The Basics: How to Host Overnight Guests

November 7, 2013

by Margaret Cabaniss

How to Host Overnight Guests

No sense denying it any longer: The Holiday Season is officially upon us — and that means the beginning of Overnight Guest Season. Chances are good that, sometime in the next two months, you’ll either be someone’s host or guest (or, in some cases, both) as we all fly around the country to visit our nearest and dearest for the holidays.

It can be a stressful time of year without the added pressure of extra bodies in your house — and certainly, not every guest expects or requires red-carpet service — but it’s nice to go the extra mile occasionally, particularly around the holidays, when hospitality is the name of the game. Whether you have spacious guest quarters or barely enough room for a blow-up mattress, consider this a handy checklist for making your home a welcoming place for guests while keeping your sanity through the busy months ahead.

Check your supplies.

Before your guests arrive, check to make sure your basic supplies — bed linens, towels, blankets, and pillows — are clean and ready to go so that you’re not scrambling to find them at the last minute. If you have visitors often, consider investing in linens that are strictly for guests; that way you’ll always have what you need, and know that it’s clean when you need it.

To go above and beyond (via A Cup of Jo): Spend a night in your own guest accommodations sometime; it’s the quickest way to find out if there are any issues in the room that need addressing. Is the mattress comfortable (or does your air mattress leak)? Does it get cold in that room overnight, or too bright early in the morning? Always better to find those things out for yourself, rather than secondhand from a guest, so you can address them ahead of time.


Clean smarter, not harder. 

If you don’t have time to clean the whole house, focus your energy on two areas: the guest room (or wherever they’ll be sleeping) and the bathroom. These are the places your guests are guaranteed to see up close, so make sure those rooms, at least, pass inspection. Meanwhile, no one will be the wiser if you temporarily stash some clutter in your own bedroom — at least, that’s what I always tell myself… (Also: To get a sparkling bathroom in short order, be sure to read the fourth installment in SlowMama’s Basics series on how to clean a bathroom.)

Set the stage. 

Make up the bed and stock the room with fresh towels and a few extra blankets (particularly in the winter). Set out a waste basket, tissues, and a bottle or carafe of water on the night stand (so guests don’t have to go stumbling around for a drink in the middle of the night). Clear out some space in a dresser or closet (and include a few hangers) — or, if they’re sleeping in a common area, some space for their suitcases — and leave one outlet free for charging phones and laptops. To cozy up the room a bit, put out a small bud vase or candle (but nothing overpowering); it instantly makes any room more homey.

To really make your guests feel pampered, consider putting together a small basket of treats and commonly needed items for their room: travel-sized toiletries, bags of nuts or trail mix, a sewing repair kit, paper and pens, reading material, etc. (Those of you with space and a real flair for hosting might even consider a guest cart or guest closet.) In between visits, you can replace any used items and store the basket in the guest room or linen closet, then just set it out the next time company comes.


Make it easy for guests to “make themselves at home.”

Guests never want to be a bother, and it’s easier for the host if they can fend for themselves a bit, too. Make common items easy to find (extra toilet paper, towels, etc.); consider setting out a bowl of fruit or snacks in the kitchen so they can help themselves throughout the day; and before bed, set out coffee supplies and simple breakfast items, in case you have any early risers. Also, be sure to let them know about any particular quirks of your house (a sticky shower handle, etc.) so they aren’t caught off-guard later.

Build a home cheat sheet.

How many times have you had to go digging for your wifi key when guests were over, or explain the elaborate series of steps required to turn on your TV? Rather than having to hunt down that information each time, include it all on a “cheat sheet” that you can easily print out whenever you have guests. Add any other important information they might need — cell phone numbers, your home address, etc. — and include it in the guest basket, if you make one. Live in the city? Don’t forget to include parking passes or instructions on where and when to park. Finally, make an extra copy of your house key and put it on a lanyard, then include that in the basket as well.


Help them get to know the area. 

Whether you live in a popular tourist area or a quiet suburb, it’s nice to give your guests some information on local sights and things to do. Include a few maps, information about tourist attractions, and public transportation schedules and fare cards in your guest basket. If your schedule permits, consider planning a few activities for you to do together and play tourist in your own town for a day.

Share schedules.

Speaking of schedules: It’s a good idea to share these with your guests. For their part, find out when they’re arriving and leaving (especially if you need to drive them to or from the airport); on your end, let guests know what time you usually get up in the mornings (particularly if they’ll be sleeping in a common area), when dinner usually is, or if you have any commitments that will take you away during their visit.

Let them help.

Guests feel more comfortable if they can help out in small ways, so let them. This doesn’t mean having them mow the lawn or mop the floors (unless, of course, your awesome in-laws insist…) — but letting them set the table, dry the dishes, and so on can make them feel like a helpful member of the household, rather than a burden. It’ll also keep you from running yourself ragged, particularly around the already-stressful holidays. Which brings us to one final important tip:

Go easy on yourself.

All these tips can make it sound like hosting guests is a full-time job, but particularly around the holidays, don’t kill yourself trying to be Martha Stewart and Julia Child rolled in one. Keep the meal-planning low key, with easy overnight breakfast casseroles and slow-cooker dinners. Don’t feel like you need to entertain your guests every hour of the day; they’d likely be thankful for some quiet time, particularly after a long trip. Most importantly, remember that they’ve come to visit with you, not to be catered to in a four-star hotel. Worry less about making everything Pinterest-perfect than enjoying each other’s company.

Have any other tips for hosting overnight guests? Share them in the comments!

Images: 1, Margaret Cabaniss; 2, Maple and Magnolia3, Paul Massey for Living Etc UK; 4, Oliver Jeffers

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