Ah, the holiday season is upon us. For many of us, the backdrop of a clean house is part of the foundation of how we think about the visits with relatives, traditional meals, and cozy nights that this time of year represents. We imagine the lemon and lavender scents of a well-scrubbed and perfectly kept home rising to meet the aroma of cookies baking in the oven, while a picturesque crackling fireplace provides the soundtrack for the lovely slant of a setting sun through a gleaming window pane. But when our windows are streaky, our floors are sticky, and the ghost of Halloween candy past still lingers in the form of chocolate smeared on the entryway doorknob, the thought of holiday preparation starts to feel more bleary than cheery.

A woman cleans her living room

According to data compiled by Merry Maids, a national chain of housecleaning professionals, over 30 percent of people feel that cleaning the house is the most stressful part of having people over. That feeling is compounded for millennials, more than half of whom don’t regularly clean rooms that people won’t see, according to the same set of data. In fact, over a third of people would rather visit the DMV than host Thanksgiving! So when Mom is on her way to spread some major holiday cheer (and maybe just an ounce of passive-aggressive “did I not teach you how to clean the stovetop?” questions), the stress of a deep-clean can intensify into a task that feels impossible.

Be Realistic About Redecorating

The first step to getting your home looking its best for the holidays is not to spend the money you budgeted for Christmas gifts on new curtains, bathmats, knickknacks, and delightful lawn decorations to impress your guests. If your home is decked out to the nines in sparkle and glitz but your couch is covered in dog hair, you’ve lost the plot. You might want to make a list for a quick BB&B or IKEA run for a new throw pillow or two, but don’t overdo it. If you inventory how you’d like your guests to feel using adjectives like “cozy” and “comfortable,” you’ll be better able to figure out if there’s anything your home is lacking without giving in to the temptation to buy out the new Magnolia collection at Target.

Highlight What Makes You Feel At Home

You want your guests to spend the most time in the areas of your home that you like the most, right? So allocate your resources accordingly. Choose a weekend when you won’t be trying to accomplish a lot of last-minute holiday shopping and scour your kitchen table, scrub your floors with white vinegar and hot water, and maybe even clean that stove top. Work to maintain the level of deep-clean in the days prior to your party. If you can figure out how much time you will really need to get your house clean, don’t let anyone or anything stop you from getting that time.

Obviously, people will be making stops in your bathroom, and they will need a place to put their coats, so your coat closet and medicine cabinet (where most guests admit they love to peek!) might be in need of some attention. Do what you can, and if you can’t get to the rest, do not panic. It’s perfectly reasonable to have some locked doors (and, er, closets) when company visits.

Oh yeah, and make sure your partner or roommate is pitching in, as well. Remember that having it all done your way isn’t always preferable to having it all done, with some help.

Two people clean in a home

It’s Okay to Hire Someone

If panic, anxiety, and despair over cleaning start to dim your holiday hopes, look into hiring a cleaning service or housekeeping professional to do a holiday once-over in your space. Some of these services offer holiday specials that will suit your needs — and your budget — better than you might think. Debra Johnson, a home cleaning expert at Merry Maids, put it this way: “Time is of the essence, especially around holidays when people are hosting gatherings and dinners and just don’t have time to fully clean the house. This is a great example of when they can hire someone to come in and make sure their home is clean and ready for the holidays and guests.” Decluttering services and home organization professionals might also come in handy this time of year if you’re looking ahead to an existence that’s less crowded and more zen in 2018.

Ethically finding a trustworthy person who will help you clean your home for a fair wage is probably the zenith of adulting, but it’s not beyond your reach. Predetermine what you’d be willing to pay, including a tip, and do some internet sleuthing to find vetted professional cleaners in your area. A specialty corporation that’s bonded and insured is always the safest option. Asking around to your coworkers and friends is also a good bet: You might be surprised at who’s already outsourcing their housekeeping.

A woman sets a dinner table

Plan an Evening to Remember

It’s completely natural to feel overwhelmed by the idea of family and friends overrunning your home space and possibly judging you as #notacleanperson. One way to shut down judgment about your hosting quick is to make your holiday party less about the setting and more about the other details. Try out a new tradition — like karaoke after dinner or assembling gingerbread houses together — and work to be a host who’s present in conversation to make sure people are talking to each other. Putting out name cards for each guest or putting together a prop photo booth station are other easy ways to wow your guests without a ton of extra time invested.

If there’s a nitpicky relative in attendance, steel thyself and be prepared with a kind remark that will also shut down further speculation about your housekeeping. A smile, a shrug, and a simple reply work best. Resist the urge to make excuses; you don’t need to! When Aunt Chamomile points out that your living room fans have grown dusty, say, “Oh, you noticed! I hope you can still have a good time!” — and move on.

Are you hiring extra help to get ready for the holidays? Tell us why on Twitter @BritandCo!

(Photos via Getty)