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Toys, like dust bunnies, seem to multiply when you're not looking. This is particularly true during the holidays when children have lots of time on their hands to play with new toys and rediscover old ones. Fast fix: Designate labeled areas in your mudroom or children's bedrooms for toys and encourage kids to clean up every day before bedtime. Create a chart that rewards each day's good work with a star.
Even faster fix: If dedicated toy storage isn't available or practical for your family's lifestyle, try a simpler way to corral the toys when guests are on the way. Give each child a plastic bin with his or her name on it and send them through the rooms to put toys into their bins. Stash the filled bins behind the sofa for easy access.
If your upholstered furniture has seen better days but is still comfy and sturdy, you may be reluctant to give it up—even if it is dragging down your decor. Fast fix: Give old furnishings a face-lift with a few yards of new fabric. The results are much more economical and eco-friendly than purchasing brand-new furnishings. And reupholstering is easier than it sounds.
Even faster fix: If reupholstering isn't in your repertoire, opt for the ease of slipcovers to revitalize old or worn furniture or coordinate mismatched pieces. Less time-consuming, less costly, and more adaptable than new upholstery, slipcovers can provide an instant style update or create a fresh face for your room each season.
It's challenging to provide a welcoming atmosphere at the front door if your entry is dull and lifeless. Fast fix Warm up the floor with a plush runner and outfit an ample cushioned bench for a comfy spot to remove boots or shoes. Hang a mirror over the bench for a quick primp and to bounce light throughout the small area.
Do you walk in the door only to trip over shoes, boots, bookbags, and coats? Fast fix: Get ready for company by cleaning out your hallway coat closet and removing anything that doesn't belong there. Use baskets on shelving to hold small items and include extra hangers for guests' jackets. Add boot trays to the entry to catch melting snow from shoes.
Even faster fix: If a full-on reorganization of your closet isn't in the cards, do a quick assessment of what's in there. Put the items that don't belong into a plastic bin, label it clearly (so you're not scratching your head over the contents later), and stash it somewhere out of sight to be sorted after company departs.
Cleaning can seem like such a chore when company's coming and you're busy with so many other preparations. Fast fix: Hosting last-minute guests won't stress you out if you make cleaning quick and easy by keeping all your necessary supplies handy and portable. Gather cleansers in a bin with brushes, sponges, and cloths and stash in a cupboard that is readily accessible. If you have small children in the house, put a child-proof lock on the cupboard door.
Even faster fix: If you only have a few minutes to clean your kitchen before company arrives, cover the basics such as sweeping the floor and wiping down cooktop and countertop surfaces, then add freshness with fruit and spices. Boil a saucepan full of water, cinnamon sticks, cloves, and orange slices to fill the air with seasonal scent. Grind lemon and lime peel in the garbage disposal to eliminate odors.
When you're entertaining a crowd, you really want meal preparation to be easy. Fast fix: Do a quick organization attack on your pantry and tidy kitchen cabinets. Clean out each shelf, discard expired items, and line the shelf with paper before restocking food, serving pieces, and small appliances. Label shelving to make it easy for guests to help with prep and clean-up after meals.
Even faster fix: If you've run out of time before you get the kitchen organized, don't despair. You can still bring some order to your kitchen in a hurry. Clear off your countertops as much as possible—holiday preparations and hosting are much easier with a clear work surface. In the mornings, keep a tray on the counter with a basic coffee or tea service items so guests can help themselves. At lunch and dinner, fill the tray with condiments and seasonings.
Even faster fix: If time or budget rule out a more thorough update, let new linens do the heavy lifting in a modest bath face-lift. Hang a new, patterned shower curtain with a freshly laundered curtain liner. Add color-coordinated towels and a small area rug and you'll have a whole new look in no time.
You don't even want to look in your messy linen closet—let alone let overnight guests poke around in there! Fast fix: Add shelf dividers to keep stacks of towels neat and separated; use undermount shelving to hold rolled washcloths. Put small appliances in woven baskets and stock up on soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo, and lotion. Label the shelving for easy organization.
Even faster fix: If a full-on linen closet reorganization isn't in your plan, you can still make your overnight guests feel especially welcome. Fill a basket with necessities such as bath and face towels, washcloths, and soap, as well as luxury items such as slippers, a robe, lotions, and a loofah. Place the basket in the guest room or guest bath with a personal greeting.
Many people don't have a room just for guests or a budget for a big makeover. Fast fix: Tweak the room you have by making it as guest-friendly as possible. Place a desk and chair in a corner for writing notes or computer work. Include stationery, writing implements, stamps, local maps and information, and a spare house key. Keep fresh linens in a drawer and an extra pillow and blanket in the closet.
Even faster fix: If last-minute overnight guests come knocking at your door, you can still make them feel well tended. Fill a vase with fresh flowers (even faux flowers can add a cheery note), provide a carafe or bottles of water, and include an alarm clock and music system. Add a paperback or stack of magazines for leisure reading.