Having friends and family gather for the holidays is traditionally considered a heartwarming idea -- but the mere thought of it can also be heart-stopping if they're planning on staying at your place, and you realize your home is looking less than its stylish best.
A complete renovation before the holidays probably isn't practical, but there are lots of small steps you can take to brighten and update your place without breaking the budget. These changes can vary from new towels to new faucets, and more.
Doing all of these projects would be overwhelming, so choose just a few of the items on this list -- the ones that would make an immediate improvement in your space.
1. Examine the walls
Who notices walls? Your guests might if they're dingy or tired-looking. If there's time, a fresh coat of paint can do wonders. Do-it-yourself painting supplies can cost $35-$150 or more for a 12'x12' room or $200-$600 or more for a 1,200- to 1,500-square-foot house. Hiring a handyman or painter can bring total costs to $200-$400 or more for 12'x12' and $1,100-$2,000 or more for 1,200-1,500 square feet, depending on the paint used and local rates. If there isn't enough time to paint before guests arrive, a little warm soapy water and elbow grease can work wonders on grimy areas. Looking at your walls with fresh eyes can help you see the places that need a little boost.
2. Organize, organize, organize
When you pull out a drawer, is the interior a rat's nest of jumbled items? Simple drawer organizers can cost $2-$30 each, depending on size and materials. For large kitchen or bathroom cabinet spaces, a sliding pull-out drawer ($20-$80) is a relatively easy do-it-yourself installation project. For unused wall space in the kitchen, laundry room, hallways or even the living or family room, simple shelving ($10-$200 or more) can be functional, decorative or both.
3. Update hardware to pull off a complete new look
Replacing drawer pulls, knobs, hinges or other kitchen or bathroom hardware can have make a positive impact with a relatively low price ($0.50-$10 or more each). Coordinate that with new towel racks ($5-$400 each) to create a surprisingly fresh overall appearance. And if there's space, consider adding a bathroom towel warmer for a touch of comfortable luxury (about $60-$300 for a basic model; $500-$2,000 for mid-range; and $2,5000-$7,000 for deluxe).
4. Faucets don't have to be boring
Matching the new kitchen and bathroom hardware with equally new (and stylish) faucets and shower heads can really pull together the overall look of a room. Prices start at about $20-$70 for a basic bathroom sink faucet, but it can cost $450-$750 for more stylish versions. Bathtub faucets range from $55-$75 for the basics to $500-$800 or more. A kitchen sink faucet starts at $25-$75, but upscale models can cost $200-$600 or more. And if the bathroom doesn't have a hand-held shower sprayer, consider adding one for $20-$400 or more.
5. Check out the lights
Sometimes all it takes to brighten up a room is to check for burnt-out bulbs, and replace them. While doing that, you might realize that your lighting fixtures are older than most everything else in your house (and look it). Updating the lighting can be fairly straightforward, but creates a dramatic difference in how a space is perceived. A simple table lamp ($40-$400) can make a corner chair cozier or more elegant; and overhead fixtures ($20-$500 or more) can bring a dash of style to a room. Adding recessed lighting starts at $25-$75 per fixture, but installation by an electrician can add another $100-$200 or more per light.
6. Fan their interest
People typically think about adding or replacing a ceiling fan ($20-$2,200) in the summer. However, new fans usually have a reverse setting that creates an updraft, sending warm air near the ceiling back down into the room, which can cut heating costs by up to 10%. And winter is definitely time to think about replacing the bathroom, kitchen or laundry room exhaust fan ($15-$600) with a new, quieter and more energy-efficient model. Turn each exhaust fan on, to see how well it works and how loud it is. These fans get louder gradually, so homeowners don't always notice the change.
7. Freshen Towels and Bedding
How fluffy or threadbare are the guest room sheets, blankets and towels? Do a quick inventory, and replace any that look tired or worn-out. And even if the bedding and towels are in good shape, it may simply be time for something new to brighten the space. Fresh towels and bedding come in holiday prints, and can bring a welcome change by adding a pop of color, softening the feel of a room, or simply making it more inviting.
8. Mirror, Mirror
Does your mirrored bathroom medicine cabinet simply need a little cleaning and re-organizing, or is it time to replace it with something more stylish? They start at about $15-$100, but expect to pay $100-$500 for a larger and more durable model, or $500-$1,200 or more for a furniture-style version with built-in power outlets or anti-fogging features. A small, wall-mounted shaving or make-up mirror (typically $30-$150) can add function and style, while larger, flat-mounted mirrors ($100-$4,000 or more) can add a decorative touch to a bathroom, hallway or living room.
9. Picture perfect
Have the same artwork and photographs been on your walls forever, in exactly the same positions? Rearrange them, and see how it feels. Or, buy an inexpensive print or painting that you love, and find a place for it -- the change will make everything around it look different. Stretch fabric on a frame, cover small boxes with decorative paper, or find funky old tools or other items, and arrange them on the wall in an eye-catching display. You can always go back to the same old pictures in the same old places, but at least try something different.
10. Pay attention to the little details
Make sure the covers on the electrical outlets and wall switches in a room all match, because it gives a subconscious impression that the place is new or remodeled (since covers typically match in new construction). Has your front door seen better days? Maybe all it needs is a coat of paint. Will cleaning shabby curtains, drapes or window blinds be enough, or do some of them need replacing? Do all the carpets need cleaning, or will cleaning the high-traffic areas do the trick? Is there an area rug that has seen better days, or a chair that has started to sag? Sometimes updating a few sad items can give a whole new look to a room.
What all of these ideas have in common is taking a fresh look at the home you live in every day. It's easy to get used to a loud fan or a drawer full of jumbled items. However, knowing that guests are due soon is a great time to reassess everything, and make positive changes.