You thought about doing it last year, and the year before that, but this time, you finally did it: You volunteered to host Thanksgiving.
The only problem? Your tiny apartment doesn’t exactly have a dining room. Or a kitchen table. Or actual chairs.
The good news: Hosting Thanksgiving dinner in your home is possible. You just need to get creative.
Luckily, we created this guide that will teach you how to host Thanksgiving in a small space and on a budget— without going completely insane. Follow the 21 smart tips below so that you can easily manage the stress and planning that goes into executing an excellent Thanksgiving dinner, even in an itty-bitty home.
Break out the baster and start cooking!
1. Make a detailed battle plan.
No one can wing a Thanksgiving meal, no matter how informal it is. You need to start planning early, and you need to get crazy specific.
Figure out an exact menu. Not a vague “turkey, sides, and pies” plan. Once you have it, think about all the ingredients you’ll need to get to execute that menu.
Can you get all the ingredients in time? Will they fit in your fridge?
Also important: Do you have the correct tools in your kitchen?
You don’t want to be in hour three of cooking the turkey, only to discover you don’t have a thermometer.
Mapping out a timeline will make things much easier. You don’t need to have things down to the minute, but pick out days for grocery shopping and cooking specific dishes. This should help you keep your sanity on Turkey day.
2. Cook some dishes that don’t require an oven.
As Refinery29 points out, your turkey is going to dominate the oven for hours, meaning you won’t be able to fit much else in there as it’s roasting. So when you’re planning your menu, think of dishes you can make on the stove.
Roasted vegetables, cranberry sauce, and butternut squash soup are all contenders. If you need more ideas, BuzzFeed has a round-up of no-bake Thanksgiving side dishes. Good Housekeeping has a similar list of desserts.
Also consider dishes you can make without any heat at all. Salad may not be exciting, but it’s good to have some light greens to balance out all the stuffing.
For dishes that still need the oven, plan to make those ahead of time and then slot them into the oven for reheating after the bird is cooked.
3. Don’t invite too many people.
Thanksgiving is all about sharing. But, as much as it goes against the holiday’s spirit, you have to be a bit pragmatic here about who you share with.
Take stock of your space and seriously think about the maximum number of people you could fit in your home. Once you have that number, stick to it.
If someone you invited asked to bring along their second cousin or friend who’s in town, politely explain that you’d love to have them for dinner but you can’t fit anymore people at your place.
Or, you can head those questions off entirely by explaining your no plus-one policy in the invitation.
4. Don’t tell your guests to “bring whatever.”
Telling people to bring whatever they please is fine for a BYOB barbecue. For Thanksgiving, it’s a guaranteed disaster.
No one is going to think you’re uptight for holding them to a specific dish. Start by telling everyone what you plan to cook yourself. Then tell them what you still need help with.
It’s fine if you open the call up with slightly vague requests, like “a vegetable side” and “a dessert.” But as people call dibs, make sure they give you a detailed response.
You need to have a clear picture of what everyone is bringing to the table so you know how much space to free up in your fridge, and how many dishes will require time in the oven or on the stovetop.
You also need to avoid dish duplicates. Imagine spending all day cooking a turkey just to have your friends show up with 10 green bean casseroles. It can happen, if you don’t plan ahead.
5. But do tell your guests to bring extra folding tables and chairs.
While you’re assigning out recipes to your guests, see if anyone has see if anyone has spare chairs or tables they can lend you for the day. It’ll save you the cost of renting them, and if anyone is a little nervous about their cooking skills, this is a great way for them to contribute.
Other things to consider: extra forks, knives, spoons, napkins, plates, and cups.
6. Do your grocery shopping early.
Grocery stores are an apocalyptic nightmare the entire week of Thanksgiving. They’ll be packed with stressed people, and low on basically everything on your shopping list: cranberries, pumpkin puree, dinner rolls, even nutmeg.
Avoid that migraine by gathering your supplies early.
You don’t have to get everything in one trip, but make sure to amass your stuff — especially your turkey — well before it’s time to start cooking. Even perishable items should be fine five to six days out, according to Real Simple.
Getting your ingredients early also gives you extra time to come up with the perfect spatial scheme for your fridge. Speaking of which …
7. Prep your fridge for the turkey.
Your frozen bird is going to need several days to defrost in your refrigerator — and he’s not exactly dainty. That turkey will require some room, so do a quick purge of your fridge.
Throw out anything that is expired and/or smells a little suspicious. Consolidate items into the bottom drawers and side shelves so the turkey can have a whole row to itself.
If you have a fire escape or outdoor space, you can also defrost that poultry in a cooler while brining it at the same time.
8. Make as much food as you can in advance.
You probably can’t get away with roasting your carrots three days before dinner. But you can break up your cooking tasks during the week. Make your pies the night before. They will taste just fine after a quick reheating in the oven.
For dishes that include perishable items, you can at least knock out some prep work. Chop your vegetables and herbs early and then seal them up in bags in your fridge. Make your sauces (cranberry or otherwise) before the big day.
Basically, do whatever you can to get your Thanksgiving day to-do list down from “exhausting” to “manageable.”
9. Clean your apartment the night before.
On the day of your Thanksgiving feast, you’re going to be way too preoccupied with cooking, baking, and basting to worry about cleaning. So check that task off the night before.
You’re not just aiming to make your home presentable to your guests. Your goal should be to declutter your home so you have more space to work with during your dinner.
Tackle the floor first. You’re going to need it cleared for all those seats and people, so any shoes, dirty clothes, or yoga mats lying there need to get put away.
Then turn your attention to surfaces. Your guests will be resting cups and plates on them, and you might be prepping or serving there as well. Gather up old magazines, stow away the remote controls, and stack your coasters. Sweep and/or vacuum too, just for good measure.
10. Strategically rearrange furniture.
While you’re cleaning, think about how you can maneuver your furniture to your advantage. Maybe, as Curbed suggests, you need to push the stylish space-saving sofa in your living room out of the way for a table.
Or maybe you need to temporarily relocate a floor lamp to your bedroom. Visualize the dinner and think about what moves will help everything flow.
11. Get up early and start cooking.
Even if you already made half your menu in advance, you can’t sleep in on the big day. Kitchen catastrophes happen to the most prepared chefs, and even if you think you know exactly how to make that new stuffing recipe, it could accidentally add an extra hour to your cooking spree.
Set your alarm for an ungodly hour in the morning and have some coffee on hand. (You’re going to need it.) Brew as soon as you get up and get going.
12. Turn everything into a chair.
Can clothes hangers be chairs? Sometimes.
How about plush Pile cushions on the floor? Sure, why not!
Utilize your couch or futon, too. Roll in the office chair you use at your desk. And dust off your window sills while you’re at it, because your guests may need to perch on those.
13. Don’t worry about seating everyone together.
You’ll save yourself a lot of stress if you immediately banish the idea of everyone sitting down together in rows around a dining table. That just isn’t possible in a cramped space. (Besides, do you even own a dining room table?)
Don’t feel bad if your guests end up sprawled across your apartment, with some picking at their mashed potatoes in the kitchen and others crowded around the living room TV to scream at their preferred NFL team. It still counts as a Thanksgiving dinner, and they seriously will not mind.
14. Stock red, not white, wine.
One easy way to manage space inside your fridge? Skip the pinot gris.
Unlike white wine, red wine can be stored on top of your fridge, on the counters, or right on a table. It’s a smarter move, and besides, don’t these pinot noir and Beaujolais picks from Serious Eats sound great?
15. Put cocktails in a big pitcher.
While we’re on the subject of booze, you might be considering a festive cocktail for the occasion. If you go that route, go big (batch).
Preparing your punch in a large beverage dispenser or pitcher can save some valuable space. Depending on the drink, you can mix it minutes before your guests arrive and then simply stack cups beside the dispenser. Then, everyone can help themselves.
Oh, and if you need help deciding on your signature Thanksgiving cocktail, here are a few ideas from Bon Appetit to get the ball rolling.
16. Don’t go nuts with the centerpiece.
When you’re dealing with small apartments, a cornucopia just isn’t happening. But if you still want something to tie the table together, consider a small bouquet of orange blossoms, or perhaps a tall candle with a nice autumn scent.
You can also opt for a functional centerpiece. Sarah’s Cucina Bella recommends a golden basket with Mason jars inside. What goes inside the Mason jars? Silverware, of course.
17. Hang your decorations instead.
Worried your small home isn’t appropriately festive?
Rather than loading down surfaces with mini pumpkins or decorative gourds, make use of your vertical space.
String some fake leaves along the walls or hang hand turkeys from the ceiling. Stencil a banner with a message like “Give Thanks,” “Gobble Gobble,” or “Gobble Till Ya Wobble.” You can also hang a Thanksgiving wreath — i.e. the ones that have fall foliage — up on your front door.
18. Serve up a buffet.
Encourage your guests to serve themselves, buffet-style, once all the dishes are ready to eat. Set up as much as you can right on the stovetop — you don’t need to plate the potatoes you just cooked in a pot — and scatter any remaining dishes across the kitchen.
19. Make sure everyone can see the trash can.
If your trash bin normally hides under the kitchen sink, now is the time to drag it out. While it doesn’t have to be the focal point of your party, put your trash can in an obvious, visible spot. It’ll encourage people to throw their garbage in there, rather than leave it on your coffee table or counter.
(They’re not being rude, they just don’t know where else to put it.)
You can even mention it in your welcome spiel. Think something like, “Hey everyone, wine is on top of the fridge, coats go on my bed, don’t mind my dog who likes to go on my bed and nibble on coats, and the trash can is right here.”
Boom: less mess, and less stress.
20. Pack up the leftovers.
The last thing anyone wants to think about after the turkey tryptophan has kicked in is cleaning up the extra food. But you have to do it. And not just because your house will smell seriously gross if you leave a turkey carcass out overnight.
If you’re proactive about packing up your leftovers, that means you can pawn some off on your guests before they say goodnight. And if other people are taking some of the spare yams, your fridge suddenly has a lot more space.
21. MakeSpace in your place.
We can’t increase the size of your apartment, but we can increase the space in your place.
Simply schedule a MakeSpace pickup and pack up any space-eating item that you don’t need right now, like your bike, window A/C unit, Halloween decorations, and surfboard.
We’ll pick up everything (including your furniture) and store it in our secure, temperature-controlled storage facility. We’ll also create an online photo catalog of your stuff so you never forget what you have in storage.
When you want something back from storage, you don’t have to spend hours sorting through boxes in a storage unit on the other side of town. The only thing you actually have to do is log into your MakeSpace account, select the item’s photo, and then relax. Because we’ll deliver the item to you.
Brining a turkey might not be easy, but storing your stuff in MakeSpace sure is.
Top image via Flickr/Stacy Spensely