, like fresh flowers or mixed greenery," suggests celebrity party planner Mindy Weiss with Command Brand. And if you're feeling especially ambitious, try creating a living wall for a larger celebration—an ideal backdrop for gorgeous party pics.

And use some on your presents, too.

woman wrapping present in brown paper and attaching holly leaves and berries

Whether you're tying a sprig of holly on the outside of a gift card or adding a bunch of mistletoe to the top of a present tower, incorporating some greenery on your gifts is "a fun way to extend your home décor to your gift wrapping," says Weiss.

Design a theme for your celebration.

martini glasses full of mousse and ice cream on counter

If you're having family over for a holiday party, make it feel extra special by creating a specific theme for the gathering. "Throw a 'desserts only party' that starts later in the evening," suggests Atlanta-based event planner Brian Worley, creative director and owner of B. Worley Productions. "Have is a decadent display of holiday desserts for your guests to enjoy" when they arrive at your home or, if they're staying longer, set it up to surprise them after they've come back to your place after a day out on the town.

Create a manageable menu in advance.

white man reading menu at dinner with woman in red dress

While you may have high hopes for your holiday feast, creating a set menu—and sending it out to guests prior to their arrival—will help you accommodate your guests' dietary needs and give you more time to play host once they've arrived.

"Remember that you should also be able to enjoy the evening as well," says Worley. "Don't create a menu that will keep you cooped up in the kitchen, cooking and constantly replenishing food for the buffet." Instead, Worley suggests creating an appetizer and finger food-heavy menu that can be easily heated up for quick serving rather than a multi-course sit-down meal.

Set out an array of snacks out for guests to pick at.

unhealthy snacks

If you don't want to spend half of your holiday season preparing and serving snacks, set up snack stations throughout your house to give guests something to keep themselves satisfied with between meals. "Always have snacks out for guests to pick on, like a cheese board, popcorn, nuts, or dried fruit," suggests Spoak interior designer Courtney Fenimore.

Have a display of board games.

die and game pieces on a game board

Hosting guests for the holidays isn't just about making your home look great—it's about having plenty to keep them entertained, too.

Instead of scrambling to find a way to keep everyone occupied at the last minute, get out your board games now and have them on display so you can start to play whenever anyone starts getting bored, suggests Fenimore. You can also help your guests get in on the fun when they arrive by asking them to contribute suggestions for games of charades or Celebrity when the arrive, too.

Invest in full-length mirrors for your guest spaces.

oversized mirror with cacti in front of it in white modern home

Whether they're sleeping on the couch in the living room or you have a guest suite set up, make sure you've got a full-length mirror for your guests so they can get ready for the holiday without barging into your bedroom or bathroom to survey their look.

"The over the door mirrors are cost effective option, if you do not have one," says Aunchman.

Create a self-serve bar.

pitcher of sangria with two glass cups and striped straws

Don't want to feel like a cocktail waiter the whole time your guests are over? Creating a bar station with beer, wine, and cocktails for adults and juice and water for the kids can keep everyone happier in the long run.

"Put drinks out that are self-serve and/or do batch cocktails so guests can help themselves without feeling like they're bugging you," suggests Spoak designer Erin Strasen.

Add some place cards to your table.

woman holding white place card and attaching holly berries in corner
Shutterstock/Agnes Kantaruk

If you're hosting a large group for a family dinner, eliminate everyone's last-minute scramble for seats by creating personalized place cards.

"There are so many beautiful ones to buy, but it's also a really easy DIY," says Spoak founder Hilah Stahl. "You can paint a leaf or mistletoe with a paint pen, or simply use a white piece of paper and dip half of it in a watercolor so it has a dip-dye effect."

Set out some outdoor games for little ones.

white children sledding in the snow
Shutterstock/Syda Productions

If you're hosting family members with kids—or just some adults who are young at heart—set up your outdoor space to accommodate them for when they inevitably get restless indoors.

"Make it an experience!" says Aunchman. "Have outside toys like tubes, sleds, or a build your own snowman kit, or even summertime outdoor toys…like a bean toss/ring games."

Get some treats for your guests' furry friends.

white bowl of dog bones on green table

If your guests are traveling with a pet, make sure you've got plenty of creature comforts to keep those furry friends happy, too.

"It's a nice gesture to welcome that pet with a basket of treats!" says Aunchman, who recommends providing a designated spot for those four-legged friends to sleep, as well.

Create gift bags for when your guests head out.

brown paper gift bags with white doily and thank you note clothes-pinned to it

If you really want to make your guests feel special this holiday season, it's not just about the presents under the tree—having some small gifts for them when they're ready to head home will make their stay a memorable one.

"Send them away with an individual bag or box of water, candy and nuts, a personal note, and a cute mini travel game to play on the way home," says Aunchman. The only caveat? Doing so means they'll definitely be asking for a repeat invite next year!

Sarah Crow
Sarah Crow is a senior editor at Eat This, Not That!, where she focuses on celebrity news and health coverage. Read more
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