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How to Let Houseguests Know It’s Time to Go

Group of people after a party, passed out on the couch.
Pressmaster/Shutterstock

Any long-suffering entertainer knows the hardest part of hosting guests isn’t the planning or the cleanup—it’s getting your oblivious visitors to leave when the party’s over.

Whether you’re having friends over for a game night or setting up your in-laws on the pullout for an extended visit, it’s difficult to firmly, but tactfully, tell your guests it’s time to get going. Especially if you want to preserve the relationship (or need to for the sake of your marriage).

As Ben Franklin once said, “Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.” Let’s take a look at three strategies to keep your guests smelling fresh—far away from your home.

Strategy #1: Set Boundaries Early

The best way to deal with a guest who’s overstayed his welcome is not to have to deal with it at all. If you set boundaries early (or even before the visit or event begins), you can avoid conflict and awkward situations.

Include a Start and End Time

If you’re hosting a party, include the start and end times on the invitation. For more formal parties, that’s easy—just add that boundary to the invitation.

Things get a bit more complicated when you’re inviting people over for a more casual hangout. In that scenario, mention your preferences ahead of time. Try texting something like, “Why don’t you come over around seven? But heads up! I have to get up early tomorrow, so I can only hang til 10.” Setting the boundaries upfront makes it less awkward when you enforce the schedule later.

With houseguests, having an end date is even more important. They can wear on your patience and resources, so knowing when they’re leaving can help your state of mind. Before your guests arrive, gently ask how long they plan to stay and if they’ve booked a return ticket. You can set your boundaries here, too. Say something like, “I’d love it if you came from the 10th-15th! I’ve got to be back at work on the 16th, though, so I’ll need the place back to myself by then.”

Have a Schedule

If you have guests who are staying for several days, maintaining a schedule can eliminate anxiety and provide some structure to your time together. It can also remind you both when it’s time to part ways. Once you’ve completed the last item on your itinerary, you can move into the “let’s wrap this up” phase.

Strategy #2: Politely Direct Them Out

Woman waving goodbye.
Nesolenaya Alexandra/Shutterstock

If you’ve forgotten to set a schedule ahead of time, or if it seems like your guests are ignoring the agreed-upon boundaries, there are some things you can do to subtly (and not-so-subtly) indicate it’s time to go. These polite suggestions will help you get your guests out the door but preserve the friendship.

Use Body Language

Never underestimate the power of social cues to let people know you’re ready for them to leave. If you’ve hosted a party and are prepared to call it a night, start to clean up. Once you begin clearing dishes, most people get the hint that the fun is over.

You can also yawn or glance at your watch. A well-placed stretch and an exhausted expression tell savvy guests you’re tired of their presence…for now.

Tell Them

If you’ve employed the yawn-and-stretch trick with no success, the next step is to politely, but firmly, tell your guests to get the heck out.

Say something like, “This has been great, but I really need to get to bed.” Couple your words with an action, like standing up or starting to clear away trash. By halting the current activity, you shift the focus to getting ready to leave.

If you have a guest who’s been staying with you, a frank conversation should help them realize it’s time to leave. To preserve the relationship, it’s best to have this conversation ahead of time rather than the minute you need them to go. Try something like, “It’s been great having you here, but I need to get back to my normal routine. Would you be able to leave on Thursday?” Setting those expectations eases the tension of an awkward conversation.

Offer to Help Them Leave

If you have a houseguest who’s staying with you out of necessity (e.g., they lost their home or broke up with a boyfriend), offer to help them find a new place. Say you’ll go house hunting with them or work with your shared acquaintances to find a new place for them to crash. Offering to help will alleviate some of the panic and uncertainty the person is facing while trying to find a new place.

Strategy #3: Become Hostzilla

So, you set the boundaries and had the firm conversation, but they’re still there? It’s time to become Hostzilla and reclaim your space. You might not have a great relationship with the people you’re kicking out after you try these suggestions, but at least you’ll have your space back!

Ignore Them

If they didn’t get the hint when you spoke with them directly, maybe ignoring them will work! This strategy is especially useful with long-term houseguests. Stop talking to them. Stop buying them food. Stop including them in your plans. No one likes to suffer in silence.

Do Something They Hate

What’s worse than ignoring someone? Do something they hate! Make them so uncomfortable they can’t help but leave.

If your houseguest hates dogs, and you’ve been corralling yours, let Fido jump all over their bed and roll in their clothes. If they hate pickles, fill your fridge with them.

The idea is to create a physical and emotional environment so awkward that they have to escape it!

Play “Closing Time”

Commandeer the Spotify playlist and put “Closing Time” on repeat. The first few times, people might sing along. By the 10th time, the message will have sunk in. Or, they’ll just want to escape the song.


Being a host can be fun and rewarding, but it can also be exhausting—especially if your guests don’t know when to leave. Follow these tips to reclaim your space and your sanity. And remember: the best way not to hate hosting is to make sure you have a good time, too.

Hayley Milliman Hayley Milliman
Hayley is a former Teach for America teacher turned curriculum developer and writer. Over the past five years, she's written hundreds of articles on everything from education to personal finance to history. She's co-author of the book Museum Hack's Guide to History's Fiercest Females. Read Full Bio »

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