Well, as we enter November we begin thinking about the holidays. For many of us, that means welcoming out-of-town guests, and I’m guessing that stirs up lots of different feelings for lots of us. Excitement. Anticipation. Stress. Dread. All the cooking, the cleaning, the grocery shopping, the entertaining. The entertaining…
I’ve shared in a video that we have a lot of company. Like to the tune of over 90 men, women and children over that past 15 months. And each time, it has looked different. That’s because my formula for hosting varies depending on my limits and ability at any given time- another topic I’ve discussed here and here!
One Spring when we were living in a small 3 bedroom/2 bath home in Philly, I hosted my dear friend and her- get this- NINE kids traveling from California. I was in the energizer bunny season of my 4th pregnancy and was so happy to have my friends cram into our home. I don’t remember what I cooked but I can guarantee there wasn’t enough, but no one complained and we are still friends 😉
Later that next Fall, two other dear friends came to visit and meet baby Judah. We each had 4 kids each, making a total of TWELVE kids crammed into our tiny home with practically no yard. And we had fun!
A year later we moved into an even smaller home and hosted several holidays with family. There were sleeping bags and mats laid out on floors, a schedule to accommodate our one bathroom, and lots of memories. Even when several members came down with the stomach bug, we had a lovely time together, albeit heavily scented by lysol!
I could go on and on about the different formulas I’ve used. Like the time we hosted 17 guests in our Georgia home, making use of every floor and sleeping bag. Or the following year when I didn’t feel able to host the same number and so we all pitched in for an air bnb. Or the time we gave up our master bedroom so our friends could sleep more comfortably, or the time we went to bed before our guests arrived and welcomed them with a note complete with a layout of the house and a “make yourselves at home and we’ll see you in the morning!” We’ve picked up guests from the airport and we’ve also asked guests to get a taxi/catch a train/schedule an Uber. We’ve adjusted our schedule to accommodate guests, and we’ve also stuck to our schedule and informed our guests of other available times to visit. There’s been times I’ve planned an elaborate 4-day, 3-meals-a-day menu complete with a white board description and loved every single second of it. And there’s been other times where I’ve just as happily said, ‘Hey, wanna pitch in for take out? Or Uber eats? Or let’s just see what we can scrap together from the kitchen.”
My point is this: if my friends and family wanted the experience of a bed & breakfast or a resort, they would go to one. If they are asking to stay with us, it’s because they want to spend time with us, not be entertained by us. So I need to host in a way that frees me up to visit, NOT buries me alive with burden. Plus, I think our family is entertaining enough as is without having to conjure up more fun & activities.
My guiding principle when hosting goes something like this: guests will feel most comfortable in my home when I am most comfortable in my home. And I’m most comfortable in my home when I know my limits and abilities and host out of those rather than out of guilt or fear or duty or obligation or pride or false-humility or any other unhealthy motive.
Here’s some tips that help me:
- Be honest. Your guests are spending time, money & energy to travel. If a particular time doesn’t work for you, say so! Have you ever found yourself in someone else’s home and you can tell you are viewed as an inconvenience? Yeah. Don’t do that. Let guests know what your schedule looks like and what they can expect while they visit. My husband has often been out of town or working longs hours, so I’ve told guests that he may not be available. Also, you may want to ask your guests for their expectations as they visit and then honestly assess whether or not you can or are willing to accommodate them. If we have someone expecting quiet mornings, I have to tell them they most likely won’t find them here. Because #5kids
- Set a budget. It’s easy to spend money mindlessly leading up to and during a visit from loved ones. Extra food. Outings. Wanting to spruce up home decor. New linens for the guest bed. Know what you can spend and stick to it. And do yourself a favor and don’t jump on Pinterest for guest room inspiration unless you reeeeally have the time, money and energy to achieve that look. I mean, I looooove a good guest room (and one of my pipe dreams is to own a B&B), but my current energy and financial limitations cannot afford to repurpose, repaint, or remodel. One day maybe…
- Know your limits. How long can you engage in conversations before you need to politely excuse yourself and recharge quietly? Are you willing and able to do all the cooking and dishes and cleaning as a gift to your guests? Or do you need to set up a schedule of duties so everyone pitches in? Planning on painting the town? Do you have the energy and finances? Or do you need to tell your guests that a picnic lunch at the local nature reserve is all you can handle right now.
- Make it Easy. Think of ways you can make it easy on yourself. Disposable dishes? Catered meals? Take out? Chore schedules?
- Take it Easy. When you’re socially maxed out (EVERYONE has a limit) excuse yourself and recharge. Remind yourself that you are not a bed & breakfast, a robot, a party coordinator. See if you can find ways to take it easy and relax WITH your company.
Ten Things I’ve Done To Make It Easy & Take It Easy:
- Prep meals ahead of time, store in tinfoil-topped casserole dishes with the cooking instructions written on top. That way I can say, “Hey, if you wake up before me, throw this in the oven and breakfast will be ready!”
- Order food from a local restaurant in advance (smoked chicken wings, lasagna, chicken salad, antipasto) to have on hand.
- Make a big ol’ pot of something comforting. Paleo Chicken Soup, Minestrone Soup, meat sauce, chili. Keep it on the stove for guests to help themselves when hungry.
- Schedule a house cleaner before guests arrive to help alleviate your workload, or after guests leave. Bonus: we’ve had guests contribute money toward a post-gathering housecleaning as a gift of gratitude. Amazing.
- When hosting larger crowds, we’ve pooled grocery money in advance via PayPal and I bought all the groceries before guests arrived.
- In other circumstances, guests did a grocery run after we all settled in.
- Because I could spend aaaaalll night talking on the couch with a good friend over a glass of wine, I have given myself a bedtime and even set an alarm. Because the truth is, the kids still wake up at 6 even if I go to bed at 2am. Not cool.
- Feed kids dinner and send them off to Netflix land. Then grownups can eat like, well, grownups.
- Hire babysitters and enjoy dinner served by someone else
- Used Uber Eats and have a dinners brought to us
When I think of my most enjoyable stay with friends and family, it has always involved a sense of being welcomed. Welcomed to join their flow of life. Welcomed to help in the kitchen. Welcomed to open cabinets in search of a coffee mug. Welcomed to do laundry without asking. Welcomed to rest when needed and free to play. And lots of relaxed conversations. Man these times have refueled me.
My mom recently gave me a plaque that says, “Every family has a story…welcome to ours.” It greets guests at our front door and sums up how I view hosting and why I love it. Guests jump into our family when they stay with us, and we become part of each other’s stories. Beautiful.
Wishing us all a holiday season filled with those kinds of visits with loved ones!