The 12 days of organizing – how expert organizers get their home ready for Christmas

Get your home in order before holiday chaos with the 12 days of organizing countdown

A beautifully decorated tree in a white an dbeige living room
(Image credit: Blackmore Photography Ltd / Future)

We have all heard of the 12 days of Christmas, but how about the 12 days of organizing? 

Like an advent calendar but more practical, the 12 days of organizing might just be the perfect festive way to prepare your home for the holidays, taking the stress out of the season by doing little and often in the run-up to the big day.

We asked professional organizers for their home organizing ideas to see you through to Christmas.  

The 12 days of organizing

It can sometimes seem like the list of pre-Christmas decluttering rules goes on and on, but the busy season can make it difficult to stay on top of clutter. The 12 days of Christmas break the essential areas of your home up into 12 simple spots that you can spend less than 30 minutes on each, helping you to avoid feeling overwhelmed.  

1. Christmas decor

A Christmas tree in a bay window.

(Image credit: Future)

One of the best ways to decorate for Christmas without clutter is to declutter your decor as you get it out, says Jamie Hord, professional organizer and founder of Horderly. This prevents you from putting out more than you need to and making your home harder to navigate. 

If your decor is already in place, take a moment to walk around your home and identify the pieces that you haven't liked as much this year, or are getting in the way and donate them or pack them away for another time. 

Jamie Hord professional organizer
Jamie Hord

Jamie is the co-founder of Horderly, a professional organizing company that brings order to countless homes and offices, from the most cluttered New York City apartments to some of the largest homes nationwide. The team's goal is to make their clients’ lives clutter-free, streamlined, and more functional.

2. The kitchen and pantry

Wooden kitchen with wreaths on lighting

(Image credit: Marie Flanigan Interiors)

If you have time for nothing else, always make sure you declutter the kitchen and organize the pantry in the run-up to Christmas – especially if you are hosting, Jamie Hord, professional organizer, continues. This can help you find ingredients you already have but forgot about, and make space for an influx of Christmas food. 

‘If you find yourself getting overwhelmed easily – start small! The junk drawer or under the sink is a great space to warm up,’ he suggests. You can work up to the bigger stuff from there once you find the motivation to clean and organize.  

Dr. Bronner Almond Pure-Castile Soap | View at Amazon

Dr. Bronner Almond Pure-Castile Soap | View at Amazon
I love how this soap smells so much like Marzipan. It is perfect for use as an all-purpose cleaner around my home for a festive fragrance that gets me a step closer to my home smelling like a bakery.

3. Guest bedrooms

Cozy guest room in cabin

(Image credit: Kesington Leverne)

If you are hosting, the start of your 12 days is a great time to prepare a guest bedroom for Christmas, says Millie Hurst, Solved section editor for Homes & Gardens. ‘Take the time to clear out some storage for guests to use, freshen up the bed linens, and put out a Christmas stocking of gifts and essentials for them to use while they stay,’ she suggests. ‘Getting this done nice and early is ideal to allow you to focus on other more important things closer to the big day, and ensure you are prepared in case guests arrive early.’ 

Personalized Knitted Stockings | View at Amazon

Personalized Knitted Stockings | View at Amazon
These custom-knitted stockings are a perfect simple gift for guests, ideal for filling with little treats or stay-over essentials

millie hurst news writer
Millie Hurst

Millie Hurst is Section Editor at Homes & Gardens, overseeing the Solved section, which provides readers with practical advice for their homes. Millie has written about and tried out countless cleaning and DIY hacks in the six years since she became a journalist, and has worked in both London and New York. 

4. Personal bedrooms

A neutral bedroom with a grey padded headboard, and black and gold christmas decor and pillows

(Image credit: Furniture and Choice)

It is not just guest bedrooms that need some attention over the Christmas period, our personal rooms need some love and care too, reminds Kimberly Corey, professional home organizer and founder of Finely Sorted Organizing. 

Over the hosting period, personal bedrooms become our sanctuaries to escape from guests and Christmas overwhelm from time to time, she explains, so take some time to clear up any visible clutter on floors and surfaces, make a bed look cozy, and make a bedroom smell good for sleep for a relaxing space away from chaos.  

Kimberly Corey
Kimberly Corey

Starting in 2000, Finely Sorted Organizing, LLC has been helping people declutter, downsize, rightsize, rearrange the basement, clean out a family home, with closet makeovers, garage resets, kitchen retooling, office optimizations, mudroom triages, file cabinet overhauls help to ease anxiety and feelings of frozen immobility caused by lack of systemization in a world filled with curve balls

5. The garage

Bifold garage

(Image credit: Press Loft)

Organizing a garage might not be the most logical place to address in the run-up to Christmas, but this heavy-duty storage spot can fall into chaos when digging out outdoor Christmas decor, stowing away gifts, and bringing things in to protect them from winter weather, says professional organizer Jamie Hord. Ensure that everything is placed neatly in boxes on shelving to protect them from fluctauing cold weather, and there is nothing on the floor or precariously balanced on top of one another. 

Clearing this space now makes it easier to navigate when packing decor away again and gives you space to park the car before bad weather hits, he says.

6. Cars

In a similar vein, take some time one of the days to declutter and organize your car. This will create space so that last-minute errands for food and gifts are a lot easier, says Kimberly Corey, professional home organizer. Clear off the seats and the trunk, remove trash, and take out summer items you have forgotten to move to the house.

It will also remind you to check the trunk for any hidden gifts you have bought and forgotten about. 

7. Playroom

Playroom storage ideas including baskets and boxes

(Image credit: Bloomingville)

Decluttering and organizing a playroom in the 12 days leading up to Christmas is also a must if you have young children expecting an influx of new toys and games over the holidays, reminds Solved section editor, Millie Hurst. 

‘One of the best tips for decluttering toys is to get your child involved so they can make decisions about what to get rid of, and learn more about the value of decluttering,’ she says. ‘Help them understand they will be getting new things soon, and the toys you get rid of can go towards someone else that may love them or need them more.’  

8. Closets

Closet

(Image credit: LUXXU)

Many of us may be anticipating some new clothing as gifts at Christmas, so having a quick closet declutter to remove pieces you haven't worn yet this winter can help to make space and organizing a closet simpler on the big day.

Be sure to also pay attention to other closets around your home, such as entryway closets, to ensure guests have space to put on their coats and shoes when they arrive, no matter if they are staying the night or popping over for dinner, adds Kimberly Corey, professional home organizer 

9. Bathrooms

Neutral bathroom with stone floor tiles, mauve vanity uni, paneling and brass hardware

(Image credit: Interior by IW Studio, Margaret Austin)

If you are going to have guests over, organizing bathrooms in advance will ensure that no one is left wondering where the spare toilet paper is, or where to find a dry hand towel, continues Kimberly Corey, professional home organizer. Keep essentials and spares easily accessible, such as in baskets under or on counters, so that guests don't have to feel awkward asking for anything during their stay.  

10. Entryways

Scandi style Christmas entryway with foliage garland with ochre and white paper decorations, wreath on door, bench with tray, candle, paper decoration and gifts on the floor

(Image credit: Layered Lounge)

Preparing an entryway for Christmas guests is more important than you think if you want your holiday hosting to run smoothly, says Craig Hoareau, APDO member and owner of A Tidy Mind London:

‘Think – are there too many coats and shoes taking up space? Unopened parcels and mail? Try dealing with this first as they will end up going to other parts of the home which you will be dealing with later. 

‘Only keep the things you need daily to run out quickly. This is where you enter your home so the energy you get when coming in is defined by this space. It also makes it more welcoming for your guests and makes space for their things if you’re hosting over the festive period.’

11. Living room

s hd

(Image credit: Dunelm)

‘The living room is usually the main space people will gather if you’re having guests, so consider organizing a living room and decluttering to create an inviting atmosphere,’ urges Craig Hoareau, professional organizer. ‘Prioritize clearing surfaces, cleaning a living room, and ensuring there is enough comfortable seating for all your guests to make sure no one feels left out.’ 

12. High-traffic surfaces

Scandi-inspired festive dining room

(Image credit: Layered Lounge)

Just before the big day, it is a good idea to employ some more typical decluttering tips and ensure that any high-traffic surfaces such as dining tables, kitchen counters, and entryway tables are clear to make dripping gifts, cooking, and welcoming gifts simpler, recommends Stephanie Deininger, home organizer and founder of The Organized Flamingo.

‘These spaces have the biggest visual impact because once you see a "clean" slate, it can motivate you to want to keep it that way and eventually, will lead to decluttering other more complex spaces in your home,’ she says. 

Stephanie Deininger
Stephanie Deininger

Stephanie has been helping businesses and people get organized for over 20 years. She is also a member of NAPO National and NAPO Colorado Chapter (National Association of Productivity & Organizing Professionals).

FAQs

How can I be super organized at Christmas?

One of the best ways to be super organized at Christmas is to clean and organize your home in the run-up to the big day so that you know where all the essentials are, your home is tidy and smells good, and you have plenty of space to fit guests and gifts when they arrive. Write out a plan to help you break tasks down into days to give yourself time to rest and recuperate in the busy season.  

When should I start planning for Christmas?

The best time to start planning for Christmas is a month or two ahead of the big day. At this point, you can begin to think of gifts and guest lists to make hosting and seeing family easier when December rolls around. Leave more immediate decisions such as what to serve for dinner and how to decorate until December itself to avoid overloading yourself in the run-up and not feeling Christmassy by the big day. 


Of course, in the run-up to Christmas, it is also a good idea to work some general household cleaning tips into your routine to ensure every space is spotless and your home smells good for Christmas before guests arrive. Consider going around with a cloth and a multipurpose spray when organizing and decluttering in the 12-day run-up to combine the tasks and make your preparations go by more quickly.  

Chiana Dickson
Writer

Chiana has been at Homes & Gardens for a year, having started her journey in interior journalism as part of the graduate program. She spends most of her time producing content for the Solved section of the website, helping readers get the most out of their homes through clever decluttering, cleaning, and tidying tips – many of which she tests and reviews herself in her home in Lancaster to ensure they will consistently deliver for her readers and dabbles in the latest design trends. She also has a first-class degree in Literature from Lancaster University.