Since I am obviously so adept at this, I thought I'd share some of my tips so you too can enjoy your home during the holidays and beyond. Many of my tips won't apply to you because you may not have a house like mine. The magazines I read often have lovely ideas for things like organizing one's 45 square foot pantry, so I don't see how usefulness factors in to good, quality writing.
I have titled it "Tidying Up" because it has nothing to do with actual cleaning. The cleaning part is really the least of one's worries and may be considered optional.
I will go room by room. I read a lot of magazines and that is the way it's done.
Bathroom. This is a bad place to start because people will insist on using it after you've tidied and completely destroy the ambiance you've created. We will revisit this room later.
Pantry. Pantry shelves with no doors in the middle of your kitchen/dining/living area pose the first problem. Resist the urge to take everything out, clean the shelves and put everything back by color, size and nutritional value. Save that for another day or for someone else to do.
Dig around in the back and find those jars of things that looked delicious but you can't figure out how to use. Dust them off and set them aside. Push everything else to the back of the shelf and line delicious-looking things neatly in front. Make sure things like Artificially Flavored Banana Pudding are stashed behind the matching jars of lentils, black beans and wheat berries. Repeat for each shelf.
Livingroom: Bookshelves are decorative - but such breeding ground for clutter! Go through all the shelves and remove socks, coffee mugs and the dog's brush from on top of the books. Many of these items will fit behind the books if you are careful. Also, moving books to the front of the shelf and keeping the spines in an even row gives the illusion of order. If you want to really go all out, organize books by subject - especially if you have lots of books on a particularly high brow subject. This makes it easier for guests to see what interesting people we are. I say "people" even if we are single because we always refer to ourselves in the plural when we are interesting, no?
Bathroom, a: If you have a powder room which is specifically for guests and does not have personal items on counters or in cupboards, skip to Bathroom, b. If you do not have a powder room, it's important to leave some personal items on the bathroom counter. This makes it look as though someone actually lives in the house and you are not squating in a model home with fake matresses. It may also satisfy the guests who are curious about your toiletries and ensure that you will not walk in to find someone sitting on your bathroom floor surrounded by the 16 rolls of toilet paper they had to remove in order to access your secret stash of 1970's cleaning products.
We once knew a general contractor who intentionally left things amiss for the building inspector to find. That way the building inspector didn't have to go looking for problems, potentially settling on a much bigger issue (like pulling up the foundation). Preparing your home for guests is no different.
While it is important to leave some things on your counter, it is acceptable to put away things like deodorant, lice combs and any secret products used to create your all-natural look which no one needs to know took 2 hours and 7 products to achieve. Organizing cupboard items is similar to arranging your pantry. Chose several products you don't use but would if you had time. Set aside. Push everything else farther to the back of the cupboard. Let's not kid ourselves here. It's already a jumbled mess in there, so just push. Place items removed from counter in as many gallon-sized ziplock bags as it takes and mingle bags with items in back for easy retrieval later. Place the items you've never used in front of everything else. Finally, set a time limit for how long people are allowed to stay in the bathroom.
Bathroom, b: If you have a powder room, lock the doors to all other bathrooms in the house.
General: Once you've hit the big trouble spots, consider your guest list. If there are any tall people coming, climb up on a stool and see if there's anything you don't want them noticing and reporting on later. Just last night I cleaned off the top of my refrigerator and believe me I slept better knowing that my extra smoke detector, last year's calender and pile of expired coupons would not be discussed on the car ride home. If there are toddlers coming, call the parents and tell them you have just fumigated for flying rats. There is just no way to trouble shoot effectively for a toddler, and they will probably pull a sock out from behind your books.
Finally, keep the lights low and you may be able to dispense with the cleaning part completely.
Good luck and happy entertaining!