How to Be a Good Houseguest

An optimist by nature, there are a handful of things that I consistently overestimate. I put twice as many items on my to-do list as I can accomplish in a day, I bring triple the number of books I end up reading on vacation, and I send half as many birthday cards as I planned to in a given calendar year.  

Another thing I repeatedly approximate inaccurately is how easy and fun hosting visitors will be.

Don’t get me wrong, I love spending time with family and friends, nurturing long distance relationships, and caring for loved ones by offering delicious meals, warm conversation, and a cozy bed. I’m quick to extend invitations, and I never regret having had houseguests once the visit is over; but in the moment of hosting, I feel depleted. Along with my optimism, I’m introverted, and so I find spending extended periods of time with people in any circumstance exhausting, not to mention the added elements of cooking for, entertaining, and transporting guests.

That being said, not all houseguests are created equal. While hosting often tires me out, I’ve had visitors who, at their departure, leave me feeling energized, inspired, and full of gratitude. These are the guests whom I strive to emulate when the tables turn and I’m the one camping out on a friend’s pullout couch, and these are the three characteristics they share:

Good visitors don’t ask what they can do to help– they just help

I must confess a major pet peeve of hosting: Guests asking if they can help by completing a specific task instead of just doing it. YES you can empty the dishwasher/make the bed/take out the overflowing recycling, but when you ask for my permission to do it, I feel like I should say, “Oh, no! You relax. I’ve got it covered.” While I definitely need to examine this propensity of mine and get better at saying yes to help, I don’t think it’s entirely unusual for hosts to turn down offers to pitch in with chores. We want our guests to feel cared for! That’s why I appreciate visitors who assess the situation and just dive in to setting the table, filling water glasses, chopping vegetables, holding the baby, or some other task that they know how to do and see needs to be done. This sort of behavior makes a visit feel more mutual, less about the host waiting on their guests and more about friends serving one another so that everyone can feel rejuvenated by the time together.

What do you think is the most important responsibility of a guest?

Good visitors don’t leave a trail

For me, one of the hardest things about hosting is that our small apartment easily becomes a disaster zone with shoes, phone chargers, and bags everywhere. For this reason, I really appreciate it when guests don’t leave a trail. When they are finished with a water glass, they put it in the sink, they keep their belongings contained in the guest room, and they help put away items after they are used by the group, from board games to throw blankets to snack bowls. Knowing how much I appreciate when guests clean up after themselves, I strive to do the same as a tangible sign of the respect I have for the host and her home. Bonus: keeping the space tidy makes it more comfortable and aesthetically appealing for everyone.

Good visitors express their desires

Decision fatigue is real, and I’d argue that the only thing more exhausting than making a mountain of decisions for yourself is making a mountain of decisions for other people. While I certainly understand the desire to be open and accommodating as a visitor, I’m supremely grateful when guests are willing to express what they most want to do/eat/see/experience as they spend time in my home and city. I appreciated when a visitor told me that museums put her to sleep and that she’d much rather take a long, rambling walk through our city (you got it!), and it was music to my ears when my last houseguest told me that she can’t stand the taste of cilantro (noted!). When visitors express their preferences instead of insisting that anything is fine, I can stop guessing what would be fun for them and start actually having fun with them.

Relationships are built on time spent together, and unless you happen to live close to all your family and friends, caring for your relationships will likely involve being a houseguest from time to time. Being a good visitor accomplishes more than making your host happy. It allows for all the energy of the visit to go toward strengthening your relationships and cherishing the time you have together.  

Originally published on June 19, 2019.

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