Knowing how to get organized for Thanksgiving takes the stress out of this holiday meal. Even if you’re not having friends or extended family join you, it’s still a special day that does not need to be stressful.
How to Get Organized for Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving is like any big party: it’s best planned and prepared for one step at a time. When throwing a party, you don’t leave the shopping, cooking, decorating, and cleaning house until the day before. So why do that with Thanksgiving?
The Plan I Follow
In the twenty-plus years that I’ve been hosting family Thanksgivings, I’ve learned that putting off preparation turns me into a stressed-out mess. Stress exacerbates my auto-immune issues, which used to mean that I was also sick on Thanksgiving.
Then I decided to get organized for Thanksgiving by working on it a little each day. It was beautiful: everything was ready when it needed to be, and I was relaxed enough to enjoy spending time with our guests.
I’ve been doing it this way ever since.
Adjust the Plan to Your Needs
There’s no reason why you have to do this in exactly ten days. Get organized for Thanksgiving over two or more weeks if you have a busy schedule. Or cut it down to one if you’ve got the time and energy for that.
The idea is to break down all of the tasks involved in making Thanksgiving happen, so feel free to use my plan as a rough outline then work at your own pace.
Organized Thanksgiving Plan
10 Days Before
Plan your menu: If you don’t have any tried-and-true recipes, now is the time to test Thanksgiving recipes from Pinterest, or go with something more reliable like the NY Times Essential Thanksgiving interactive recipe guide.
Deep-clean your kitchen: Give your kitchen a deep cleaning now, and you won’t have to worry about what visitors will see. It’s not going to stay spotless until Thanksgiving, but that’s okay. You’ll only need to touch up counters, appliance fronts, and floors right before the big day.
9 Days Before
Delegate dishes: Contributing to the meal is a tradition that dates back to the very first Thanksgiving, so don’t turn down guests who offer. But unless you have lots of workspace in your kitchen, ask them to bring oven-ready contributions. Be sure to get details from them, too, or you run the risk of different people bringing the same thing.
Make two grocery lists: Get organized for Thanksgiving grocery shopping by creating an aisle-by-aisle grocery list of non-perishable items and another for perishables. Shop for the non-perishables before they’re in short supply. If you’re buying a frozen turkey, you should pick it up while the size selection is good. Keep it in the freezer.
Get bedrooms ready: Give guest rooms a good bedroom cleaning. You might want to launder guest linens, so they’re fresh, too. Replace whatever looks ratty.
8 Days Before
Plan your cookware and gadgets: With your menu in hand, decide what you’ll use to cook each item on the menu. Do you have enough saucepans? Casserole dishes? Need a platter for the turkey? Now’s the time to get them. Make sure you have the gadgets you’ll need, too.
Deep clean the guest bathroom: Some guests go through bathroom cupboards and medicine cabinets whether we want them to or not. Do a thorough bathroom cleaning and organizing now. You’ll need to clean them again before the big day, but it won’t take more than a few minutes.
7 Days Before
Plan your table linens: Get out your holiday tablecloth and cloth napkins and inspect them for stains. Treat any stains you find.
Plan your centerpiece: Order your floral centerpiece or decide where to buy flowers to make your own. Not into flowers? Good Housekeeping has some excellent DIY centerpiece ideas!
Clean house: Give the rest of your house a thorough cleaning to deal with cobwebs, dusty baseboards, etc. (Get my free printable cleaning checklists here.)
6 Days Before
Buy long-lasting perishables now: Heavy cream, potatoes, eggs, onions, and butter run scarce the closer we get to the holiday, so buy them now.
Decorate: Change your front door wreath, and decorate the rest of the house.
Make and freeze what you can: Get organized for Thanksgiving cooking by making and freezing what you can. Things like pie crusts, undecorated cookies, cranberry sauce/relish, cornbread for stuffing, and rolls freeze well and taste fresh when defrosted the day before serving. Marinated artichoke hearts and olives can be prepared ahead and stored in the refrigerator, too.
5 Days Before
Make your cooking schedule: Grab a notepad and pen, and calculate the timing of the big day. Count back from the time you’ll be serving dinner to figure out when your turkey should go into the oven. Don’t forget the turkey’s resting time! Schedule side dishes to cook as the turkey rests.
Add time to spare: Be sure to leave yourself time before cooking to enjoy a cup of coffee and to touch up the house with the daily cleaning routine.
Stock your bar: Get organized for Thanksgiving beverage service by making sure you have enough glasses for all of your guests. Buy wines, liquors, mixers, and garnishes today. Skipping the booze? Buy soft drinks and punch ingredients instead.
4 Days Before
Begin defrosting your turkey: Put the turkey in a container to catch drips, so other foods don’t get cross-contaminated. Although the turkey wrapper may advise waiting until three days before Thanksgiving, when your fridge is crammed with other holiday food it stays colder, so defrosting will take longer. Also, if you’re going to brine the turkey to keep it juicy, you need an extra day for this.
Plan your seating: Who’ll be sitting at the kiddie table this year? Are Aunt Enda and Uncle Frank still not speaking? Avoid awkwardness by seating them apart. Draw or print place cards, so guests will know where to sit or you might find Edna expecting to sit in your seat to get away from Frank. Not cool.
Get out the holiday dishes: Wash your holiday dishes even if they’ve been carefully wrapped and stored all year. Get rid of any stale glass smells and buff glassware with a lint-free towel, so it sparkles. Attaching a note to each dish to remind yourself what you’ll be using it for is another great way to cut down on last-minute Thanksgiving chaos.
3 Days Before
Shop for perishable items: Make room in your refrigerator and give the shelves a quick wipe. Then grab the list of perishable groceries you wrote on Day 9 and go shopping.
Spruce up your entry: Clean your front door, sweep the step and the walk, and make sure your door handles gleam. First impressions are important!
Tidy your coat closet: Guests will need a place to hang coats, hats, and purses. Make space, or they’ll use your bed for their stuff.
2 Days Before
Defrost frozen dishes: Transfer any food you’ve made ahead and frozen to the refrigerator, so it has time to defrost.
Confirm with guests: If you’ve delegated cooking certain foods to others, call or text them to ensure their plans haven’t changed. Confirming the plan allows you to rearrange your menu if needed.
Get your recipes ready: Put every recipe you’ll be using in one convenient place, so you won’t have to hunt for them tomorrow.
Get the bar/beverage area ready: Set up a beverage center away from where you’ll be cooking so guests can help themselves. Arrange bottles and glasses, then cover them with a clean towel to keep everything dust-free. Chop garnishes like lemons and limes and store them in the refrigerator.
1 Day Before
Brine your turkey: If you’re going to brine your turkey, now’s the time to do it.
Dry out stuffing ingredients: Cornbread, regular bread, whatever you’re using — most stuffing recipes call for dried-out bread. Set yours on paper towels on a clean counter.
Prep ingredients: Get organized for Thanksgiving cooking by chopping things like onions, carrots, and celery and then refrigerate them in separate containers. Make dips if you are serving them, boil eggs for Deviled Eggs (or do them in the oven). You can even make up your relish plate and chill it, covered in plastic wrap.
Bake pies: Don’t put off baking pies. Make them now, let them cool on the counter, then cover tightly with plastic wrap or a cake dome.
Tidy up: Since you’ve thoroughly cleaned most of your house recently, you just need to quickly dust horizontal surfaces and vacuum high-traffic areas. Then give the bathrooms a once-over and make sure you have ample toilet paper, hand soap, and guest towels available.
Iron table linens and set the table: You can get organized for Thanksgiving dinner by laying your table now. It only takes a few minutes to iron the tablecloth and napkins, but it makes such a difference. Lay a sheet over the table to keep things dust-free.
Finish the guest rooms: Put clean sheets on guest beds and set out any other amenities like bottled water, fresh flowers, etc.
Thanksgiving Day Schedule
Follow your cooking schedule: Use the pre-cooking time you budgeted to do a quick Daily Whole House Tidy.
Assign helper tasks: Have someone in charge of greeting guests and helping with coats. Task an adult with keeping the bar/beverage service stocked. Put kids in charge of making sure the bathrooms always have toilet paper and dry hand towels.
Wash as you work: Keep a sink of hot, soapy water available for cleaning things as you use them. If you have a dishwasher, load it as you work then run and empty it as needed.
Enjoy your meal: The entire point of getting organized for Thanksgiving in advance is so that you can enjoy the meal, too. Join your guests for a beverage or two, savor your meal and the delicious desserts you made, and feel the gratitude this day is all about.
When your meal is over, don’t forget to split the wishbone! Luckily, you won’t have to wish to do better next year, now that you’ve learned how to get organized for Thanksgiving.
Organized Thanksgiving Preparation Checklist
Use the Thanksgiving preparation checklist below to get and stay organized this year. (Click to open a printable version.)
Note: This post originally appeared in November 2013. It has been updated and republished to help readers prepare for the holiday.