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How to be a guest in someone else’s home

After a few posts talking about how to prepare your home for guests, several of you commented that you were going to be the guests this week. So to celebrate this week of Thanksgiving (at least here in America), I’m republishing this post, first written on December 18, 2009. I just tweaked it a bit to change the time frame. Enjoy!

With Thanksgiving Day a mere three days away, many of you might be heading out of town soon. Your week’s plans may include laundry, packing, and closing up the home for the next few days. Or if you’re staying home, there’s a likely chance you’re about to welcome guests in to your home life for the next few days or weeks.

If not now, then perhaps you’ve got travel plans for Christmas, or anticipate a slew of guests sometime in December.

No matter what, being a guest or hosting a guest can be stressful.

Contributor Corey Allan wrote some great tips last year about how to handle in-law stress over the holidays. Just last week, I shared some of my tips for hosting overnight guests at home. Mandi also shared her ideas for maintaining your home’s order during the holidays. Last Thanksgiving, I also wrote about helpful tips for taking a big vacation with small children, after returning from our first major family vacation to Paris.

Today, I’ll focus on some ideas for being a gracious guest, and how to keep your family sane and unified while staying in someone else’s home.

1. Be flexible — this is temporary.

Yes, routines are important for kids. But during this short time away for the holidays, it’s okay to lax on the everyday rules and let the days linger more haphazardly.

You might be sightseeing, or your might just be succumbed to your host’s daily routine. Either way, it’ll be a lot less stressful if you let go of your normal schedule and let the “holiday routine” take center stage.

2. But protect the essentials in your day.

That said, there are some things that are just important to a family’s day. With small children, I find it especially important to put a hedge of protection around naptimes and bedtimes. Sure, there are a few days they can stay up late, and a family outing might necessitate a skipped nap one day.

But overall, our children are much more pleasant to be around when they get enough sleep. Both you and your hosts will appreciate kids that have had enough rest.

3. Hold on to those important holiday traditions.

Even in someone else’s home, your children might really relish in one particular thing you do during the holidays, and would be sad to toss that aside because you’re somewhere else. Do what you can to still incorporate that tradition.

If you give new pajamas on Christmas Eve, you can still do that in your host’s home. Perhaps you enjoy a nighttime drive to look at the lights, just before bedtime. See if your hosts are up for joining you in that outing.

christmas family breakfast
Photo by Woodley Wonderworks

4. Respect your hosts’ holiday.

Sure, you need to hold on to a few things that make your family’s holiday unique, but remember that you’re still a guest. You can’t reasonably expect your parents to cater to every little thing you do in your own nuclear family. If you’re staying with another family with children, they may feel the exact issues you’re facing — how to still do their family thing while respecting others in the home.

Don’t bulldoze your way through someone else’s home. Honor their way of doing things — who knows, maybe you’ll discover a fun new tradition you can incorporate next year.

5. Stay reasonably minimalist.

Don’t leave your wrapping paper or cooking dishes strewn everywhere. Don’t let your children’s toys hold hostage your host’s peaceful afternoon. Bring a laundry bag so that your dirty clothes aren’t everywhere.

In short, don’t make a mess, and respect the space you’re in. It’s a challenge with children, of course, but this is a great way for your kids to learn to respect other people’s space.

6. Help out.

Even if your host insists you don’t need to do anything, find some small way to help out around the house. Empty the dishwasher (and ask where things go, unless that adds to the stress — then just put the clean dishes on the counter out of the way). Feed the dog. Make hot chocolate for everyone.

In short, seek ways to serve. Your hosts have graciously opened their home to you. Find ways to give back without making them feel like they’re not doing a good job. Ask for guidance in the best way you can help, and your stay will be more enjoyable for everyone.

This post is brought to you by Oak Meadow Curriculum and School. Oak Meadow provides helpful homeschooling advice and resources in their elementary education materials.

Are you going out of town this holiday season? What are some tips you can add to being a gracious guest?

Reading Time:

3 minutes





  1. Kristin

    People always want to be helpful and empty or load the dishwasher when they are staying with us, but it drives me nuts! Cups upside down, dishes in the “wrong” place, utensils placed in strange places. I just have to re-do it, grumbling the entire way. Some of us are closeted control freaks in very strange ways.

    Funny, but if someone asks before doing it, I don’t mind the temporary changes. Like I said, strange ways.

  2. Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach

    Love these ideas! ‘course, I tend to have our family holidays at the local chinese buffet, so cleanup and stuff….not an issue. 🙂

  3. Tabitha - From Single to Married

    Great suggestions. I especially like the “help out” part. 🙂 And to make sure that you clean up all of your stuff instead of leaving it lying around – that’s helpful too!

  4. Jennae @ Green Your Decor

    This is a great list of suggestions! I just spent the weekend with my brother-in-law and his wife and daughter. I know how anal I am about the way dishes are loaded in the dishwasher and put away, so I always tend to assume other people are the same way. While I didn’t feel comfortable enough to cook or other major tasks, my husband did. So he did that stuff, and I helped out with the baby, changing her clothes and diaper, playing with her so her parents could get other stuff done, taking her outside to play with my older daughter, etc.

    At the end of the day, I say help out in a way that makes you comfortable without making your hosts uncomfortable. It can be a delicate balance, but I’m big on asking questions of my hosts before I do anything 🙂

  5. Vanessa

    This is good. To bad it would be incredible offensive for me to send the list to certain family members…

  6. Heidi

    I completely agree about being flexible, yet still supporting your child’s sleep. This, to me, is the most important thing on vacation!

  7. pelf

    In 2008, I spent 4 months on a turtle conservation scholarship to the US and have had the opportunity to stay–for at least 2 weeks–with a few different hosts. The first family I stayed with not only allowed me to do the dishes, they allowed me to cook a Malaysian dish in the kitchen, and we brought the pot of curry chicken to church! 😀

  8. Alison @ Ingredients, Inc.

    Love your post. I host Thanksgiving every year, always over 20 people (this year 25). I always struggle that no one helps after the meal! Thanks for your awesome and timely post!

  9. Amy

    Thanks for the reminder that we give our children a greater blessing by teaching them graciousness and flexibility, than we do by sticking to routines. Our visits to see the grandparents used to be so stressful & full of conflict because we didn’t practice what we now preach!

  10. Alison @ Femita

    Staying at someone else’s home is all about resprect. Be polite, help out and keep things clean.

  11. Jessica

    I like that you would say one thing but then include its opposite as well. Balance. If everyone tries for as much balance & compromise as they can (without any passive aggressive attitude), then the holidays can go much smoother.

  12. Alissa

    I think one big thing for us it so discuss the expectations ahead of time! This helps both when having guests and being a guest. We don’t have to plan our days down to every detail, but at least we all know what the general activities are going to be and we can adjust our kids’ routines to fit (or graciously bow out when something is going to be too much for the little ones’ schedule).

  13. Bryony Boxer

    Loved these tips. How timely!

  14. Sara @ House Bella

    I am often a guest in people’s houses, as I live in an out-of-the-way-yet-beautiful part of Idaho (I’ll be honest, the entire state of Idaho is a little out-of-the-way). I’ll often bring a small hostess gift – bottle of wine, loaf of bread, etc – and then try to be both helpful and stay out of the way. I help with dishes, offer to cook a meal, always keep the room I’m staying in neat and strip the bedclothes at the end of my stay. I think the biggest thing, though, is recognizing that the hosts need a break too. Whether it’s me settling down with a book so they can relax and take a walk, or visa versa, ignore the urge to always look to the host for entertainment or permissions. A break is good for everyone!

  15. Melanie at Parenting Ink

    I love these suggestions and also wish I could pass it along to some of my guests! One thing we did as guests last Christmas was to stop by the grocery store several times during our visit to stock up our host’s fridge and wine cabinet. Just the little things without being asked was appreciated.

  16. Prerna

    I also love taking a small special “thank-you’ gift for the hostess. I know I love receiving these so, I add it onto the list of regular Christmas gifts. A small basket of spa essentials or even, a travel-sized bottle of a favorite perfume(hers) doesn’t cost much but adds a special touch!

  17. Emily @Random Recycling

    As a guest myself this week this post is most appropriate! I find helping to wash dishes the safest way to help. Less people in the kitchen post dinner/lunch, and there’s less stress about not doing it right.
    Agree that protecting naptimes are the hardest, especially when grandparents just want to play!

  18. Sandra

    Great advice! We’re at my parents’ house right now and my boys’ sleeping schedules have been way off. I really like your advice to protect the essentials in our routine.

  19. Brit

    I really don’t like it when other people clean my house. They always put things in the wrong place or just plain don’t clean things properly and it often just makes more work for me in the end. I would much prefer people to watch the kids while I clean. So whenever someone asks how they can help I tell them they can hold the baby, which people seem to enjoy anyway.

  20. Scarlet

    Good little reminders! I am going to my mom’s and I hope my husband respects these tips!!

  21. Elissa

    I think the “Be flexible, this is temporary” advice pertains to hosts as well. I host my family and in-laws a lot, and have seen some crazy things happen in my house. I’ve seen my glass tables get wiped with a wet dishrag, towels folded in weird origami shapes, underwear ironed. But I don’t care. I don’t stress about it and I don’t “fix” it. It all works its way out in the end. So what that the dining room table is covered in water spots? They’ll get wiped up next meal. So what if the coffee is twice as strong as I normally make it? It was nice of the first person up to make coffee for the house, I add extra cream and sugar and get wired for the day.

    My thought is that I have never had a guest do something that requires immediate attention or need correction. My way is not the only way to do things. I thank the person for whatever effort they made because I know it comes from a well-meaning and well-intentioned place in their heart.

  22. lori crawford

    It’s great as a guest to get away for a bit – I can remember our trip across the country (by car) for Christmas last year, it was essential to be away from the crowds for a bit, so went to the local bookstore and got lost there with the kids for a couple of hours. It was the perfect breather.

  23. karen ho fatt @family fire pit reviews

    Helpful tips. Although good manners, I never expect anyone to help out when I throw a party – however I do however offer my services when I am in the other persons space. My guests are there to relax, and have fun, at my expense.

  24. megan stremick

    I always think the “helping out” option is the most important. Even if it’s just offering to fill everyone drinks or take out the trash that’s getting full. An extra set of hands when hosting a party is always nice and as the guest, regardless if they take you up on it, it’s the nicest thing you can do just to offer. Oh, that and never, ever, show up empty handed–the gesture of a bottle of wine goes a long way in my book.

  25. nil zed

    Putting clean dishes on the counter is not putting them out of the way. they were out of the way in the dishwasher. now they are just mixed up with the things that need to go IN the dishwasher. It’ll all work out in the end, but from my point of view, you are creating the task of sorting clean from dirty, not helpful. Still, my usual house guests are family, and they do a better job of putting things where they belong than my husband.

    We moved a lot as kids, I guess our mom drilled a particular set of kitchen arrangement rules into our heads. The first time all of my siblings and what turned out to be all of the sibling- in-laws got together for a multi-day visit, my oldest brother bullied our younger brother’s into cleaning up my kitchen after a meal. Everything went well. With no questions asked, equipment and materials were located and dishwashing and drying and putting away went smoothly. Until they got to the plates. The brother doing the putting away objected to finding other dishes in the cabinet where the plates ought to go. Ack! The others agreed. Ack! Ack! I apologized for the cabinet being slightly too narrow and before I could tell him where they went, he decided the next best option. Which was the correct option. They all mumbled about the unfortunately narrow shelf and my surprisingly large plates making the best plan unworkable. I mumbled loudest as I had to live with this *horrible* inconvenince! Eldest brother’s wife shook her head with resignation, the girlfriends appeared stunned, my husband ushered them out of the kitchen with warnings not to try to understand it, nor fight it, it was genetic. Hmph!

  26. Photographer London

    I’ve done enough couch surfing in my life to know – it takes skills…

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