The most wonderful time of the year is almost here. Part of what makes the holidays so special is the parties and gatherings that bring together family and friends—but for the party hosts, it can also be the most stressful time of the year. We’ve got some tips for holiday hosting to ensure your season stays merry and bright.

1. Send invites early.
The holidays are busy for everyone. Odds it won’t be long after Halloween before your friends’ and family’s calendars start filling up—especially when it comes to weekends in December. Instead of scrambling to fill a guest list with last minute invites, make sure you ask people well in advance. That will help ensure that the guests you want to attend will be there. Using an online invitation service can be an easy way to stay organized and won’t require you to rely on snail mail or text messages to keep track of who’s coming.

2. Pick a theme.
Create cohesion by choosing a design element to center your party around. It can be as simple as a color or favorite holiday song, and the party doesn’t have to be completely matchy-matchy. Just a few nods to the theme will make an impression on your guests. For example, a “12 Days of Christmas” party could invoke a partridge in a pear tree with a seasonal pear cocktail when guests
arrive, dinner could channel three French hens with a main dish of coq au vin, and the table setting could shine with five golden rings—or any other element from the song.

3. Prep the night before.
Don’t leave organizing everything to the day of. Figure out what dishes can be made or started the night before, and get prepping. You also can set up tables or lay out place settings, so everything is where it needs to be before you start stressing about guests arriving shortly. If you’re cooking a lot before the party, consider organizing the pans you will need and make sure you have enough space in the kitchen to get everything done. You don’t want to find out day of that you don’t have enough oven space to bake that pie and get the dinner rolls out.

4. Tidy your home strategically.
Odds are your guests aren’t going to see every room in your home. The office or bedroom probably won’t see much traffic, but you can bet the powder room and coat closet are going to be seen by almost everyone. Focus on making those spaces guest-ready. Make sure your guest bathroom is stocked with soap, toilet paper and hand towels. Clear out your coat closet so you have enough space for your guests’ winter outerwear—and don’t forget to make sure you have enough hangers. For rooms guests won’t be visiting, just shut the door and don’t worry.

5. Use what you have.
Hosting a party doesn’t mean you have to spend hundreds of dollars on supplies. When it comes to the holidays, you likely already have all the decor you need, and odds are you’ve got some rarely used dishes and silverware stashed away in a cabinet or storage space somewhere. Make things easier for yourself and use what you’ve got on-hand. That can go towards groceries as well. Plan your menu based on what you’ve already got in your fridge and pantry.

6. Don’t be afraid to outsource.
No matter how great a cook you are, making everything for a party from scratch is simply a recipe for disaster. Pick a couple of signature items you want to make yourself, and don’t be afraid to buy the rest. That can mean hiring a chef to cook in your kitchen, getting catering from a local restaurant or hitting up Costco and Trader Joe’s for frozen or pre-made options. Also don’t be afraid to take your friends and family up on any offers of help. What holiday party wouldn’t benefit from Aunt Susan’s world famous sugar cookies—and that’s one less thing you have to worry about.

7. Work backwards.
Establish a timeline for your party and stick to it. This will help you stay organized. If you’re expecting guests to arrive at 6 p.m. and have dinner ready by 7 p.m., it will help determine when everything needs to be in the oven and when appetizers need to go out. Include even the little things in your gameplan, such as what time you want to be dressed or when the candles need to be lit.

8. Buffet and drink stations are your friends.
It can be difficult to enjoy your own party if you’re too focused on serving guests. The solution? Help your guests help themselves with beverage and buffet stations. Along with wine, beer and spirits, keep glasses, cocktail napkins, straws, water and mixers together. If you have a punch or signature drink, consider making a large batch as a mocktail. That way your guests can add alcohol or modify it as they wish. Instead of passing around appetizers or desserts. Create a buffet where guests can graze, and you’re free to mingle.

9. Don’t forget the music.
You don’t need to hire a D.J. or string quartet for a small holiday gathering, but music is still an easy way to give your party a festive atmosphere. You can create an appropriate playlist using apps like Spotify or Pandora—or find an already curated one if you’re not sure where to start. That way you can ensure you’ll always have a melody playing in the background to bring the holiday cheer.

10. Take the clean-up off your hands.
Hosting a party is a lot of fun—cleaning up after one, not so much. If you have a regular housekeeper or babysitter, offer them some extra money to help with cleaning up. If you don’t want to hire someone, make things easier for yourself by picking servingware, dishes, glasses and silverware that are all dishwasher safe. That way once the party is over, your biggest task will be loading up the dishwasher and switching it on before you head to bed.