The calendar says November, Thanksgiving is two weeks away, and Christmas isn’t far behind. For years you’ve extended invitations to everyone in your family, and no one has come to visit. But this year…. Your sister just announced that she and her husband are bringing their eight kids. Five minutes later your in-laws called to say they’re finally free this year. Your other sister found out everyone was coming, and didn’t want to miss the excitement. And by the way, can she bring her (humongous) dog? And her boyfriend?
At first you were excited about having a family reunion… but now reality is setting in. Where will you put them all? How will you help them feel welcome?
Pete and I once successfully hosted twelve family members (in addition to our nuclear family of four) in our three-bedroom house… for an entire week. (Five more people stayed with a neighbor, but ate with us.) It would easy now that our kids are grown and on their own—we have two dedicated guest rooms plus another bed in my home office. But we used to live in an area where housing prices were very high, and houses were very small. Where did we put our overnight guests then?
Several options have worked well for us. The easiest was to choose a hide-a-bed sofa for our family room. It was nothing fancy—we bought it used—but it served the purpose of providing a bed for guests. Of course, they had little privacy, and had to use the kids’ bathroom down the hall, but we warned our guests ahead of time that this was the arrangement, and no one complained.
In addition, we had a home office that Pete and I shared. It was a large enough room that we were able to furnish it with a futon in addition to our desks and bookcases. The futon was more comfortable as a bed than as a couch, and the office had a door. On the other hand, we weren’t able to get any work done while a guest was using this “bedroom.”
Our two girls each had their own bedroom. When we hosted an exchange student for a summer, we moved our kids in together, freeing one bedroom. It helped that the shared room contained a bunk bed.) The girls thought it was fun (probably because they knew it was temporary), and our student managed fine even with the bunnies stenciled on the walls.
Another option we’ve used is to pull out the camping equipment. Sleeping bags (or sheets and blankets) on an air mattress can be perfectly comfortable. I’d probably consider this arrangement for younger guests, as older folks may have trouble getting down to floor level—and an even harder time getting up again! If your guests are children, you an even let them make a sleeping tent out of a table and bedspreads. I sure loved doing that when I was growing up!
Of course, if you can swing it, having a guest room is the easiest and most convenient arrangement for everyone involved.
Equipping the Guest Room
What should you put in your guest room? Obviously, the first consideration is the bed. Make sure it’s comfortable. If it’s older, you might want to add support by placing a piece of plywood between the box spring and mattress. Older sheets are fine as long as they’re clean. Are there enough blankets? (Many of our guests are accustomed to a warmer climate than ours.) We offer an assortment of pillows, including hypoallergenic ones.
Is there a place for your guest to put their suitcase? It might scratch a nicely stained dresser top. Folding luggage stands are available for purchase, or cover your furniture with a glass top to protect the finish. Is there room in the closet, and some empty hangers, for hanging a few items? Will they need access to an iron and ironing board?
Other guest room furnishings may include a bedside table with a light and an alarm clock, desk and chair (or at least the chair), and a mirror.
The Guest Bath
Frequently, guests must share a bathroom with other family members. That’s not a problem, but there are a few things you can do to make sharing go smoothly. Make sure your guests know which towels are theirs. Is there a place to hang damp towels to dry?
Should they use the soap in the shower? I provide liquid bath gel or a hotel-sized bar of soap gleaned from an overnight vacation. How about shampoo? While many guests bring their own favorite brand, I specifically point out the bottles of shampoo and conditioner in the shower. I also provide a shower cap and body lotion for guest use.
And ever since some dinner guests got snowed in and ended up unexpectedly spending the night at our house, I now stock a few extra toothbrushes and toothpaste, plus some spray-on deodorant, just in case.
Finally, there are a few extra touches. A basket full of snacks—granola bars, fresh fruit, cookies, etc., ensures no one goes hungry. This is especially handy for those suffering from jet lag, as they may wake up starving in the middle of the night.
I have an extra Bible and some popular paperback books in the nightstand. Many people start a book and take it with them to read, while others leave behind one they’ve finished. It all seems to work out. We also have a pile of tourist brochures for local attractions, maps of the area, a list of suggested restaurants, and clipped articles of interest (such as how to cope with our 7,000 feet elevation).
Of course, it goes without saying that your house should be clean… at least the part the guests will be using. (It would be nice if every room in the house is clean—you and your family deserve it.) Scrub that bathroom! You don’t absolutely need to de-clutter, unless there are no places left to sit or put things, but at least let it be clean clutter. Nobody enjoys enduring someone else’s grime.
Whatever we’re doing, it sure seems to be working. We enjoy a steady stream of visitors, and we love it that way.