My grandmother was an amazing hostess. Going to her home was like going on vacation. She cooked delicious meals, made sure everyone was taken care of and, best of all, set up the coziest beds for everyone, even if they were on the couch or floor. Now that we are half a country away from most of our family and friends, we have a lot more house guests for longer periods of time. There are people who like their homes to be a calm, quiet, retreat; a place where they can rest and renew. I can certainly understand that but for me being surrounded by people we love and who love us, is restful and renewing. Okay, so not in the sense that I’m getting a full night’s rest, but staying up late while laughing until we cry is more renewing to me than a couple hours of sleep (and a good night’s sleep is pretty high on my list of needs). I love having a full house; full of love, full of laughs, full of children running around and having fun, full of deep conversations, and ridiculous ones, too. It fills my heart to be with our tribe of people and being away from them has me craving that time.
As someone who tends to lean towards service in most aspects in my life, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that it is also a motive when it comes to hospitality. I want anyone who enters our home to be thought of and welcomed. By the time our guests get to our home, they have purchased plane tickets, taken vacation time and/or rearranged schedules, planned what kind of clothing and accessories they need, packed all the ever-loving suitcases, and then done the actual traveling. Plus most of our guests do this with small children which pretty much adds 300% more work. I want coming to our home to feel like a break, a vacation, some much needed rest from the daily grind. I don’t, however, choose to relegate myself to the only cook in the kitchen or run around taking care of housekeeping duties while sacrificing the precious gift of time. There are some key actions we can take to make sure that we are prepared, without losing out on time together. I’ve been working on creating margin in all areas of my life and when you have house guests you are so eager to spend time with, margin matters. Let’s look at some ways we can extend blessings into the lives of our guests while also creating margin.
1. Meal plan. I usually do meal planning a month at a time, and only really plan dinners. When we have guests, however, I try to plan each meal out to make sure I’m not running to the grocery store to pick up more food every day. This doesn’t mean I’m cooking at every meal, but at least I know we’re stocked for the week. I also send out a little questionnaire the guests can fill out to help me plan for food. You can check it out below. While most people staying with us are dear friends and family, it doesn’t always mean I know the ins and outs of their (and their kiddos’!) food preferences. Our friends enjoy helping out with cooking, so even if it’s an involved meal, I don’t feel like I’m hanging in the kitchen while everyone is somewhere else. Except for a couple days per stay, breakfast is typically cereal, fruit, waffles (yay for a waffle maker!), yogurt, or hard boiled eggs. Easy. Lunches are usually sandwiches or leftovers from the night before. Dinners are usually where the most meal prep and cooking takes place, but again, with planning you can make sure you are serving meals that don’t require a lot of your time. If your guests are coming to you from another part of the country, include some local faire. For instance (spoiler alert to our summer guests), we are planning on making a trip to Pike Place Market where we’ll buy all the ingredients for the night’s meal. It will be interesting to see what we come up with and a fun way to add some Seattle culture to our guests’ visits.
2. Plan your days, or at least your activities. Have a list, mental or written, that includes the activities you’d like to do. I ask my guests their must-do activities so you can include them. Like in most locations, the weather may dictate some of our plans so I usually wait until guests arrive and we’ve gotten a chance to look at the weather to decide when we are going to do the big activities. Do what works best with each family. We have super flexible friends and family and so we don’t usually plan the little adventures until the night before. If I need to purchase any supplies, I try to have them bought (or at least ordered) before guests arrive.
3. Prepare their spaces. Their bedroom and bathroom spaces are clean and have extra touches like a fresh flower, photos of the last time you all were together, or a diffuser with an essential oil you know they will like. Clear out some space in the closet or dresser so they can unpack a bit instead of living out of their suitcase all week. If you don’t have a dedicated room and need storage, use a bookcase, shelf, or have a dedicated space they can leave their suitcase. Our youngest gets moved to our bedroom when guests come. Don’t feel too bad for him, this means he gets a queen bed and his own bedroom the rest of his nights. I pull his dinosaur bedding set off and use a nice set of sheets for guests. Our boys typically all share a bathroom and when we have guests, all of their toiletries are moved to our bathroom and I ask them to only use ours for potty breaks, teeth brushing, etc. As a guest it’s nice to have your own space for getting ready but if you don’t have an extra bathroom, make space in yours for your guests, even if it’s just for toothbrushes.
4. Stock their spaces. Besides making sure their bathroom and bedroom areas are clean, I make sure to have products they may need during their stay. I let them know ahead of time what will be here so they can avoid packing it (extra puddle jumpers, backpacks, sunscreen, and beach towels they can use for hiking and swimming). I have hair and body washes for the kids and adults, toothpaste, guest towels, and a hairdryer in the guest bathroom. We usually buy toothpaste in bulk, so we have extras. I usually buy the other toiletries new for guests and use whatever’s left over after their stay. On any given day is my bathroom clean, organized, and with neatly folded towels? Nope. But on the day my guests arrive it is! After that, they can do whatever the heck they want in there, but when they first walked in they felt thought about.
5. Start with a clean slate [floor]. I’m all for allowing people into my home when it’s not in a perfectly clean state. However, when you have guests for several nights, it’s important to me to start off with a home that is organized and clean. Your home will be getting extra lived in, especially if there are added littles running around. I’m not good at seeing something that needs to be done and not doing it. If I’m picking something off the floor and notice it’s dirty under the cabinets, it’s hard for me not to clean it right away. If I begin with a clean home, there’s less distraction for me during the limited time we have with our guests. Of course you will be cleaning up food prep, meals and after kids but, chances are, you won’t be taking time to clean bathrooms, do laundry or any other tasks that may take you away for a long time. My favorite multi-surface cleaner is Method All-purpose Natural Surface Cleaner, Pink Grapefruit,. It smells so yummy!
6. Be flexible. You know what they say about the best laid plans. It’s helpful to remind yourself before your guests even arrive that weather changes, kids’ attitudes change (usually more often than the weather), and even adults just sometimes aren’t feeling whatever they thought they wanted to do the night before. You might be running around trying to be super-host. Don’t! If you get caught up in that, you may become less than friendly if plans fall through. If you are someone that doesn’t handle a change in plans well, just remember that at the end of the day it doesn’t matter what you are doing, but that you blessed to be spending time with the people you love. I know….it’s sometimes easier said than done but if you go into your guest’s visit with this mentality, it’ll save you some irritation.
I know the first few times we had guests, the preparation felt overwhelming and I probably wasn’t the greatest host because of it. Sometimes prepping and planning can feel like just one more thing to do when we’re all busy with everyday life. Remind yourself again that every minute you spend preparing for your guests is multiplied in moments you get to actually spend with them! And hey, this might look differently in your home and that’s okay! It’s not about how grand your home is or how much time, energy, or money you spend on preparing for your guests. It’s about being intentional in making your guest’s stay the least stressful and most welcoming it can be with what you have. When you are intentional about making them feel welcome, whatever you do will be a blessing to them.
Can I go a little deeper here, friends? Jesus calls us to open our homes and our hearts to everyone; all the neighbors. I’m confident welcoming people I already love and I know share that love for me and my family. I’m realizing I’m not as proactive as I want to be opening my home and table to strangers. I don’t want to surround myself only with people who have the same story as me. That’s not what Jesus did or wants for us. So while this post tells a story of planned hospitality for those known to us, I hope to delve into the unknown, biblical hospitality in the upcoming seasons.
How do you prepare for planned guests? What about the unplanned ones?
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