How To Handle Houseguests

Summer is often a time when out-of-town friends come to stay in your house. This can be a lot of fun, but it can also be stressful and difficult — you've got people in your space, and you have to find ways of entertaining them. Fortunately, we have tips to make any visit fun and hassle-free.

Create some extra privacy

If you have a guest room, having houseguests is obviously that much easier. But not everybody has the extra space — and hosting out-of-towners can be especially challenging if you live in a small apartment. I talked to Karen Bussen, entertaining expert and author of Simple Stunning Parties at Home, who advocates keeping a screen around to create privacy in spaces that might otherwise not be so private:

If you'll host guests on a sofa bed or air mattress in a space that doesn't have a door, I suggest investing in a folding screen that you can arrange to create a bit of privacy for your guests. In my small New York City apartment, which has a combined open-plan living room and kitchen, a two panel screen makes it possible for me to sneak out of my bedroom and into the kitchen to make coffee and muffins while my guests are still snoozing. When I don't have guests, I store the screen in my front closet. For a more bohemian look, you could string up a clothes line and hang some gauzy cotton curtains across the space, using several panels so you can slide them aside in the morning.

Not only does a screen create a more private area for your guests — it also increases privacy for you. Walking to the bathroom in the morning with crazy hair and your favorite footie pajamas is way less embarrassing if there's a barrier between you and your guests. And creating a little separation can be a good way to keep you and your guests on good terms and out of each others' hair.

Save those samples

I used to love staying with my friend M because I could use all of her awesome shower products. Now that she's married, she and her husband keep a special little stash of travel sizes in their guest bathroom in case guests forget shampoo or lotion or whatever. But you don't have to have a guest room to keep a cache of mini-shampoos handy. Says Bussen, "I save slippers and soaps and lotions from hotels when I travel, and I set up their guest area with fluffy towels arranged with a few of these mis-matched items." And speaking of towels: having several extra towels around is a great way to reduce guest-stress. Don't have time to do laundry before they arrive? No problem — you've got a spare towel handy anyway. I learned this lesson when my friend came to help me move and I'd already packed up all the towels. I had to buy her a spare towel at K-Mart, and now I have an extra around for all my guests' drying-off needs.

Get some snacks

When guests come to stay with you, they're also entering into your food-life. Which might be kind of weird — what you eat when you're on your own might not be what you want to offer your guests. I know I've found myself in the position of offering friends a choice of leftover kale, partly eaten chocolate bars, or sardines, and this can create some awkwardness. Now if I have time, I try to pick up some decent snack foods like cheese and crackers so my guests have something normal to fortify them. It's good to have some easy stuff around so that if you and your guests get hungry between meals, you can sit down together and eat something without having to go out and make a big production of it. Also, if you keep easy breakfast foods around, you don't have to worry about making your guests breakfast every day, which can be a load off your mind. In terms of other meals, Bussen advocates making a food plan at the beginning of the visit:

As you're getting them settled in, present a plan that suits you for the weekend or week — "I thought we'd go downtown tonight for some great Bistro food, and then we could cook dinner together tomorrow and Sunday? Does that sound good?" Then you can agree on what works for everyone.

If you'll be away for some meals while they're visiting, this is also a good time to mention that — and give them some suggestions of places in the area where they can eat while you're not around. Apartment Therapy SF has tips for making cute "survival kits" for your guests, complete with restaurant recommendations, but don't feel like you have to spend a ton of time making a beautiful package. Bussen likes to leave "a print out of fun things to do in the neighborhood — a great farmers' market, a brunch spot, a map to my favorite picnic spot in the park." Even just talking to your guests about places to eat is fine, and better than leaving them to forage on their own.

Make time for both fun and relaxing

When friends come from out of town, it's easy to feel like you need to be doing an activity every second. But a few well-chosen outings can be better than spending a whole weekend constantly on the go, and your guest may appreciate a little bit of downtime. Plus, this will keep you from getting overwhelmed with your hosting duties. Says Bussen,

Don't be a hero! For shorter visits, choose just one or two activities that will show your guests what your neck of the woods has to offer. Leave plenty of time for just relaxing and catching up together. For longer stays, make sure to leave some days unscheduled to allow for impromptu fun and naps! If your area has lots to offer to tourists, sit down with your guests when they arrive and come up with a plan. Ask them what they'd like to see, and then choose which outings you might like to join them on. If you've got other plans or just need a break, you can always guide them to great places (a good shopping street, a museum) with the promise to meet up after your appointment or your yoga class.

Your guests want to have fun, but they don't need a nonstop, twenty-four-hour funcoaster — and they'll enjoy their visit more if everyone is relaxed and well-rested.

Don't worry too much about being clean

Everybody worries about whether their living space is clean enough, but no real friend is going to be like, "ew there is cinnamon all over your counter, I think less of you." If they did, I would have no friends. By all means, get rid of obvious grime before your guests show up, but don't worry if they can't see their face in your bathmat or whatever. Nobody really notices when someone else's house is dirty anyway. Especially not when they've been there for a while. So don't obsess about tidying up after your guests either. Says Bussen,

[I]n general, I do not expect guests to do the dishes while they are staying in my home. If they offer or wash up while I'm in my room, that's great, but never anticipated. That's why they are guests. As to making beds, if your guests will have their own room, I suggest letting them do whatever they like. If they don't make their bed, you don't need to-and if the mess bothers you, just shut the door. If guests will be staying in your living room, put out a big basket filled with their sheets and blankets folded neatly. On the first night, make their bed for them, and just tell them this is where you normally keep the bed things. Hopefully, they'll take a cue from the basket and replace the items the next morning. If they don't, just offer to help, or better yet, relax and don't worry about it. You can tidy up when they leave! Remember, friendliness trumps cleanliness.

Creating a warm, fun environment for your guests is more important than making everything spotless — and part of this environment is a host who's not stressed out from constant cleaning. As long as your guests aren't going to get tetanus from all the rusty nails in your shower, you're fine.

Have a talk about any quirks of your apartment

When a friend of mine stays with her husband's family, she knows to keep the bathroom door shut at all times, whether she's using the bathroom or not — otherwise the family dog will get in and chow down on tampons (dogs: the Terry Richardson of your apartment). But at my apartment, the bathroom door being shut is how I know my roommate's in there. So when she stayed with me, the result was a bunch of confusion and fruitles knocking. It took me days to figure out what was going on and talk to her about this issue — from now on I'll tell guests in advance. Same goes for the fact that the apartment door locks automatically from the outside. If guests shouldn't feed your dog, or shouldn't let your cat out, or shouldn't look your parrot directly in the eye, these are also things to go over with them. That way, you don't have to spring anything on anyone — or take anyone to the hospital when an enraged parrot attacks them. In general, letting your guests know what to expect at the outset — whether it concerns your bathroom door, your schedule, or the amenities in your neighborhood — will help everyone stay calm. And when everyone's calm, they can focus on enjoying each other's company, which is what visits are for anyway.

Simple Stunning Parties At Home

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