How to organize your home before going on vacation – 10 pre-travel housekeeping tips

Tick these tasks off your to-do list to ensure your return is as stress-free as your vacation

house exterior
(Image credit: Getty images / Dana Hoff)

If it’s a relaxed, stress-free trip you’re after, pre-planning itineraries and pro packing tips aren’t the only things you’ll need to think about; knowing how to organize your home before going on vacation is equally important. 

Nothing brings you down from a happy holiday quite like returning to a messy, disorganized house, let alone one that’s been broken into, or damaged in some way. All these things are perfectly preventable; just a few simple tasks will ensure everything remains safe, secure and perfectly primed, ready for when you get back. 

‘To ensure you get everything done, put together a ‘pre-vacation organization list’ and keep it somewhere easily accessible, such as on your smartphone. It’s also worth having a comprehensive packing list, too – knowing how to fold clothes for packing so they remain neat and wrinkle-free will save you a lot of stress, and free up space in your suitcase, too,' says professional organizer Lauren Saltman, founder of Living. Simplified.  

How to organize your home before going on vacation 

Securing windows, locking doors, double-checking smoke detectors and setting intruder alarms are all paramount, but there’s a few less obvious things you can do around the house to set yourself up for a happy return. 

We’ve spoken to the experts and compiled some handy tips, to help make the build up to departure day (not to mention your time away) as stress-free as possible. 

Lauren Saltman

For Professional Organizer Lauren Saltman of Living.Simplified., decluttering and organizing is how she lives her daily life, whether she is organizing her home, a friend’s office, or a client’s garage, her resourceful approach yields happy clients who learn to incorporate techniques for a happier and more simplified lifestyle.

A minimalist living room with white walls and wrap around glass floor to ceiling windows

(Image credit: JDP Interiors / Bess Friday)

1. Help your home look ‘lived in’

Reduce the risk of attracting attention by making it look as if your house is occupied whilst you’re away. Drawing the blinds or curtains is a green flag for potential intruders, so you’re better off leaving them open. 

‘Setting up light timers, at Amazon, can put off potential burglars. I’m a big fan of the app-controlled ones. They might cost a little extra, but the reassurance when you’re miles away is priceless’, says travel guru Christen Thomas, founder of TravelWanderGrow.  

It may be the last thing you want to do just before going away, but mowing your front lawn and watering plants is also worth doing. Overgrown or dried-out gardens can be a clear sign that a house is empty, which could lead to unwanted attention. 

2. Clean the house

vinegar for cleaning

(Image credit: Getty images / Ivan Bajic)

It may seem like a waste of time cleaning a house that’s about to sit empty, but you will be so glad you did when you return. We’re not saying you need to deep clean your house (although there’s no harm if you’ve got time) but striking at least a few things off your spring clean checklist will make for a much more pleasant experience when you arrive back home.

You don’t want to have to deal with dirty dishes, unmade beds, or clutter on tables, especially if you arrive home late in the evening or early in the morning. You’d probably prefer to just fall into bed… rather hard if there’s a messy pile of clothes on it!’, says professional home organizer Brenda Scott, owner of Tidy My Space. 

brenda scott home organizing
Brenda Scott

Brenda is passionate about home organizing, decluttering and creating a safe home. At Tidy My Space, she helps people to keep their homes tidy when life gets busy. Brenda shares useful tips and gives practical help with sorting and editing her clients' spaces, leading them to feel less stressed and bringing the luxury of time to be spent with family, friends, or on themselves.

4. Take out the trash

Technically this is part of cleaning, but it’s really one not to miss, not if you don’t want pests and rodents moving in whilst you’re away, at least! Empty every bin in the house, including your food waste and recycling bins. Clean the garbage disposal too, while you’re at it.

4. Empty the fridge

kitchen with stainless steel fridge freezer

(Image credit: Future PLC)

‘No one wants to return home from a restful vacation to be greeted by rotten food, so be sure to empty out the fruit bowl and organize a refrigerator by eating all the perishables before you leave’, says Lauren Saltman. 

If you’ve got a lot of food to get through, consider making some meals and freezing them, you’ll be glad of it when you get home! If you have regular food deliveries, remember to pause them before you go. Alternatively, reschedule them for the day you get back. 

5. Check the weather

You may well be headed off to sunnier climes, but you’ll also need to factor the weather back home into your vacation pre-prep. Secure outside furniture against strong winds, insulate pipes against cold snaps, and set up a water timer, at Amazon, to water plants while on vacation and keep your lawn fresh if it’s going to be particularly hot.

6. Adjust your thermostat

Resetting heaters and thermostats whilst you’re away will save you energy, money and potentially some nasty surprises on your return. For summer vacations, a slightly higher setting will do, but knowing the ideal temperature to set your thermostat to on winter vacation in particular, is important. Exposing your home to extreme fluctuations can result in all manner of issues, from burst pipes to wilting houseplants. 

7. Do the laundry

Utility, washmacine and spin dryer

(Image credit: Paul Raeside)

Frantically washing clothes last minute is a fairly standard pre-vacation procedure (for us at least), but always make sure you complete the task, regardless of whether you’re taking the clothes with you or not. Leaving clothes damp in the washer for days on end is not ideal, nor is leaving them in the dryer – you’ll never get those creases out! 

‘If you’re coming home with suitcases full of dirty clothes, you’ll be pleased to have some clean ones to change into. Make sure you put a quick load on to wash, dry and put away before you leave, so you have clothes to last you a few days while you get back into the swing of how to do laundry’, says professional organizer Laura Price, founder of The Home Organisation. 

Laura Price
Laura Price

Laura Price's goal is to help others experience the benefits of living an organized life after discovering that organized homes brought her peace when raising three children in a hectic home. Hence the birth of The Home Organisation, a dedicated team of professional organizers.

8. Change your bed sheets

Blue bedroom with duvet cover, throw and pillows styled on bed

(Image credit: Future)

‘One of the treats of going on vacation to a hotel is that each evening you get to go to sleep in a freshly made bed. Continue this bit of luxury by putting fresh linens on your bed before you leave on vacation so when you return home your bed will be a restful and clean place ready for slumber’, says Lauren Saltman.

9. Enlist a ‘watchdog’

From feeding pets and watering plants to picking up mail and switching on lights, having a friendly neighbor or family member, pop in once a day can really set your mind at rest. Not only will they keep things ticking over while you’re away, but they will also be able to notify you of any issues should they crop up. 

‘If you’ve organized a pet sitter, arrange for them to take your animals the day before you leave, and have them stay a day or two after you return. Having them out of the way during the stress of getting things sorted beforehand is less emotional for them while having them stay a little longer allows you to settle back in. Plus, you know they’re safe and cared for if your flight is delayed,' says Brenda Scott. 

10. Leave yourself some handy reminders

From where you parked the car, to what you need to buy from the grocery store when you get home, leaving a little list of reminders will mean you can truly switch off on holiday, safe in the knowledge you’ve already planned your return. Leave it somewhere visible so you don’t forget it, but ensure it can’t be seen through doors and windows.


What should I do at home before going on holiday?

When it comes to prepping your home before a vacation, security should always be priority number one. As well as locking doors and setting alarms, put a few measures in place to make your home look ‘lived in’. Operating light timers, tending your garden and enlisting a friendly neighbor to pick up mail and open curtains are all great tactics, and should deter anyone from trying to break in while you’re away. 

It’s also worth thinking about what you want to be greeted with on your return – certainly not rats, pests or nasty smells, that’s for sure! Giving your house a thorough clean should prevent that from happening – don’t forget to empty the fridge and take the bins out, too. 

You’ve likely done a fair bit of laundry before leaving; don’t leave anything in the washer/dryer and ensure you’ve got a few clean outfits ready for when you’re home so you’re not having to put the washer on the minute you get back. Finally, set yourself up for a good night’s sleep in your own bed by putting on fresh linens. 

Spending your vacation worrying about the state your home is in is not conducive to a relaxing break, so it’s well worth preparing ahead of time to give yourself peace of mind – the 'future you' will thank you for it!

Contributing Editor

For 10 years, Tara King worked as a Content Editor in the magazine industry, before leaving to become freelance, covering interior design, wellbeing, craft and homemaking. As well as writing for Ideal Home, Style at Home, Country Homes & Interiors, Tara’s keen eye for styling combined with a passion for creating a happy – and functional – family home has led to a series of organization and cleaning features for H&G.