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My Housekeeping Book!

Smart Housekeeping
The No-Nonsense Guide to Decluttering, Organizing, and Cleaning Your Home,

 

 

 

Smart Housekeeping

 

October

Guest Rooms
Childproofing for Visitors
Holidays

Contents

Guest Rooms

Planning

Preparing

What to Arrange in Advance

What to Remove

What to Furnish

Information for Guests

Childproofing for Visitors

Holidays and Occasions

Decorating

Celebrating

Storage of Holiday Items

Thoughts about Clutter--Holidays and Clutter

The Mice Step Out! Halloween

Book Reviews

Credits

Guest Rooms

Few of us have houses so large that we have a room that's never used for anything but guests. Instead, we have a kind of all-purpose room that has a bed or a fold down couch in it, or that can be rearranged to include a temporary air bed. Regardless of what we have to offer, we want the room to be attractive and welcoming when we do have house guests, and we want them to go home happy with their welcome and their stay.

Sometimes they do--and sometimes not. Three of the most miserable nights I can remember were spent in guest rooms. One was on an Aerobed, and I did indeed have to go to an emergency clinic the next day, for back pain so severe, they were concerned I might have meningitis. Another air bed night left me sleeping on the floor--it was a lot more comfortable. The third disaster was in a cold room with no blankets to be found anywhere. I shivered until dawn and then quietly left the house without waking my host, and went home.

Obviously, these are all experiences that hosts would wish to avoid. In order to be a good host, though, it's important to plan. And best to do that long before the pressure of imminent visitors makes it hard to get things together.

Planning

What is your guest room when it's not a guest room? Is it a sewing or craft room, a computer room, a home office? Is it a nonresident son's or daughter's old bedroom? Does it have its own bath?

In some cases, using rooms that lack privacy for guest sleeping rooms is workable. If one family member comes for a short visit during a quiet time of year, folding out the living room sofa isn't a problem. If you have multiple guests, and the living room is also where a fair amount of visiting and celebration will be taking place, it's not the best idea.

If you can simply put projects away while your guest is using the room, that's easy. But a computer room or office is harder to turn into a comfortable room for guests because you're likely to need the space yourself at times, and that means your guests have little privacy. Is there any way you can relocate other functions to prevent conflict?

If your guest room is the old bedroom of a nonresident son or daughter--away at college, for example--would they want to be asked for permission to use their room? People differ in how they handle this kind of thing, and it's probably a good idea to plan ahead. The room's usual resident might put things away differently when they leave if they know others will be using their room in their absence.

Many discussions of guest rooms include a suggestion that you spend an occasional night in your own. That seems like good advice. If the mattress is lumpy or the room is cold, or the curtains are so thin that the streetlight outside makes it impossible to sleep, it's better if you're the first to know.

If your guest bed is a fold-down couch, make sure the room is reasonably usable with the bed folded down. If people can hardly sidle around the room, it's not a very welcoming experience.

In the guest room and elsewhere, have at least some seating furniture that isn't valuable and fragile. A guest of any size should be able to sit in chairs or lie on a guest bed without worrying about collapse.

Take care of these issues long before a guest's visit is scheduled.

Preparing

So a friend or relative is coming to town, and you've offered to put them up. And they've accepted. So now you have a limited time to get ready.

You need to take out as many things as possible that would interfere with your guest's comfort, and provide some things that will add to it.

What to Arrange in Advance

Discuss sleeping arrangements with the guest if they're at all unusual. I would have to decline an invitation to sleep on an air bed, although many like them.

If you have a clock that chimes or strikes, it's likely to disturb people's sleep if they aren't used to the sound. Silence the striker and/or chime if possible, or stop the clock completely.

If you don't already know, find out about any special food needs--allergies as well as other limitations.

If small children will be included among your guests, talk to parents about their needs and about what you can or should do in the way of childproofing. However, if parents say that childproofing isn't needed, go ahead with some precautions on your own.

Let your guest know whether you have flat rate long distance service as part of your telephone account.

If your guest will be travelling with a pet, make sure they know what kind of facilities you have for that--yard, nearby dog parks, etc. Ask about their pet's behavior, friendliness with strangers, and how to approach the pet. If kids will be involved, make sure the pet is used to them. Supervise a child's first meeting with a pet carefully if the child is small.

If you have pets, be clear on the pet rules in your home--are the pets friendly? Are they shy? I've twice had to tell guests sharply to leave my cat alone, as they were not apparently able to take the information in when they were determined to befriend him. If I'd told them in advance that they shouldn't approach the cat, maybe it would have been pleasanter for all of us.

If online maps and directions don't work for your location (I know of a couple of cases of this kind), let your guests know, or they'll get lost.

What to Remove

 

 

Personal Items

Especially if the room is an absent son's or daughter's bedroom, remove any personal items that are easily visible. Of course, if you've discussed the guest room use with the room's former resident before they left, they'd have seen to this. But check to make sure that beloved toys or stuffed animals from childhood, diaries, or other personal items are not accessible.

 

Computers

There's little sense of comfort or privacy if you have to camp in someone's computer room, and they keep coming in to check their email or whatever. If your desktop computer is in the guest room, it's best to do without it for the duration of the guest's stay. Shut it down, and if it has highly personal information on it, password-protect it. This isn't about trusting your guest. This is to keep any issues that might arise later--computer or security problems--from even being considered as possibly being due to something a guest did. It's only fair to the guest to make your privacy a non-issue.

 

Files

Similar to what I recommend with computers, I suggest removing hard copy files, or locking file drawers. Again, this is not an indication that you distrust your guests, but a courtesy to them.

Clutter

Rooms that aren't used much tend to collect clutter. Remember that your guest will be bringing their own items into the room. They need places for their luggage, toiletries, and clothes. If every surface is covered and the closet is stuffed, there's no way they can get comfortable, so make room for them to unpack. Also, if the guest room has its own bath, clear the counter.

Guests also may be bringing things to add to common spaces, such as flower arrangements. General decluttering can make "hostess gifts" easier to deal with.

What to Furnish

Keys

Make sure to get them back when the guest leaves.

Toiletries

Of course, guests will be bringing their own, but people often forget things. It's nice if you offer new wrapped toothbrushes, travel size toothpaste, a new comb, maybe a disposable razor--the kind of thing that could get someone through at least one morning if their suitcase had disappeared in transit or they'd left their toiletry kit home on the bathroom counter.

Hotels always seem to offer shampoo, conditioner, hand lotion, and soap in sample sizes. I put liquid soap and shower gel in guest baths, but new bars of plain soap are fine, too. Don't put out fancy guest soaps; no one uses them. I'd offer unscented toiletries, as many people are sensitive to scents.

If guests will be sharing a bath with others, furnish a basket or tray to keep their toiletries separate.

A well-labeled basic first aid kit is a good addition to a guest bathroom.

Telephone

Even though most people bring cell phones with them, many areas have poor cell phone coverage for specific carriers, some for just about any carrier. Also, if you have flat rate long distance, that may be an advantage for a guest, who may not have that as part of their cell phone plan. Phones should display their number in some way so your guest can have house sitters, pet sitters, and others at home call them back if necessary.

Give guests your cell phone number if you're going to be going separate ways during the day.

Reading

Local guides, magazines, or newspapers are good guest room reading. If your guests include children, some age-appropriate books may make it easier for parents to help them get comfortable.

Linens

Most sources suggest furnishing two bath towels, a washcloth, and a hand towel for each person. If the guest bathroom is a separate one, it should also have its own bathmat. Also, make sure there are reasonable places to hang the towels when most or all of them are damp.

Furnish the same bedding you use for yourself, plus at least one extra blanket. A throw or afghan is also a nice touch. Cotton or cotton blend sheets are more comfortable than synthetics.

Pillows

Two per person is good. As lovely as down pillows are, many people are allergic, so it's probably better to avoid them.

Blankets and Comforters

Offer more than you think will be needed, because some people run cold. Avoid allergens such as wool and down.

Lights

In addition to general room lighting, a desk should have a task light. Also furnish bedside lights for reading.

Miscellaneous

Guest Bedroom

  • Universal charger for electronics
  • Hanging space and empty hangers in the closet
  • Pens and paper
  • Clock
  • Earplugs and/or sleep mask if noise or light are likely to be problems
  • Luggage stand
  • Wastebasket
  • Small flashlight in drawer of bedside table

 

Guest Bath

  • Night light
  • Nonskid mats in shower and/or bathtub
  • Easily visible extra roll of toilet paper
  • Toilet brush in a caddy next to the toilet
  • Toilet plunger
  • Blow dryer
  • Drinking glass
  • Tissues and paper towels

 

  • Not necessarily in the guest room--A bowl of fruit or other easily available snacks is helpful, especially if guests are coming from a different time zone. Mealtimes may be "off" when a person is jet lagged, or their schedule is different from yours.

Information for Guests

1. If visitors park their cars on the street, tell them about any parking regulations that affect them--streetsweeping days, time limits, whatever rules your community has.

2. Show them how to get their own coffee and light breakfast if they're early risers, or if they're accustomed to a different time zone.

3. If you have a security system, show guests how to use it and what to do if something goes wrong.

4.Regardless of whether your own computer will be available, set up a guest wifi account with its own password. Post a card with instructions and the password in the guest room.

5. URLs of web sites with information about the area and events.

6. Any special things it would be helpful to know--noise restrictions, cranky neighbors, etc.

Childproofing for Visitors

If you don't have kids, and especially if you've never had kids, preparing the house for visiting children can be a challenge. Alert parents that your house may not be childproofed to the level theirs is. Small children may need more supervision than they do at home, and a parent may or may not have thought of that.

Remove any hazards that may be within the child's reach. Some chlldren are perfectly capable of opening "child proof" locks, so it's safer to put hazardous objects out of reach. Hazards include poisons, cleaners, drugs, vitamins, knives, and small objects a child could choke on. Obviously, if you have firearms in your home, lock them up and lock up any ammunition in a separate place.

Remember that some flowers and plants are poisonous. If children are of the ages of putting attractive things into their mouths, be sure they can't reach anything that would hurt them.

Remove fragile objects from reach. Push possibly attractive objects on counters to the back where the child can't see or grab them. Consider putting corner guards on tables and low furniture if the kids are at the toddler stage where they might blunder into sharp corners.

Also, get down on your hands and knees and crawl around your place. Remove anything that looks especially interesting, unless you're willing for it to be played with. I learned this one by experience--I'd removed all the breakable items when I had a three-year-old visitor, but I failed to realize that my "penny rug" coffee table decoration would interest him. He didn't damage it, but the way he handled it wasn't careful, and he might have. Children play, and anything within reach is a toy in their eyes. If you disagree, remove interesting objects from sight.

A child gate might be a strategic way to manage stairs and other potential hazards.

If you have pets that are unaccustomed to children, a great deal of supervision is necessary. Or board the pets. The last thing you need is for a dog or cat to lash out at someone's child. Regardless of whether the child provoked the animal, you'll have an angry guest.

Above all, involve the parents in your planning and follow their lead about what is and isn't okay for their kids.

Holidays and Occasions

 

Holidays and occasions can be a perfect storm, with lots of visitors, great expectations, overexcited kids...every possible thing that could ever go wrong. And a lot that could go right and be memorable in a good way.

Do as much advance planning with the guests as you can, especially if children are involved. Make sure the menu for a holiday meal is something that is acceptable to everyone. Plans such as religious services, gifts, and so on should be discussed well before the visit.

If a holiday meal is involved, plan it well in advance and do as much advance shopping as possible. Work out seating and table settings, making sure you have enough dishes, napkins, and silverware for everyone. Will children be seated with adults, or at a separate table? Will children eat at the same time as adults, or earlier? Are any outside child care helpers desirable? Are you aware of any allergies or other limitations your guests might have? Be prepared for questions about what people can bring--I always suggest salad, as that's easy to make and the ingredients can be whatever the maker likes or can afford.

For some occasions, even though you're hosting visitors, the principal players are other people. This would be true of weddings and other events where the occasion is mainly someone else's big day. When that's the case, coordinate closely with others to make sure that your arrangements don't conflict with theirs.

Decorating

By all means, do whatever decorating you enjoy. But I had to stop and think about whether I really enjoyed all of what I was doing, and I came to the conclusion that I didn't. I culled the decorations down to what really contributed to the holiday atmosphere and gave the rest to the thrift store. If decorations aren't making your holiday more fun, they may actually be making it feel more empty.

Decorations can also be more work than the enjoyment you get from them is truly worth to you. Hanging lights from the house exterior or putting Santas on the roof may or may not seem like fun. Same for doing whole haunted house displays in the front yard on Halloween or inflatable turkeys and pilgrims for Thanksgiving. Don't do it unless it adds to your pleasure in the holiday.

 

Putting holiday decorations--or any decorations, really--in the guest room is iffy. They'll probably do more to crowd the room than to make guests feel comfortable. Guests would prefer real hand towels to velvet holiday theme ones that don't dry your hands. And the idea of using toilet paper plastered with pictures of Santa faces or wedding bells is little short of grotesque.

Celebrating

Do what makes you happy. And do what you can to share the joy with those around you.

What you can't do, though, is to let your holiday be ruled by other people's expectations. Avoid doing things you don't enjoy. This may not be possible in some cases, but holidays are not supposed to be a long list of unpleasant "have-to's."

Think very, very hard before piling up credit card debt for holidays. The holiday is over in a flash, but that balance, accruing interest, may be on your account for quite a while.

Holidays bring time crunches as well as money crunches. Many of these can be avoided by celebrating a holiday as a season rather than as one day. I know of families who spend every miserable, exhausted Thanksgiving and Christmas mostly in the car or in airports, appeasing far-flung relatives who'd make them pay if they didn't put in an appearance during the magic time. If there's anything festive about this, it escapes me. If you celebrate holidays in a more leisurely way, you have time to enjoy yourself.

Plan your menus so that meals aren't so much work that the cook can't enjoy them. I remember one family Thanksgiving dinner that took me three days to prepare--three days of steady work, and I'm not counting planning and shopping. From the time people sat down at the table to the time the last bite of pumpkin pie was eaten--that was less than an hour. I spent the next day washing dishes and pots and cleaning house. Sure, it was a good dinner, but it was not worth it. Thanksgiving is about gratitude, not gourmet cooking.

Be wary of organizing big family reunions around holidays. Maybe this isn't the best choice of time for a reunion. You will be assembling a group with varying expectations, and unless your family is unusual, they don't necessarily all get along well. Maybe a midsummer reunion at the beach would be more relaxed. Of course, if a holiday reunion works for your family, that's great. But I've seen a couple of forced family gatherings go badly off the rails.

Storage of Holiday Items

Depending on how much you decorate and how much you entertain, storage of holiday paraphernalia can take a lot of space. This is fine if you have it. You can stack boxes of decorations in an attic or basement and only drag them out when the holiday rolls around again. Wreaths can be hung in unused areas of basements or attics, with or without a plastic bag to protect them from dust.

If you don't have unlimited storage space, think about storage when you shop for decorations. You don't necessarily have to commit large amounts of storage space if you consider alternatives before you buy.

For example, you may or may not have storage space for wreaths. But if you want a seasonal wreath on the door, and don't have a good place to store it, alternatives would be buying a fresh natural one each year from a grocery store or tree lot, or buying an artificial one from a thrift store every year for a couple of dollars and returning it to the thrift store when the season is over.

Or buy a wreath form that you decorate with natural evergreens or flowers each year--the bare form takes up a great deal less space than a large finished wreath.You could also choose a less bulky way of decorating your door, such as a banner or a spray of evergreens.

Fragile items take up space, not only for themselves, but also for the wrappings and boxes you have to use to keep them from being broken.

It's not easy to store gift wrap so that it stays nice enough to use the next year. Either put aside a box that fits or buy a special container that's made for storing gift wrap and ribbon. Or, of course, wrap it in plastic wrap and give it to a thrift store at the end of the season if there's enough on the roll that someone else would want it.

Given some storage layouts, it makes better sense to store holiday items in smaller boxes that can be fit in here and there rather than stuffing them all into one or two big, unwieldy crates. If you do that, though, label the boxes in big, bold letters so that you know exactly what's inside.

Thoughts about Clutter--Holidays and Clutter

Temporary Clutter

Holidays can involve runaway clutter. Some of it is temporary, but you still have to manage it.

Events that involve opening gifts can get very cluttered, very quickly. Provide a couple of bags for wrappings and pass them around as needed. Or wrap your gifts in re-usable decorative bags and boxes, and avoid the waste. Either make fabric bags with holiday prints or colors, or use good quality paper gift bags that can be folded and stored for reuse for multiple years.

Fluffy bows are pretty, but they're hard to store in such a way that they don't look bedraggled.

If your clutter is the debris from a natural Christmas tree, recommendations for getting rid of the needles are about the same as those for pet hair--masking tape wound sticky side out around your hand, a rubber broom, or possibly a carpet sweeper. Vacuum cleaners may not be very effective or the needles may clog. They're not good for pets, though, and some pets will eagerly eat them, with unpleasant consequences.

If you have a guest room, and you've set it up well, there's no reason for guests' possessions to clutter the rest of the house. On the other hand, if your guests are messy, there's not a lot you can do about it. That's doubly true if guests are camping out in your living room--there's no place for their possessions. Try to at least furnish some baskets or other containers, in the interest of everyone's sanity.

Clutter that Comes to Stay

Gifts can sometimes put the receiver in a tough position. If you love the giver, and appreciate the intention, but really don't want the object itself, what do you do?

Some people hide the object until the giver is coming over, and then display it. Some go ahead and display the unwanted gift and put up with the visual clutter of having something in their home that they don't like. Some give unwanted objects to someone else, or to a thrift store.

If you receive an unwanted gift, you have to steer your own course, considering good manners and also what you're likely to get away with. I think the worst option is to display unliked objects on a permanent basis, because that's a form of visual clutter--you like your home less because of an obligation you feel to someone else. And I think that enjoying and liking your surroundings is a big factor in whether you're able to put in the work and the attention that it takes to keep your place uncluttered and inviting.

If you give decorative items as gifts, my advice is to be sure that the other person is on your wavelength. Even at that, let go of any expectation that the object will be displayed, or even kept. If you're not sure what a person would like, you can give consumables like food or flowers--but don't give foods that the recipient can't eat. Or doesn't like--there's a reason for all the jokes about fruitcake.

 

 

Mistakes to avoid if you give gifts to kids

Don't give kids live pets, unless the child wants the animal and the gift has been approved in advance by the parent. Even so, make this a gift that actually happens after the confusion of the holiday is past. Give a stuffed animal placeholder,, or a picture or figurine of an animal, but do not haul a confused, frightened puppy or kitten into the chaos of a big gifting event.

Or toys with tiny pieces that the parent will have to pick up.

Or any kind of noise maker--no parent is going to thank you for giving their child a drum set or toy trumpet.

Or scary movies or books may cause huge problems like ongoing nightmares

Or gifts that require lessons, unless that's been cleared by the parent (and even if the gift giver pays for the lessons)

Or gifts that require adult supervision--the parent may not have time to deal with this on an ongoing basis.

Also, avoid gifts with a recommended age range that's much above the child's age--they will only be a source of frustration.

Or clothing that the parent would not allow the child to wear. If you give clothing, also consult the parent about the child's size and preferences.

If you have any doubts, talk to the child's parent before buying the gift.

And, very important: If you promise a child something, make good on your word without being reminded. Don't give broken promises.

The Mice Step Out!

Click here for the mice's Halloween celebration.

 

Book Reviews

Consumer Reports Guide to Childproofing and Safety
by Jamie Schaefer-Wilson and the Editors of Consumer Reports

Mostly aimed at parents, but there's a brief section on visitors. Many excellent suggestions. Recommended.

Unplug the Christmas Machine
by Jo Robinson and Jean C. Staeheli

A sane, wonderful book that helps to sort out the physical and emotional clutter of holidays. Highly recommended.

Guests without Grief
by Paula Jhung

Mostly about entertaining in general, but has a good section on guest rooms. Recommended.

Credits

Felted mice by Diyana Stankova

Crocheted afghan by Black Leopard Creation

Chipmunk by Shells Mystic Felts

Hedghog by Dalia and Nerijus Kisieliai

Hamster by HandmadeByNovember

 

 


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