Tomorrow begins yet another year of travel and so today I find myself not only packing, but preparing for my house sitter (which has involved some cleaning, a trip to the market and a washing of the dog). Instead of feeling as though these things are chores and yet another item on an already full ‘to do’ list, I feel quite content whilst doing them. In fact, preparing for a guest is something I look forward to.
I love having people come and stay with me; it’s one of the reasons why I plan on running a gite in France some day. It’s also why I’ve loved living in interesting (or warm!) places – friends and family always want to come visit. In fact, when taking on a home thinking of how my guests will like it plays a huge role. There is nothing grander, I think, than having guests in your home that you love spending time with. Well, I think preparing for them is perhaps even a little more fun. Like just before Christmas.
I’ve been to friend’s places where I’ve slept in linens with holes in them and smelt like dog. I’ve been in basements with the spiders and damp floors. I’ve been in homes where I didn’t know where I was allowed to sit and felt awkward getting a glass of water. It’s why when I visit friends and family I generally stay at a hotel – it’s just more relaxing. So when I have someone come – whether it’s a guest or house sitter – I do my best to make my home feel welcoming to them so that it’s a good experience and they’ll want to come back. That means I take care of a few things before they come.
- Having a spare key is essential as it allows guests to come and go as they please without having to wait or disturb you. Giving guests a sense of freedom really relaxes everyone. Even if they just want to go for a walk down the street or an early morning breakfast or out for the day, it’s a great way to make them feel like they have a home. I love the Key Wristlet Chain (handmade on Etsy) because it’s easy to keep track of, people can slip it on if they’re going for their run and they generally remember to hand it back. So much nicer and easier than handing a key. Although sometimes I mail a key ahead so that I don’t have to wait around for their arrival if they’re driving and not sure of their exact arrival time.
- Making sure your guests have something to eat and drink is just common sense but I always ask mine if they have any dietary restrictions. I have a lot of vegetarian/vegan friends that come and stay so I make sure there’s fresh fruit and snacks for them. If someone can’t eat nuts or gluten, I make sure they can eat safely – their dishes don’t touch other dishes, their food is stored separately etc.. Bottled water is always put out, tea is always stacked with pretty mugs nearby and coffee beans are in their bag in the fridge. I make sure the kitchen seems semi-organised so they can cook food if they’re house sitting or make coffee if they’re guests who need a somethin’ somethin’ in the morning. In the case of my house sitter, I put out a “bowl of goodies” which include microwave popcorn, animal cookies (from the animals, of course!), beautifully bottled French lemonade drinks, truffles, fresh fruit and a gift card to the local grocer and coffee house. Nothing worse than being hungry when you’re visiting someone but not knowing what you can eat. And there’s nothing more uncomfortable for guests than opening cupboards looking for things, so having it all laid out and clear makes it easier.
- There’s fresh flowers placed throughout – especially beside their bed (I usually buy 2-3 bunches of flowers and split them into several vases). A $5 bouquet from the grocery store can go a long way. Just make sure they don’t have allergies!
- A good cleaning of the home takes place (a mini spring cleaning sort of); linens/towels all washed, fridge cleaned and generally stocked, dog washed, floors scrubbed, pillows fluffed, all garbage out. I’m so not a neat freak but having people arrive to a nice, clean place is always a nice feeling for both. Once guests are in, however, all bets are off. If they toss jackets here and there or dishes linger a bit after dinner, I don’t worry. I want people to feel like they’re at home. Depending on how big the crowd was and how long they stayed, I sometimes hire a cleaning lady afterwards to help with floors, laundry and bathroom scrubbing. That way I’m just not concerned when people are here about all the cleaning to come.
- To set up beds and bathroom, I keep separate linens just for guests. The towels are sets that are in different colours than my every day whites – that way there’s no mixing up who’s towel is who’s in the washroom. Anthropologie and Shabby Chic have been great resources for guest linens for me. Anthropologie always has towels on sale in wonderful colours and prints which I pick up. Guest linens are the same; always patterned and stored separately so I can easily pull them out to make a cosy guest bed with fresh linens with no holes! Shabby Chic always has patterns that are going out of print so prices are actually reasonable. Picking up a second set of wonderful sheets and puff duvet happened once and I just launder them after use and put them in storage (with a lavender-cedar sachet). This way when a guest comes there’s no wondering about which sheets are good or where they are.
- I also keep a stash of toiletries (L’Occitane is great for this) such as shampoo, lotions, toothbrushes, razors and the like. I have quite a few girly friends who love coming over and using new products so I will go to Sephora and ask for samples ahead of time and leave them out.
- Some guests just want to come and relax and others want to be active. So I make sure to head to my local tourism office and collect a city map that has bike and walking trails along with ideas of things to do. I print out a my own favourite activities and if I can, I’ll take them to them but if not, they can still find them easily.
- For a house sitter, I print out a list of emergency phone numbers (mine, hotels, vet and close by friends) as well as instructions from how to work the laundry to the DVD player. I encourage both guests and the housesitter to watch DVD’s, play music, and relax as much as possible and provide the laptop for them to surf from their room to in front of the TV (setting up wireless access in your home is a great idea).
- Magazines and books are always nearby. I once stayed with my friend Alicia and what I loved so much about her living room at the time was underneath her coffee table were piles of American and European magazines which she allowed me to sift through as I snuggled into her couch (she later moved these into her infamous Pink Guest Room and I would spend hours reading them before heading to sleep each night).
- Knowing the purpose of your guests stay is essential. If they’re coming for some R&R, you don’t want to plan a whirlwind weekend or have a big party the night of their arrival. Let them go at their own speed, offering ideas and taking cues from their mood (or book a local spa treatment). If they are coming for a holiday or family gathering, make sure to include them in planning or activities so they’re part of the celebrations instead of just onlookers. If they’re coming for adventure, think of something unique for all of you to do (like trying a trapeze class, horseback riding, surfing!)
This might sound like a lot but I assure you it really isn’t. Picking a few things extra from the grocer when you’re doing your weekly shop isn’t a big time commitment either and it also doesn’t have to be expensive. A few ‘munchies’ and drinks can go a long way – that way your guests can eat out if they choose instead of feeling as though they need to stay and have you cook (unless you want to, of course!). The cleaning can take time but think if you went to someone’s home and were afraid to use the washroom or felt uncomfortable in any place – you wouldn’t want to put someone in that position, right? So that’s why I make sure it’s all clean when they come (but have no issues if it becomes messy once they’re here – it’s more important to enjoy your company than worry about cleaning up everything). If you’re familiar with your town, having an idea of activities will probably come naturally and if not, hit your local tourism place for information. Keep brochures and print outs on hand. And if you have a house sitter, you just need to reprint your Word File of information.
Recently I stayed with my friend her little condo; in her spare room/office she had done up the bed for me, had so many wonderfully smelling soaps in the guest bath and even had Chocolove on hand (she knows my cravings!). She gave me a second set of keys to come and go and space to relax in her living room (which I did). This helped me to not only enjoy my time with her but my trip overall. There’s nothing worse than staying at someone’s place and being so tense you sleep badly and move about the home awkwardly during the day.
Before having a guest or sitter over, I ask myself – would I feel comfortable if this were my first time here? And I don’t stop until the answer is yes. But what if you’re the guest? I’ve got suggestions for that, too!
(For more inspiration, check out the wonderful little book, A Gracious Welcome: Etiquette and Ideas for Entertaining Houseguests