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Planning for House Guests 101: Making your Home Feel Like Theirs

Ways to make your guests feel welcome without killing yourself in the process.

My family is comprised of east coast nomads, meaning we all live up and down the I-95 corridor, and we make frequent toll contributions in an effort to stay close-knit even though we all live far from each other.

Living long distance from family and friends means our home is a regular bed and breakfast for hosting those who travel the all the way to see us. Over the years, I've relaxed in my attempt to be the perfect Martha-Stewart-esque hostess with the mostess, and see a visit from loved ones as an opportunity for them to experience a day in the life of our little family.

While I make sure that I maximize my effort on cleanliness and comfort for their stay, I don't want to tire myself so much in house and food prep that I can't even enjoy their visit. Here's where I focus my pre-house-guests efforts:

Guest Quarters

New Sheets- You don't have to run out to the store for brand new linens, but it is nice to have bed linens that all match, so your visitors don't feel like they are sleeping on whatever old Smurf sheets you could find in the recesses of the linen closet.

Desk Space- My guest room is also my craft/project/donation collection room, so it can get rather unruly between visitors. I do my best to contain the clutter and tuck it out of sight, so my guests have a surface where they can place their bags.

Towels- So I may not put a fancy bow on it, or leave chocolate mints on the pillows, but I do appreciate a nice stack of towels on the bed for guests. It sends a message of instant comfort. I also try to save some of my towels for guests only, just because I think it's nicer to have super white towels without a visible history of my husband cutting himself while shaving or my attempt to dye my own hair. Stains are just kind of gross.

Other Bedroom Niceties- bottled water (one per guest), alarm clock, box of tissues, extra blanket and pillow, body lotion.

Making the Kids' Bathroom Nice Enough for Guests

Declutter- My first step in prepping the bathroom, even before cleaning. I stow away the bathtub toys, plethora of kiddie shampoo bottles and tub markers. The stool my kids use to reach the sink gets moved to my bedroom, so toes don't get stubbed during middle of the night bathroom trips. Putting a nightlight in the hallway and bathroom also assist with nocturnal bathroom visits.

A Place to Hang- I move my kids' bath towels to the back of their bedroom door to free up hanging space. If you don't have enough towel room either on towel racks or on the back of the door, consider providing a temporary fix on the bathroom wall or back of the door, such as using these heavy-duty Command 3M hooks you can put up and remove with ease.

Hotel Toiletries-  After the requisite cleaning session, I make sure the shampoo, conditioner, and body wash bottles are filled, and tissue box and toilet paper are stocked up. Here are some other nice touches to the bathroom: have a new small bar of soap by the sink (I always save them from hotel stays- they're the perfect size), a basket of mini-toiletries (raiding the hotel again or the travel-sized options at the grocery store), and a small hairdryer.

Towel Identification System- With lots of guests, there's opportunity for the ever-so-cringe-worthy towel confusion (the moment you realize you just dried off with someone else's towel). To avoid this issue, you can either sew different color twill ribbon loops on each guest towel like Martha does, or write each guest's name on a wooden clothes pin, and have them pin their towel when they hang it in the bathroom, so they know without mistake that it's theirs!

Avoid Being a Short-Order Cook

When you have company, you want to enjoy their visit too! By doing some meal planning and prepping ahead of time, getting a meal on the table won't require you to disappear from the fun for hours at a time.

Continental Breakfast- The night before, set out breakfast items such as tea bags, granola, a container of muffins, bread, honey, a variety pack of cereals, as well as coffee mugs, dishes and utensils. Set the coffee pot program for early, and go to bed comforted by knowing your day won't have to start full throttle serving any early risers.

Make Ahead Dining- Dinner is something that can be rather easy if you can make it ahead of time. Dishes such as lasagna or baked ziti allow you to make it ahead and freeze it, and then pop it in the oven for just over an hour. Crock pot meals such as chili, pulled BBQ pork, or crock pot roast can also allow you to do a bit of prep in the morning and spend a day out with your visitors.

Delegate Dinner Duties- Guests often offer to help, and let them! Salad prep, setting the table, and pouring dinner beverages are things that they can do to help dinner run smoothly. Don't forget that dinner clean-up can be a team effort, where good conversation can be had while cleaning in the kitchen.

And don't feel like it's sacrilege to order pizza one night from a local pizza place. Add a salad and red wine, and you have a great meal and a needed break from the kitchen!

Cruise Director Duties

While your guests are here to visit you, you can't just sit and stare at one another their whole stay! I try to come up with one outing per day that we can do as a group, and one indoor activity. I look through the state and local tourism websites to see if there are any festivals going on, factor in the weather and time of year for outdoor activities like hiking or apple picking, and check hours for movies, open ice skating, and bowling.

Indoor activities don't have to be difficult to plan. Having board games and cards on hand, a DVD or two, and knowing when the football games are on, will get you through a day full of fun. And don't forget: vacation means everyone gets to take a nap if they want and no one will judge!

Sure, there's a little prep work involved, but hosting visitors allows you to spend extra time with loved ones who have traveled a long way to see you. Plan ahead, and keep your hosting duties simple and stress-free so you can enjoy your time together!

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