It’s the most wonderful time of the year...to host an awesome holiday party. And if you’re planning your first event in your home (or even if you’re a seasoned veteran at party-planning), there are a lot of details to start thinking about as we kick off the winter holiday season. With that in mind, here are a few tips to help keep your party planning fun, festive and stress-free.

Tip #1: Don’t stress out. This is about merry-making, after all!

Here’s the thing: nobody likes a nervous host. That may sound harsh, but it’s reality; if you are stressed, your guests will feel anxious too, and they may cut their visit short because of it. Plan ahead and think of ways to keep yourself calm and relaxed. Serve dishes that you are adept at making — now is the best time to bust out your favorite tried-and-true, crowd pleaser recipes! Choose clothing that you are comfortable in and feel confident wearing. Tuning into your own comfort and taking care of yourself in small ways is critical to your relaxation. Bonus tip: Don’t think your house has to be perfect if you’re inviting people over. Nobody expects perfection, so aim to de-clutter and clean simply — enough that you feel proud and excited to present your home, but not so much that it stresses you out. Guests will feel more comfortable in your home if it feels lived in, and honestly — have you ever gone to someone’s home and scoffed because their mail and bills were in the entryway, or their teen’s bedroom was a mess? Probably not. So be easy on yourself, here.

Tip #2: Optimize your kitchen for holiday meal prep.

Once you have an idea of your menu (filled, of course, with various dishes that you genuinely love to make), it’s time to prepare your kitchen to simplify your cooking. For tips on this, we reached out to Jacki Hollywood Brown, Editor in Chief of Unclutterer.com, local DC Metro aficionados of home organization. Here are Jacki’s recommended next steps for getting your kitchen holiday-ready:
  • Toss leftovers and mostly empty condiment bottles that are currently cluttering up your refrigerator and freezer.
  • Clear counter space by eliminating appliances that you will not need for the holiday meal. For example, the waffle iron and espresso machine could be moved to a closet temporarily.
  • Give your fridge, stove and countertops a good cleaning.
  • Sharpen your knives. Preparation will go much more quickly when you're able to slice and dice easily.
  • Make a master plan of what needs to be cooked and when. Decide what items can be prepared in advance of "the big day." For example, you may bake pies, cookies, and cranberry sauce ahead of time. Many veggies and herbs can be washed and chopped the day before the meal or early in the morning before the meal.
  • Make a master grocery list. Remember to buy a few aluminum foil "take-out" containers with lids to make it easy for your guests to take home leftovers.

Tip #3: Set your holiday mood and décor.

Decorating for guests or parties does not have to be expensive or a ton of work. Less is more, but it should be special. In some ways, think romance — romance is all about crafting a special mood, and the holidays are about creating memories. Small things like candles or string lights add to a mood and to the feeling that your home is in a different state than the average day. Pine branches on a mantle or console will add a smell that evokes the holidays. Setting a few ornaments in between the pine needles and or a lit candle in a hurricane will pull it together. This can also be done for your dining table. Bonus tip: When entertaining, always consider lighting. Bright lights are not relaxing. Change the way your home is lit by utilizing side table lamps and dim lights (like string lights or candles).

Tip #4: Optimize your living room for chatting and mingling.

Decorations are key for setting a festive, holiday mood, but what really makes a good holiday party is the ability to move around, socialize and mingle with friends old and new. Typically, your living room may not be set up with entertaining in mind, so here are a couple of tricks to get your living room ready to party: Take out any unnecessary pieces Remember how you relocated your espresso machine and waffle iron to make more counter space in your kitchen? Apply that same principle to your living room — take a look around and see if there are any unnecessary furniture items (extra side tables or ottomans, for example) that take up space and prevent guests from circulating around the room freely. Relocate those items to a different room temporarily before you start rearranging your furniture. Which brings us to… Rearrange your furniture to promote chatting and mingling If you’re like most people, your living room furniture is arranged with one focal point in mind (usually the TV). If that’s the case, you’ll have to reconfigure your layout so that seating isn’t all facing in one direction. Try breaking up your furniture and placing different types of seating together in small groups, to make it easier for guests to snack and chat together. Houzz and Better Homes & Gardens offer great tips on how to do this and HGTV even offers advice specific to certain living room layouts. Browse through your options and see what could work best in your home. Integrate snack and drink stations into your party layout Have you ever been to (or hosted) a party where guests tended to congregate in the kitchen? This is problematic for a couple of reasons: a crowded kitchen makes it harder for the host or chef to move around and cook, and it cuts down on the ability for guests to meet new people and socialize. To prevent kitchen crowding, try placing several snack and drink stations in your living room party layout. Guests often congregate around food and drinks (even non-alcoholic ones), and will be less likely to strike up conversations in front of the stove. Bonus tip: avoid placing snack and cocktail stations near the entrance, to avoid a bottleneck as guests enter the room. And to conclude, we’ll add one last bit of advice — have fun! Don’t get overwhelmed by the details when planning to host friends and family in your home this holiday season. Think ahead, take care of yourself, and enjoy every moment with your loved ones. --- Have your own go-to tricks for holiday entertaining that we didn’t mention here? Tweet them at us or contact us directly, and we’ll follow up with a recap of suggestions from our readers.