When I was young, oh those many…many…many years ago I loved the idea of people just dropping by for an evening or a weekend. It was so exciting! My house was always clean and I always had baked goods to offer them.
Then there were the middle years when my idea of how to behave when guests dropped in unannounced was to hide in a corner hidden from doors and any windows these rude interlopers might peer through. In my farmhouse there was a full bathroom right off the mudroom. I once ended up showering in there just to kill time while an unwanted visitor figured out that, although my car was there, no one was going to open the door. Keep in mind that, during that period of my life I might well have just come in from the barn, covered in things I didn’t want to show off.
Now I can deal with unexpected guests in a far more dignified way. You, too, can handle sudden, uninvited guests without have to resort to feigned illness or spending the afternoon in a cupboard under the sink.
First, of course, is that you should already have a cleaning schedule that prevents your house from looking like the health department is on the way to slap a “Not Fit for Human Habitation” sticker on the front door. If things are generally tidy you don’t have to frantically sprint from room to room as the guests are walking to the door. If your house isn’t guest-ready, follow these steps.
- Get help – If you’re not alone or not alone with people too tiny to be of any help, drag the rest of the family into the battle. Get them to straighten, do a quick dusting, and a pretty good cleaning the bathroom if necessary. If your guests have informed you’ll they’ll be spending the night, be sure that someone checks the guest bedroom to be sure it’s ready. If you have a toddler, make it a game for him to put his toys in the toy box. Promise a reward if he does it all by himself. Bribery is not a bad parenting move when you are trying to speed clean. You can even offer bribes to older kids and your husband. I once told my sons I’d buy them cars if they’d zip through and clean before guests arrived. Don’t feel obligated to actually but the cars. Vacuum and dust quickly and put magazines, remotes, and other odds and ends in their place.
- Don’t waste time – Some rooms are more important than others. If your guests are only going to be there for a matter of hours don’t worry about the guest bedroom. Clean the bathroom they’ll use and any other areas of the house you’ll corral them. If the kitchen is a total disaster, make sure the family room is clean and refuse any help in the kitchen. If your kitchen, like mine, is open to the rooms guests will be using feel free to hide everything you can if the kitchen is a wreck. If this means dirty dishes get stored in the oven until the guests leave, so be it. It’s not YOUR fault they showed up! Put everything you can in its place, wipe down all the counters and table. A citrus scented air freshener will make the room smell clean. And remember to take the dishes out of the oven before preheating. Remember, you’re not doing a deep cleaning of any room. You want it presentable, not surgical suite sterile.
- Make a good first impression – Remove hazards from the entryway. In my house this means gathering the 210 dog bones and toys from the entry and living room. They’re not only a tripping hazard but the boys are likely to toss them at unsuspecting visitors as an invitation to play. If you’ve never been hit by a chunk of cow femur traveling at 35 mph, trust me. You don’t want to greet guests that way. Get rid of shoes, toys, and anything else that would make a bad, or painful, first impression.
- Clean the bathroom they’ll use. I know I mentioned that earlier but it’s worth repeating. A clean bathroom leaves a great impression. Make sure the toilet and sink are sparkling. Wipe the counters and hang a fresh hand towel. Replace the old, tired looking bar of soap with a fresh bar or even one of those little guest soaps you’ve been hoarding for seven years. My favorites are the Lucia Guest soap assorted pack. Taking a bar of their own special soap helps my guests remember their visit with happiness. Empty the wastebasket. Put a fresh roll of toilet paper on the holder. Your guests may be funny about touching the roll that’s be used.
- Always keep refrigerated cookies in the house. Not only will the guests love having freshly baked cookies but baking them fills the house with that wonderful smell. A great cookie sheet I love is the Nordic Ware Commercial Baker’s half sheet If it’s summer and you have a garden, cut some fresh flowers and put them in living or family room. If you don’t have a garden and your neighbor does…well…I’ll leave that up to you.
Once the guests have arrived you may find yourself in the position of having to feed them. In my house, not even repairmen get to leave without eating at least a treat of some kind. And, if guests will be staying for more than baked goods, you should have an easy-to-make recipe to turn to. Search your recipes well beforehand and pick one that won’t require you to spend all your time in the kitchen. Don’t decide to experiment with a new recipe and don’t make anything that requires several years of training in France to create. Keep ingredients on hand to make your go-to recipe just in case.
Preparing for unexpected overnight guests can be particularly trying. It’s much easier if you have a guest room that you can keep tidy. A quick dusting and vacuuming and some fresh bedding are all it takes. For the forgetful guest who doesn’t have a toothbrush or paste, has forgotten a comb/brush, or personal hygiene items, I keep a supply on hand. I’ve collected bottles of shampoo, conditioner, lotions, little bars of soap, travel size tubes of toothpaste, and even packets of NSAIDs from hotels for years. When I’m putting the finishing touch on the guest bedroom I place a little basket with these items on the dresser.
Most importantly, remember that your guests will soon forget if things aren’t spotless but they’ll remember a gracious hostess and a wonderful visit for years.