Summer is the season of inviting friends over for impromptu barbecues and last-minute, casual get-togethers. That means it's also the season of cringing when you realize your house is in no condition to be seen by the guests who will be arriving any minute now.
On summer evenings, "my husband will invite people over after golf," says interior designer Mallory Mathison. "He'll call and say, 'We'll all be there in 30 minutes.' "
That's when she begins rushing around, quickly prepping their home for the soon-to-arrive guests.
What's the best way to use that half hour or so before the doorbell rings to get even the messiest home party-ready? Try breaking it down like this.
"Most people don't mind clutter," says Evette Rios, a lifestyles blogger and a correspondent on ABC's "The Chew." "But they mind grime."
So focus on wiping surfaces in your kitchen and bathrooms. Then grab an old sock or pair of pantyhose and use that to quickly dust surfaces in your living room and dining room.
Save time by only cleaning the rooms guests will enter, suggests Donna Smallin, founder of unclutter.com. And don't feel obligated to give anyone a full-scale tour of your home.
Got dishes in the sink? There's no time to wash them, so Smallin suggests keeping an empty bin available for stashing dirty dishes under your sink. Or stash them in the oven, assuming you won't use it during the party. (Just be sure to pull them out and wash them the following morning.)
Rios points out that having your dishwasher empty when the party is over will be helpful. But don't hesitate to fill it with dirty dishes if necessary.
If you have carpets, a minute of quick vacuuming in major traffic areas can make a difference, Rios says, especially if you sprinkle on a bit of carpet deodorizer.
Walk through all the rooms where guests will be and collect any clutter in an empty laundry basket, Smallin says. Stash the basket in a bedroom and close the door. If all that household clutter is collected in one place, it will be easier the next day to deal with it all and not lose track of anything.
Once major clutter has been removed, Smallin says, go through the rooms and stack remaining items neatly. Magazines look much better in a neat stack, for example, than in a messy pile.
Pay attention to your home's entryway, which makes a first impression, and to areas where guests will spend the most time.
If you work on your home's "clutter hot spots" in advance, improving the way you handle things like junk mail and other items that pile up, you'll have less to deal with before a last-minute party, Smallin says.
Scenting your space is fast, easy and has a huge impact, says Rios. She suggests placing a drop of lemon-scented oil or vanilla extract on light bulbs, then turning them on. The warmth will spread the scent throughout your home.
Mathison suggests lighting a few candles for their scent and flickering party atmosphere.
Other ways to add a fresh scent: Rios likes to tuck scented fabric softener sheets (the kind made for use in a clothes dryer) underneath couch cushions or inside throw pillows. If you have a kitchen garbage disposal, she suggests dropping slices of lemon or lime into it and running it for just a moment.
Mathison recommends gathering a few small potted plants together in a basket or filling a basket with cuttings from your garden. It makes an instant centerpiece for a dining table, whether it includes flowers or just fresh greenery.
Then, scan your refrigerator and pantry for things to serve (if you haven't already sent a family member to the store). It's fine to be preparing and putting out food and drinks after your guests have arrived, but it's best to do the initial "what am I going to serve?" scrambling without an audience.
Mathison always keeps a few blocks of cheese and some thinly sliced prosciutto on hand, as well as a dessert that's ready to serve. She also suggests keeping extra drinks (bottled water, soft drinks and wine or beer) on hand, preferably chilling in a spare refrigerator in your basement or garage.
Last, Mathison says, take 30 seconds to brush your hair, breathe deeply and lighten your mood after rushing around cleaning and preparing. Guests will pick up on your stress, she says, so let it go before they arrive.
If entertaining outside is an option, usher guests outside quickly, Mathison says. It's much easier to de-clutter and clean up a patio or deck than to tidy up your whole house.
Smallin suggests keeping a pretty basket filled all summer long with good-quality paper plates, plastic utensils and serving plates. When guests ask how they can help, ask them to carry the basket outside and set the table while you finish preparing food.
Then, simply have fun.
"Life is messy," Smallin says. "Just focus on the friendships and don't judge yourself. Your guests probably aren't judging you."