AT HOME: Getting organized before — not after — the holidays

To getting a handle on the holidays, sit down with your favorite hot beverage, make your holiday to-do list, and make getting organized part of the plan. ( Julia Sudnitskaya for Dreamstime.com)

Here they come again. The holidays are here along with the gift buying, home decorating, present wrapping, card sending, cookie baking, guest hosting, year-end tipping, party going and all else that accompanies the holiday hustle. As I have learned the hard way, if you're not on top of the season, fa-la-la-la quickly becomes bah-humbug.

This year, I am inviting you to join me in adding one more task to the to-do the list, one that will make all the other jobs easier. Ready? Get organized.

I hear you groaning, but trust me. Although many think January is the month to get organized, I say we declare November as organizing month. After all, this season is when you most need your home to look, feel and function its best. You need maximum efficiency and decluttered spaces. You need your kitchen to run like a pit stop on race day.

Here are 10 holiday organizing tips we can do right now to make the best of the season before it gets the best of us:

1. Make a list. Write down the holiday tasks you need to tackle (and those you don't) to help you get a scope of the project and eliminate surprises: Oh, (expletive), teachers' gifts! Note, many items on this master list (gift buying, menu planning) will spawn their own lists. Take a deep breath, then prioritize, create deadlines and start doing what you can do now.

2. Decorate early. I am in favor of putting up holiday decorations the day after Thanksgiving, or as soon as possible. The time between Thanksgiving and New Year's gets tight as tasks double. Getting your holiday decorations up early will buy you time and put you in the holiday spirit.

3. Purge the pantry. Take everything out. Toss what's old or icky. Wipe down the shelves so you have a clean slate. Do the same for the refrigerator. Outside the pantry, consolidate like items into groups -- canned goods, condiments, snacks, dog treats. Put batched items in clear acrylic labeled bins, which pull out like drawers. This will help you and whoever is helping you cook find items fast and put them back in the right place. It also lets you see you have three bottles of Italian dressing, and no mayonnaise.

4. Take inventory and meal plan. Now that you know what you have, fill the gaps. List all the non-perishables you'll need for holiday meals and stock up on items like canned pumpkin, chicken stock, sweetened condensed milk, stuffing mix, olives, nuts and fixings for a spur-of-the-moment appetizer like smoked fish and crackers. Buy before stores run out.

5. Bake and freeze. Spend more time with guests and less time steaming in the kitchen by making holiday cookies and breakfast casseroles now and freezing them so they're ready to go.

6. Tee up your tips. Have cash tips in greeting cards ready to go for all those who make your house go around. As a rule, Kiplinger's suggests tipping the gardener, the housekeeper, the pool service person and the dogwalker the equivalent of one week's pay. If helpers work in pairs or groups, a year-end tip of $20 to $50 per worker is appropriate.

7. Buy in bulk. Although buying a special gift for everyone on your list may be ideal, it's not always realistic. Find a well-priced generic gift, such as a favorite scented candle or a handsome cheese knife, and buy a bunch. Make this your go-to hostess or teacher gift.

8. Print your labels. If you send more than 20 holiday greeting cards, consider printing labels in advance. Have a document of mailing addresses set up to print in a festive color and font. Update the list with new addresses and new friends, then print the labels so they're ready to go (along with holiday stamps) when you get your cards.

9. Wrangle the wrapping. Have a bin dedicated for holiday wrapping. Weeks before Christmas make sure it is well stocked with paper, boxes, bows, ribbons, gift bags, tape, tissue, tags and scissors. Make bins easy to access and slide away when not in use.

10. Ready the guest room. If family or friends will be staying with you, have the guest room ready well in advance. If your belongings have started to creep into the guest space, clear them out to make room in the closet and dresser. Then run through the checklist: clean sheets, extra blanket, towels, toiletries. Pull out bathroom drawers to make sure they are clean and appropriately stocked. Medicine cabinets, too. Think nice B&B. Then, when guests show up, all you have to add is their luggage.

Join me next week for easy ways to streamline your holiday decorating and still get a great look.

Marni Jameson is the author of seven home and lifestyle books. Her newest book, "Rightsize Today to Create Your Best Life Tomorrow," is due out in January.