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Eliminate 'Guest Stress Syndrome'

Hosting friends and family this summer? Here's a primer.

During the summer months, our guest rooms really get a workout. Do you enjoy company or is this like a homework assignment for you? Do you try to make everyone feel welcome or do you think they are lucky to avoid the cost of a hotel room?

Let’s cover some of the things I think make someone feel more at home. As it happens, in addition to being a professional organizer, I travel a lot and I’ve had an opportunity to experience firsthand the deft touches of a great host and hostess.

Let’s start with how much you want the guests who are scheduled to arrive. Are these your in-laws who make your teeth ache with their politics? Are you expecting your child’s college roommates? You know, the ones with the tats and body piercings? Or is this your long-lost best friend from the neighborhood you grew up in and you can’t wait to be reunited?

If you have issues with those who are about to arrive, it’s best to work out a way to deal with them in your heart before they arrive so that you aren’t driven insane. If you have a spouse and children at home, be sure they know the temporary rules for keeping the peace. “No matter how much you dislike what Aunt Sophie is saying, don’t talk religion with her!” Your children may wind up in the diplomatic corps. But remember it is your home and house rules can be created. Will you be cooking for everyone? Will you all be eating out? Do you need the TV off by a certain hour because you have a newborn at home? Whatever needs to be established to keep the peace is legitimate.

Before we begin, let me say that these instructions are geared for those who have a literal guest room. If you have a tiny studio apartment or a small one-bedroom in a big city, you will still want to follow many of these suggestions. The bottom line is that someone else's stuff is coming to your home and it’s bound to make you a little crazy. You want to tidy up before they all descend on you.

Let’s start with the physical space itself. It is after all our big canvas. And it doesn’t have to take huge blocks of time or cost a fortune to make it more welcoming. Long after your guests leave you will reap the benefits of an organized space.

The Multi-Purpose Room

In most homes, the guest room serves a dual purpose. In addition to being the place that guests park their weary heads, it might also be your gym, office, or craft room.

Will you be able to stay out of the room during your guest’s stay or will you have to work out a schedule that honors your ongoing needs as well as your guest’s privacy? Best to figure out your needs before your guest arrives and communicate them clearly. If you have a persnickety friend or family member they may decide it’s best to stay at a hotel in the area.

Craft a Plan

Take a minute to sit in the room and look around. Pretend you have never been here before and you’re here to learn about the home’s occupants. I call this The Fresh Eyes exercise and use it extensively in all of my books.

Remember a few Sundays ago when you were enjoying the Sunday paper with sections spread out all over the family room and coffee mugs collecting like flies on a watermelon in summer? Then suddenly, your mother-in-law called with news she’d be stopping by in 10 minutes? Remember how different all that cozy chaos struck you when you knew that someone outside your family might see it and, Heaven forbid, judge you?

Well, that’s what this exercise does. It gives you a fresh perspective on a room whose contents you may not even see when you enter. You’re immune to the environment. We want to change that to you being delighted you have landed in such a nurturing space. And that’s how we want your guest to feel as well.

Here are a few questions to ask:

  • Is there literally too much stuff in this room? Should some of it be donated to a charity? Does any of it belong in another room or to someone outside your immediate family? Is it time to sell some things on eBay or Craigslist? How can you whittle down the contents?
  • Will your guest be able to hang some clothes in the closet? What about a chair to sit in and read or put on their shoes? Is it time to clean out the guest room closet and use it more efficiently?
  • Are there empty hangars waiting for your guest to use? Are they the wire ones the dry cleaner sends home or are they good quality? You can grab one of those 20% off coupons from Bed Bath & Beyond and have a few new hangers waiting for your guests.
  • Do you have room on the closet floor for their shoes?
  • Where will the suitcase go? Do you have a stand for it?
  • Are the sheets, towels, and blankets inviting and in good condition or did they become threadbare when you had your back turned? You can donate old towels, sheets, and blankets to your local vet or animal hospital. You won’t receive a tax deduction but you will help suffering animals be more comfortable and heal faster.

If you come up with a zero when it comes to ideas to spiff up this room, don't forget you can put the call out to your more creative friends on Facebook. Or you could type in keywords on Pinterest and be visually inspired. I found the images for this piece on Pinterest when I typed in "guest rooms." You can check out my boards while you're there and of course, I'm also on Facebook.

The Devil Is in the Details

Take stock of this room and ask yourself if you would be comfortable here as a guest. Another way to prepare is to think about the times you have been a guest. What was done that made you feel especially welcome? Did you encounter anything that made you feel perhaps you weren’t wanted? Make a list and be specific.

Now you have direction and you know what to avoid in addition to what to do. If you own your home, you might consider having a professional closet designed and installed specifically for your needs. A professional closet is an investment in yourself and your home. And it certainly increases the value and that will make you particularly happy when it comes time to sell. In the meantime, you will be better serving the needs of your guests as well as the daily functions of this room.

Closet Clutter

No matter what this room is used for now is a great time to take stock of the closet and do a little housekeeping. If you are calling in a professional closet designer, make their work easier by divesting the closet of everything that’s exiting your home. Do you store out-of-season or special occasion clothes here? Has the closet become a sports graveyard? I’m forever finding skis and ski suits tucked away here from the winter long ago when the family considered taking up the sport. Just because you have the space to hide your mistakes, cast-offs and other assorted items doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Here are some ideas for a quick clean up:

  • Any clothing items that are mementos of a bygone era rather than clothing that will be worn again when the weather changes should be donated to a charity.
  • Sports equipment that is no longer destined to be used should be donated. Try and find a young person who doesn’t have the funds to buy what you have and enrich a life. Your local high school or community college may be able to direct you.
  • Office supplies are important unless of course, they represent items you no longer use. Or did you shop at a big box store and come home with enough pens, highlighters, and paper clips for a corporation? Call your house of worship and see if the office is in need of what you can discard.
  • Is your closet a graveyard for office equipment you no longer use? Donate it to a charity that will do repairs like Goodwill. If it’s too old to be of any use call your local government and find out how to responsibly donate office equipment.

Home Office Debris

Let’s turn our attention to the space itself. If you don’t have a file system or a ritual for handling the mail, chances are there’s an explosion of paper in this space. You may not be able to create that file system before your guest arrives, but you certainly can do what I call a Speed Elimination and divest the room of excess paper debris.

Set a timer (there’s one on just about every cell phone) for 15 minutes and see how much you can stuff into the trash, the recycling bin, or set aside for another room. Here are some likely suspects:

  • Junk mail
  • Invitations to parties long past
  • Flyers that announce sales that are now history
  • Old brochures, newsletters, or magazines
  • Old newspapers
  • Empty glasses, cups, and dishes

You’ll feel better once the paper debris is reduced. If you look around, you’ll probably realize that you have papers from projects that are completed but you feel you must hold on to the paper trail. The tax material that supports the deductions we took on our returns is a prime example. Box up those items and stick them in the back of your closet or in the garage. Label the contents. You need your file drawers and desk space for the business at hand. By the way, if you have a garage with space for a four-drawer metal file cabinet, that’s the best way to store material designated for Archival status. Remember: archive doesn’t mean forever!

The Murphy Bed

A few years ago, I was the guest of a couple in Manhattan. When they told me they were going to pull down the guest bed that night from its hiding place in the wall, I feared I would be incredibly uncomfortable. Imagine my surprise when the bed proved to be every bit as comfy as my own bed back home.

If you have a room that must serve multiple purposes and you don’t entertain on a regular basis, this is an ideal solution. In fact, if you live in a tiny studio in a big city, this is also an excellent way to maximize the space. If you have discarded the notion of a Murphy or wall bed because you remember the old press about how impractical or uncomfortable they are, take a second look. They are practical, affordable, and comfortable.

Guest Amenities

A guest who arrives by car has the luxury of tossing his or her everyday products into the car with great abandon. The rest of us mere mortals especially those who fly and are hampered by TSA restrictions must keep our suitcases as lean as possible. You can make life easier for your company by supplying the basics:

  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner
  • Soap or body wash
  • Toothpaste
  • Floss
  • Deodorant

I think it’s a gracious touch to have a small basket waiting for your guest with products they might like to use. You might even alert them to its existence so they don’t over-pack. They’ll need extra room for all those wonderful souvenirs they will acquire during their visit!

In Closing

My goal is to help you and your guests have a more relaxed visit. My final piece of advice is to make a digital record of some moments during the visit if you are entertaining family members. You'll always have the memory of Aunt Mary and Uncle John talking, smiling, and sharing. It's never too late to create a living family history. And don't forget to have someone hold the camera so you can record your thoughts. After all, you're the one who cleaned out the closet, washed the sheets, and stocked the refrigerator!

About the Author
Regina Leeds

Regina Leeds is a professional organizer and a New York Times best-selling author with eight books to her credit.

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