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How to Host Overnight Guests in a Small Home

When I ask people about the large numbers of towels, glassware, and bedsheets in their homes, I typically get this response: Well, I have a large family so I’m keeping those in case we decide to host Christmas. We all want to be good hosts, but I’m not sure where everyone got the idea that we need to maintain a housekeeping inventory that rivals the Sheraton.

Let’s look at an example from a client I worked with back in my in-home professional organizing days.

Kasey lives in a cozy WWII era house–similar to my own–with her husband and two small children. She works full-time outside the home, but still needs space at home to work while keeping an eye on the kids. At our session, I noticed a large hutch in her dining room, filled with wine glasses. I thought we could repurpose part of the hutch to house office supplies, so I asked her how many wine glasses she uses regularly.

“I don’t drink wine,” she said.

I was a bit surprised, considering the number of glasses in the hutch.

“Does your husband?” I asked.

“No, he drinks beer.”

As it turns out, this client was keeping an entire hutch full of wine glasses on the off-chance that her entire family decided to host the holidays at her house. While some wine glasses would prove helpful in the above scenario, wine glass warehousing was clearly not the best use of her hutch on a daily basis. We donated some of the glasses and boxed others for basement storage in the event of the family holiday invasion. This freed the hutch to house office items, adding value to her life now.

Interestingly, Josh and I regularly host overnight guests at our home, since we live several hours drive from most of our family and longtime friends. We have a small (by American standards) story-and-a-half Cape Cod house with just over 1,500 square feet, 3 bedrooms and 2 baths. We don’t have a guest room and we don’t keep extra items on hand for guests, but we have figured out ways to be decent hosts. (We think… They do keep coming back!)

Here are 7 things we’ve learned about hosting overnight guests in our small home:

1. Remember: If your guests want to stay at a 5-star hotel, they should stay at a 5-star hotel.

This is our mindset when hosting guests, and I think it’s helpful. Guests spending the night at our house understand that it is home to five people, three of them children. If you’re staying with us, we will feed you, laugh and swap stories with you, and provide you a place to sleep and access to bathroom facilities. The sleeping arrangements may be a pullout couch and the bathroom facilities may include light-up Spiderman toothbrushes, but everything will be clean and suitable to most folks’ sleep/bath needs. If my guests aren’t cool with that, they really should just stay somewhere else. We’ll both be happier!

2. Use compostable cups and plates

If we’re hosting guests, it’s often easier to use compostable (or disposable) dinnerware. I used to use paper plates a lot when hosting guests, but now I try to err on the side of compostables. Because the Earth. It’s kind of amazing how many compostable items are easily available at your local grocery store nowadays! You can get small tumblers to use as wine glasses and sturdy compostable plates to accommodate most meals. Using compostables means less time doing dishes and more time laughing in the living room, which is what most of us really want to be doing when we host guests!

3. One towel per person is enough

If you’ve watched my TEDx talk, you know that we have ten towels in our home. If we have guests, I typically offer them one towel each. If the number of guests is large, this might be a pool towel, but hey no one has complained thus far. (And if their body-drying needs require significantly more towels or they are offended by drying off with a pool towel, please refer them to tip #1.)

4. Consider offering up your own bedroom

When we host families with babies or toddlers, we always give them our own bedroom so the entire family can stay together. (This is so nice for families who still get up with babies in the night.) Our bedroom is the largest in the house, with plenty of floor space for pack-n-plays and air mattresses. Also, it has an attached bathroom, which is just a bonus in terms of privacy. I figure if people have made the effort to travel to us with babies and toddlers, they deserve the nicest room in the house! Josh and I pack a small suitcase for ourselves and move downstairs to our daughter’s room (she has a double bed) and we put her in with her brothers on a sleeping bag on the floor. While this might sound like a lot of finagling, everybody is happy and it’s fun, kind of like camping in your own house.

5. Create a kids’ room

If guests have kids close to our own kids’ age, we put all the kids in one bedroom with a bunch of sleeping bags on the floor. Yes, this is a bit chaotic at actual bedtime, but I can only imagine the fun memories my kids will have of these wild sleepovers!

6. Borrow what you don’t have

No one expects you to keep enough place settings and sleeping accommodations to host a traveling soccer team at your house. If you’re expecting more guests than you have beds for, borrow air mattresses, pack-n-plays, or foam pads from neighbors. For dining, you can borrow extra plates, CrockPots, platters, and what-have-you. There’s no need to keep all these items on hand when a quick text message to local friends will probably supply you with anything you need. I’ve found that most people love to help out and will be more than happy to lend you a casserole dish or two for the weekend.

7. Get outside!

If you have lots of guests and space inside the house is tight, consider ways to make the outside an additional hangout space. Grill out, have the kids play with bubbles and sidewalk chalk, or head to a local park. If the weather isn’t cooperating, check out local museums or events. This is a great way to introduce your guests (and yourself!) to the unique offerings in your community.

I hope this post helps you realize that–yes–you can easily host overnight guests without living in a large home or keeping enough plates to host a presidential reception. Cheers to happy hosting!

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