Countdown Before Christmas
The holidays are all about family, friends, fun, and creating fond memories to last a lifetime. Don’t let stress or worry about the condition of your home take away from the joy of the season. While it’s not a good idea to tackle major renovations on your Christmas checklist in the few weeks before the holidays, you can definitely take care of those little touches that add up to a more functional, comfortable, and inviting home.
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1. Brighten Up the Entryway
Even if Old Man Winter has your town in his icy grip, you can still bring welcome touches of bright color to your entryway by stringing lights around the porch, over the bushes, and even up the trees. If you live in a region with frost-free winters, pot up a couple of containers of bright and cheery annuals to deck the front entrance.
2. Sweep It Up
Fallen leaves, snow, and mud are common at this time of year, and you certainly don't want visitors to track them all through your front door. Before guests arrive, sweep or wash down the approach to your house. If they need to park on or walk across the driveway, clean that as well.
3. Clean Windows and Power Wash the Home's Exterior
Is mud from early winter storms splattered over your home’s siding and windows? If so, and if you live in a region where nighttime temps are hovering in the 50s or above, clear things up before guests arrive. Use a power washer to blast grime and grit off the exterior of your house, and wipe the dust and dirt from the windows. If you live in a colder region, don't douse your home with icy water. Instead, make do by wiping interior windows and ground-floor exterior windows with a homemade or store-bought cleanser.
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4. Check the Steps
Does your home have steps leading up to the front door? Before friends and family come calling, make sure the steps are steady and safe. Fix any loose or cracked boards, secure wobbly handrails, and lay down nonslip rubber stair treads where appropriate. If you have concrete steps that need repairs, keep in mind that concrete should not be poured when temperatures dip below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. If it's too cold to fix your steps, establish an alternate route into your home, and direct guests to use it.
5. Replace Burned-Out Bulbs
Check lamps and overhead lighting throughout your home, and replace any burned-out bulbs. Don’t forget the bathrooms, vanity fixtures, and the closet in the guest room. While you’re at it, take the opportunity to replace any old incandescents with more energy-efficient CFL or LED light bulbs. As you navigate the increasingly confusing light bulb aisle, look for the brightest bulbs you can safely use, and pay attention to color temperature so you put each room in the best possible light.
6. Clean the Oven
Your oven and stovetop are probably going to get a workout turning out perfect pies, golden turkeys, and delicious side dishes for holiday meals. Before the Christmas prep starts in earnest, run your oven’s self-cleaning cycle or give it a good scrubbing by hand, and run stovetop drip pans and grates through your dishwasher’s heavy-duty cycle to remove baked-on grunge.
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7. Install a Toilet-Paper Holder
Guest convenience and comfort are front and center on any Christmas checklist, particularly if your guests are staying overnight. The half-used roll perched on the edge of the toilet tank lid might suffice most of the year, but it's not enough when you have a flood of guests. Install a toilet-paper holder—most home improvement centers carry a variety of choices—within easy reach of the commode.
8. Make Your Stairs Safe
If your home has a wooden staircase, it’s a good idea to tack down a runner or install self-stick stair treads before hosting overnight guests. Otherwise, visitors who aren't accustomed to bare stairs might fall, especially if they are wearing socks or soft-soled slippers.
9. Clean Out the Coat Closet
If your coat closet is a jumble of sporting goods, cleaning supplies, and papers you don’t know where else to store, it's time to clean it out to make room for your visitors’ coats. Take advantage of this opportunity to sort through the mess. Donate unwanted items, put important belongings in their proper places, and throw away trash.
10. Fix Drips or Clogs
No one wants the embarrassment of a clogged sink or tub when overnight guests are washing up. Nor do your guests want the irritating drip-drip-drip of a leaky faucet keeping them awake. Although it may not put you in the holiday mood, your Christmas preparations should include replacing worn washers or fittings in dripping taps, and removing hair clogs, grunge, or other blockages in slow-draining sinks or tubs.
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11. Scrub the Baseboards
You may think no one will notice scuffed, dusty, and dirty baseboards, but you’ll be surprised how much brighter and cleaner a room looks after the baseboards have been given a thorough cleaning. Before you cross this one off your Christmas to-do list, take the time to scrub the front door and clean off any spots or smudges on the interior walls and trim.
12. Hire a Chimney Sweep
A roaring fire on Christmas Eve is a joy, but not if that fire sends smoke into your living room instead of out the chimney. Be sure to have a professional chimney sweep clean and inspect your fireplace and chimney annually—the sooner, the better, because everyone and their brother will be booking chimney services as winter draws nearer.
13. Inspect Your Holiday Decor
As you work your way through your Christmas decorations checklist, don’t even think about hanging up those holiday lights or setting the inflatable snowman on your front lawn until you’ve checked all cords and plugs for signs of fraying, breaks, or cracks. Toss anything that’s damaged. Using holiday decorations that are past their prime could cause a fire. It's just not worth the risk.
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14. Clean the Carpets
Whether you do it yourself or hire the task out, get your carpets and area rugs cleaned before welcoming guests for the holidays. It makes a huge difference in the overall appeal and freshness of a room, and deep cleaning often removes odors that you may have become used to, but your guests will notice.
15. Childproof, If Necessary
If you’ll have very young visitors during the holiday season, especially overnight guests, take precautions by setting up a safety gate at the top and bottom of the stairs, placing safety covers over the electrical outlets, and making sure breakables are out of reach.
16. Test Your Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Everyone should test the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors seasonally, but if you’ve neglected to do so, go ahead and check them now by pushing the “test” button. If nothing happens, or if the device produces just a feeble chirp, it’s time for new batteries.
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17. Install New Home Entertainment Electronics
If you’re planning on putting in a big-screen television or a surround-sound speaker system, do it now so you and your family can spend time together watching holiday movies or listening to your favorite Christmas tunes. While many homeowners are handy enough to tackle the installation of a home theater system on their own, others may want to hire a professional who specializes in home theater installations.
18. Have Major Appliances Serviced
Halfway through your out-of-town guests’ stay is not the time for your washing machine, dishwasher, or furnace to give out. If you’ve been noticing—but ignoring—that your major appliances are making funny sounds or aren't performing optimally, call a service person to diagnose and repair the problems before they turn into major headaches.
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19. Seal Drafts
Cold drafts that come through windows or doors increase your heating costs and decrease the comfort of your family and guests. It’s easy to check for drafts: Just hold a lit stick of incense near each window and door, and watch for wavering, bending, or blowing of the smoke column. Replace faulty or worn weatherstripping wherever necessary.
20. Touch Up Paint
While now is not the time to repaint the entire interior of your home, it is a good time to touch up chips and nicks, or even give the guest bedroom or powder room a fresh coat of color. Make sure to tackle this project at least a week before guests arrive to give the paint time to dry fully, and the fumes a chance to dissipate.
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21. Tighten Wobbly Chairs
Preparing for Christmas means sweating the small details that can stave off big problems: Don’t risk Aunt Sally taking a tumble in a rickety chair. Before the big holiday dinner, check the legs on all chairs and tables, and tighten up any loose screws.
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22. Clean Out the Refrigerator
If you are hosting a large holiday gathering, chances are your fridge is going to be filled to bursting with all the goodies you’ll be enjoying. Before your big trip to the supermarket, remove everything from your refrigerator and freezer, including the drawers and the shelves on the doors, and scrub down the entire interior. Toss food that is past its expiration date, and make note of condiments and other staples to add to your grocery list.
23. Stock the Bathroom
Don’t leave your guests wanting for any bathroom essentials! Stock the cabinet (or decorative baskets) with facial tissue, feminine hygiene products, hand soap, and air freshener, and be sure there's always an extra roll or two of paper within reach of the toilet.
24. Prepare the Guest Room
If you’ll be hosting overnight guests, cast a critical eye over any rooms they’ll be using. Aside from making sure these spaces are clean, pay attention to comfort: Change out flat old pillows, replace ripped or stained linens, and wash or air out extra blankets or comforters. If the room looks a little tired, brighten it up with a throw rug or fresh flowers. If friends and family will be staying for a few days, clear out a little space in the closet for their holiday finery.
25. Tidy Up Your Towels
With guests constantly coming and going, the holiday season gives bathrooms quite a workout. If your powder room hand towels have seen better days, buy some new ones or pick up a package of attractive paper guest towels with a seasonal design. Also, make sure you have a complete set of nice-looking bath towels for each of your overnight guests.
26. Edit the Medicine Cabinet
In the powder room or any bathroom that guests will be using, give the medicine cabinet a once over. Straighten it up and take the opportunity to toss expired prescriptions. Then, before visitors arrive, move any prescription drugs to bathrooms or bedrooms and out of guests' sight. While you’re at it, go ahead and stock a travel-size toothpaste and other toiletries in case guests forget them.
27. Improve Air Quality
During the winter, when the heat is on and the windows are closed, indoor air can become dry, dusty, and stale. If you have a furnace and haven’t replaced the filter recently, do so now. Also dust any registers, vents, baseboard heaters, and radiators. If the air in your home is especially dry, invest in a humidifier (or two) to keep everyone more comfortable. On cold, sunny days, consider turning down the heat and opening a few windows for a brief time to let some fresh air in.
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28. Look High and Low for Dirt
Sometimes we grow so accustomed to our homes that we don’t notice the dirt hiding in plain sight. Look up down and all around so you’ll see—and clean—the cobwebby corners, dead bugs in the hall light fixture, scuffs on the stair risers, and the layer of dust on top of the door frame. Kitchen cabinet doors and pulls can gather grime and might need a cleaning. To avoid embarrassment, don’t forget to open up any sleeper sofas or futons to check for crumbs and other debris.
29. Cut the Clutter
As part of your Christmas planning, schedule some time to attack the clutter. Have the kids get rid of toys that are broken or outgrown so they’ll be ready for new gifts they might receive. Be ruthless about your own piled-up mail, unread newspapers, and stacks of paperwork. It will be so much easier to deck the halls and spruce up for guests if you remove all the clutter first.
30. Freshen Up Your Pet’s Area
Some cleaning projects are more last-minute tasks, and remember to include your furry family members’ messes among them. Fido is adorable, but his stinky bed or crate isn’t such a pleasure, nor is Fluffy’s litter box. Wash pet bedding before guests arrive, and set a small air purifier near your pet’s litter box or crate to help filter out dander, odors, and pet hair.
If you're especially worried about pet odors, investigate BetterAir’s air purifier, which releases positive microbes that feed on the bacteria that cause bad odors, restoring ecological balance to your home interior.
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