Getting Ready for Houseguests

Several times a year we host house guests, and sometimes lots of them. Our immediate family numbers 26 (at the time of this writing), so holidays and special events mean guests from out of state for several days at a time. The bedrooms in our current home already have full-time occupants, so making room for guests sometimes resembles a jigsaw puzzle. We lay out all the pieces and figure out where the guests can fit! Getting ready for houseguests can be a challenge, but with some creativity and flexibility, hospitality and love overcome all.

In the next few days our family will host grown children and their families for both an unexpected funeral and a planned-for wedding, including a rehearsal dinner in our backyard–a week apart. I’m in planning and preparation mode, so here are some tips based on what we’ve found works….IF you have enough notice and time to prepare:

Do as much ahead of time as possible. Once people start arriving, it’s harder to focus on preparation. Besides, you want to be present in the moment and enjoy the time with them.

Stock up on paper goods and other supplies. When it’s “just us” we use regular plates, silverware and glasses, but a house full of guests calls for plenty of paper plates, cups, and bowls (and plastic silverware). Other things to check on and stock up on: toilet paper, paper towels, trash bags, tissues, diaper wipers and diapers if needed, a few extra toothbrushes and toothpaste, plenty of shampoo, detergent and anything else that gets used up quickly.

Plan meals and buy groceries. This may seem like a no-brainer, but sometimes in the flurry of preparations this can get skipped. You’ll save a lot of time and money by eating at home when you have a crowd. Think of ways to prepare ahead of time: brown hamburger and freeze it for tacos, Sloppy Joes, chili, spaghetti sauce and more. Make sure you have plenty of coffee and creamer if your family members are coffee drinkers (same for tea). Having an assortment of favorite cereals, breads, lunch meats, chips, etc. can help make easy breakfasts and lunches. Make a list of meals you’ll prepare and buy groceries based on the meals. You don’t necessarily have to assign days to the meals if you like freedom, but of course sometimes you have to. If you know you’ll be gone to the zoo all day, coming home to a steaming crock pot for supper is magical. Don’t forget to plan for snacks to munch on during movies or games!

Catch up on laundry and wash bedding. It’s helpful if you can start the visit with some semblance of caught-up laundry because that many people are going to make even more. Sniff the comforters and quilts in the linen closet to see if any of them need to be refreshed in the dryer (or hung outside in the sunshine) or washed. If you have overwhelming piles to be laundered, consider taking them to a laundromat to be done in a few hours. We did this a while back and it was actually kind of fun because it was an unusual adventure!

Figure out sleeping arrangements. Trust me. Good-quality inflatable air mattresses are your friend if you don’t have a guest bedroom. We have quite a few of them, in twin and double sizes. The twins are the most versatile, as they can be set up in smaller spaces. We have had a couple of queen size mattresses but they need a big space. We like air mattresses that are tall like a bed, and blow up by being plugged in to the wall. Hand pumping that many air mattresses would defeat the most determined helper. Fluffy comforters can make a pallet on the floor. Recliners, loveseats, couches–any furniture is fair game for a sleeping space. Getting ready for houseguests includes making sure that guests have enough fresh bedding and pillows to stay warm and comfortable. In the summer, fans and and a bottle of water nearby can help them sleep in comfort.

Think through the schedule….and be realistic. For instance, planning a family photo after a funeral is probably not the best idea. Don’t try to cram too much into one day. Often everyone benefits from plain old down time at home. Let kids have time to play outside, and allow time for grown siblings to play video games together, laughing and talking. Maybe you could put together a box of toys or provide some easy craft supplies for cousins to have fun with at home. Pushing for too many activities during an already stressful visit is a recipe for kid meltdowns.

Pre-arrange and gather special clothes for events ahead of time. Events such as weddings and funerals require something different than everyday clothing. It’s stressful to scurry around town at the last minute trying to find clothes, or to scramble at home looking for matching shoes or tights with no holes. Ironing a shirt while everyone is curling hair and bathing little ones gets hectic when the house is full of guests. Make lists for each person who needs clothes and try to take care of those details as far in advance as possible, down to the last accessory. Clothing and other items for kids for special events get stored in a designated area away from bedrooms so they don’t accidentally disappear or get stuffed into a drawer. Wait, are we the only ones that happens to? 🙂 Facing both a big family funeral and a big family wedding within days of each other, this preparation is essential to help “getting ready” for both events go smoothly.

Let family and guests know what needs to be done. Many hands make light work, and if everyone pitches in it’s not overwhelming for any one person. I spent too many years being a Martyr Mom who tried to do most of it, and to this day I battle the thought associations I created with special events (getting stressed out about them). You can assign meals or chores, or just have a general work period for everyone, but do get help. I don’t know about you, but I’m not noble enough to do all the work while others have fun. Better to ask for help and get it done quickly than to get resentful.

We’re currently working on most of the above as we prepare for an influx of houseguests. The to-do list for most big family events that result in guests looks pretty much the same. The trick is to take thoughts captive and work through tasks calmly because life is too short to live in stress.

Focus on the excitement of seeing family and spending precious time together. Make lots of lists and do as much as possible in as far advance as you can. When your guests arrive, take a deep breath and know that it will all work out. If you didn’t get some things done, guests can go to the grocery store with you or you can throw in a load of laundry between conversations. Getting ready for houseguests can be a fun challenge if you have the right attitude. Be grateful that they want to come see you and stay at your house!

How do you get ready for houseguests? Share your favorite tips!


  1. Now that getting ready for house guests also means preparing for when any of our adult children come home with their own children, it adds greater meaning to such definition. Thank you for these reminders, Charlotte!

  2. Thanks for the info , know getting ready for guests would be much easier for everyone at home

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