THERE'S a special kind of panic that descends in the days leading up to a Christmas when guests are due to descend on your home, and, amidst the festive frenzy, you’re struggling to remember the last time you cleaned anything. It’s too late, and way too expensive, to get in one of those deep cleaning services of the sort that are used to decontaminate the houses of dead people – though these are the stuff that dreams are made of. But there are other answers. For those already singing quietly to themselves, "All I want for Christmas is Kim and Aggie", here’s our emergency quick-fix guide.

1. Boxes are very useful. You see all that junk on the shelves, worktops, mantlepiece, floor and other surfaces that has no proper home anywhere, or, if it does, hasn't been put there? Sweep it all into boxes. 2018 is built for dealing with this stuff.

2. Now designate one room in your home as dumping ground – even if it has to be your bedroom. Resign yourself to a few days tripping over boxes, dump it all in there and close the door. It will be as if it didn’t exist. Ideally this is a room that is lockable. If not, you may need to buy some police tape, or pin up no entry signs, though these inevitably will only serve to lure people in. Possibly you may need to nail it shut. After all, you do not want a small child, or elderly relative, to wander in and get lost somewhere between the junk boxes the laundry rack triggering a major missing-persons hunt. “Where’s wee Emily?” someone asks, and, before you know it, they’re all in there, picking their way through your chamber of shame.

3. There are some places you do need to clean. The toilet is one of them. As is the fridge. When the guests reach in – as no doubt they will to grab a beer or splash of milk, they do not want to be greeted by the spirits of meals past or some kind of back-of-the-fridge mould monster that calls to mind the fridge scene in the original Ghostbusters.

4. Make some mulled wine. Whatever other odours might be lingering in the house will be obliterated by its spicy aromas. Failing that there’s always coffee. Or opening the windows.

5. Empty your bins. Don’t forget the recycling bin, or within a few hours, possibly before anyone arrives, the packaging of Christmas food and gifts will have turned your home into a sea of cardboard and shiny paper.

6. All right, you probably do have to put some clean sheets and pillow cases on the beds for overnight guests, unless they are particularly close family – but you might just be able to get away with flipping the duvet over.

7. Are there other things that would just look cleaner if you turned them over? Seat cushions for instance? You’re not aiming for perfection. That would only make your guests uncomfortable. You’re just trying to make sure they don’t feel the place is biologically unsafe.

8. Vacuuming. You don’t have to do the whole place. Just target-hoover those corners where the dust balls have congregated.

9. Now is not the time to do any of the following. Sorting through cupboards, beating out rugs (a favourite of my husband’s in the run up to holidays or guest arrivals), painting over damp patches, or experimenting with major new furniture arrangements.

10. Lighting can work wonders. Can anyone actually see dust and the dirt when the lights are low and your house is turned into a Christmas wonderland through the marvels of fairy lights? But where did you put those darn lights? Not, surely, in the bottom of that box in the locked off room?

11. Children should be your helpers. Put them in elf hats and give them dusters. Tell them Santa gives extra presents to children whose rooms are perfectly tidy on Christmas Eve, or who can find fairy lights in the bottom of boxes. If they don’t believe in Santa just offer them extra chocolate coins. Or possibly real coins.

12. Sod them. If they can’t cope with the dust, the stains and the limescale, then they can host Christmas next year.