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Getting Organized for Thanksgiving

Local experts offer a survival guide.

Jill Mahon is hosting her family for Thanksgiving next week, which is, of course, the kick-off of the holiday season. But for Mahon, the holidays herald an organizational nightmare.

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Jody Al-Saigh recommends a filing system for holiday organization. “Create a holiday binder or accordion file with categories like cards, crafts, décor, food, gifts, parties, menus, lists, songs, traditions and budget,” she said.

“The thought of getting my house cleaned and in order for eight additional people made me feel like crawling into bed with a bag of M&Ms,” Mahon, an Arlington resident, said in jest. “I got up to start planning dinner and five [minutes] later I crawled back into bed with my M&Ms.”

The holidays don’t have to be so logistically challenging, however. Area organization experts say, “let the planning begin” and offer suggestions for Thanksgiving and beyond.

“When it comes to the holidays, I always suggest that you start early and plan ahead,” said Susan Unger, of ClutterSOS in Vienna.

Sally Reinholdt, of Closets 911, in Alexandria, says to begin by getting out a pencil and paper. “Make a list of all the things that need to be done and a date when the list needs to be completed. Write one or two things that can be accomplished each day on your calendar. Breaking down the to-do list will make it a lot less overwhelming.”

SPECIAL TOUCHES, say experts, can help make out-of-town guests feel welcome. “Put together a welcome basket with extra toothbrushes and toiletries just in case your guests forgot any of their personal items,” said Reinholdt. “If you know what their interests are or if they want to sightsee, spend a few minutes on the computer and print out some relevant information.”

“Creating a great holiday is like putting on a play. There are scripts, props and scenery, and you’re the director.”

—Jody Al-Saigh, Picture Perfect Organizing

Experts say planning ahead for meals is important, particularly when one has visitors. “If you are going to have house guests, plan the other meals,” said Unger. “Maybe you could make things ahead of time and put them in the freezer like a lasagna or chili. Buy a bagged salad, so it’s less work. Always keep it simple.”

“Try and find out what [your guests] like to eat so you can have it available,” Reinholdt added. “This way, they can help themselves to snacks and other foods [and] will feel more comfortable in your home.”

Jody Al-Saigh, of Picture Perfect Organizing, in Alexandria, said “creating a great holiday is like putting on a play. There are scripts, props and scenery, and you’re the director.”

One take-charge tool that she recommends is a filing system. “Create a holiday binder or accordion file with categories like cards, crafts, décor, food, gifts, parties, menus, lists, songs, traditions and budget.”

If necessary, ask for help as the deadlines near. “If you are cooking a big meal, cook and freeze as much as you can ahead of time,” said Reinholdt. “Pick out your serving pieces and set the table a day ahead of time. Have home decorating and home de-decorating parties with a few family members and friends. The whole process will go a lot more quickly and be a lot more fun.”

Unger said, “When grocery shopping for the holidays, if you can, pick up everything early, maybe the non-perishables with your regular weekly shopping and save the perishables for the week of. I tend to go to the grocery store very early in the morning the week of Thanksgiving because the stores get really busy later on and you end up waiting.”

WHEN IT COMES to cleaning, Eileen LaGreca of Sensational Spaces in Fairfax, suggests bringing in the pros. “Hire a house cleaning service to do a thorough cleaning before the holidays. Whether you’re hosting a get-together or spending time at home with the family, it’s one less thing to worry about.”

LaGreca also suggests clearing out the old to make room for the new. “Donate older toys and clothes now,” she said. “This declutters your house for the holidays, and opens space for the gifts sure to come.”

Finally, allow for error. “Strike the word “perfect” from your goals,” said LeGreca. “Perfect holidays exist only in our memories. Instead, keep it simple and remember to laugh.”