It's beyond exhausting. From November through December, you played hostess one too many times. Come January 2, the last thing you want to think about is the next go-round. But take it from me: If you reassess and replace your event gear now—not the day before Thanksgiving 2008—you'll spare yourself a mound of cash, time and jitters. Plus, your bashes will be more delicious, beautiful and fun. So will you.
Designate a notebook for all your hosting ideas. Use it to record items that need repairing or swapping out, to work on guest lists and to jot down thoughts on music, decor, table settings and menus. At the back, keep a list of the e-mail addresses and telephone numbers of caterers, bartenders and florists you've used and liked, or those you might hire in the future.
Ask two friends to help you critique your most successful fete's food, drink, seating, lighting and service. If they "could've eaten seconds," consider adding an extra course, or larger helpings, the following year. If half the guests barely nibbled their rich chocolate desserts, perhaps a fresh-fruit tart is the way to go.
TACKLE CROWD CONTROL
Is your studio apartment the right venue for a seated dinner for 12? By the time you tally the caterer's fee, or the cost of the roast, wine, flowers and that spicy pumpkin pie from your favorite bakery, a restaurant might be smarter. If you're staying home, does everyone have a place to perch (or at least lean) during your casual holiday buffet supper? A thronged party can be vibrant and sexy, but a crammed, congested one is no fun for anyone.
Before you return your festive plates, champagne flutes and dinner napkins to their rightful homes, carefully inspect each for chips, stains, tears or smudges. Nothing lasts forever, and investing in some flawless substitutes gives you the chance to introduce another color, pattern or shape to your repertoire. If you buy a couple dozen candles now, that's one less task for the fall.
SHELF AND DRAWER PATROL
Now that you've got stuff out and gleaming, take a good look at the empty shelves, drawers, cupboards and niches where you stash your party arsenal. Room for improvement, right? Replace your shelf-liner paper with a fresh, new version; then get out the duster, and sponge everything down with a solution of warm water, white vinegar and mild soap. For an olfactory treat, tuck a lavender sachet way in a corner before you load it all back in again.
After each festivity, observe how guests have rearranged the furniture to suit their needs, and document the changes in your notebook. Where pieces end up is sometimes where they should have been in the first place. Next year, why not move those side chairs a little closer to the sofa, free up a nice deep space in front of the windows and roll up those slippery area rugs that everyone kept tripping over?
HIT THE STORES
Yes, it seems crazy to do more shopping after the seasonal splurges, but an after-holiday spruce-up would be pretty bleak without it. Besides, bagging your New Year's Eve '08 dinner-party invites and place cards at an overstock-clearing monster sale is the best kind of bargain hunting: Both your wallet and your sanity will profit. Forward march!