Living Smart: How to organize your house before the holidays

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

íTis the season for guests, parties, shopping, decorating, wrapping, cooking and entertaining. Keeping your home a peaceful haven during the crush of holiday stress can sometimes seem too big to tackle. Yet taking time to declutter and organize items around the home can help calm the chaos that oftentimes accompanies the holidays.

"Be kind and patient with yourself, and accept that we canít be superheroes despite the notion that everything must be perfect when families and friends arrive," says Melanie Raelin, owner of Wits End Organizing in Medford, Mass. "Iíve realized people really donít look around at the perceived mess as much as we think, and that theyíre there to see you and your family, not your stuff." Here are some solutions to ease you into the holiday fray:

Evaluate the holiday decor

As you start to pull out holiday decorations from storage, keep your favorite items and give away the rest. "Ask yourself if you really love it," says Diane Luck, owner of Diane Luck Personal Organizer in Portland, Ore. "Or is it something you just picked up on sale? The things that donít give you joy should be passed on to someone else who might enjoy them."

Once you finish decorating, take a photograph to document the display and store the picture with the decor. "That way, next year someone else can help set everything out, and there wonít be any guesswork," says Deb Oppel, owner of Decluttered by Deb in Minneapolis.

Take time to donate

Itís also a good time to decide what clothes, coats, toys and books you no longer need and gather them for donation. "When the kids are old enough, itís nice to have them involved in the process," Raelin says. "When they make up their gift wish lists, itís a great opportunity to bring up the notion of making room for the new. Itís best to pack away toys and items the kid has outgrown before the holiday season, and donate to some of the great charities serving children in need."

Guess whoís coming to dinner?

If guests throw you a curve ball by announcing a last-minute visit, take time to walk through your house and look at it as if you were a stranger. Focus on the main areas your guests will occupy, such as the living room, bathroom, kitchen and guest bedroom. "You can do a lot in one day," says Linda Goldman, owner of Altogether Organized in Highland Park, Ill. "Just putting things where they belong will go a long way in making your home clutter free." Pay attention to floors and clear the surfaces of tabletops and dressers. Make sure you have enough seating, and put out fresh towels for overnight guests. Take a quick inventory in any bathroom your guest might use, and clear out any items you donít want rummaged through.

Call in the big guns

If organizing your home feels like an overwhelming task with the holidays looming, consider hiring a professional organizer for an objective approach. Sometimes, a consultation helps give homeowners the kick-start they need to finish the task. Rates for an organizer range from about $50 to $100 an hour, and most have a 2-3 hour minimum requirement. During the holiday season, some organizers can play more of a "personal assistant" role and help with event planning, party preparation, buying and wrapping gifts or delivering donated items.

Look for a highly rated organizer with whom you feel comfortable. Many professionals stay up on the latest industry trends and follow a code of ethics by belonging to the National Association of Professional Organizers. Whether you try to organize on your own or bring in some extra help, our experts say homeowners should keep calm about the clutter.

"Take a second to enjoy the holidays," says Pamela Morrone, owner of Creating Clarity in Los Angeles. "With all of the chaos and to-do lists, itís important to throw it all out at some point and enjoy your friends and family."