Even if you're holding a potluck or have splashed out for caterers, you might find yourself with a sink full of dirty dishes as the doorbell rings. Unless they are absolutely essential to food you're serving later, says Debra Johnson, a training manager for Merry Maids
, don't bother washing them. "With pots and pans, you can put them in the oven. If that's still in use, set the dishes in a container in the pantry or a spare closet." In the time you save, focus on the rooms your guests will be in. Johnson advises starting at the front door and following their path through your home with a basket to collect any unnecessary items (books, toys or your mail) to clear space for what they need. In the winter, that means a bed to put their coats on and a table to drop off the wine they so generously brought you. Dimming the lights or swapping in lower-wattage bulbs will instantly communicate "party" while also making dust and stains harder to see.