How to Host House Guests Without Going Crazy

how to have house guests
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist

Having a guest room (or even a couch) has its drawbacks. If you have one, they will come. And by “they,” I mean boarders, because no one turns down a free room.

Before the year is up, I’ll have hosted -- deep breaths -- 24 people in the two-bedroom apartment I share with my husband. Hospitality is important to me, not least because I enjoy much of what comes with it: the wine-stained dinner parties that stretch late into the evening; the lazy pancake breakfasts; and when I inevitably show people around town, the tendency to behave like a tourist in my own city. Hosting is great, and it helps you reconnect with friends in a way that’s fundamentally different than if they’d stayed in a hotel. Think about it: When was the last time you and your college roomie slept under the same roof? Shared a bathroom? Stayed up in pajamas until 3am? You get the idea. Plus, if you don’t open your home to friends and family, don’t expect them to be thrilled when you knock on their doors.

What I don’t like about hosting is, well, the complete and total craziness that can accompany it. The saying, “Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days” is a saying for a reason, and your best buddy from summer camp is no exception. Fortunately for you, I’ve made every hosting mistake in the book, and I’m passing that hard-earned knowledge onto you. With holiday hosting season in full swing, you’ll want to pay attention.

Here’s how to host your family and friends without losing your goddamn mind.

1. Make your schedule known from the get-go

A common pitfall of hosting is that your guests, who are on vacation, think you are, too. This is something of which I’ve personally been guilty in other peoples’ homes, because it’s natural: You want to hang with your friends! All the time! And do cool awesome things together one after the next! But that’s in direct conflict with doing laundry, picking up medications at the pharmacy, or heaven forbid, spacing out with Netflix. Life does not stop because there are people in your house.

I’ve found that a kind-but-direct approach is the best way to tackle this. Sandwiching your conflicts between fervent exclamations of joy is highly recommended. Repeat after me: “I’m so, so excited to see you this weekend! I have to do X, Y, and Z at such-and-such time on such-and-such date, but otherwise I’m around to hang with you. We’re going to have the best time ever!” Easy peasy.

Don't like people tip-toeing around your house at night like a bunch of trash-drunk raccoons?

2. Set aside closet space

There’s nothing worse than when a house guest explodes the contents of their suitcases in the middle of your living room. But here’s the thing: You’re asking for it if you don’t give them a place to unpack. Ever since I cleared out a whole section of my guest room closet and designated it a guest-only space, clutter levels have gone way down, and so with it, my tendency to scream silently into a pillow.

3. Make sure your guest room is stocked with essentials

Don’t like people tip-toeing around your house at night like a bunch of trash-drunk raccoons? Stash a water pitcher and glasses by their bed. While you’re at it, throw in a box of tissues, extra tampons, an iPhone charger, a scented candle, and a flash card with the Wi-Fi code. Because there’s no better way to say, “STAY IN YOUR ROOM” than considerately anticipating your guest’s needs.

4. Throw together a field guide

If you’re sending your house guests out into the wild without supervision for any extended period of time, compile a list of activities in the neighborhood: things to do, places to eat, and good long walks to take. You’d think people could figure this out on their own, but after being asked for the trillionth time, “What are the good restaurants around here?” I huffed and threw everything into a Google doc. Now, when guests first arrive, I text them the link.

5. Don't feel weird asking for help cleaning up

In the beginning, I’d never let guests help clear the dinner table. I’d say, “You’re my guest! Sit!” It was well-intentioned, but as a result the dishes took twice as long as it might have, time that otherwise could have been spent hanging with my friend. These days, when someone proffers their assistance to help clean the house, I don’t blink. After all, this is a home, not a hotel. If your friend is a halfway decent person, the offer will come naturally. Plus, scrubbing dishes while passing around a bottle of after-dinner cognac is a highly underrated pleasure.

house guests
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist

6. Don't overschedule

Having guests in your house 24 hours a day means talking to and engaging with them during waking hours, and that’s more exhausting than you could possibly realize. Add to that hours-long museum outings, late-night visits to comedy clubs, and trendy brunches with hour-long waits, and you’re fixing to run yourself ragged. For the love of all that is holy, don’t schedule more than one or two of these activities a day.

7. Always have nosh on hand

When in doubt, put food out. It’s a great way to rally everyone and, err, distract them while you take a shower. I always have the ingredients for my go-to platter queued up and ready to go: ramekins of pistachios and almonds; blue cheese and Jarlsberg; dried fruit; Castelvetrano olives; Carr's crackers with cracked pepper; and fig spread. You will look like a goddamned hero when you lay out that gorgeous spread.

While we’re at it, don’t forget to stock your fridge before everyone arrives. Your checklist should include: Coffee grounds for a crowd, half-and-half or cream, and extra coffee filters. Basically just a lot of coffee. Bonus points for eggs, orange juice, and a few packs of thick-cut bacon.

8. Don't skimp on the air fresheners

Look, we don’t all live in palaces with multiple bathrooms, and that often means sharing a toilet. Some advice: Have air fresheners, or at the very least a pack of matches, stashed by the commode. It’ll save your guests embarrassment and your nose an unnecessary olfactory assault.

While we’re at it, light that candle you’ve been reluctant to spark up because it was expensive and you don’t want to waste it. More people in your house means a better candle to people-enjoying-said-candle ratio, and that’s just good thrifty sense.

9. Schedule a housecleaning the day your guests leave

Even if you’ve managed to contain most of the clutter to the guest room, your apartment will still look like a bomb went off inside it the second everyone vacates the premises. Arrange for a cleaner to come THE SECOND they’re out the door.

Having your home back to yourself < having your clean home back to yourself.

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Rachel Tepper Paley is a writer, editor, and sometimes illustrator living in New York City. See what she's eating over at @thepumpernickel on Instagram.