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The holidays always sneak up on me. I procrastinate as if it’s an Olympic sport, and suddenly the guests are arriving in one hour, and I’ve wasted days scrolling TikTok tablescapes and trying to fold napkins into geometric knots. The bathrooms are definitely not guest-ready (when did I last change the hand towel?), and the kitchen looks like Trader Joe’s exploded inside my house.
This year, I’m accepting reality. I know I won’t clean until the very last moment, so I asked Farah Sutton, a licensed Realtor based in Arizona, to channel all of her last-minute showing experience and tell me what I should prioritize. I want to know what people actually notice and what’s a waste of (my very limited) time. Below she shares her expert knowledge on what to do in the minutes before the doorbell rings.
First, be kind to yourself.
Sutton begins by removing all shame associated with a procrasti-clean: “If you have an hour to clean, you’ll get it done in an hour. If you have two days, it will take you two days.” (I liked her immediately.)
Corral the clutter: 10 minutes.
A tidy home can trick people into thinking it’s cleaner than it is. Begin by removing all the clutter in spaces guests will occupy (a laundry basket makes this easier), and move it “to an unused room to tackle later,” says Sutton. She suggests putting “as many barriers as possible,” between your guests and your piles. For example, place the clutter in a walk-in closet, then shut the door to the closet and the door to the bedroom.
Stage the space: 3 minutes.
Sutton recommends arranging pillows and blankets neatly as another way to make a space look clean without cleaning. “It’s an easy fix to make it look elevated,” she says, and it takes almost no time.
Let in the light: 2 minutes
If your home isn’t sparkling, you may be tempted to keep the curtains drawn, but don’t. Sutton always opens blinds and curtains at showings, because letting in the light makes a space bright and inviting.
Do a front door check: 15 minutes.
“It’s all about first impressions,” says Sutton. She tells clients to literally walk outside and enter the home the way guests would. What are the immediate messes you notice? A muddy entry? A table coated in dust? Tackle only the highly visible issues, and move on.
Clear the kitchen sink: 15 minutes.
There’s no getting around this one: Dirty dishes are a high priority. “Especially if you’re serving food, that’s not a good look,” says Sutton. Running an express cycle in your dishwasher can help, if you have one. Don’t forget to wipe the sink!
Clean one guest bathroom: 15 minutes.
If you have multiple bathrooms, just clean one for guests (and be sure to direct them to it). Replace the hand towel with a fresh one, and leave “towels looking organized,” says Sutton. Like the staged blankets and pillows, neatly arranged linens give the impression of cleanliness.
Bonus: If there’s time, sweep and vacuum the floors.
At this point, you’re probably out of time, but if you’re lucky and your friends are late, sweep or vacuum the rooms your guests will occupy. If they arrive promptly, though, it’s OK. Remember they are there to see you, not to buy your home.