How to tidy as you go on Christmas day – 7 ways to contain the chaos

Minimize the post-party clean up by keeping on top of tidiness throughout Christmas day

kitchen with christmas decor
(Image credit: Future PLC)

The one day of the year that you want your house in tip top shape also happens to be the day that all chaos breaks loose. Strewn wrapping paper and dirty dishes to spillages, breakages and stains… its inevitable, but made all the more manageable by tidying as you go on Christmas day. 

The last thing you want is to be rushing around trash bag in-hand while everyone else is sipping drinks and relaxing into the festivities, so set yourself up for success by getting organized for Christmas well in advance. 

According to the pros, pre-seasonal sort-outs such as decluttering ahead of the holidays and organizing your kitchen in readiness for entertaining can make all the difference.

How to tidy as you go on Christmas day 

‘Dedicating time to carrying out organizational tasks like these before guests (and gifts) descend will make cleaning and tidying a much less daunting prospect when the day is in full swing’, says professional organizer Meredith Goforth, founder of House of Prim.

We’ve asked cleaning, decluttering, and organizational experts for their top tidying tips, as well as handy insights into how to clear up fast after Christmas Day, so you can relax into holiday entertaining knowing the clean-up is covered.

Meredith Goforth
Meredith Goforth

Meredith Goforth has a passion for stylish organizing. Before founding House of Prim, Meredith was a Bookings Editor for magazines, where she planned, produced, and executed cover shoots and fashion stories, making sure every detail was picture perfect. A former New Yorker, she now lives in Westport, CT with her family. With three boys being born within three years of each other, and having moved house six times in five years, Meredith says the only way to stay sane was to become truly organized. 

How to decorate a Christmas tree

(Image credit: Future)

1. Create a Christmas day cleaning caddy

As well as a pre-Christmas clean, the key to keeping on top of tidiness without letting it take over your day is to have the essentials close to hand. Pull together a cleaning caddy in advance, filled with bin bags, anti-bac wipes, stain removal sprays, cloths, paper towels, and anything else that you think you might need. Leave it somewhere accessible, but keep it out of sight – under the kitchen sink, or in the utility room, for example.

It’s also worth familiarizing yourself with our essential cleaning tips so you can deal with stains and spills quickly and get back to the party!

2. Create drop zones in the entryway

boot room with hooks for coats and closet storage

(Image credit: Olive & Barr)

From festive offerings and overnight bags to the usual coats, scarfs and shoes, guests will likely arrive laden down with ‘stuff’ that can turn a calm welcome into a chaotic one very quickly. Keep on top of it by organizing your entryway with designated drop zones.

Declutter your hallway closet so there are hooks free for extra coats, and position a couple of baskets within easy reach for guests to drop hats, scarves, and shoes into. Do the same for gifts, too. Food should be taken straight into the kitchen and stored accordingly – enlist someone with the responsibility to make sure this happens, you don't want anything to spoil because it's been left out too long.  

‘I also like to impose a no-shoes rule at the door – deep cleaning carpets is not a job I want to be doing on Christmas Day, that’s for sure!’, adds Millie Hurst, Solved section editor, Homes & Gardens.

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. 

3. Group gifts into boxes

Avoid a pile-up of presents by giving each family member their own labeled box, basket, or bag to place theirs into as they’re opened. Not only does this keep things neat, it’s also a useful tactic for preventing Christmas fall-outs, mainly among children (we’d hope) – no doubting what belongs to who! 

‘Have batteries ready and tools to hand so you can get toys up and running without rummaging through junk drawers or upheaving the garden shed, you’ll find it makes for a smoother – and tidier – gift-giving session!’ says professional organizer Andrea Gagliano, founder of Ace of Space Organization. 

4. Whisk away gift wrap

How to decorate a Christmas tree

(Image credit: David Brittain/Emily Brittain Delgardo)

‘There is nothing more overwhelming than a family room littered with paper, bows, and tags. Not only that, but it becomes far too easy to lose or even accidentally throw, small parts, important packaging, sentimental cards, and the like. Clearing wrap paraphernalia as you go is the best way to prevent this,' says cleaning and organization expert Michelle Hansen, founder of Practical Perfection. 

With that in mind, have a trash bag to hand and encourage everyone to fill it as they open their gifts. Rather than throw the whole lot away, set the bag aside to go through at a later date. Most paper can be recycled (check the packaging for confirmation) even with the tape left on, and there might be bows and bags you can reuse, too.

Michelle Hansen
Michelle Hansen

Michelle Hansen is a cleaning and organizing expert, and owner of Practical Perfection. She has been a professional organizer for four years and has organized for Instagram influencers such as @jordanpage and @modestshopping. Michelle loves to help others see (and feel) the life-changing difference that having an organized home can make in their lives. 

5. Clear dirty dishes straight away

blue kitchen cabinets with open dishwasher door

(Image credit: Future PLC)

A kitchen or dining table laden with dirty dishes doesn’t bring on the festive feels, let’s face it. As tempting as it is to leave until later, wash up straight away or clear the table, at the very least. Don’t be afraid to enlist the help of friends and family – it’ll get the job done far more quickly, leaving you time to enjoy the festivities.

‘If you're expecting a large gathering, consider using high-quality disposable plates and cutlery for certain meals, especially if your dishwasher capacity is limited. You could think about cooking in disposable aluminum pans (like these from Target), too,' says professional organizer Camilla Frederico, founder of The Personal Helpers. 

‘If you’re waiting for the turkey to roast or pies to bake, take the opportunity to clear down prep areas, reload the dishwasher or wipe down surfaces,' she adds. 

6. Deal with leftovers

Dining room decorated for Christmas with a dried flower mantel garland

(Image credit: Future)

Get leftovers off the sides and into the fridge or freezer as soon as you can, ideally within two hours of cooking. Not just for the benefit of clutter-free countertops, but to ensure they don’t spoil – many of us look forward to cold turkey sandwiches as much as the big day dinner itself! Invest in zip lock bags, at Amazon, or organize your Tupperware collection in advance so you’re well prepared.

7. Sort spillages as they happen

Whether it’s removing red wine, getting rid of chocolate stains, or cleaning spilled candle wax, deal with accidents straight away. The longer you leave them the more likely stains will set, and they’re much harder to get out.

With everyone helping themselves, Christmas dinner can cause your dining table – and carpet – all manner of problems. If you’ve got youngsters (or your loved ones are particularly clumsy!) invest in a spill-friendly tablecloth that you can whisk away at the end.

8. Make it obvious where the trash can is

It’s not your responsibility to pick up everyone’s trash all day! As guests arrive, show them where your trash and recycling cans are to encourage proper disposal. If you’d rather not have everyone traipsing into the kitchen, consider leaving lined waste paper baskets in the most-frequented rooms, just on a temporary basis.

‘I always place extra bags in the bottom of my garbage cans so there’s always one to hand. It makes it a much quicker task and means anyone can do it, whether they know where the bin bags are kept or not – no excuses!’, says professional organizer Wendy Trunz, Partner and Head Organizer at Port Washington-based Jane’s Addiction Organization

Wendy Trunz

Wendy Trunz is a Partner and Head Organizer at Jane’s Addiction Organization based in Port Washington, NY. From organizing clients’ homes and offices to staging homes for sale and concierge moving services from inception to completion, Wendy works with clients to get them to love their spaces.

9. Get everyone involved

Christmas table ideas for festive tablescapes

(Image credit: Future)

You may be the host, but tidying up doesn’t have to fall entirely on your shoulders – it’s your Christmas day to enjoy as well.

Remember, Christmas is a communal celebration. Don't hesitate to delegate tasks to family members. Whether it's packing away gifts, taking out the trash, or stacking the dishwasher, many hands make light work!’ reminds Camilla Frederico.


How do you declutter at Christmas?

Ideally, you’d want to start decluttering in advance of the holidays, so you’re free to focus on your festive to-do list nearer the time. Don’t feel you need to tackle the entire house though; there are hotspots that professional organizers always declutter for the holidays, mainly those that you and your guests are going to be spending a lot of time in (think kitchens and guest bedrooms) as well as those areas you’re likely to access more frequently than usual, such as your entryway closet, gift wrap supplies, and pantry shelves. 

It’s also worth freeing up some space for potential gifts. Think about what’s on your wishlist and prioritize accordingly – don’t forget to declutter kid’s toys, either. 

It may feel like a hassle, but decluttering ahead of the season will set you up for a relaxing holiday – and makes the transition into the New Year much smoother, too. 

‘Overall, the most important thing is to remember that the holiday season is about enjoying quality time with loved ones. While it’s nice to maintain a clean and organized space, don’t let tidying overshadow the joy of the day,' says Karina Toner, Operations Manager at Spekless Cleaning

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.