Whip Your House Into Shape in 2 Hours (plus a free downloadable checklist!)

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, so today it’s time to get our homes in shape for company or so that we can enjoy our family and not have to worry about stepping over dirty laundry piles or tripping on spilled milk. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all you have to do, I’m here to help!

I’ve got a two-hour step-by-step plan to help you get all the major cleaning done so that your home looks presentable for your guests tomorrow:

Two-Hour House-Cleaning Plan

1. Start a load of laundry (3 minutes).

2. Set the timer for 15 minutes and take a laundry basket and a trash bag and go through each room in your home. Quickly straighten, pick up, and put away everything that’s out of place. Put all trash in the trash bag and put everything that doesn’t go in that room in the laundry basket (15 minutes).

3. Put away all contents in the laundry basket and throw out the trash (5 minutes).

4. Head to the kitchen and load the dishwasher or hand wash the dishes (15 minutes).

5. Switch the laundry from the washer to the dryer and start another load in the washer (2 minutes).

6. Sweep or vacuum your kitchen floor and wipe down your countertops (10 minutes).

7. Take some toilet cleaner and go squirt it in all your toilets (2 minutes).

8. Take some window cleaner and spot clean the main glass windows/doors/mirrors (3 minutes).

9. Take a dust rag and quickly dust in the main rooms of your home (10 minutes).

10. Vacuum all the major traffic areas in your home (20 minutes).

11. Head back to the bathrooms wipe down the toilet, sinks, floor, and bathtub/shower. Change the towels (20 minutes).

12. Switch the laundry from the washer to the dryer and fold the clean laundry (15 minutes).

13. Light a candle or simmer some potpourri on the stove and enjoy your freshly-cleaned home!

 

Free Downloadable Checklist

Like to cross off lists? Download the free 2-Hour House-Cleaning Checklist to keep you on track and remind you of what you’re supposed to be doing next. Now you have no excuse for getting distracted. :)

3 Tips for House-Cleaning Success

1. Set the Timer

A timer works wonders in helping me stay focused and work quickly. Plus, it makes it seem more like a game to see if I can finish my project before the timer goes off!

2. Turn on Some Music

It’s much more fun to work when you’re accompanied by cheerful, upbeat music.

3. Stay Focused

Don’t worry about the next thing on the list or your overwhelming to-do list. Just focus on the project at hand until the timer goes off. Then, move on to the next project.

If your house is a complete disaster, it might need more than two hours. However, remember not to get too hung up on making it perfect.

Just work quickly and efficiently and do the best you can do in the time you have. Even if your house isn’t pristine after two hours of work, I’m sure it will at least look quite a bit better than it did when you started. :)

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21 Days to a More Organized Christmas: Freezer Cooking for the Holidays

Freezer Cooking for the Holidays

Delicious food is one of the best things about Christmas, in my opinion! But who wants to slave away in the kitchen all day on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day?

Here are a some ideas of things you can make ahead of time and freeze to make your Christmas meal preparations smoother and leave you more time to just savor the season:

1. Cookie Dough

Make up a double or triple batch of cookie dough and keep it in the freezer to give as gifts or to use when company drops by unexpectedly or you need a treat to take to a gathering at the last minute. Here’s one of my favorite Chocolate Chip Cookie recipes.

2. Baking Mix

Make Homemade Baking Mix in order to quickly whip up a pan of Cinnamon Roll Biscuits for Christmas morning. You can use it in place of Bisquick in any recipe.

3. Biscuit Dough

This year, I made biscuit dough ahead of time and stuck it in the freezer to be able to quickly make Brown Sugar Biscuit Twists for a Christmas Brunch at my family’s house the day after Christmas.

4. Scone Mixes

I put together the dry ingredients from the Glazed Cinnamon Scone recipe and froze them earlier this month. For Christmas Eve breakfast, we’re having scones, scrambled eggs, and juice. It will be a snap to put these together since I already have the dry ingredients measured out.

5. Scone Dough

If you want to really speed up prep time for scones, you can also make the dough up ahead of time and cut the scones and flash freeze them. Just pull them out, thaw, and bake to have fresh scones without almost zero effort! Our very favorite scone recipe is this Pumpkin Scone recipe (you can also find a gluten-free version here.)

6. Cinnamon Rolls

Fresh Cinnamon Rolls just can’t be beat, but they can be time-consuming to make! Reduce your workload by making the dough in the bread machine and then roll out, cut, and freeze them. Find detailed directions on how to freeze, thaw, and bake Cinnamon Rolls here.

7. Butterhorns

Looking for a delicious roll recipe that can be made ahead and frozen? Check out our family’s Butterhorn recipe. It’s a little time-intensive, but oh so worth it!

8. Christmas Candy

What’s Christmas without candy? My World’s Easiest Christmas Candy recipe is a winner–and it can be made ahead and frozen (if any of it lasts that long!)

9. Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

This Chocolate Chip Banana Bread freezes really well and is perfect to make ahead in little loaf pans and give as gifts or to serve for a Christmas brunch. Not a banana bread fan? Try my Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffin recipe.

10. Drink Mixes

Homemade drink mixes are great to give as gifts or to have on hand to serve at Christmas get-togethers. Plus, you can keep them for months in the freezer!

What are some of your favorite Christmas foods to make ahead and freeze? Share the recipe links in the comments!

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21 Days to a More Organized Christmas: Get Your Gifts Wrapped

Hopefully by now, your Christmas presents are purchased. Some of you ultra-organized folks likely had them purchased and wrapped months ago. But some of the rest of us are just now getting around to thinking about wrapping gifts. :)

If you’re one of those people, don’t despair! Here are six simple and frugal ideas to dress up your packages without spending a lot of money:

Make a Bow Out of Wrapping Paper

Use Old Maps as Gift Wrap

Make Your Own Gift Bows

Use Newspaper as Gift Wrap

Dress Up Brown Paper Packages With Yarn

Use Buttons to Create Designs

You can find more frugal gift-wrapping ideas from The Happy Housewife and My Blessed Life.

Do you have your gifts wrapped yet? Or am I the only person who still has some gifts left to wrap? :)

photo by yvestown

Practical Application:

1. If you haven’t done so already, get the rest of your gifts wrapped in the next 24 hours.

2. Once you’ve wrapped your gifts, be sure to label them clearly with the recipient’s name.

3. If you’re attending multiple Christmas gatherings, divide your wrapped gifts up into boxes or tubs by event (label these boxes/tubs with the event name) and then stick them by the door so that you can just grab the appropriate tub or box on your way out the door and you’re good to go! (Since we have young children who like to unwrap gifts, we’re keeping our wrapped gifts at the top of our coat closet. That way, it’s almost impossible to forget them since we have to put our coats on before we head out the door!)

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21 Days to a More Organized Christmas: Turn on the Christmas Music

Christmas would not be Christmas to me without wonderful Christmas music playing in the background. When I was growing up, we always had a special stack of Christmas records and cassettes (yes, remember those?) that we pulled out to play only at Christmas time. Pulling out the Christmas records and cassettes always signaled that Christmas time was really here.

We decorated the Christmas tree, baked cookies for the neighbors, made homemade gifts for the grandparents, drank hot cocoa, wrapped Christmas presents, and celebrated our family gatherings with Christmas music playing in the background. It set the tone for so many special memories.

Today, we’ve traded the records and cassettes for MP3s, but Christmas still wouldn’t be the same without the music. I like to buy a new album or two each year to add to our family’s collection. And then we rotate playing our Christmas music all December long.

Here are three of my favorite Christmas albums:

A Hymnworks Christmas

Merry Little Christmas — this album is a new one for us this year and we’ve loved it. You can download a free song here.

He is Born — This CD is by my sister so I happen to be a little biased. :) You can listen to sample clips from most of the songs here.

What are your favorite Christmas albums? I’d love to hear!

Practical Application

If you haven’t done so already, pull out your Christmas CDs or download some free Christmas music and have it playing in the background at your home over the next 10 days. You can also create a Christmas station on Pandora to have playing on your computer or listen to Abiding Radio’s livestream Christmas station.

photo by yvestown

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21 Days to a More Organized Christmas: Mail Your Christmas Cards–or not!

As a child, one of the highlights of Christmas was receiving all the Christmas cards and letters from friends near and far. We’d keep the letters in a basket, string the cards around our living room, and put the family pictures on the refrigerator.

Sometimes, the Christmas letter was our only real communication with friends from our past. But it kept us up on their lives and gave us a small sense of connection, even though our paths had drifted apart.

It was always exciting to hear of marriages, babies, grandchildren, trips, new jobs, and exciting adventures. It was fun to see how the family pictures changed over the years. And it was always somewhat of a thrill to see how many strings of cards we’d be able to hang up.

Many people opt not to send Christmas cards or letters any more. There are many valid reasons given: “We’re too busy living life to take the time to write about it.” “We can’t afford to mail cards since postage has gone up so much.” Or maybe, “We didn’t get a decent family picture.”

I definitely think that Christmas cards and letters are an optional aspect of Christmas and I totally respect people who have chosen not to send cards in order to keep Christmas simple. That said, I think that we’ve become so used to texting and Facebooking and emailing, that sometimes we forget the joy of sending and receiving real physical mail via the postal service.

Creative Christmas Letter Ideas

If the thought of writing a detailed letter is overwhelming to you, here are some creative Christmas letter ideas:

Put together a Top 10 list from the past year.

Make a graph of some interesting facts from the past year.

Create a newspaper-style letter with short stories and tidbits from the past year.

Other Simple and Inexpensive Ideas

If you’ve decided that sending a Christmas letter isn’t your thing or mailing out a lot of cards or letters is outside your budget, here are some other ideas:

::Send photo cards.

We’ve skipped sending a letter for the past few years, but we have sent out photo cards. It’s a very simple way to send a Christmas greeting and share pictures of our family with dear friends and those we don’t get to see often. Plus, with deals like the one available from SeeHere (20 photo cards for $1.49 shipped!), creating photo cards can be very inexpensive!

::Send out your letter as a PDF via email.

Can’t afford to mail your letter? It’s perfectly okay to send it out as a PDF attachment via email. Be sure to include some sort of teaser in the email you send out so that people will be sure to open the attachment and read the letter! :)

::Post your Christmas card on Facebook.

Jenae’s family decided to post their Christmas picture/card on Facebook this year in lieu of sending out a Christmas card. This might not work for everyone–especially if most of your recipients are not on Facebook–but it’s definitely an inexpensive option!

Do you send out a Christmas card or letter or do some sort of creative alternative? I’d love to hear what works for your family!

photo by yvestown

Practical Application

1. Decide whether or not you are sending out a Christmas card or letter this year.

2. If you decide to send out something, get it created or written sometime in the next 48 hours.

3. Create your address list (if you’re mailing cards) or the email list (if you’re emailing out your card/letter) and save it in a file to have next year. (I did not set up an address list on the computer until this past year and it’s been a lifesaver to have all the addresses in one place and a place to file new addresses as I collect them. Believe me, the whole scraps of paper thing wasn’t working too well!)

4. Mail or email your cards out by the end of this week so that they will arrive before Christmas.

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21 Days to a More Organized Christmas: Gather the Christmas Books

Christmas wouldn’t be complete without good Christmas stories. We checked out a huge stack of Christmas books from the library this year and, so far, here are our favorites:

The Christmas Story

The Gingerbread Boy

Gingerbread Baby

Gingerbread Friends

The Mitten

B is for Bethlehem

The Baby Born in a Stable

White Snow, Bright Snow

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey

Great Joy

What are some of your family’s favorite Christmas books read-alouds? I’d love to find new ones to add to our list of favorites!

photo by yvestown

Practical Application

::If you have younger children, gather a basket-full of Christmas read-alouds and plan a daily time to read for 10-15 minutes. Let your children choose from the basket to make it more engaging for them. For additional fun, wrap up the books and let them unwrap a few each day.

::If you don’t have young children, choose at least a few Christmas-related books to enjoy over the Christmas season–either reading through with friends or just yourself.

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