Make your home sparkle in a flash

As the holiday season approaches, our lives inevitably become both crazier and messier. But if your roommates are throwing a party or your parents come for a surprise visit, you might want to spruce the place up a bit. And no, I don't mean go buy a tree!

1. Make the living room livable.

To start, Swiffer or vacuum the floor. It isn't too difficult and makes a big difference. Use only one side of your cushions and pillows so you can flip them over to the newer side when guests come. Stack magazines and books in a basket, and dust anything at eye level. Fold a clean blanket and place directly over any stains on the couch for a fake but sufficient cleanup.

2.  Kick-start the mess in the kitchen.

Again, your Swiffer will come in hand. Swipe countertops and appliance handles with a wipe, and spray down that sink. If you have a huge pile of dirty dishes and no dishwasher, take out the biggest stew pot you can find and stack them inside. Lastly, fold or roll hand towels to hide stains.

3.  Beat the bathroom.

Wipe handles, the sink bowl, the edge of the tub, the toilet seat and the outside of the toilet. Quickly shine the mirror, hide the dirty or wet towels under a fluffy bathrobe, and light a candle for ambiance. Use a lint brush to clean the floor mat and throw all toiletries into a basket. Stow it in the tub if you're brave, or under the sink with folded towels to hide the mess within.

4.  Bedroom Blues.

Start with the bed. If you don't have time to make your bed, at least pull the comforter straight and smooth. Invest in a curtain – sheer, thin, cheap, any kind – to cover your closet: automatic hidden storage! Pull out another big basket and pile clothes in, folding only what can be seen on top. Lightly wet-dust everything down and spray some Febreze, please!

5.  Damn that desk!

So even though most people's desks are in their bedrooms, they need their own tips. Use an old shoebox or buy a cheap photo box to store loose papers for sorting. Use a smaller box for knickknacks and random paperclips, hair ties and pencils. Stack them on top of each other for a neater desk and a symmetrical display, then swipe dust off the table surface. Lastly, arrange all books so the spines face out in the same direction and align the papers on your bulletin board.