Hosting overnight guests can be stressful – even when you had a spouse to help. But now that you are on your own, the thought of having visitors may seem overwhelming. And if you haven’t defined your new role as sole host, by the time you see their taillights pulling out of your driveway, you’re euphoric. Once you recover from exhaustion, you vow to prepare for guests differently next time.
Getting the best out of a visit
When Pathfinder publisher Joanne Moore was widowed, she wasn’t prepared for the challenges of hosting guests without her co-host. She said, “Not only do I need to do all the preparations myself, but I need to remember all the things that need to be done by myself. It is surprising how many details there are to hosting house guests.”
Joanne discovered that despite the extra challenges, hosting her friends and family meant she had the opportunity to do some things she didn’t like to do alone. “For example, I will ask a guest if they want to get dressed up with me for a symphony concert. Or go for a hike in the woods—or just stand in line with me for an ice cream cone.”
Joanne reminds herself she doesn’t need to change her schedule to revolve around her guests—rather they can wrap their schedule around hers. “Guests need to understand that we have responsibilities and planned activities of our own. They should adapt to our lives. During the early planning stages, it’s okay to say, ‘I’ll be free Thursday evening for dinner, but during the day, I have to work and then go to my aerobics class. Make yourself at home, enjoy the activities described in the sightseeing brochures I’ll leave for you, and I’ll meet you at 6 p.m.’” She also invites her guests to attend her activities. “For example, they can watch my child’s soccer game, or come to church with me.”
Joanne believes that communicating clear guidelines in advance makes the visit enjoyable not only for her guests, but also enjoyable for her. “I often use this opportunity to get help with household chores that require more strength or skill than I have. I try to ask for this help prior to their arrival, so they can plan their time accordingly. For example, my niece’ new husband lifted my kayak for me to stow it away for the winter. It only took a few minutes, but it was a big help to me. I believe that people want to help, but don’t always know what to offer. Guests want to reciprocate a host’s generosity; it helps them when we are specific about what we need.”
If you are a woman, you may not feel as safe as you once did in a house full of guests. Joanne said, “If my guests are bringing along people I don’t know, I sometimes feel more vulnerable. I put a new doorknob on my bedroom, which requires a key to unlock. My valuables are protected if I’m out of the house while guests are present, and I sleep without concern at night.”
Keep it easy
Yvonne Newgent of Maryland, the mother of 10 children who were between the ages of 6-29 when her husband Tom was killed in a plane crash in 2013, isn’t afraid to use her husband’s death to decline some offers for a visit from well-meaning friends and family. “One of the benefits of widowhood is that people (including myself) understand when you say, ‘No.’ We can say, ‘Sorry, but I’m not up for visitors now.’ My kids have named this phenomenon ‘The Dead Dad Pass.’ And it is a very real and useful thing. Therefore, we do not feel euphoric when our guests leave, because we would not have welcomed them if we could not deal with their presence.”
Yvonne said, “Our entertaining is very casual. Usually the guests are my children’s friends and the planning is last minute, more in the ‘sleepover’ category. Things that are important to us are ways to spend time with each other. So, we do a lot in the food category because people can work together on it, such as pizza or cookies from scratch. Otherwise, we eat everyday food or something from the freezer department. We keep a large assortment of games, puzzles, toys, movies, skates, bikes, and other outdoor equipment. We often get a bonfire going in our backyard so we can sit, talk, listen to music, and cook S’mores.”
When you feel ready for company, there are tasks you can complete in advance to reduce your stress over last minute details. Suggest an itinerary of activities. If you live in a tourist area, some guests may not admit they’re largely interested in sightseeing, so it’s best to prepare in advance because day trips:
a. Give you a break from cooking (especially if they can pack their own picnic meals).
b. Provide a fun way for all of you to reconnect over a shared experience.
c. Gives you a break for a few hours to accomplish your own tasks – or take a nap!
If they offer to take you out for a meal as a thank you for hosting, consider their preferences and budget. You will feel responsible if they don’t like the restaurant you suggest, so it is best to let them choose it from the menus you can be gathering now.
Preparing/purchasing meals in advance will make your visit more enjoyable. Perhaps your spouse shopped for your guests, so here are some basic supplies to purchase:
• Frozen lasagna (a large tray goes a long way, is universally liked and easy!)
• Ham (can be served hot when they arrive and makes great breakfast meat and sandwiches thereafter).
• Anything you can prepare in a crock pot
• Cereal, bread, coffee, eggs
• Peanut butter and jam, canned tuna
• Lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise and mustard
• Easy finger foods like grapes, apples, bananas, oranges, trail mix, cheese and crackers
• Paper plates, cups and flatware to reduce cleanup time – particularly if you plan on picnics; a “sharpie” so you can label paper cups for the day
Basic tasks to check off beforehand:
1. Grocery shopping for guest food.
2. Set out clean sheets, towels and wash cloths.
3. Install nightlight—particularly for guiding to the bathroom.
4. Clean house or hire someone to help.
5. Prepare a “welcome basket” of visitor supplies such as:
• Travel size soaps, shampoos, creams, eye drops, tissues, deodorant, over-the counter painkillers, feminine hygiene products
• Bottled water, snacks for midnight munchies.
• Magazines or newspapers that might feature concerts, art exhibits, lectures.
6. Communicate with your guests before they arrive:
• What is your estimated arrival/departure time?
• I don’t have bedding for all of you. Can you please bring pillows, sleeping bags and some sort of cushioning as I only have hardwood floors?
I have a cat—are you allergic? I have a dog and he may jump in your bed when you aren’t looking—will that be a problem?
• Please park in the street after you unload the car. It is permissible and that way you won’t block me in if I leave earlier than you awake.
• I drink skim milk, even in my coffee, and eat whole-wheat bread, high-fiber cereal and chunky peanut better. Do you need anything else as a basic food supply? I’m happy to pick up the food you enjoy on my next grocery trip.
• I may need to attend to business while you are here. I will prepare some suggestions for sightseeing on your own.
7. Assemble a three-ring binder with clear pocket pages containing:
a. “Welcome Letter”—a sample letter could read something like:
Dear Sally and Jane,
Welcome to my home! Thank you so much for taking the trouble to travel here. In case I’m asleep or at work when you arrive, I’ve tried to answer some basic questions.
• Wi-Fi available with password: 123456
• Blankets/extra sheets can be found in the white dresser in your guestroom.
• Outlets available for your hairdryer/phone can be found under the desk.
• Trash cans are available under the kitchen microwave, in the latched cupboard across from the toilet in the main bathroom (where we keep extra toilet paper) and under your desk.
• Key to our house is under the plant on the front porch.
• Food can be eaten in the kitchen and dining room but I ask you to refrain from eating in your bedroom.
• Coffee can be made in my coffee machine in the kitchen. Supplies in bottom draw underneath it.
• Dirty dishes can be scraped off (please don’t use garbage disposal), rinsed and placed in dishwasher if available (otherwise leave in sink).
• TV remote: press red button marked “All On.” Wait a moment. If TV doesn’t turn on, press “Power” button on top right. I have no idea how to work DVD player, but you can find those remotes plus DVDs in the cabinet under the living room TV.
• Shower: I shower in the morning so you can shower any other time.
• Trash: can be emptied into the smaller of the trash cans on left side of house. First place your trash in a white kitchen trash bag found in cupboard left of the refrigerator.
• Smoking: please smoke outside. There is an ashtray on the front porch.
• Pets: please have your dog sleep on the floor rather than the mattress.
• Stores: the closest store is Great Groceries, which is a half a mile down the road.
• Dirty sheets/towels: When leaving, you may strip the bed and place dirty sheets and towels on top of the washing machine.
• Address: in case you want to order food or a cab, here is my address again:
123 Sunshine Lane
Happy Land, Fun State 12345
b. Area maps and restaurant menus
c. Sightseeing brochures picked up from your local visitor center or Chamber of Commerce
e. Suggested sample itinerary
f. Coupons or free passes to local attractions (can often be gotten at the public library)
g. Bus/train schedules and cab phone numbers
The preparation may seem overwhelming. But once it’s done, each future visit will be a breeze! The important thing is to enjoy your guests. Most of them will understand you no longer have the time and energy to lay out the fine china and serve three elegant meals per day. They will just be happy to see you—and if you plan ahead, you will be happy to see them too!