How to Organize Your Kitchen for the Holidays

Countdown planners and holiday calendars are popping up all over the place as we collectively try to organize ourselves before the big slide into the holidays. I don’t for a minute pretend to have it all together when it comes to prepping for the holidays, but I do have my strengths.

While my good intentions for deep household cleaning might not get carried out, the kitchen is one area where I must be organized heading into December. If the heart of the home is clean, uncluttered, well-stocked and in top working capacity, then anything is possible – or so I see it!

I’m not talking about anything too major – none of us have the time to drop everything and revamp the entire workspace – but I write up a tidy and legible list, stick it to the fridge, and tackle the jobs one at a time over the month of November. If I’m lucky, Danny will team up with me and cross off a few items on his own initiative. The man loves a list.

Here’s what that list looks like.

9 Steps to an Organized Kitchen

1. A general clean

There’s no way around this important first step, but perhaps you can recruit or hire some help if you’re doing deep cleaning such as the oven or the top of the cupboards.

My main areas to focus on are:

  • Cupboard fronts and handles – wash.
  • Counters – appliances moved and everything disinfected.
  • Microwave and stove top – wiped down.
  • Under sink – organized and washed.

2. Stock up on baking ingredients

Last year I created the Ultimate Holiday Baking Pantry Checklist and made it available as a free download. No one likes to be in the grocery store, frantically searching for that one elusive item when they should be at home, basting the turkey.

Holiday baking starts soon, so be sure to print up the list and bring on your shopping rounds.

3. Clear & clean the fridge & freezer

Remember that a few weeks from now, you’re going to be be juggling stuffing, vegetable sides and a whole turkey around the refrigerator, trying to make everything fit safely.

Now is the time to go through the refrigerator contents and clear out as much as you can. Finish off jars of jam, toss nearly empty condiment containers leftover from summer barbecues, and make soup with the withered contents of the vegetable drawers.

As for the freezer, Danny covered the basics a few weeks ago on keeping the freezer safe and cold. Important info, as none of us would like to lose all our precious holiday baking –  or worse, that free-range turkey reserved for Christmas day – as a result of a deep freeze malfunction.

4. A quick cupboard clean

Think of it as a summer to winter wardrobe changeover in your closet, only for your kitchen. Box up the popsicle molds, summer sippy cups, and picnic plates to make space for holiday-themed bakeware, festive dishes and extra serving platters. 

Wipe out crumbs while you’re at it and take note of anything that needs replacing – or recycling.

5. Make a loose monthly menu plan

Don’t let holiday baking and cocktail parties get in the way of wholesome meals around the table. Jot down a dozen or so meal ideas and be sure to stock your pantry with canned beans, lentils, whole grain pastas and rice for quick scratch suppers.

Related links:


6. Stock items for gift packaging

Edible treats are the only kind of handmade gifts that I know how to do, so stocking up on their packaging falls in my kitchen organization category. I find that if I already have what I need on hand, it’s much easier to dress up a jar jam or bag of cookies. This specific area of organizing has saved the day many a time when I was scrambling for a last-minute gift.

A few suggestions: tins, cellophane bags, ribbon, labels, tape, paper bags, brown paper, felt-tipped pens, tissue paper, clear cellophane wrap, burlap garden twine.

7. Check linens, disposable dishes, etc.

If you’re hosting the main meal(s) or several parties over the holiday season, you’ll want to double check that you have enough paper plates, cups, napkins and utensils. These non-perishable items can easily be stocked up on ahead of time and that leaves you with one less thing to think about on the big day.

Also check cloth linens for stains, tears or burns (that would be my tablecloth, yes) and decide whether or not this is the year for new linens.

8. Stock a guest bag

Every year I have a stash of items set aside for the convenience of my guests. I’ve noticed that guests often ask for the same dozen or so items, and instead of leaving the stove (or whatever I am doing) and hunting for the Tylenol or band-aids during an evening of hosting, I amass everything ahead of time.

It might be very Martha Stewart for me, but it makes my life easier and sets my guests at ease when they see it’s no trouble at all for me to meet their request.

Here’s what’s on the list most of the time:

  • Band-aids
  • Tylenol & Tempra
  • AA Batteries
  • Baby bib & wash cloth
  • MAGIC BAG Thermotherapeutic
  • Tide stain remover pen
  • Pen & Paper
  • Wi-Fi code (on a paper)
  • Safety pins
  • Hand cream
  • Slippers

9. Plan to host a cookie swap

If you’re looking for a good way to round out your holiday baking and have some fun at the same time, consider organizing a cookie swap with a group of friends.

A cookie swap is a casual and easy-to-host social event with a practical side: it saves valuable time during the busiest season of the year, provides you with a wonderful selection of homemade baked goods, and introduces new types of cookies to your palate.

Over on Simple Mom I’ve got a checklist on how to plan a festive cookie swap your guests will remember well into the New Year. And here’s a snapshot of my event from last year. Such fun!

Do you have the tenth tip? How to YOU organize the kitchen for the holidays? Share your tips below!

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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  1. Hi Aimee,
    I think this is a perfect way to avoid chaos in the kitchen during holidays. I never skip step two and three. But, you have other great tips here, so I will certainly follow them.

  2. Excellent list and reminders. An additional helpful tip – we somehow end up with last minute or unexpected guests. Have an extra bottle or two of your favorite wine or champagne chilled and some specialty treats like a fancy nut mix or salami and cheese that you can put out with crackers. Our family favorite is my homemade jalapeno jelly over cream cheese.
    With your list and this tip your kitchen will be clean, organized, ready for gift giving and last minute guests!
    Thanks for sharing.

    • Yes! Great tip. I include this when I’m stocking the pantry – olives & breadsticks are a must.

    • I love your suggestion Kim; I never thought about this and it’s a great idea.

      Aimee – I also love your idea of a guest bag (though I’ll probably use a basket). I have a special guest coming at Thanksgiving – an adult niece with Downs – and I think I’ll make her own special basket with little surprises for her. Thanks for sharing such a great post!

  3. Love this post Aimee! Last week I went around and found all the lids for my tupperware since I tend to use a lot of those for storing food for the holidays. We are also contemplating a second fridge for the garage since we are hosting 7 people and need more food storage so I can cook and freeze food ahead of time!

    • Kelsey, get that second fridge – it will be one of the most-used items in your house! We always have a big Thanksgiving crowd (11 people on deck so far this year) and I find it indispensable to devote one whole fridge to Thanksgiving ingredients. Less confusing for the rest of the family as to what they can and can’t eat, too.

  4. Amber | Bluebonnets & Brownies says:

    Aimee, that guest bag tip is a *great* idea. I have one other tip that’s similar. Because of where we live, often times folks will come out to visit and then end up staying overnight because they don’t want the trek back to where they came from.

    So I keep a stock of new toothbrushes and mini toothpastes (from the dollar store or Target dollar bins), hair combs and brushes, and some spare contact lens cases in our bathroom cabinet. That way if someone finds themselves unexpectedly an overnight guest of Chez Bracegirdle, they don’t have to sleep in their contacts or “finger” brush their teeth.

  5. Great tips Aimee! I love the idea of having a guest bag. Definitely something I will do this year!

  6. Wow, Aimee, thanks for the motivation! I now have a weekend plan : )

  7. great ideas…now to get cracking on it.

  8. I’m inspired.

  9. Ooh, those are some great ideas! I especially love the guest bag idea — that totally makes sense, especially for us with two stories, that way I wouldn’t have to run upstairs every time someone needs something! Thanks. :)

  10. These are so helpful, Aimee. I think I am going to take a little time this weekend and make this happen!

  11. I think I’ll save the deep clean for after the holidays when, cookie crumbs and gravy splatters will be everywhere. Can a person rent a dog for the holiday season? Deep Cleaning seems like a lovely January activity when the snow is deep and I sip something warm in the peace and calm of the post holiday.

  12. Helpful tips Aimee. I especially love the guest bag idea. No more running amok while trying to entertain 😀

  13. where can I find parchment baking cups?

  14. Stephanie B says:

    What is a Magic sac?

  15. oh, I wish my husband loved lists! I keep 4 going on the side of the fridge all the time and he has never, not once, crossed something off (or noticed, maybe?). He is very spontaneous.
    Anyway, I like your tips. All our family is in the area and we are junior family, so the heavy-lifting entertaining is usually done at my parents and my in-laws. I will suggest again this year that we host some gatherings!

  16. Love this post! Definitely don’t want to go into the busy holiday season with your kitchen (and life!) in disarray!

  17. I’ve found that keeping a folder labeled “Holiday Ideas” really helps me corral all those interesting articles & recipes I’ve gathered. And then I can find them when I need them! I glue the first holiday card of the year on the outside – makes it easy to spot.

  18. Thank you so much for sharing this list. I plan to begin implementing it today! Being organized is NOT a strength of mine. I have the desire for it, but seemingly not the ability. Thanks to people like you who share their ideas, and Pinterest, I’m finding ways to become more oranized. Yea! :-)

  19. Cleaning out the pantry is good, too — I ditched the stuff I didn’t use and gathered all my nuts, dried fruit, and chocolate together for quick pullout. I also realized last year that everyone had the same favorite of mine that I make and give for Christmas, and focused on that one thing — it kept things so much more simple! I think if you have a new baby or other big event at holiday time, it’s easier to just make one lovely thing over and over rather than hustle to make even a few different things.

  20. Wonderful list, and I reprinted the holiday baking ingredient list again for this season!
    I also add some easy kids activities to the kitchen area so they are close at hand to distract/entertain the little ones. I keep eco-friendly play-dough, coloring pages and an all access drawer for the curious 9 month old in the kitchen.

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