Peter Walsh knows a thing or two about houseguests. One of seven children, he hails from Australia, the land of enthusiastic world travelers. "If one of my brother's friend's sons is coming to Los Angeles, he's probably staying with me," says Walsh with a laugh. "Around the holidays, my partner, Ken, and I host so many friends and relatives, and cousins of friends of relatives, that we're thinking of installing a revolving door."

Walsh being Walsh, he does not allow a few extra bodies to turn his thoughtfully minimalist living room into a riot of overflowing suitcases. Over the years, he's perfected a few tips to make sure the house stays neat, he stays sane and everyone has a great time. The key: Start early. "Spacing your preparation over 12 days feels less overwhelming," says Walsh, "and the small daily victories create a snowball effect, pardon the pun. You don't just get into the holiday spirit; you start to believe more ambitious projects are possible in your home."

Day 1: Tackle the Table

The kitchen or dining room table "is a magnet for mail, bills, kids' homework and I'll-just-put-it-here-for-a-moment kind of stuff," says Walsh. To prepare it for actual dining, he suggests spending 30 "brutal and fast" minutes sorting paperwork into like piles (Mail Needing Attention, Documents to File, Recycling, etc.). "Stand, don't sit," he cautions, "so you won't be tempted to study the disclaimers on those credit card offers." When everything is sorted, resolve to deal with a pile a day, or put them all away until January. Then set the table with a tablecloth, flower arrangement and your nicest dishes, to discourage people—in other words, you—from using it as a dumping ground for groceries and unpaid electric bills.

Day 2: Make Room in the Bedroom

Clear out a top drawer or half a closet in one of your bedrooms so guests won't have to live out of suitcases, says Walsh. Place the contents of the drawer in a bin under the bed (if you have time, toss out or designate for Goodwill anything you haven't used or worn in the past 12 months). "Making space for your guests is not only considerate and welcoming," says Walsh, "it sends the message, 'I respect my space and I'd like you to respect it, too.'" "Translation," says Walsh's partner, Ken Greenblatt: "Even though we're generous hosts, it drives Peter mad when our guest bedroom looks like a bomb went off!"

Day 3: Tame Your Toiletries

Rifle through bathroom drawers to purge any products that are expired or that you haven't used in six months. Then consolidate what's left in order to offer one shelf or drawer to guests. This will prevent their toiletries from spreading across the counters—and help everyone keep track of his or her toothbrush.

Day 4: Get Soapy

"I'm always receiving nice soaps, lotions and candles as gifts," says Walsh. "And I love to put them out at the holidays to be enjoyed by my guests." Doing so spruces up the bathrooms—and helps clear space for the new round of thoughtful presents inevitably pouring in during the holidays.

Next: One strategy for a clutter-free bathroom


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