6 things to do now to get ready for the holidays

Getting ready for the holidays may seem like an overwhelming job but it doesn’t have to be. The experts at Consumer Reports have broken down a typical holiday to-do list into little jobs to tackle over the next few weeks. If you start right now, you won’t be scrambling to get stuff done at the last minute. Here are seven things you can do in the next two weeks to ease your way into the season.

Light up entrances. Double check that doors and pathways are amply lighted, especially if you usually use the side or back entrance. For porches and posts, we recommend the Cree 9.5-Watt (60W) A19 Warm White Dimmable LED, $8.50. It warms up fast, works in enclosed fixtures, and works with timers, photo cells and motion sensors. For security lights, consider the Great Value 90W PAR38 LED Soft White Non Dimmable, $22, sold at Walmart, which was a winner in our lightbulb tests. Or you can pay more for the TCP 17W PAR38 Flood LED, $40, if you prefer a bulb that that works with a timer, photo cell, and is motion sensitive.

Inspect your appliances. It might take a few weeks to repair a major kitchen appliance or get a new one, so now’s the time to make sure yours aren’t about to conk out. A cold oven could be the result of an iffy circuit board or igniter switch, and inoperable burners or elements could be caused by a bad receptacle. If your range is beyond repair, check the results of our range tests. You’ll find some top-performers at good prices including our top-rated electric smoothtop, the LG LRE3083SW, $800. For gas, consider our CR Best Buy, the Frigidaire Gallery FGGF3032MW, $775.

Consider buying a freezer. A separate freezer can store frozen cookie dough, stock, and other make-ahead stuff, saving time during the holiday crunch. And throughout the year, it can lighten your food budget by providing storage for bargain bulk purchases. Upright freezers take up less floor space, and many self-defrost, so you won’t need to thaw out the unit. Our freezer testers’ pick: the Whirlpool EV161NZT, $700. Chest freezers typically cost less, offer more usable space than uprights, and are less likely to cause freezer burn. We like the Frigidaire Gallery FGCH25M8L[W], also $700.

Sharpen your knives. Sharp blades make all of the chopping, slicing, and carving to come faster and safer. You can use the honing steel that came with your knife set or go for a professional sharpening, which can cost $5 or less per blade. Need some new knives? Two top knife sets from our tests are the Zwilling J.A. Henckels Twin Professional “S,” $315, and Ginsu Chikara, $75. The knives in these sets are available as individual pieces, so you can buy only what you need.

Fireproof your home. If you burn wood fires in your fireplace, an annual checkup is a must. The nonprofit Chimney Safety Institute of America can steer you to a certified sweep, who will probably charge $150 to $300. Also remember to extinguish candles when leaving a room or before going to bed at night.

Arm the alarms. Your home should have a smoke alarm on each level and in all bedrooms and hallways. In our smoke alarm tests, dual-sensor models quickly detected fast, flaming fires as well as smoky, smoldering ones. We recommend the Kidde PI9000, $23. You should also keep a full-floor fire extinguisher on each level of your home, plus a supplemental one in the kitchen.

—Adapted from ShopSmart

More from Consumer Reports:
Best cookware from Consumer Reports’ tests
You can remodel your kitchen for as little as $5,000
Most and least reliable refrigerator brands

Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S.