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How to Prepare for Long-Term Houseguests

A woman and her long term guest chatting on the couch

Agreeing to host someone for a matter of weeks or months is as easy as saying, “Yes, of course!” However, that warmth can quickly wear off as the reality of long-term hosting sets in. Here’s how to prepare for a pleasant visit.

Once a bad visit is underway, it’s tricky to navigate. You may no longer feel so inclined to host someone who makes a mess or watches Netflix late at night with the volume up. But since you already agreed to be a host, it might seem like there’s no recourse.

The best answer, as it is in most things in life, is to prepare ahead of time. Once your guest is already in your home, having difficult conversations with them is, well, difficult. But if you start before they arrive, you can make everything smoother for both of you.

Whether it’s your cousin who needs a place to stay until they find a new job, or an exchange student spending a few months in a new country, these best practices will help you prepare for any long-term hosting situation.

Host Expectations: Help Them Settle In

First, let’s lay out the expectations for you, the host. What should you be expected to provide for a guest? Here are some areas you can focus on to help the visit start smooth.

Treat Them Like a Short Term Guest (At First)

As a long-term host, you won’t be feeding your guest or buying their toiletries the whole time. The best way to prepare is to purchase enough essentials (food and toiletries) to cover them for a few days, while they’re getting settled and learning where nearby stores and restaurants are. You should also provide things that they can’t be expected to pack, like bedding, pillows, and towels.

Make sure you have essential household items, like toilet paper and laundry detergent, on hand as well. Throughout your guest’s stay, you can ask them to chip in for those needs (more on how to approach that in a bit).

Give Them as Much Privacy as Possible

In addition to providing the basics (temporarily at least, like you’re accommodating a short term guest for a few days) it’s ideal, if possible, to set your guest up in your home in a space that offers the maximum amount of privacy and separate space.

Not everybody has a guest room and a guest bathroom, but a significant source of friction when you’re hosting somebody for an extended visit is the degree to which you feel like you’re in each other’s faces all the time. If your guest has space they can retreat to where there’s no sense of obligation to chat or participate in the household (and no commitment on your side to feel like you have to be a super host), then it’s all the easier to be gracious and relaxed when you are spending time together.

Guest Expectations: Communication Is Key

Before your guest arrives, start setting expectations for cleaning and more. You don’t need to be strict or hash, but make sure you’re clear about what you expect from your guest. It is so much easier to lay the ground rules at a distance than it is to lay the ground rules after they’ve already been broken (and when you didn’t make them clear in the first place).

If you can, send the most important things via email or text. It could be helpful to have things in writing if there’s a conflict later on. Here are the main things to address in these conversations.

Establish the Visit’s Purpose

Before you agree to host, find out why your guest wants to stay with you. Are they on a long-term work trip? Looking for a new job? Just taking a vacation?

This will help you understand what their schedule might be like, as well as what their emotional state might be. Someone crashing with you because they’re going through a divorce could bring late-night crying sessions or mopey days to your house. You should make sure you know what you’re getting into before you commit.

This conversation will also help you lay out other expectations reasonably. For example, if your guest will be working 12-hour days, they probably won’t be around to make a mess and don’t need to take on as much cleaning responsibility. But if they’re unemployed or on vacation, you can expect them to pitch in more with household tasks.

Discuss The Visit’s End

While your guest might not initially be sure how long they plan to stay, you should set an endpoint for the visit before they arrive. Ask them how long they expect to be in your home. If it’s too long for you, be sure to tell them when they’ll need to leave. (This is a good thing to have in writing.)

If they’re not sure how extended their stay will be, be clear about how long you’re willing to host for. Say something firm, like “I’m happy to host you for three weeks! However, after that, I’m going to need my spare bedroom back again.” You don’t need to provide a reason or excuse for your timeframe—it’s your home, after all.

Cleaning: Who Cleans What and When

When you think of company coming over, cleaning up might be the first thing that comes to mind. Most of us don’t like the thought of guests encountering a sink full of dishes, or a pile of dust bunnies. But when your guest is staying for a while, the issue of cleaning becomes a bit more complicated.

You’re not a hotel, and you can’t be expected to maintain a hotel’s standard of cleanliness the entire time your guest is there. Instead, you should strive to keep your home as reasonably clean as you always would. And most importantly, you should involve your guest in cleaning duties.

You’ll want to set up expectations for how clean common areas should be, and what your guest is responsible for. If you use a household chore chart, put their name on it (starting a few days after they arrive, so they have time to settle in).

The more specific your expectations are, the better. For example, you might have a rule that dishes must be done within 24 hours of getting used. You can even write up a gentle reminder of rules and post them in the logical places (such as next to the kitchen sink).

A guest who’s not paying for their stay should be happy to help out around the house as a thank-you. If they imply that they’re not interested in being an active part of the household, consider saying no.

Help Your Guest Sync with the Household

A woman and her friend planning a meal and laughing

Every household is different, and you can help a long-term guest fit into yours by letting them know what to expect.

For example, if you have kids, you might need your house to be quiet after they go to bed. If you host regular dinner parties once a month, your guest should know when to expect a house full of strangers. If you have pets, your guest needs to know how to interact with them appropriately. And if there are any strict rules in your house, make sure your guest knows what they are.

Syncing with your household will, of course, depend on what makes your household unique. But every home has its own needs and quirks, so do your best to let your guest know what yours is like (and how not to disrupt the flow).

Talk About Your Guest’s Guests

During a long-term stay, your guest might end up wanting to have people over. But since it’s your house, you’ll need to discuss when and if this is appropriate. For example, you might let them know that they’re welcome to have friends over during the day, but not overnight guests. Or you can tell your guest to ask you before bringing people over, so you can decide if it’s okay depending on the situation.

Break Down Financial Expectations

Your guest isn’t paying you for their stay, but they’ll still need to pay for some needs while they’re there. For example, maybe they’ll be responsible for their own food or expected to pitch in for a weekly grocery run for shared meals. Perhaps they’ll need quarters for the apartment’s laundry facilities, or maybe they can use yours for free if they buy their own detergent.

However you break it down, make sure your guest knows what they’re going to pay for, and what they aren’t. You shouldn’t be spending any extra money on your guest, but it’s up to you to decide how they should pitch in for regular household expenses.

Allow Your Guest to Be Independent

The more independent your guest can be, the happier the stay will be for both of you.

Guests get annoying fast when you need to hold their hand through every little task. Be patient with them at first, and take the time to explain where to find things in your home. Show them where your cooking necessities are, how the washing machine works, and how to get the hot water running in the shower.

They’ll likely have some questions in the first few days, but with your guidance, they should learn what they need quickly. Let them know how to help out, too. Maybe they can take the dog for a walk while you’re at work, or mow the lawn for you.

You should also show them how to enjoy your home. Share your Wi-Fi password, show them how to use the T.V., and suggest some local sights to see. You can’t be expected to provide entertainment, but you can help your guest keep themselves entertained.

Keep in mind that they might be more or less social than you. If they’re more social, they may go out to see friends more often. If they’re less social, don’t expect them to hang out with the monthly book club group you host. It’s important to let your guest have the space and privacy they need (and it’s equally important for them not to drag you into socializing when you don’t want to).

Above all, try to be flexible and go with the flow: there’s no way for a guest not to change the dynamics of your household a little bit. But with strong communication and reasonable expectations on both parts, hosting a long-term guest can be rewarding, even fun. Next, check out our guide to preparing your home for parties!

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a freelance and creative writer from the Pacific Northwest, and an MFA student at the University of New Orleans Creative Writing Workshop. She specializes in lifestyle writing and creative nonfiction. Read Full Bio »
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