How to prepare for houseguests without losing your mind

'Tis the season to be jolly  and for some of us, to welcome a jolly lot of visitors into our home. 

Between now and mid-January, we have 15 people coming to stay and play for a white Christmas. We're really excited to see them all. In fact, one of the things I love most about living overseas is that our family and friends can come to visit us. We get to share this overseas adventure with them, and they get to have a great holiday without it costing the earth (hello free accommodation!).

But I have never been good at preparing for house guests in any calm, rational, devil-may-care kind of way. I get pretty anxious about preparing our home for visitors, and then about showing them a good time while they’re here.

This may sound silly to those who take a more casual approach to life, but it’s the truth for me: I tie myself in knots in the days before visitors land.

I know my anxiety stems from that most basic human fear of not being good enough, of being judged as lacking (in this case, as a host and a friend). It's based on silly stuff, like worrying that the beds won’t be comfortable, the house won’t be clean, the outings we plan won’t be fun, etc. etc. It’s perfectionism running wild, of course, but I sometimes feel powerless to stop it.

My rational mind says: “But your friends and family love you! They won't judge you if your towels aren’t fluffy and your pillowcases aren’t ironed! They don’t care if there are dust bunnies under your couch, or your fridge is a mess!”. It's true, I know. I say these things to myself as I run around making the house perfect – but in the past they have rarely penetrated my worried brain. 

But now, since I am trying to be kinder to myself and calmer in the world, I have decided to focus less on frazzle and more on these eight facts. Perhaps they will help you too?

1. Have faith in the relationship: People come to spend time with you, not to white glove your mantelpiece. And you know what? I have come to believe that no-one really sees your home as you see it anyway. If you asked a guest who has just stayed a week the colour of your bathroom tiles or whether you had piles of books and magazines spilling off your surfaces, I bet they wouldn’t even know. Guests are looking at you, not your (perceived) chaos. I have to remember this one because it’s big!

2. Focus on what matters — a warm bed and good food: I have come to see that I can always do more and push myself harder in my (misguided) quest for perfection, but focusing on what truly matters gives me a comfortable baseline for preparations. And when it comes to house guests, what truly matters is a warm bed, good food, and good times together, right? So, focusing on the experience and not the externals seems like the saner way to go.

3. Know you’re creating memories: Every moment we get to spend with our family and friends is precious. Too many of us know how quickly time passes and how suddenly someone in your life can leave it. I now see that if I approach guest visits as moments in which to make lasting memories, I'm more likely to calm down and enjoy the ride.

4. Stop seeing your material possessions as a reflection of you: People who worry about not being good enough, often surround themselves with material possessions that they hope will give off the illusion that they are enough/impressive/important/successful, whatever. But, just as we need to have more faith in our relationships with our house guests, we have to have more faith in ourselves. Most of us need to get to the point where we believe we are enough just as we are – without the fancy (or just clean!) car or the luxurious homewares. People see through that smokescreen anyway. If we can truly believe we are enough, then our home and the experience we give to our guests will always be enough. More than enough.

5. Breathe: The most reliable and immediate way to calm down is to breathe. If you really can’t calm down until your visitors are propped on your couch with drink in hand, then try breathing through the preparations. Try this technique or this one.

6. Recruit help with the preparations: None of us is superhuman. We all work, deal with kids, and live a fast-paced life, so we cannot reasonably expect to do all the preparations alone. Think about what you can outsource to others. Is it the cleaning (you tidy and then a professional cleans)? Is it the food (you bring in pre-made lasagnas or other large quantities of ready-made meals for your guests, especially at busy and tiring times like Christmas)? Maybe you mow the lawn, but get a professional to weed the garden? If you play to your strengths and outsource some of the tasks, you’ll feel calmer and more in control.

7. Don’t burn out: Pace yourself. If you can, start preparing for visitors a week or so out from their arrival. Get started early so you have only last-minute bits and pieces to get done on the day your guests arrive. I always work best under pressure, leaving things until the last minute, but if I do more ahead of time I am less likely to be melting down as the visitors are pulling up the driveway!

8. Get clever with your storage and layout: For me, cleaning up the kids’ rooms is always the biggest task of any house guest preparation. My latest trick for tidying kids' rooms (especially when they need to double as guest rooms) is to temporarily remove all the toys. I shove them into other spaces and cupboards to create a nice uncluttered feeling. And without mess-making materials, no mess can be made, right? (Trust me, this strategy won't last long, but it's nice while it does.) 

Once you’ve managed your anxiety about having people to stay, here are some tips for making them feel more welcome:

The Art of Simple's 10 easy tips to help your visitors feel welcome

Psychology Today's article on 'guest stress syndrome' (see, it's real!)

Apartment Therapy's piece on simple ways to relax and enjoy hosting

Baby Mac's ideas for feeling crowds

No matter whether your home will be full to the brim or kind of quiet this Christmas, try to enjoy the moment. Moments go way too fast these days. 






Natalie Bartley