An Organized Thanksgiving

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Your guide to an organized Thanksgiving from Life with Less Mess

In America, we know Thanksgiving as a time for gathering together and being grateful. But depending on who you’re talking to, the holiday might be a little more stressful. If you’re hosting Thanksgiving, it is a ton of work. There’s cooking, yes, but there’s also so much more: cleaning the house, decorating the house, planning a menu, buying the food, inviting visitors, collecting RSVPs, rearranging furniture, cooking the food, feeding the people, cleaning up after dinner, cleaning up after dessert, and then cleaning the house (again). Luckily, I’m here to help you have An Organized Thanksgiving. If you’re lucky enough to just roll up and eat (like me), keep reading and the be extra thankful that you don’t have to host Thanksgiving.

So, how do you run an organized Thanksgiving? You make a plan; you write lists, you delegate, and you ask for help.

3 Weeks Before Thanksgiving

If this isn’t your first Thanksgiving, you probably already know some of your Thanksgiving favorites. Regardless, you’ll want to plan your menu. Decide whether you’re going full on traditional, traditional with a bit of flair, or totally unconventional. If you’re hosting, you get to decide!

Making lists is key to having an organized Thanksgiving.

Whatever you decide, you’ll probably need the following categories:

  • Appetizers & snacks
  • Main Course & sides
  • Desserts
  • Beverages

Using the guide above, create a list of foods you’ll be eating. Put an asterisk next to any foods you’d like others to provide.

Create a list of people you plan to invite. Email or text letting them know they’re welcome and gather RSVPs. Be sure to ask if any guests have food allergies or sensitivities (gluten and nuts are the most common).

If décor is your thing, consider your tablescape (it’s I think I swear). If décor isn’t your thing, don’t even worry one bit. This spot will be full of food shortly!

A Thanksgiving tablescape can make a big impact on guests-- but if decor isn't your thing, don't worry about it!

If you’re already overwhelmed, make a plan to get help. Order a pre-cooked, catered meal. Schedule a cleaning crew to come before or after the holiday. Splurge for grocery delivery.

Two Weeks Before Thanksgiving

My aunt has been hosting (an organized) Thanksgiving for ages. She makes the turkey, the mashed potatoes, the stuffing, and the gravy for about 40 people. Everyone else brings a bottle of soda, a bottle of wine, and then an appetizer, side, or dessert.

Based on the RSVPs, consider quantities of food, meal servings, seating arrangements, utensils, plates, chairs, and leftovers.

On your list of food, find the asterisks and start assigning one to two items per family 

Don’t be afraid to be specific when you make requests. Instead of just saying, “Please bring drinks,” say, “Please bring a bottle of wine and a bottle of soda.” Being specific gives you less to worry about and makes your guests’ job easier.

When requesting food, ask that it be ready to eat. You don’t need 7 other people descending on your kitchen needing to prep and cook their own food—there’s probably not enough space or appliances for that. It can be tricky, but crock pots and insulated bags can help!

Make plans to borrow or rent chairs if needed.

One Week Before Thanksgiving

It’s crunch time. Make a cleaning list (hey there, baseboards) and make a plan to food shop. You’ll want to go as early as possible to avoid the madness that is food shopping before Thanksgiving.

Think about a seating plan. Do you have enough table space for everyone? Enough chairs? Ask people to BYO-chair if you need to. Do you need a kids’ table?

You also must consider dishes. Do you have enough plates and utensils for everyone? Use plastic or paper. No, it’s not fancy, but It’s practical, especially when you’re hosting many people. If anyone minds, let them know they’re welcome to take over the hosting duties next year. Do the Earth a favor and spring for the compostable brand.

By now, you have assigned food to all the people and have a pretty specific list for just yourself. Don’t forget small things like butter, coffee, creamer, sugar, milk, tea, oil, cranberry sauce, rolls, napkins, hand soap, dish soap, ice, and paper towels.

Make a plan for leftovers. Purchasing inexpensive food storage containers is a great option if you’d like to send food home with guests, or ask them to BYO Tupperware if they expect leftovers.

Make room in your fridge, then go food shopping. When purchasing a turkey, aim for 1-1.5 pounds of turkey per person, or a little less if you want fewer leftovers. If you purchased a frozen turkey, be sure to thaw it for the appropriate time. Check this chart to see how long your turkey needs to thaw before cooking.

Create a schedule for yourself for the big day. What time does the turkey have to go in the oven? What about the sides? When do you want guests to arrive? When do you expect them to leave? What time are you going to take the turkey out of the oven? Make a schedule. Yes, it’s overkill, but you’ll thank yourself later.

The Day Before Thanksgiving

The day before Thanksgiving can be quite busy. You may need to add the following items to your to do list:

  • Rearrange furniture if needed.
  • Declutter surfaces.
  • Get your décor set up the way you’d like it.
  • Set the table.
  • Review your schedule.
  • Take out your plates, serving bowls, napkins, and extra dish towels.
  • Put fresh towels in the bathrooms.
  • Empty the bathroom garbage.
  • Assign your kids some chores and have your kids clean their rooms.
  • Vacuum one last time.
  • Prep anything you can, cook anything you can.

Your Organized Thanksgiving Day

Stick to your schedule as closely as possible. Know that a few things will probably not go the way you planned, but that’s okay. Be sure to build in time to get yourself ready—time can sneak up on you!

Prep the coffee early so you can just hit the Brew button when you’re ready.

When guests arrive, attempt to sit and chat as much as you can. Yes, the food is important, but your people are, too.

Hopefully, your guests will chip in with the serving and the cleaning, but if they don’t ask for help. Sometimes people get caught up in the visiting and don’t see how much work hosting is– try not to be resentful or passive aggressive, simply assign a task in a matter-of-fact tone. They can chat while drying dishes just and they can chat while sitting on the couch.

An Organized Thanksgiving doesn't just happen on it's own. Bring your hostess a gift if you're a guest.

If you’re not hosting Thanksgiving and you’re still reading, you can see how much work goes into the holiday. Be sure to pick up a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of wine for the host to enjoy the day after Thanksgiving when she has her house back. 

The day After Your Organized Thanksgiving

Return all the dishes to their rightful home.

Enjoy a leftover turkey sandwich.

Clean up a bit more.

Admire your pretty flowers and have a glass of that wine your favorite niece brought you to thank you for hosting. 

Congratulate yourself on a job well done. Pulling off an organized Thanksgiving is no simple task.

Ready to think about Christmas? Check out my guide to An Organized Christmas here!


**Disclosure: This post contains links. Some are affiliate, some are not. If you make a purchase through the links, I may earn a small commission. I link these companies and products for informational purposes or because of their quality and not because of the commission I may or may not receive.**

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