9 Tips to Host Thanksgiving in a Small Apartment

When envisioning turkey day, you might imagine a huge table comfortably holding all your closest friends and family. All the typical Thanksgiving foods are laid out, and there’s room for everything, even a decorative centerpiece. In a perfect world, there’s always enough space, but then you realize your apartment is a little small. Should you dash your dream of hosting or muscle through?

Of course, you can host. Thanksgiving dinner works in any sized space, with whatever furniture and resources you have. Even in your small apartment, it’s possible. Here are a few tips that can help you make the most out of your small apartment on Thanksgiving Day.

1. Planning, planning and (you guessed it) more planning

Woman looking at her shopping list while standing over a grocery cart full of fresh produce and bread

Planning is the single most important thing you can do to ensure a successful Thanksgiving meal in a small apartment. You might think you’re a celebrity chef in the kitchen on a regular night, but even the world’s top chefs can get beat by Thanksgiving when there’s no plan.

According to Ali Rosen from The Daily Meal, “Everyone’s favorite Top Chef Just Desserts judge Johnny Iuzzini cops to having “toasted and roasted” his turkey on occasion. His lack of attention (and a bit too much drinking…) led to a Chinese-food-fueled Thanksgiving.”

To prevent disaster, you should think about:

  • How much oven space you have
  • What cookware is available to you
  • How many you can seat
  • Your refrigerator and freezer space
  • The ingredients you will need to buy and what you already have at home

The list of things you can plan out before Thanksgiving dinner is virtually inexhaustible. This is why planning is so important. You give yourself the time to think about all the details rather than rush through coordinating them at the last minute. You save yourself the embarrassment of certain situations, like preparing all the food only to discover you have no serving utensils.

Plan every step of the process, down to the finest detail. You’ll ultimately save yourself from a lot of holiday stress.

2. Timing is everything

Young couple checking on the Thanksgiving turkey cooking in the oven

The timing of an important meal like Thanksgiving dinner is stressful for everyone. Getting everything ready all at once, with the limited space of a small apartment, can add a layer of difficulty to that stress. Again, planning helps make this easier since you’re able to take timing into consideration.

You’ll only have so many hours to cook and prep the morning of Thanksgiving. If you need more time, consider cooking some dishes in advance. There are plenty of traditional Thanksgiving dishes that taste fantastic reheated a day later.

This strategy allows you to work with a small kitchen within a small apartment. You can evaluate your resources in terms of space and kitchen appliances. Take note of the size of your oven, the number of burners you’ll need and the amount of refrigerator space you have available, as well.

One essential consideration to make as far as timing is how long it will take to defrost your turkey. Frozen turkeys are large, so you’ll also need enough space in your refrigerator to thaw it out. For every four-to-five pounds of turkey, you’ll need about 24 hours of defrosting time. That means a 25-pound turkey takes almost a week to defrost. Plan accordingly and use this helpful calculator to get your timing right.

3. Creating the guest list and seating arrangements

Close up of Thanksgiving table with candles and a rustic place setting

The guest list comes first before finding a place for everyone to sit. Who you invite is up to you, but be realistic about how many people your apartment can accommodate. Approach it mathematically like Clinton Kelly from What Not to Wear does.

According to Singular Magazine, “divide the square footage of your apartment by five to get the number of guests that can comfortably fit in your space…when you know how many people to plan for, check that you have available seating.”

Based on who’s coming, you may want a place at the table with a designated chair for every guest. You may have people coming who don’t mind eating while sitting on the couch. However, you’re most comfortable in accommodating your guests will work. Anything you need that you don’t have you can borrow or rent from a party supply company.

4. Rearranging furniture is OK

Two women moving a couch closer to the wall to make room for Thanksgiving dinner

When a larger-than-normal amount of guests are coming to your home, it’s no longer a space for living. Your small apartment is now a space for entertaining. To adapt to this change, don’t be afraid to arrange furniture in a different variation than your everyday layout.

Clear more space by sliding couches back, moving lamps into corners and putting tables together to create the perfect space for Thanksgiving dinner. It might feel a little odd to rearrange furniture for just one dinner, but it can help you create a space that’s more conducive to entertaining.

As you move stuff around, don’t worry if you end up not being able to seat all your guests together. Small spaces have limitations, and people will mingle and move about, regardless of whether there’s a centralized dining space.

5. Scaling your decor to the size of your apartment

A bouquet of fall flowers inside a pumpkin

If you’re enhancing your Thanksgiving meal with some decoration, be sure to keep scale in mind. Don’t overload guests with huge decorations at a small table. Keep centerpieces small and color palettes simple. Put decorative pieces in other areas besides the table to avoid clutter.

Consider fresh flowers in fall colors throughout your apartment to give it that fall feel while keeping things fresh. Small candles in fall hues can also set the mood without taking up a lot of space.

6. Keeping it light and bright

Young woman pulling back curtains on window to let natural light into her apartment

While bogged down with all the meal planning and decorating for Thanksgiving dinner, don’t forget about the simple ways you can enhance your home. Bringing natural light into a small space is one of the quickest ways to make it feel larger.

Keep the shades open if the sun is up during dinner. Use the natural light rather than your lamps to make the space feel roomier during the meal. If the sun isn’t up but you want to add effect, hang a few mirrors around the room to catch the overhead light. This creates the same effect as sunlight.

7. Guest-proofing and cleaning your apartment

Upclose image of hands using blue cleaner to dust surfaces in their apartment

Before the big meal arrives, you should guest-proof your apartment. This may sound silly, but if Thanksgiving is bringing a larger crowd than you’ve ever had in your apartment, preparations are necessary.

There’s potential for items to get broken, especially if children are joining you for dinner. Remove anything valuable or personally important that’s low to the ground. Store them somewhere out of the way to keep them safe.

You should also keep in mind that some guests like to snoop. If anything private like medication, mail or other personal items are accessible, consider hiding them away, as well.

Once that’s done, it’s time for a real cleaning. You want your guests to enter a clean and comfortable home. Clean up clutter, vacuum, dust and make sure the kitchen and bathroom are tidy. You’ll end up doing all this cleaning again once dinner is over, but it’s worth it.

8. Changing up the menu

Woman in apron stirring a pot on the stove

Already tight on space, once your turkey goes into the oven, you won’t have much room for anything else to cook in there. Consider changing up your Thanksgiving dinner menu to use the space you do have in your kitchen.

Think of possible dishes that cook on the stove or ones that don’t use any heat at all to round out your feast. Sauté some veggies in a cast-iron skillet or turn your butternut squash dish into a stove-top soup.

Get creative with a homemade salad with dried cranberries and walnuts and a made-from-scratch dressing. Your oven works overtime on Thanksgiving, so any changes to the menu that take the oven out of the equation can help make meal prep easier.

9. Asking guests to bring food

Friends coming to Thanksgiving dinner with their own dishes of food to share

Going potluck for Thanksgiving is socially acceptable and pretty common. If you’re not comfortable doing all the cooking yourself, ask for guests to bring a dish along, but stay organized.

“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,” says an article in Elbow Room by MakeSpace.

Knowing what everyone is bringing also helps avoid duplicate dishes. Requesting that guests bring something specific also helps keep the meal more cohesive in the end.

Sit back and relax

What’s important about Thanksgiving is how your guests are feeling when they come away from dinner. “A successful Thanksgiving meal is as much about lively conversation and laughter as it is good food. People gather during the holidays to celebrate family and friends, and to enjoy the company of their loved ones,” says Jill Provost from Good Housekeeping.

It’s OK if they’re a little squished in your small apartment. Focus on what you do have to work with, and you’ll have an amazing Thanksgiving.

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Lesly GregoryLesly Gregory has over 15 years of marketing experience, ranging from community management to blogging to creating marketing collateral for a variety of industries. A graduate of Boston University, Lesly holds a B.S. in Journalism. She currently lives in Atlanta with her husband, two young children, three cats and assorted fish.

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