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How to Get Your Home Ready for Parties and Other Get-Togethers

Top view of friends having a drink and playing cards on a sunny evening
Jack Frog/Shutterstock

Your guests arrive, gush over your lovely home, and settle in for a relaxing night of food, fun, and friendship. That’s the expectation, anyway.

In reality, it often goes more like this: your guests arrive, you suddenly realize you don’t have enough chairs, and there’s a strange smell coming from the fridge. They perch awkwardly on the furniture until politely saying an early goodbye.

When it comes to having guests over, there are a lot of places reality can disconnect from expectations. Problems that you don’t usually notice when you’re at home suddenly become glaringly obvious. Things that weren’t problems before, like the number of chairs, suddenly affect the vibe.

However, you can easily avoid these issues by making some changes to create a more inviting home. We’re here to show you how to be the best host you can be!

Consider the Layout

Think about the activities you plan to do with your guests, and lay out the room where you’ll be spending most of your time accordingly.

For example, if you’re hosting a Game of Thrones watch party, make sure to arrange the seating so everyone can see the television. If you plan to play board games, you’ll need a big enough table for the games, plus space for drinks and snacks. For a dinner party, arrange the chairs so everyone can easily make conversation without feeling cut off.

This means you might need to rearrange your furniture for different gatherings. But that’s part of the fun: you just might find a new arrangement that you love.

Think About Lighting

The lighting in your home will also need to change depending on your planned activities.

If you are having a daytime movie marathon, find a way to block the light from outside, like blackout curtains. If you’ll be socializing over cocktails, natural light or soft, flattering artificial light is ideal. Candles are almost always a good choice—just make sure they can’t easily be knocked over.

Count Your Seats

Running out of seats is a classic problem that people with small homes often run into.

If you have the space for backup chairs, great. Even a comfortable folding chair is better than nothing. However, if you have a small area with limited seating, make sure to ask your guests to RSVP so you can plan accordingly.

Remind people in the invitation (even if it’s just a Facebook event) that you need to know if they’re coming so you can offer enough seats. For some laidback events, comfy floor cushions can work as extra seating, too.

Stock the Fridge

Have a variety of snacks and drinks on hand when you know you’ll be having guests. You don’t have to get fancy with mixing cocktails and making elaborate appetizers (unless you want to). But do make sure you have things to suit different tastes.

Find out if your guests have any dietary restrictions, like eating gluten-free or vegan, and offer foods that will work for them. Make sure to have non-alcoholic drinks available for those who can’t or don’t want to drink.

It’s usually best to let guests serve themselves, so you can focus on the other aspects of hosting. Set out the necessary items for food and drinks in an easily accessible place (don’t forget dishes, napkins, and utensils!). Make your trash, recycling, and compost bins easy to find. Have a designated place for dirty dishes. Stay on top of cleaning up dishes throughout the night if people leave them lying around.

Also, have a plan for what happens when you run out of supplies. Can you order more drinks and snacks delivered, or do you have a designated person who can run to the store?

It’s totally okay to ask guests to bring some things to share. However, you should also have your home well-stocked for them. Anything they bring will be extra.

Have Space for Belongings

Coat rack with several hooks and coats hanging from them
Philographer/Shutterstock

Your guests will surely have bags and coats they want to remove once they arrive. Clear a space to keep their things. If you don’t have a designated coat closet, you can put everything in a room you won’t be using, like a spare bedroom. Just make sure any space your guests will see is clean and presentable.

Be clear about your expectations for shoes: will guests be able to leave them on? If you want shoes off, where will they go? Put any shoes to the side where no one will trip over them.

Make sure your floors are clean, especially if you want guests to take off their shoes. And if your guests will be barefoot, make sure the floor is comfortable to walk on: a nice rug can warm up cold, unfriendly floors.

Create a Bigger Space

If you want to have lots of guests in a small home, you can make your space look bigger with some simple tricks.

Natural light makes a room seem more spacious, so open up those blinds or curtains. Mirrors also create the illusion of a larger room—plus, they look chic with any decor style. Arrange your furniture around the edges of the room to maximize your space.

Monitor Sound Levels

If your guests don’t know each other well, there might be some awkward silences at first. Create a playlist to keep the mood lively, but make sure it’s not so loud that it prohibits conversation. As the evening wears on, you might turn the music up to encourage dancing—but don’t forget to be mindful of neighbors who need to go to bed early.  

Clean, Declutter, and Stock

Simple yet cozy small bathroom with light blue walls
Artazum/Shutterstock

You’ll want your home to be clean and clutter-free before the guests arrive. Make sure to clean anything your guests might see, like the inside of the fridge, as well as the obvious places.

Pay special attention to cleaning the bathroom. You can hide a living room that’s less than pristine with dim lighting and fun activities, but in the bathroom, dirty spots will be glaringly obvious.

Also, make sure your bathroom is adequately stocked with hand soap, lotion, and towels. Put other things guests might need, like tampons and extra toilet paper, where they’ll be easy to find.

Add Personal Touches

How you decorate before receiving guests is entirely your choice. However, adding some personal touches to the decor gives people an easy way to start conversations when they arrive. Keep family photos and interesting art pieces on display, or consider setting out some engaging coffee table books that reflect your interests.

Make Space for Gifts

Depending on the nature of the gathering, some people might show up bearing gifts. Even at a casual hangout, it’s not uncommon for people to bring simple gifts for the host, like a bottle of wine.

Don’t expect presents, but do have a plan for when people show up with them. Show your appreciation by placing gifts in a special, out-of-the-way spot, instead of just setting them on the nearest available surface. Have a vase ready in case someone brings flowers so that you can display them right then and there.

And if it’s the kind of occasion where gifts are more likely, set aside a table or counter space for presents. This helps keep the other surfaces clear for food and drinks.

Promote Relaxation

A sterile home with nowhere to relax and set your drink down won’t look inviting, even if it’s clean and well-decorated.

Consider the touches that make a space more relaxing. If you have a stiff couch, supplement it with fluffy pillows and blankets. Put coasters on the tables, so people feel comfortable setting down their drinks. And keep an eye on your guests, so you can find ways to make them more comfortable (for example, if someone looks cold, offer a sweater they can borrow).

Scent with Care

Tulips bouquet in vase standing on wooden countertop in the kitchen
Switlana Symonenko/Shutterstock

Home scents from candles, air fresheners, and other sources are nice for some people. But you should also keep in mind that others are sensitive to scents. Keep things smelling clean and fresh, but use scents sparingly unless you know everyone likes them.

Fresh flowers with a light scent are always a good choice.

Check the Temperature

If you like your home quite warm or quite cool, that’s fine. But when hosting guests, set the temperature to a medium level that seems likely to work for everyone. Don’t forget that the more people are in a space, the warmer it will get. 

Walk Around

When you think your home is ready for your guests, do a final check by walking around.

Pretend you’re seeing your home for the first time. What do you notice first? Where do you feel inclined to sit down? If you notice a problem, like an area that’s too dark, this gives you a chance to fix it.

It’s also important to have clear paths through your home, especially for bigger gatherings. Walk through the paths people are likely to take, such as from living room to kitchen and from kitchen to bathroom. Make sure they’re clear and free of tripping hazards.

Need to Host Guests Unexpectedly?

These tips will help you prep your home for house guests when you know they’re coming. However, what can you do when you find out that guests are about to arrive unexpectedly?

When you’re hosting guests in a pinch, start with the last step: walking through your home. See what you notice first, and tackle the most glaring issues (like piles of clutter) right away. Focus only on the rooms where your guests will spend the most time, like the living room.

Don’t try to organize the space thoroughly: just move extra stuff like mail, shoes, or coats to a room your guests won’t see. Also, prioritize cleanliness. Even if your home is a bit cluttered, people won’t mind too much if it’s clean. A quick wipe-down of surfaces plus sweeping or vacuuming does a lot of good.

Open the blinds, turn on some lamps, or light some candles. Set out whatever drinks and snacks you have on hand. Unexpected guests shouldn’t expect your home to look perfect, so relax and greet them with a genuine smile.

Keep in mind that while these tips will make your home friendlier for guests, they’ll also make it more inviting for you. Even when you’re not planning to host, using these tips can help you maintain a beautiful, comfortable home. And that way, you’re always prepared to be a great host, no matter when guests show up.

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a Seattle-based writer and editor with a Master's in Writing Studies from Saint Joseph's University. Her work has appeared in publications like Racked, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and Rum Punch Press. She was awarded a 2017 Writing Between the Vines residency.  Read Full Bio »

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