Tis the season! The season to entertain, see a lot of friends and family, to spread holiday cheer…and to feel overwhelmed.
Hosting holidays in your home can be so much fun, but it’s a lot to manage on top of otherwise busy schedules and when overwhelm comes in, the fun heads out. Holidays are meant to bring people together and I firmly believe that the host should get to have as much fun and time with those attending as everyone else. I’ve learned a few things over the years that might help you enjoy hosting just a tidge more. The goal is to lower the stress level so you can look back on this holiday and remember having fun with people, not just being in the kitchen or cleaning up after others.
Don’t overthink it. Um…yep. Yes. This. We all do this all.the.time and it’s not necessary. You’ve got 12 people coming over in addition to your own immediate family – this is not the time to complicate your recipes and try some new meringue something-or-other. Make the dishes you already know well that you know will turn out. There is nothing wrong with wanting to make things fresh and new or special, but nothing turns fun into a giant stress ball more than when you’re making food you needed to turn out to feed allthepeople ends up burned or underdone and you have no backup options. Not overthinking your food looks like this:
- Make food that needs no backup options. Your best staple recipes that always end up with empty dishes because they’re amazing. Don’t mess with amazing.
- Cater as needed…the holiday is about people and good food. If you don’t have it in you to do the whole thing, or any of it, cater it. Many grocery stores offer a good price on a full holiday meal that you can just pick up.
- You don’t need 12 side dishes. You just don’t.
- Cheese plates FTW. Simple, easy appetizer and…cheese. Done.
- Batch cocktails. You guys. This one is my friend’s recipe (The Spiced Gobbler) and it was a hit! You can do this with just about anything – go google “large batch cocktail” for more ideas. You make a base that’s non-alcoholic (for this one she had me do 2 parts cider to 1 part each OJ and cranberry juice) and people mix it with whatever they like: sparkling water, bourbon, champagne. The sky is the limit and then everyone is happy with their favorite flavors.
Stop disqualifying your space – get creative and host in your not massive house. Your home is not too small to host. Some would say that certain social media platforms have made it harder to feel we have a good enough home to host a holiday or party. I don’t believe that Pinterest and Instagram have ruined us all. I think we had insecurities before that and this is our new out/excuse. Girl – if you want to host a holiday or party then HOST A HOLIDAY OR PARTY. We have a house now, but for years we didn’t and just did it anyway. My family was gracious enough to let me host multiple holidays in a two-bedroom apartment, my friends have come to Friendsgiving where we crammed 10 people around a 6-person table and we hosted families in our tiny spaces for meals. If you’re welcoming and make it a friendly space, most people don’t care that it’s tight. Get creative:
- Clear away the clutter – if you have other things in the way that make your space tighter, move it to a bedroom while people are over – baby swings, baskets of kids’ books, etc. The more open space you can make, the larger your small space becomes.
- Makeshift furniture – last year we didn’t have a coffee table when I was hosting my annual Friendsgiving so I put up a 4-foot folding table, shortened the legs and covered it with a table-cloth. Boom – coffee table.
- We have a house now, but there’s limited space downstairs where people will be – it’s not a party house, but we make it one. Don’t have room for a bar? Move all your decor off of an entry table and just make that into a bar. The desk in your front room can become a drink station, etc. You have the space and there are no rules, you just have to look at what you have with new eyes and change it into something new for the day or an evening.
- Most of all, stop stressing that people care. Our kitchen is really tight and doesn’t have seating for more than about five or six, so we extend our table into our living room for larger family gatherings. The place the wall sticks out gets in the way and in some spots you can’t get up to get yourself anything, you have to ask for help because you’re stuck. Stop worrying that this is a make-or-break holiday experience. Families work together – use it as a chance to help one another.
NEVER clean your house the day people arrive. Friend, you have way too much to do the day people are arriving and I promise you that your guests care far more that you’re in a good spot than if there are water spots on the bathroom faucet. I wholeheartedly mean this when I say that if you have an hour of margin, at least 30 minutes of that should be spent sitting down with coffee in hand. Hosts on holidays give any FitBit or Apply Watch a run for its money on that step counter. Sit your cute little butt down and drink your coffee knowing your guests will get a better you for it.
How this works:
- If you remember, clean your house a week-ish before. The day before, wipe down everything people will actually see – this is not the time to clean the drain in the master shower bathroom. Focus.
- If you didn’t remember to clean a week ahead of time, the night before, do only what’s necessary. Read: bathroom wipe down is a yes, dusting the cable box is a no.
- Easier “cleaning”: Decluttering goes farther than actually cleaning to make you feel your house is ready – clear the kid clutter and open up your table tops and counters. Honestly, this will sound terrible, but the goal is for your home to look clean enough for you to not be embarrassed, not for it to actually be spotless. I’m showing my cards here but who really cleans their house on the regular anyway?
Make everything ahead of time. EVERYTHING. I know what you’re thinking, that some things you just can’t, but you’re wrong. Ina Garten is my go-to kitchen guru – I’ve been watching her since we first got married and I had time to watch Food Network, and if she says it’s possible, it’s legit. Tin foil is your best friend here, plastic wrap a close second.
How to make everything ahead:
- The real show stopper is the Minnesota special: a table in the cold garage serving as the extra fridge. Honestly – if you don’t have this going on over the holidays, I’m not sure you’re actually from the Midwest.
- Meat: can be cooked or grilled ahead of time and then wrapped in foil on a baking sheet. If you have them, use a half-sheet pan rather than a larger one so you can fit more of these in the oven as all of your food reheats.
- Mashed potatoes too. Make them ahead, put them in a ceramic bowl with plastic wrap over the top. The day of, you reheat them over a pot of simmering water on the stove.
- Salad: chop all the ingredients the day before – put in a big bowl covered and put in your “extra fridge.” Toss the day of the party.
- Bread is easy the day before if you are a make-your-own type. If you buy bagged bread, even better.
Fancy has its place – use only as necessary. I love fancy. I love fancy holidays. And I love to overwhelm myself with big optimistic plans of making my home fancy and also cooking a big perfect meal with 12 side dishes. Not helpful.
- Paper plates as necessary. Even this can get complicated. It’s so fun to buy the fancy gold plates that will look so pretty but only if you’re doing a sit down meal. Fancy plates are often…delicate. Buffets demand Chinet plates – sturdy is a need with holiday food.
- Simplify your fancy. I like candles, but I get big eyes and excited smelling them all choosing the right holiday smell in the aisles of Home Goods. Nope – mama ain’t got time. If candles are your thing to make your house homey, choose one candle that you can love for the whole holiday season, buy a bunch, put them in every room. Done. Your house now smells like pine until January. Not a bad thing.
- Same with any decor you think you need. Target home aisles are to be avoided – they are a trap of “should” and “need” when you have all you need already. Because do you really need a tablecloth? Tablecloths have to be washed, which means more laundry. Un-dressed tables can be cleaned with a washcloth – easy decision. You get the idea – go back to the beginning of these tips and remember: don’t overthink it.
- Still want fancy? Fair enough – I’m with you! Choose ONE way to make your gathering fancy and do it UP. Maybe it’s the bar and cocktails, maybe it’s decor, perhaps the desserts are your thing. Choose one, no more, leave the rest to basics.
Whether you read every tip or not, or whether you can use them all, the gist is this: the holidays are about people and gathering, not perfect food or the perfect home. As fun as it is to do it all when it works, there is no guarantee that it will work and you deserve to enjoy the holiday too. So if you’re hosting this holiday season, simplify, enjoy, relax and focus on what it’s really all about: family.
And speaking of family – if your kids are along for this hosting ride, my final tip is a required McD’s break in the middle of prepping all that yummy home-made goodness. You’ll be their hero for it and you’ll get another 30 minutes with your feet up while they climb the play structure.