When you've prepared for the unexpected, you can embrace last-minute guests or accidents without feeling like your life is spiraling out of control. Stock your home with these essentials — covering safety, home care, cooking and entertaining — and you'll be prepared for just about any surprise situation.
For the health and safety of your family, it's important to keep the following items in your home.
"It goes without saying that you should have a fully stocked first aid kit in the kitchen," says home inspector, engineer and contractor, Lisa P. Turner. "Keep one for emergencies and one for daily use. That way you'll always have one that doesn't have stuff missing."
"Having properly working flashlights could play a critical and vital role in the case of a short-term or long-term power outage — make sure you have multiple on hand," says interior designer Cathy Hobbs. Other essentials: Bottled water, candles, batteries and canned food.
"Keep a fire extinguisher handy in the kitchen, in the garage or carport and in the second story area, if your home has more than one level," says Turner. That way, you'll be prepared no matter where the emergency takes place.
"Carbon monoxide is known as an 'invisible killer' because it's a toxic gas you can't see or smell," says Emily Long, a home safety expert with SafeWise. "A detector can alert you to the presence of the gas and help you get to safety immediately. Install these on every level of your home."
"Tarps come in different strengths and sizes and can be used for various applications," says Hobbs. "In the case of an approaching or current storm they can be used to secure those items that may become airborne."
"Keep some whistles handy on each floor and tell members of the family to blow them if they spot something going wrong fast, such as fire breaking out or a bear breaking in," says Turner. "Decide what the triggers are so everyone knows. If you're by yourself they are handy for getting attention from emergency responders."
If your closet is equipped with these items, you can clean up your home before a spur-of-the-moment party or tackle spills as they happen.
"I like an angled-bristle broom (one longer end makes it easier to clean in corners) and a dustpan that clips to the broom, so they're always together when you need them," says Donna Smallin, author of Cleaning Plain and Simple and The One-Minute Cleaner.
"These nonabrasive synthetics are often sold by the bag. They're fabulous magnets for dirt and grease. Use them wet (squeeze them really hard to get most of the water out) or dry," says Smallin.
"No matter if you're cleaning your oven or have some 'dirty work,' the gloves are your protective gear," says Cyrus Bedwyr, a professional cleaner at Fantastic Services. They'll also make cleaning less daunting, since you won't feel like you're wearing your home's grime for hours afterward.
"This is helpful if you have to clean your bathroom before guests arrive," says Powers. After all, these wet wipes make wiping down sinks, countertops and toilets mess-free.
"If you want perfectly clean windows and mirrors, you can't go without a squeegee. The investment is totally worthy, especially if you have high and hard to reach glass panes," says Lauren Haynes, cleaning and home organizing expert at Star Domestic Cleaners.
"Baskets help you transport and store all kinds of stuff and they help with decluttering," says Bedwyr. Plus, when unexpected guests show up, you can fill a basket with items you don't want them to see and stash it out of sight.
"For the really dirty work you can use anything from old clothes to towels," says Bedwyr. "Just throw them in the washing machine after you're done and have it ready for the next cleaning."
Determine your needs before purchasing. "If you have a lot of pet hair, you want to look for one well-rated for that. If you have allergies, get one with a HEPA filter. If you have to carry it up and down stairs, the weight will be an issue. If you have arthritis, look for an ergonomic design that's easy on the wrists," says Smallin.
"There are some persistent stains that can only be tackled with the good old scrub brush," says Bedwyr. Because nothing ruins a presentation more than a stained dish you couldn't get completely clean.
When you need to pull together dinner fast, these tools will help you make just about any recipe.
There are very few recipes that don't require using a single knife, which is why chef and cookbook author Ina Garten says a sharp set is a must-have. Her favorite: "A set of knives by Wüsthof, including a chef's knife, a paring knife, a slicing knife and a bread knife."
When it comes to your pots and pans, Garten prefers All-Clad and says every size isn't a must-have, but all of these are: "Small and large sauté pans, small and large lidded pots and a large stockpot."
"Try finding them at a restaurant supply house. I also have a set of 10 clear glass bowls that you can get at Williams-Sonoma," says Garten. Both are easy to clean since they're one color and therefore you'll be able to see spots right away.
These basic tools should be corralled on your counter, but the good news: They don't have to be expensive. "I have whisks and measuring spoons all from a restaurant supply place — they shouldn't be fancy," says Garten.
According to Garten, these are some of the most functional cooking tools she owns. "They're about 13 inches x 18 inches, each with a one-inch rim. I use them for roasting vegetables, baking cookies and brownies and lots of other tasks," says Garten.
In this case, go large: "You can make something small in a big one, but you can't make something big in a small one," says Garten. Makes sense!
"Kitchen blenders today are not just for making milkshakes, they are now very multi-functional and come in handy for making everything from soup to ground nuts and more," says Dawn D. Totty of Dawn D. Totty Designs.
Here's everything you need to host visitors when they show up without warning.
"My old-school list will allow you to make any drink that's worth drinking," says interior designer Miles Redd. His list includes: vodka, gin, bourbon, rum, scotch, rye, sweet and dry vermouth, tequila, triple sec, cognac, cointreau, campari, red wine, white wine and champagne.
"Get some cheese to throw in your freezer, then you can pull it out any time guests come over," says Lulu Powers, entertaining designer and author of Lulu Powers Food to Flowers. "Just cut it up and it'll defrost quickly." She recommends freezing brie, blue cheese and hard cheeses.
"A good drink is also about a good glass," says Redd. "If you're serving martinis, nothing tastes better than a chilled martini glass. The minimum is lowball and highball glasses, martini glasses, wine glasses and champagne flutes."
"If you don't have an ice maker, always have ice cubes in your fridge. I make mine with flowers and herbs in them," says Powers. "Everyone recognizes ice if it's good ice." She also recommends making big cubes, in case someone asks for a vodka or scotch on the rocks.