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Make sure your spare room is cozy if you’ve got houseguests. (JANE BEILES/NYT)
Make sure your spare room is cozy if you’ve got houseguests. (JANE BEILES/NYT)

How do I handle houseguests without losing my mind? Add to ...

Having just waved goodbye to my brother after a potentially challenging three-week visit where he slept on my rickety sofa bed – perhaps sleep deprivation wore him down – hosting dos and don’ts are fresh in my mind.

After extended residences in Tokyo, Cornwall, England, and, currently, Vancouver, years of visits from friends and family have honed my hospitality skills – while my need to set fire to anyone’s luggage in a fit of rage has faded.

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My recommended threefold strategy – especially for dealing with those who seem to be judging you on everything from wine choices to job prospects – includes initial preparation, handling methods and, crucially, how to get them out of your hair.

The first is all about physical details. Unless you enjoy torturing your relatives, avoid sofa beds and create a cozy guestroom – score brownie points with your in-laws by giving them yours.

Whether it’s your bedroom or a dusted-off spare room, make the space resemble a hotel sleepover – some readers have suggested sleeping in the room beforehand to reveal any deficiencies. The basics are: fresh towels, alarm clock and many empty drawers and closets so they can claim the space.

If you’re really smart, you’ll add a TV and a place to sit beyond the bed. This creates a comfy retreat for them to relax rather than camping on your couch and monopolizing the remote control. Flowers and water jugs help – while chocolates virtually guarantee they’ll have an early night.

Bathroom-wise, guests should ideally have their own. If not, ensure yours is spotless and inviting – baskets of micro-soaps and mini-shampoos can impress, while bath salts encourage long tub-soaks while you chug a bottle of wine in peace in the kitchen.

Once you’ve readied your place, set a relaxed tone as soon as the guests arrive.

Take their bags to their room (this, literally, puts them in their place); offer treats and welcoming libations; then tour the house so they know where everything is. Finally, top-up their drinks and settle in for a chatty wind-down.

The trick, of course, is to make them feel at home. Share WiFi codes and point out snacks and booze so they can help themselves. Then, indicate coffee and breakfast supplies so they can fuel up while you pretend to oversleep. Keep in mind that hungry or thirsty guests can be cranky – avoid this at all costs.

Next, be prepared for the “Can I do anything to help” question, remembering that some guests are happier if they feel useful. Avoid the temptation to have them repoint the chimney in the rain and instead ask them to lay the table or prepare their favourite meal for everyone.

Which brings up the communication issue. Talking to your father-in-law may be harder than eating consomme with a fork, but asking what your in-laws want to do on their visit – best done before they arrive – helps with our third approach: ushering them out the door.

Give them house keys and initially chauffeur them around, pointing out transit lines and inviting neighbourhoods. Consider gifting them transit passes or helping with car hiring. Place guidebooks, tourist maps and attraction brochures in their room to plant the seeds of independent days out.

If you’re really keen to escape that beady in-law gaze, suggest a just-the-two-of-them overnight side trip somewhere special – then help organize it.

But don’t cram too much in. I learned from my brother’s visit that overscheduling – let’s call it “overhosting” – can increase tension. Better to intersperse busy excursion days with more relaxed ones.

Finally, end their stay by paying for a celebratory dinner – then deliver them to the airport. Whatever has happened during the visit, saying goodbye to my brother is always surprisingly emotional, reminding me of why I love having him here in the first place. Not that I would ever tell him that.

OUR READERS WRITE

  • Do you have a travel trailer you can set up for them? If you live in a condo or townhouse complex where you can book a guest suite? Do you have a spare room with a good queen-size bed and a separate bathroom? Is a nearby hotel an option? Make sure you and your wife have your time and they have theirs; ultimately it is your home. Helen Alexander
  • Three days maximum. They should tell me what they want to see and do – if I have to decide on restaurants and sights, no complaints are allowed. @markbakerprague
  • If I have to work, I give them a pouch of transit tokens and a map marked with my favourite spots and cafés with free WiFi. @lindsontheroad
  • Is it weird that I list interesting upcoming events and put it on a calendar so if they’re keen, they can go? @Chiqee
  • Snacks in the nightstand drawer. @janogram
  • In my opinion, there is no perfect guest or host. Offer your favourite tips, a map and their own wee soap. But focus on enjoying the company most. @advcardio
  • Have extras in the bathroom ready for them – toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, razor, cream, etc. People always forget something. @SkiPRGirl
  • Always provide free WiFi and stock your shelves with snacks (zesty cheese Doritos to be exact). @arda_ocal
  • Plug-in night lights along the paths to the bathroom and kitchen. @theShortJenn
  • For guests: Be respectful of noise levels, don’t use up the hot water, bring a hostess gift, remember to clean-up – and send a thank you. @chengsophia
  • Make a little tourism package with brochures, printouts, bus maps and tickets if you can't show them around yourself. @WanderlustMegan
  • Best tip I heard is to sleep in the room yourself. Plus add water bottles, local magazines and some treats from wherever you live. @anniefitz
  • Sleep a night in your own guest room. Bed comfy? Reading lamp work? Fan keep you awake? Drafty window? Then fix it. @elizalor
  • Feel guests out. Do they want interaction or do they want to be left alone. Read them wrongly and reviews go bad. @ehCanadaTravel
  • Be ready with suggestions for things to see and do – but don’t schedule every minute of their visit. @erin_braincandy
  • Bottled water, chocolates and towels in their room – and lots of beer and wine stocked in the fridge. @Globe_Guide
  • Offer to make dinner one night or take them out to dinner. Don’t expect to be touring them around 24/7 – plan some away-time. Wow them for two days, then give them some time alone. Yes, three days is perfect. @ClaireFromYVR
  • Find out what people like for breakfast and also if they have any dietary issues. Also have travel-sized toothpaste, shampoo, soap, razors and toothbrushes available. @KarineAlden
  • Fresh flowers in the guest room – and do some research so you can make their favourite foods. Consider chocolates on the pillow with a turn down service too. @Whistlersnowpig
  • I love it when the host leaves little amenities in the room, whether a special soap, a candle or a book. A city map is thoughtful too. @candicebest
  • A clean bathroom and lots of towels. Plus a supply of their favourite beverages. @fongonfood
  • Clean towels and morning coffee. @CeeRussell
  • A spare cellphone, brochures for local attractions, transit passes and an open fridge. Also a guest bike for those inclined. @smallandhungry
  • Reading lights in the bedrooms please. @Mybcbuzz
  • Don't let them stay too long. @alexink

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