It’s nearly here: that magical time of year when you spend all your free time sipping hot cocoa on your pristine white couch, laughing, and playing board games with your well-dressed, well-behaved family and friends.
Or was that a commercial I just saw?
For the rest of us, having people over during the holidays, whether for an afternoon or a week, is a mite less picture-perfect and a lot more stressful. But it doesn’t have to be. Over the years, I’ve collected more than a few tips and tricks for making holiday guests more merry and less … well, exhausting.
None of these will turn your house into a magazine spread. But if you’re lucky, they’ll turn it into that warm, cozy place where everyone feels immediately at home.
Help guests fend for themselves
It might seem obvious, but start any visit off with a reminder to your guests to make themselves at home. Tell them there’s wine in the fridge, coffee and tea in the cupboard next to the sink, and that they’re welcome to help themselves to anything at all (right after you’ve hidden the expensive stuff in your closet, of course).
Let them fend for themselves by making things a bit easier to find — leave a small box on the counter filled with a bottle opener, corkscrew, coffee filters, tea bags, and any other essentials. Consider stacking a few coffee cups next to the coffee maker and leaving out a box or two of cereal before heading to bed. Most visitors would much rather get themselves a glass of water than feel they have to ask you to do it. Help them help you.
People start to feel more at home when they know what to expect. So I like to give my guests a little primer on how the house works: what time I’m usually up in the morning, any plans that are already made, and other important details. Follow that with a simple “but if you’d like to do anything different, feel free. If you’re up early, here’s the coffee. If you’re sleeping in, sweet dreams. Breakfast is at 10.” (Or, rather, “Cereal’s on the counter.”)
Easy access to creature comforts
It’s a given that any person who’s in your home for more than an hour is going to ask for your Wi-Fi access. You can make like Martha Stewart and have a color-coordinated laminated card perched on the pristine white duvet when your visitor walks into her bright, airy, oversized guest room. Or you can do what I do and stick a Post-it note on the fridge.
In a perfect world, of course, your guest room (or your overrun office outfitted with a blow-up mattress) would be perfectly stocked with matching slippers, plenty of reading material, and a wide range of pillow options.
But in my case, I like to make sure guests have, at a minimum, an extra blanket or two, a set of towels, and a bottle of water — all things they’re going to want at times when it would be inconvenient to ask you.
But you do get bonus points if you offer up a pair of unisex slippers or fuzzy socks. (I tend to keep the free slippers I get from hotels, but Ikea also has some excellent $2 options.)
Stock up on toiletries
If you have a dedicated guest bathroom — or one from which you plan to temporarily evict your significant other for the duration of your guests’ visit — stock it with a few gender-neutral toiletries. Kiehl’s and Yes To are brands that work for just about everyone and both companies sell travel-size products.
No need to go wild, but a few spare toothbrushes, toothpaste, mouthwash, shampoo, conditioner, soap, face wipes, and saline (you’d be amazed by how many of my friends forget their contact lens solution) should suffice. And whether it’s an overnight guest or a dinner guest, make sure the guest bath is stocked with plenty of toilet paper … and a plunger. Really, no one wants to have to ask.
But more than all of this, the biggest thing to remember is that your friends/parents/in-laws are, with the occasional exception, there to enjoy your company, not to judge you and your home’s resemblance to a magazine shoot.
Take a deep breath, trust that your guests are grown-up enough to find their way around, and stop fluffing pillows and clearing dishes long enough to let yourself enjoy the time together.